Why Technical Illustration?

I have received numerous emails in the last couple of months from individuals around the world asking questions about my technical illustrations and how I work.  Sometimes it is hard to find time to respond to these emails, however I do feel it is important to educate those who are trying to break into the industry.

This post combines all questions that have been asked of me by these individuals and I hope that by answering them, that a little insight is gained into why I enjoy technical illustration.

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HOW DID YOU GET INTO TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATION?

I actually began drawing later in my high school years and after that, I was doing a lot of painting – more for fun than anything.  I decided I wanted to get a degree in Illustration and potentially pursue this passion as a full time career.  I enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Arts Degree at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

In that program I specialized in the Technical & Scientific Illustration stream.  I chose technical illustration because I like dealing with numbers, learning how things are put together and work, and I’m challenged by detailed elements.

As a competitive individual, I am always finding myself challenged by illustrating something more difficult than the previous piece.  I appreciate the finer details in all artwork that I see now!

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TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF? DO YOU FIND THAT CLIENTS COME TO YOU (Via word of mouth, website searches, etc.)?

I NEVER stop marketing myself.  There are numerous ways to market oneself including:

  • Networking (ie. through events at art shows, gallery openings, online networking sites, staying in-touch with colleagues, etc.)
  • Sending out promotional mailers, eyecatching pieces, email newsletters, etc.
  • Having a large online presence so I am accessible via website searches if someone has never heard of me
  • Constantly updating my portfolio by creating new pieces when I have a little “down-time”
  • Keeping my website fresh and up-to-date (as you’ll see, I recently re-launched www.leannekroll.com.)
Splashpage
New Website

Ideally, you have to find what works best for you and persist, persist, persist!!  You also need to expect marketing to cost money and understand it is a long term investment that will pay off in the future if you spend it wisely.

Sitting around never gets anybody anywhere – work rarely finds you – you need to go out and seek it!

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DO CLIENTS OCCASIONALLY REQUEST ILLUSTRATIONS THAT ARE TECHNICALLY IMPOSSIBLE, OR TOO DIFFICULT TO COMPLETE?

No technical illustration is impossible, as long as you have accurate reference material.  Part of my background training is learning how to deal with difficult requests and having the ability to break the illustration down into smaller pieces that do not seem as daunting.  Every single project has the same process for me which is:

1. Research – learning about the subject matter and understanding how it fully works before starting.

2. Rough sketches – to tackle the initial thought process, potential viewpoints, layout, etc.

3. Line drawing – a refined drawing whether digitally or traditionally that is the basis for the final colour illustration.

4. Colour roughs – working out colour options that allow the illustration to communicate as best as possible to its target audience.

5. Final composite – adding all the little details that allow the final illustration to “shine”

Of course all of these steps are dependent upon how much time I get from a client to get the work done.

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WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PIECE OF WORK THAT YOU HAVE COMPLETED?

There is not necessarily a particular piece I have completed that stands out as my most challenging.

The most challenging piece of work is not necessarily in regards to content, but when there is a minimal timeframe to get the final piece completed.  It is challenging as an illustrator to just stop working on something.  We always want to make it better.  When you are confined by time, something else needs to lack and sometimes that is final quality.

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WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? (i.e.. for an exploded diagram, would the client send you the images of the deconstructed object for you to illustrate, or would you need the actual physical object in order for you to get the projections correct?)

My design process as was listed above is: 1. Research; 2. Rough sketches; 3. Line drawings; 4. Colour roughs; 5 Final composite.

Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories
Exploded View of Febreeze Scent Stories

For an exploded diagram, or any illustration for that matter, it all depends on what the client is able to provide me as far as reference.

If they are a local client, I can usually get my hands on the physical object or photograph it myself for additional reference after viewing it on-site.

If the client is a long-distance client, then I tend more to get photographic reference unless they have a local vendor.  Part of my experience is also researching online for existing photographs of different viewpoints/angles of an object and creating a unique viewpoint for my client.

Either way, there is always a learning process about the item/process I am illustrating which makes the job more interesting!

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WHICH SOFTWARE DO YOU FIND YOURSELF USING THE MOST?

I use the Adobe Creative Suite the most for software.  Personally, I don’t find it necessary to learn additional programs such as IsoDraw or Corel Technical Suite at this point for technical illustration.  However, the more software programs you know, the better, of course.

Ultimately, it is about which software you feel comfortable working in that is the deciding factor, unless a client requests a certain document type.  Both Illustrator and Photoshop allow me to produce the results that I desire for each project.

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DO YOU USE A GRAPHICS TABLET?

Yes I definitely do.  I could not work without it! Nowadays, investing in a Wacom drawing tablet has almost become a necessity to speed up the overall amount of time spent on an illustration.

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DO YOU THINK IT IS POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO HAVE STUDIED GRAPHIC DESIGN TO CROSS DISCIPLINES, OR DO YOU THINK IT WOULD REQUIRE FURTHER EDUCATION IN TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATION IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO PRACTICE IN IT?

I think that depends on the person and the style of work in they’re portfolio.  (For example, you cannot apply for a technical illustration job with only a graphic design portfolio).  Of course, being educated in the discipline is always an asset.

It should be mentioned that freelancing is more of a business than it is about the illustrations.  So taking additional courses in running your own business is always an asset as well.  You must have marketing skills, drive and motivation to get things done on your own time.  Like anything, the more experience you have, the better you look to new potential clients.

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HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO DO STUFF LIKE THAT DIRT BIKE OR CUT AWAY ILLUSTRATION IN ILLUSTRATOR?  Are you using advance plug-ins like CAD or something else?

This answer may require more of a tutorial to get into exact details about how I created the dirtbike or cutaway illustration.  I will try to put a tutorial together in the near future.

Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike
Phantom View of Honda Dirtbike

No, I do not use any advance plug-ins like CAD tools.  I start with alot of reference photos and I start drawing out a sketch that puts the larger components into their space (ie. wheels, frame, seat, handle bars, exhaust pipe, etc., all in relation to each other.)

Then, once the overall placement of large items is finalized, I move further into more detailed elements until the basic line drawing is close enough to completion to move into the digital realm.  The digital line drawing is then completed in Adobe Illustrator with the line tool.

The final digital line drawing is then brought into Adobe Photoshop as shapes that are then filled with the brush tool.  I use the burn and dodge tools to create the highlights and shadows.  All painting is done with a Wacom tablet.

In the end, it is the original sketch and digital linework that are the most time comsuming.  They need to be 100% finalized before painting can begin.  Painting is the fun and rather “easy” part!

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Thank you to those who spent the time inquiring about my technical illustrations.  I hope my answers helped give you a better understanding into this field of illustration.

-Leanne Kroll, Technical Illustrator

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