50 tips that will make you a better illustrator

Daniel Stolle illustration

You can see more of Stolle's work on his website

As I've been working over the last few months I've jotted down the following one-liners. They're things I've noticed about the craft of illustration as well as the business side of working in illustration, advice I've given to new illustrators and tips for staying productive.

08. Drawing is thinking.

09. Thinking hurts – do it anyway.

10. Hands can be as expressive as a face.

11. Craft has not gone. Being taught the craft is just harder.

12. Deadlines are sacred, but pay dates are not.

13. Don't show your bad ideas to the client – they might choose them.

14. The headline might change at any moment – do not base your idea on it.

15. Try to find inspiration and aspiration from outside the field of illustration.

16. There are sadly no shortcuts to a good drawing. Making one usually involves work.

17. In print, everything looks a bit darker than on screen.

18. Learn to be okay with being with yourself. 

19. Being organised can get in the way of being efficient.

Daniel Stolle illustration man inside own brain

Sketch as big as possible

20. Read the email again. Carefully.

21. Sketch as big as possible, especially when doing portraits. Small sketches amplify mistakes.

22. To achieve minimalism, it is sometimes easiest to strip things away from something that isn't minimalist at first.

23. The client publishes first.

24. A picture without a human element is hard to relate to.

25. For likeness, head shape is just as important as actual facial features.

26. If an image looks off, flipping it may reveal any flaws.

27. Don't always draw everything in the centre of the image.

28. Time is often lost while transitioning between tasks. Make a conscious effort to switch faster, or better: avoid too many switches.

29. Imagine every drawing is going to be printed big. Good drawing is not lost when scaled down.

Daniel Stolle illustration

Creators are greater than critics

30. If you have to explain the idea, it's not a good idea (unless you are working with a stupid person).

31. No one is easier to draw than a bearded man.

32. Sometimes pieces that would look good in a design portfolio will not look good on a magazine page, and vice versa.

33. Tracing is like a crutch. Sometimes you need a crutch, but who wants to walk with one all the time?

34. 2B or not to be.

35. Every line you draw in a person's face makes them older.

36. Be prepared for a format change.

37. Your feeling about what constitutes a good idea will differ from your client's.

38. Focus and concentration can be trained.

39. Creator > critic.

Danie Stolle illustration person with pens coming out of their head

You're first idea might be the best

40. The first idea might be the best, but don't rely on it.

41. Progress > perfection.

42. Don't let your inbox make any *bleeping* sounds.

43. Colour Practice > Colour Theory.

44. The older you get, the better you understand time.

45. On some days, it just doesn't work.

46. The wrists and back are easy to wreck. 

47. On some people, the upper part of the legs is longer. On others, the lower part is longer. 

48. All sketches look better after scanning.

49. You can learn something from anyone's drawing.

50. Being able to edit yourself is as elusive as it is valuable.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts, the world's leading graphic design and illustration magazine. Subscribe here.

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Based in Finland, Daniel Stolle has been working in illustration since 2007. In that time he has worked on around 400 projects, for clients including the Guardian, Der Spiegel, New Scientist and The New York Times.