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The illustration tools every artist should know

Alice in Wonderland Steve Simpson
(Image credit: Steve Simpson)

Illustrating a book with a strong cultural presence is a challenge for any artist. The work must walk a fine line between being original, but also recognisable. English illustrator Steve Simpson is known for his hand-lettered designs and whimsical characters, which he put to good use in creating his own unique take on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“I’m a huge fan of the book,” says Simpson. “I was introduced to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at an early age, growing up just a few miles down the road from Lewis Carroll’s birthplace, and over the years I’ve collected several vintage illustrated copies.” 

Sir John Tenniel’s work in the original book broke new ground by integrating text and illustration, so it’s perhaps fitting that Simpson has built on this by combining his illustrations with hand lettering.

Using Serif's art tools

This special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was produced by Serif to showcase the capabilities of its Affinity apps. The book itself was put together with Affinity Publisher and Simpson used Affinity Designer for his illustrations. 

The process of creating the book is one of the projects detailed in the Affinity Publisher Workbook, which contains advice and tutorials from leading designers, publishers and other creatives that will teach you everything you need to build your own magazines, brochures and books. 

Serif's Black Friday offer, which starts on 22 November, offers a 30 percent discount on the Affinity software – Designer, Publisher and Photo – as well as additional creative packs and the official Affinity Workbooks.

Steve SImpson/Affinity collab

This special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was produced by Serif to showcase the capabilities of its Affinity apps (Image credit: Steve Simpson)

Affinity approached Simpson a few years ago to enlist his help with beta testing the iPad version of Designer and at this point he didn’t have a tablet, so trying out this app was his first experience of using an Apple Pencil. He had been using a mouse for 25 years up until this point. 

Being able to switch between vectors and pixels and back again was a real eye opener

“The first thing that really struck me was how I could work in both vectors and pixels. My style is very graphic in its design but painterly in its rendering, so being able to switch between vectors and pixels and back again was a real eye opener,” says Simpson. For his work on this project, he found that the ability to move vectors around and then paint within masked shapes sped up his process considerably.

Pushing art boundaries

Steve Simpson/Affinity collaboration

"Affinity Designer allowed me to develop my style when I thought I’d hit a plateau on the app I was using," Simpson says (Image credit: Steve Simpson)

Despite having over 30 years of experience as a professional illustrator and 50 awards under his belt, Simpson is always looking to push boundaries with his aesthetic. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Affinity Designer on the iPad,” he says. “It has a lot of great features and effects that allow illustrators to work in many different styles, and it has allowed me to develop my style when I thought I’d hit a plateau on the app I was using.” 

Simpson sees this aspect as being one of the greatest benefits that Affinity Designer offers to illustrators. ”It’s an app that allows illustrators to create work that when you look at it, it’s not obvious which app it’s been done in – which is important when developing a unique style.”

Affinity Designer, Affinity Publisher and Affinity Photo are available on Mac, PC and iPad for a one-off payment with no subscription. Visit the Serif website to find out more. 

Ian Dean

Ian Dean is Digital Arts Editor on Creative Bloq and the Editor of ImagineFX magazine. With over 25 years' experience in both print and online journalism, Ian has worked on many leading video game and digital art brands, including Official PlayStation Magazine, 3D World and GamesRadar. With a passion for video games and art, Ian combines his interests to run ImagineFX, the world's leading digital art magazine for fantasy, sci-fi, video game, film, and animation artists. In his spare time he doodles in Corel Painter, teaches himself ZBrush, and plays PS5.