Artpacks have been one of the most common projects I’ve worked over the last few years. Most of them are commissions from clients, who have a wish list of images they need for their projects and need that little bit of flexibility to use them however they see fit. But sometimes an artpack makes your illustration projects easier in general; it gives you a bank of illustrations in a coherent style and colourway, that you can use across a project to give it consistency.
A few years back I worked on a gigantic hospital enhancement scheme with my dear friends Sam and Tom from Firecatcher. We were commissioned to produce a range of die-cut vinyl stickers that would decorate Special Care Baby Units in two hospitals in Birmingham. The projects ended up being over 50 vinyls per unit, some of which were full wall wraps, with detailed illustrations of woodland animals and floral scenes. Our starting point, after coming up with the theme and agreeing on the style was obvious: create an artpack. We filled Illustrator artboards with foliage, flowers, shapes and swirls that we’d use across the entire scheme. Sam designed a colour palette that would not only work harmoniously with the illustrations themselves, but with the decor of the ward, the bumper rails, the walls, even the curtains. It was just for us, but it was also invaluable.
The artpack was like a rule book. It kept us consistent, and dictated the shapes and sizes of details. It didn’t matter that small details were repeated, as it gave the whole scheme a sense of self-referential consistency, as well as making each room with enhancements feel part of a whole, whether it was a tiny isolation room or a huge 8 cot ward.
So how to do it?
I find it’s a little like the Nash Equilibrium – the key is to make each element work on its own, and with the rest of the pack too. Every part of the pack should stand as a piece in its own right, whether as a tiny vignette in a brochure or book, or as a repeated pattern on a website; but it should also be evident that it belongs to a set. It’s part of a wider visual language that works for the project in the same way as consistent fonts, colours and shapes in a brand identity would. So my starting point is always the customer or project. What do they (or I) want to achieve from the pack? This will determine the style and way I produce the illustrations.
How will the pack be used?
Will it be for web only? For print only? Large format or tiny postcards? Once I know what the pack will be used for, I then decide whether to do vector or pixel based illustrations. It’s also good to use the famous illustrator-mind-reading-trick of second guessing your client, ready for the all-too familiar ‘oh can you just make it ten times the size, we want to make a banner/van wrap/project it onto the Eiffel Tower’… If I’m doing hand-drawn illustrations, I make sure to scan them in at at least 1200 dpi, just in case.
Start with a list
If my client hasn’t given me a wish list, making my own can help generate ideas for the content of my art pack. If I’m stuck, I usually google the topic and see what comes up. I try and get a full page of things to include, maybe more than I’ll eventually draw out, just to be safe.
I often try and sketch things out in a composition, so the pack itself looks as good as it can be from the word go. The image below was my sketch for a project on, you’ve guessed it, millinery. Rather than just drawing the hats in rows, thinking of it as a pattern inspired me to add in the little ribbon snips and reels of cotton, which didn’t occur to me in the list stage.
I love working with a limited colour palette. Although it can make things difficult sometimes, when I’d just love to make the hat lime green, as a lime green hat would look amazing, it wouldn’t necessarily work with the rest of the group. Back to John Nash – the hat needs to look great, and it also needs to look great with the rest of the hats on the page. When working with an art pack, limiting the colour choices can really help, as can using a lot of neutral shades to increase the impact of the bolder colours. I often use black and white to improve the flexibility of the palette too. Once I have this, I’m ready to start.
For this artpack I wanted to have slightly sketchy feel, generally flat tones with a hint of shadow. I used Procreate on the iPad pro and referred to the sketches throughout. Sometimes I wanted to just import a photo I’d found on Google images to trace, but had to resist it and go back to the sketches – this kept them all consistent. Each hat is on its own layer so it can easily be isolated and used alone, or with its fellow hats too.
I like to deliver the files as neatly as possible. If it’s a vector-based art pack – each item is grouped together for ease of moving. If it’s a Photoshop file, each layer is labelled and grouped where necessary. It makes my life easier too – as otherwise I forget what things are and get very frustrated trying to find them. I try to make sure my colour palette is included in the file too, so my client can use them themselves, keeping everything as consistent as possible when it leaves my care.
A bit about the Nash Equilibrium – click here
See Firecatcher’s awesome work – click here