Illustrators are storytellers. To tell a story well you need to be a director. In this blog, I want to explain the thought process behind this illustration and how it evolved from a very rough pencil sketch to what it is now.
This is a digital illustration I created to express how it feels to be stuck in traffic in public transportation in rush hour! The concept of personal space simply disappears and everyone is just anxious to get to where they're going.
As the director of this work, I had to take care of several aspects such as camera angle, composition, lighting, and color.
First I wanted to decide on a camera angle. Where should I place the camera to make my message of discomfort and struggle clear?
I chose a somewhat higher camera angle to achieve 2 purposes:
1. make it easy to see more of the seated passengers.
2. make those passengers seem small and helpless.
This is the equivalent of writing something down on a post-it note before you forget it. You need to ignore the details and focus on the idea.
To make sure the composition works I redrew it digitally just to clean it up
and threw in some values to work on the light and shadow and create a general balance between dark and light.
The focus in this composition was on the mother and child. I wanted the focus to be on the person squashed between the two women, so I flipped the drawing.
Colors are only understood in the context of light. For this reason, when you work on colors, you are in fact a gaffer or a lighting technician.
The direction of the light obviously comes from the windows. Mainly from the right and weaker from the left.
I added temporary colors.... warm for the light and cool for the shadows.
but I didn't like this refined look, I wanted something earthy and rough.
I kept tweaking slowly and gradually and one thing I noticed is that I needed to give the standing woman a bag to stop the viewer's eyes from moving towards the right and outside the painting.
I drew different characters that represent people I see in everyday life. Different ages, males and females, different body types, different backgrounds.
People's expressions and body language:
The men at the front of the bus: one is sleeping while the other is frowning.
The woman in the next seat is holding her baby, while talking on the phone and trying to get something out of her bag all at the same time, mothers have to multitask a lot. In the process, she's elbowing the person sitting next to her in the face! who is now caught between an elbow and a hard place...
No one seems to be happy because they all will be late for work and they're exposed to pollution of all kinds...yet somehow there's always this person who acts like he's on a beach in Hawaii!
Extra Composition Tips:
If you look closely you will find that the heads and bag form a dotted circle around the person in the middle. It's a framing tool that you can use. Also the mother's arm, the flying smoke at the front and the cigarette of the guy in the back all work as arrows that point towards the hero of the illustration.
Seems like commuters everywhere share this experience because I got reactions from a bunch of people who can relate and they're from different parts of the world!
Use all the tools you have to run your one-man band or one-woman band! :P
I hope you found this helpful and I would be happy to know your thoughts and answer your questions.
More of my digital paintings can be found here.
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Heidi Ahmad (@heidiGFX)
Digital Illustrator & Colorist
Telling Stories Through Light & Color
Bachelor of Fine Arts
Third Culture Kid (TCK)
Freelance Writer/Translator - Design Guide Magazine
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