Black and white illustration from "To Be Free"

This is a black and white interior illustration from the book To Be Free. The cover illustration was posted on Oct.27. I am going to describe the step by step process I took to create this illustration

Steck-Vaughn assignment

The client called me with an assignment to create a color cover illustration and eleven black and white illustration  for a book titled “Abrams Way”. They saw samples of my work in a page advertisement in a source book of illustrators and called me. They set the price and gave me the deadline. I said I would create these illustrations. The client, Steck-Vaughn faxed me this page along with the area of the page I was to illustrate. As the letter states I had twelve days to create  twelve sketches.

Thumbnail sketches

I read the manuscript and created small rough sketches called thumbnails for me to refer to while photographing models I hired.

Reference photographs

I proceed to select models from a web page of a talent representative. After selecting the models I set up a photo shoot at my home. Usually I shoot my own photos. I shoot many photos for each situation. If I don’t hire professional models I ask my family or friends to pose. I usually don’t plan the poses, I let the models relate to each other and then combine various photos. I supplement my photos with reference found in books or internet. An example for this illustration is the photo from a book of sailing ships.

pencil drawing to show the client

This is a “tight” pencil drawing created from the photo reference. This was shown to the client for approval. Once the sketch was approved I made a black and white copy on a copy machine from the pencil drawing and painted tone on the copy with water based paint. This was the second drawing made after changes were suggested by the client.

list of changes

Here are the changes made by Steck_Vaughn. They were minor. The name of the book was changed to To Be Free.

I created the finished illustrations and sent them to the client. This job was created during December of 2002 to February of 2003.


  1. Ellen Dixon says:

    John – your behind-the-scenes description of the process is fascinating – a glimpse of a really interesting world!

  2. johndyess says:

    Thanks Ellen
    It has been an interesting world for me to visit. At this stage of my life I want to share my knowledge of the illustration process.

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