Although I mainly create medical illustrations, I'm currently working on a extensive series of illustrations for a brochure on pond/pool-construction. Since this is a mixture of technical and organic visuals, the best way to go about it for me is a combination of 3D-modeling and digital painting. In the following post I show a behind the scenes to my approach, on how I create one of the simpler illustrations of the series.
1. Starting out simple
Once it is clear what exactly needs to be shown and a (very) rough hand sketch is created, I'll start with simple geometric shapes, using the 3D program Cinema4D. In this case of a quite simple illustration, with a cube, which I then divide into water and earth.
2. Prepare a library of elements
Other objects, such as pipes, filters and all other more technical elements I’ll also create from geometric shapes. I’ll save these separately and if possible use in further illustrations. I’ll also add organic elements, such as the lawn and plants that I either create in 3D or add later on, when digitally painting over the scene in Photoshop.
If there is a more complicated system of pipes I'll use Bezier Curves (some readers probably know them from Photoshop and Illustrator) to create these pipelines. I'll the add Sweep Nurbs, that allow me to chose the size and edit the pipes later on.
3. Textures and lightings
I'll create textures like the water, stone surfaces and plastic for the tubes in Cinema4D and use them for all further illustrations from this series. I also set up a lighting situation, which I then use for all scenes to ensure a visual coherence of the aesthetics.
4. Digital painting for all organic and details
I then render the scene as a TIF-image and continue with Photoshop. I've also collected other textures for organic objects like the water surface and the cross section of the earth layers. I then lay the textures over the surfaces and stretch until they fit the current perspective. Then I'll proceed to my favourite part; adding all the details with my Wacom tablet.
Advantages of a workflow:
For a large series of images, it is so valuable to create an ideal workflow, with a small library of textures, objects that can be reused, and lighting. A workflow saves time and, as previously mentioned, allows one to create a visual unity, so it is clear at first glance, that it is an series of illustration within a project.