Behind the Scenes: Venue Illustrations
Venue illustrations are a huge trend in luxury wedding stationery right now, and for good reason! When couples incorporate custom artwork into wedding invitations the result is timeless, truly one-of-a-kind pieces that tell their story and provide a seamless transition from concept to reality. If the couple loves their venue and wants to show it off, invitations are the perfect place for it.
My experience with and ability to incorporate custom venue illustrations is one of the most common reasons couples book their wedding stationery with me. I absolutely love bringing them to life, and am fascinated with how different methods of line and mark making portray different elements of character and life. Each medium and process communicates something a little different in the end result.
There are a few different services I offer that can or do include venue illustrations: 1) solo art prints, 2) digitized and licensed artwork, 3) personal or business stationery, 4) logo design and branding, and most commonly, 5) artwork for invitations. Depending on how the illustration is going to be used, there are certain requirements that have to be met. While a framed art print is fairly straightforward, illustrating for digital or plate printing methods is a little more complex.
Reference the infographic below to see the steps in my process for each kind of project.
step one: research
No matter what the end result is, the first step is always to research the subject. When I’m working with a wedding venue, their website, social media profiles, and a Google image search typically provide all the photos I need. When doing a home illustration, Google Earth and photos that the client send me will be my main sources of reference. I always try to collect a few photos from different angles, and also reference interior photos and close-ups of the exterior. While they don’t do much good when trying to decipher the building as a whole, they clue me in to what the building material and texture is like.
Along with getting reference photos, if illustrating a wedding venue I also note the design of their website, their branding, and what kind of weddings they host. The general aesthetic and feel of everything can inform me of how the illustration should feel as well, especially if it’s that look and feel that made my clients want to host their wedding there in the first place!
Step Two: gesture sketch
Once the reference photos and research are in place, I prepare my paper by marking a border. This keeps things from running off the page, but also helps me visually center the sketch. This is particularly important when doing a one-off illustration that won’t be digitized. Then I go in and block out the general proportions of the facade. I use light marks to note where windows and doors are, the angle of the roof, and general shape of the building. I start by moving quickly, then go back and analyze once the whole gesture is complete. Viewing the sketch in a mirror or from a distance can help you notice if certain things look off. Light marks are so important in this part of the process because there’s always some erasing and re-sketching to be done.
step three: refined sketch
When I’m happy with the proportions of the gesture sketch, I use my pencil to add in a little more detail. Where before I had general squares marking windows and doors, I now add in lines signifying window panes, door panels, etc. Depending on the complexity of the venue, this could mean adding in a lot of detail, or hardly any.
If the sketch is too busy, it may be confusing to ink, and will leave a muddier sheet of paper at the end, so I try to keep the sketch as simple as possible, only marking details that are 100% necessary.
step four: ink
When I’m happy with the refined sketch, I then go in and finalize everything with ink. I typically use a calligraphy nib (the Zebra G) and ink, but depending on how I want the final piece to look I may also use a Micron pen or charcoal.
When creating a one time piece of artwork (our venue illustration prints), I go right in with the ink color that the client has asked for. Using nib and ink allows for so many options in ink colors, which is why I started drawing with them in the first place. If the piece will be scanned in for reproduction on stationery or elsewhere, I’ll use black sumi ink to keep things clean, crisp, and easy to read for the scanner.
In this final inking, I go slow and carefully, marking any and all details I think are necessary: be it brick, siding, shingles, etc. I won’t include all textural detail on every illustration, but I use it as a tool to make the piece feel more balanced and complete. I ask, “Does the illustration need them to convey the character and feel of the venue? Would it just make it more muddled in the end?”
Inking also includes writing out the calligraphy inscription, if doing a venue illustration print.
step five: erase pencil marks
After everything has been inked and had plenty of time to dry, I go back and erase any pencil marks. If the piece is a venue illustration print, it is now ready to be packaged and shipped to the client. If it’s to be digitized and reproduced for stationery, I now am ready to scan it in.
Step Six: Scan Illustration
I scan the illustration in at 600dpi normally, unless I plan on making the illustration significantly larger than the original drawing. Normally, that’s not the case, but the higher dpi gives some flexibility, and helps it look a little smoother in the end.
digitally printed work
Step Seven:Clean Up in Photoshop
After it’s scanned in, I bring the image into Photoshop, add a layer behind the scanned image, then use the magic wand tool to erase the white background from my illustration. If it’s a good quality scan, there won’t be much else that needs cleaning up beyond that, but if there is, I can go in and touch things up with the eraser tool. Since we added the layer behind the scanned image, the file now has a transparent background. I can then save as a PNG to preserve that transparency, and it’s ready to be imported into my design file in Illustrator. I also am sure to save the raw PSD file in case I want to go back in and change color or clean things up more.
When I add it into Illustrator, I can position and scale the illustration as needed for my design.
work that requires vectorization
If I’m letterpress printing, foil printing, engraving, embossing, or creating a design that requires a plate to print, I will always need to vectorize the illustration. In some cases, the steps for digital printing are enough to get a clean image trace, but a lot of the time, that process doesn’t lead to as nice of a vectorization as I would like. If you encounter this, try the steps below and see if you get a cleaner look!
step seven: procreate copy
If the analog illustration isn’t vectorizing well, I troubleshoot by sending my scanned image to my iPad and using my Apple Pencil to trace over the illustration in Procreate.
I personally love the look of an analog illustration, with all of it’s quirks and kinks, and if I’m honest, I’ve had a really difficult time replicating the character of an analog piece on my iPad. While some artists and designers may be able to go right in and sketch/draw in Procreate, I need that analog illustration to serve as a reference point for character. Otherwise, the piece ends up looking mechanical and cold, and that’s just not the look and feel I like to use in my work.
Sketching and inking the illustration using analog methods first allows me to directly trace over that character. I can mimic where I naturally made lines a little thicker or thinner, and follow the little shakes my hand made as it marked on paper. These little elements, while seemingly imperfect, bring so much life and emotion into the finished product, and it’s those things that I love about venue illustrations. By taking the extra step of drawing both analog and digital, I can capture everything I want to, and also guarantee a clean vectorization down the road.
In Procreate, I simply add in my scanned image, lower the opacity of that layer, then add a new layer on top to trace the photo with. When I’m done, I delete the scanned image layer, hide the background layer, and airdrop a PNG to my computer. Then, I can import the piece directly into Illustrator and vectorize.
step eight: illustrator image trace
Once the PNG file is in Illustrator, I can vectorize it and add it to my design. To do so, I use the Image Trace tool, which automatically reads your photo and turns it into a vector.
I select the illustration, open the Image Trace panel, expand the panel to show advanced options, select “Ignore White” and click the “Trace” button. From there, I adjust the threshold until all the details are captured. You can also play around with the paths, corners, and noise sliders to see if that makes your image cleaner, but in most cases I don’t need to use those. When things look okay, I click the “Expand” button up top, and the illustration is now vectorized! If any details still look wonky, I go and manually fix things using the pen tool and pathfinder panel.
This step in the process is one that you’ll have to experiment with to figure out how things work. Play around with the options in Image Trace, but also with Procreate document size and brush type. Finding a combo that works efficiently will make a world of difference, but it will vary a little depending on your illustrative style. Take time to play with things and get familiar with all the settings, and you’ll figure it out in no time.
The whole process behind a venue illustration can be lengthy. Getting from sketch to final vectorization can take me close to five hours at times. But that time is well worth it. Illustrations are such powerful storytelling tools, and the amount of time you invest in the process really is apparent in the end result. And, at the end of the day, the client has a one-of-a-kind, hand drawn piece of art that they can cherish for a lifetime.