Dwayne Bell has created editorial illustrations for a decade, producing art for the likes of the FT, GQ and a whole host of cycling magazines. Here he reveals how he efficiently produces wonderful work to very tight deadlines that combines hand-drawn linework with digital colour and found textures.
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Dwayne also explains how to maintain flexibility in illustrations, so that he can quickly make changes in response to client comments with a minimum of hassle.
If you’d like to follow along and produce a similar artwork, you can download two of Dwayne’s reference photos of himself dressed as a street troublemaker. As you’d expect, these are given to you only to use in this Masterclass. Don’t cause trouble with them, though.
Time to complete
• 4-5 hours
• Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
The start of the process involves thumbnailing ideas. As it’s a collaboration between an art director and illustrator, these will form the basis of the discussion on direction and ideas. In this example, the brief was to create an illustration for a piece on Internet security, using the 2011 London riots as inspiration.
Once an idea is selected you need to find source material from which to build your piece. Don’t try and work off the top of your head though, as it will look weak.
A digital camera is an illustrator’s friend. In this case I had a friend photograph me in disguise. These became the backbone of the illustration.
This is where the fun starts – it’s time to get drawing. Working from the source images, I draw each element separately and completely. This is despite them being cropped in some way later, as it gives me the freedom to move elements within the frame of the final composition to fine-tune it.
Once all the elements are drawn, they need to be scanned. Again erring on the side of caution, I tend to scan slightly bigger than required, which gives me the freedom to use the drawings larger than intended if that turns out to be an option later. I also save each element separately so I know I can go back to the original at any time.
Scanned images will need cleaning. How much is your decision – I leave some accidental pencil marks as these add to the analogue feel of my work.
Try to achieve a pure white background though – I use a Levels adjustment (
Cmd/Ctrl + L) and am careful not to overdo it and lose or burn detail in the linework. If Levels alone can’t get the right balance, I use a white brush to paint over any unwanted ‘bits’.
With the elements cleaned, you can start to put together the layout. In a fresh document place the elements together (I used A4 portrait as that was the ‘brief’).
For each element, apply a Multiply blending mode to effectively make all the white transparent. Move and scale the elements until you have a composition that reflects what you’re trying to convey. In my piece, the character moving out of frame creates a tension and also counters the strong dynamic taking our eye away from the top-right corner.
At this stage I will email a scaled-down image – probably a screen grab – of the layout, so that the client can see the direction and style with more clarity. Put the kettle on and grab some biscuits.
My work is built around drawing and texture: scanned paint, ink, crayon and papers; photographed walls, wood and ‘stuff’ – it all gets saved and used. While it’s important to build a library of textures and marks that you can call upon, you should make new textures for each job to keep your work fresh.
To prepare a scanned texture, you should first clean it up. You want to use this to apply finely detailed texture but not colour – we’ll do that separately – so a black texture on a white background is perfect (I’ve used some scanned black paint strokes here for an urban feel).
To separate the texture from the page, I use
Select > Colour Range… to select the black. Next create a new layer ( Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N) and fill the selection ( Cmd/Ctrl + Delete) with any colour you like – this won’t be used in the final composition, it’s just to make the texture area visible.
Bring the texture layer into the main image. Hold
Cmd/Ctrl and click the texture’s thumbnail in the Layers panel. Create a new layer and fill this selection with the colour you want to use in your artwork. Experiment with blending modes to alter how the colour acts against others. As the texture layer still exists you can move it, re-select it and use it several times to build up your image.
It’s now time to build up the colour. I like to have a rough idea of the colour palette I’m heading towards, and it’s usually based on the mood I’m looking for. Colours communicate and also draw the eye, so use this to your advantage. This piece had to suggest youth and danger.
To fine-tune the colours I use Hue/Saturation adjustments (
Cmd/Ctrl + U). Go from layer to layer, tweaking the colours until you have harmony and contrast where needed.
You will soon start to build up many layers, so it’s a good idea to keep them organised. Name them and put them in folders – this makes any amendments easier to work through. In this case, the main character had his own folder. Don’t blend any layers, as everything you do needs to be ‘live’ in case the client requires changes.
Once built up, I’d recommend sending your client an email before adding the finishing touches. To bring the piece together, I added a layer of orange above the whole composition using a soft-light blending mode. This gives a colour cast like a streetlight.
I also added a halftone effect across the whole piece. To do this, I created a flat copy of the artwork using
Image > Duplicate, and selecting Duplicate Merged Layers Only. I then created a grayscale version of the image ( Image > Mode > Grayscale), so that Photoshop let me create a bitmap version ( Image > Mode > Bitmap). Here are the settings I used – Output: 300dpi; Method: Halftone Screen; Frequency: 15 lines per inch; and Angle: 45 degrees.
Copy and paste the result into your original, then use the
Select > Colour Range as before to create a halftone layer and use a Multiply blending mode to blend it in, dropping the opacity if it overwhelms the piece.
Finally, I flatten the image and use
Image > Adjustments > Selective colour and Levels adjustments ( Cmd/Ctrl + L) to make final adjustments to the colour balance.
When Dwayne found out that he could make a living (kind of) drawing and creating images he was cock-a-hoop. And after discovering Photoshop in his second year of university, he hasn’t looked back. Despite the digital nature of his work, it still all starts in sketchbooks and on paper – pencils and crayons are his favourite tools. Contact