Since leaving Liverpool John Moores University, Stephen Chan has carved out a successful career as a freelance illustrator, with clients including the BBC, Esquire magazine, Facebook, Penguin Books and Tiger Beer. He’s also one of the founding members of design portal Thunder Chunky, and an artist at Blood Sweat Vectors Collective, The Mighty Pencil, Designers of Asia and Brothers of the Stripe. He has exhibited his work in London, Berlin, Boston, Beijing, Tokyo, Kyoto, Manila, Melbourne and several other cities.

Recently, illustrator Stephen Chan produced a series of illustrations for a travel feature in the US edition of Esquire magazine, which melded his geometric line-art landscapes with high-end fashion photography. Here Stephen takes you through how he creates such a scene, set in Venice, using stock photography to avoid the expense of having to fly out there – which is especially great as none of the location photography will be visible in the final piece.

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Stephen will explain how to make a perfect and realistic composition using photo montage, which you will then trace to create a stylised line-art effect. You will learn important skills and processes involved in composition, tracing imagery, and being organised. 

The techniques detailed here will also allow you to create a variety of rough layouts using comps from a stock site, before buying only the images you need when you’ve got one you’re happy with. Our photos are from iStockphoto (, which has just launched a service that allows you to quickly buy photos like these using your credit card.

If you want to follow along with this tutorial directly, you should purchase these images from iStockphoto: Rialto Bridge; Beautiful Venice; Venice Canal, Cross-Processed; Historical Regatta - Italy; seagull on canal Venice, Italy; and Colorful canal Venice, Italy.

Stephen says the best way to begin is to create a composition first, and then get a photographer to get the right angles of the model to fit in to the scene, especially if the model will be interacting with the scene. It’s easier to adjust the model to fit the scene, than vice versa. But in this tutorial – as in the Esquire pieces – he’ll be working from pre-shot model photography.

Time to complete

4 to 6 hours


Photoshop, Illustrator

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