Make digital projects seem hand-made

Bookmarks by Pietari Posti

Ben Newman is not entirely persuaded by these arguments, however. “I’m not sure if [the handcrafted digital look] is more appealing, but it’s definitely more familiar.” He says handmade textures create “a more organic feel and warmth”, which in turn can make the viewer feel “safe” and let them engage more deeply with the image.

Emily Alston believes it’s another quality of the crafted look that gives it an advantage – it yields more of an insight into the artist’s personality. “It was important for me to allow my own personality to come through [in work], and not let the technology dominate,” she says. “I’ve always collected things and been a lover of vintage objects and books, so I suppose [that gives] my work a retro feel, but I like it to be a modern take on vintage rather than a simple pastiche.”

Some artists, including Kate, have made the move in the opposite direction – from traditional techniques to a mixed workflow. “I have always worked with drawing and traditional collage, but started to experiment with digital techniques for ease of editing commercial projects,” Kate says.

Creating her illustrations involves sketchbook planning and constructing roughs, and she takes extra time to find the right components for her characters. “Often the subject will dictate what non-digital textures I need to find or make – there might be a specific material I want to scan for a character’s clothing.”

One of Jonas Bergstrand’s posters for Soho Beach House in Florida

Happy accidents

Are such hybrid techniques all arrived at by chance, or do they tend to be built on top of a background in more traditional techniques? For some creatives, their mixed workflow is the result of messing around rather than a conscious decision.

Irish illustrator Eoin Ryan (, known for, among other things, his stylised, somewhat fuzzy illustrations of imagined buildings and cityscapes, says he used printing a lot at college – “mainly etching, lithograph and lino”. Now he still tries to retain that printed feel in digital work for clients such as GQ, New Scientist and Wallpaper*. “For me it was a series of happy accidents, combining different strands of work and experimenting until I arrived at something that felt right,” he says. “It’s important to keep developing your style.”

Ben also explored manual techniques before settling on his current process. “It stems from an obsession with print and experience working in traditional printing.”

If you never or hardly use traditional media, how do you ‘fake’ a handmade feel to illustrations? Mathis Rekowski (, based in Berlin, often draws directly in Photoshop while using scanned drawings to create some elements. “I use a lot of texture layers, and digital brushes help create a handmade feel. The less clean the surface of the picture looks, the more you get the impression of something physical.”

A Gatorade advertising campaign image and a piece called Wisdom, both by Doug Alves

His work, including a limited-edition print exhibited at the Pick Me Up event at Somerset House, London, in April, is a wonderful example of how handmade and digital textures, colours, shapes and patterns come together to create stunning illustrations.

For 2&3, creating their paper cut-out effects required a combination of industrial design techniques and vector artwork – incorporating swirling circular lines drawn on a pen tablet with a 3D render to emulate quilling, and 3ds Max shading. “We share the same studio space,” Jitesh says of himself and his collaborator Alex, who is the 3D specialist. “It was only a matter of time before we began to experiment, using the combination of both our skills. Many of our clients can’t believe our work is CG.”

Naturally, experimentation is a favoured way of finding your own digital handmade style, but in this context, what exactly counts as experimenting – trying new Photoshop tools, playing around with a scanner, or using found materials to create something unique?

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