© January 2019, Neil Young Illustration
While I was in undergrad my curriculum included, among various studio art classes, an illustration studio. Having taken countless art classes since childhood, most heavily rooted in drawing, I was very intrigued by taking illustration. This course would be a way to practice the skills that I gained in drawing class and apply them to varying illustration methods for a completely different result. Of the myriad techniques we learned, the one that really resonated with me was the ‘graphic translation’.
A graphic translation is the process of taking a grayscale image and creating a graphic out of it; think of a stamp or a stencil where there are only two colors. The technique may seem easy, but the challenge is finding that sweet spot in the range of grays where you place your black and white divide. In a grayscale image, you have what seems like an endless range of grays creating the area between your 100 percent black and white. The most challenging, and at times frustrating, part of mastering this method is finding the perfect point at which you place your divide. You must find ONE SINGULAR line where there used to be a gradient of ‘color’ to create the movement between blacks and whites. The crazy thing is that you can miss or screw up a tiny part of the design and it can ruin the entire thing making it look nothing like what you intended. The even crazier part is that you do not find this out until you are completely finished with your design.
When creating your graphic, you begin with a line drawing of what you believe will best represent or convey your subject. Once you have completed the line drawing, you fill it in with black marker. Here is a little guide to my process.
Steps to creating a graphic translation:
- Print out your grayscale image
- Looking closely at your image create your drawing using pencil first
- Once you have completed your line work, trace the pencil lines with your thin marker
- Fill in the areas that should be black with your larger black marker
(TIP: When filling in your solid black areas make sure you stay a tiny bit inside your pen line as most markers bleed a hair which can make your beautiful line work look fuzzy. Once you have used your pen of choice, you will get a feel for how much they bleed so you can adjust accordingly)
- Voila! This is it: Moment of truth. You can now (FINALLY!!) determine whether you translated it correctly. Bravo, if so… Better luck next time, if not!
Honestly, you have good ones and you have bad ones, it is all part of the process. My very first graphic translation ever, Jimi Hendrix, was ON POINT and AMAZING and many thereafter (Cue the overwhelming feelings of confidence). Then I get to Bob Marley, an iconic image of him signing and it bombed; it looked like some random dude with dreads yelling! The crazy thing, too, is that everything is exactly how it needs to be except for something on his face in the nasal area and that one tiny detail took the image from iconic Bob Marley to some dude yelling. It is funny, and tragic, to get all the way through and this happens but it happens to the best of us. My advice is to stick with it because for all the duds, I have created ten or more good ones.
I will go ahead and list the supplies that I like to use but please use whatever brand of supplies you prefer. And honestly, if you only have access to a thin and regular weight black sharpie that works just as well!
Good luck trying this technique if you do and let me know how it goes.
Until we meet again…Get Creative!!
Favorite Supplies for this project:
Strathmore Britol Paper https://www.strathmoreartist.com/draw-bristol/id-300-series-bristol.html
Prismacolor Marker https://www.prismacolor.com/markers
Micron Pens https://sakuraofamerica.com/pen-archival