Back in May I met Eimear McNally in Dublin, following a request via Twitter to help work on an upcoming project (once in a while Twitter still amazes me with random connectivity!). Eimear is an Illustrator and Visual Facilitator, putting her talents to use creating graphic interpretations of conferences, including a range of creative approaches, such as murals, collaborative large scale displays and sketchnoting. The description Eimear gave to me about this work was ‘Graphic Harvesting’ - which sums it up pretty well.
Eimear was looking for someone skilled in using Illustrator to help create graphics and pull together an overall ‘Harvest’ document for the 2016 EAN (European Access Network) conference and, being the organisation’s 25th year, this was a significant milestone event. There was a substantial amount of work in this as Eimear had tasked a team of ‘Harvesters’ to continuously collect content, delivering it to us for interpretation, throughout the three days of the conference. Some of this content was incorporated into the Harvest Document, in addition to other graphics being created to illustrate the overall project. It was pretty hectic, as creating most forms of illustration tends to be time-consuming work - in fact usually at odds with producing anything quickly.
The brief was to keep as much work as possible in vector format, for scaleability and to construct the finished document in Adobe Illustrator - an application we were both familiar with and could collaborate within. The plan was then to illustrate concepts brought to us by the harvesting team and build them into the main document, adding portrait illustrations of the speakers, not necessarily drawn live but mostly produced during the day’s work.
The Tools for the Job
I’m an Adobe CC subscriber, so I have the latest version of Illustrator, combined with a Wacom Intros 3 tablet+pen. A pretty old model, but still capable for serious illustration work. A recent addition to my kit is an iPad Pro (the large one) and an Apple Pencil. These two items turned out to be the daily driver for most of my work at the conference, and were a pretty powerful combo for rapid graphics production.
On the iPad I opted for the Adobe Draw app to create the illustrations. I tried quite a few apps for this, but some claimed as vector drawing tools only output bitmapped file formats, which was not what we needed. Adobe Draw is a native vector drawing app and outputs files that are immediately accessible within Adobe Illustrator on the Mac. And I do mean immediate, thanks to an Adobe Cloud subscription there is a ‘send to Illustrator’ button on the Adobe Draw share menu, one tap on that and the iPad illustration just shows up on the Mac in Illustrator within moments. This was exactly what I needed for this conference workflow, and it saved us a huge amount of time during the working day. I also used the very impressive Concepts iPad app, which works in vector and bitmap modes, though cannot output in vector format (or at least I could not get suitable vectors from it). Nevertheless it is an excellent app for creating illustration work on iPad.
And a have to give a special mention to the Apple Pencil, I don’t know exactly what kind of witchcraft Apple invoked in it’s making, but it truly does work like magic - and I’ve tried a lot of iPad styluses (stylii?). The Apple Pencil is very well matched indeed to the Adobe Draw app, offering a very natural feel when crafting elegant curved lines & fills.
I am now officially besotted with the iPad/Pencil combo and, as I was packing all my gear for this conference, I really wished I could have composed the main document on the iPad, in addition to generating the illustrations. That sure would have allowed me to travel a lot lighter for this trip, not that my Macbook Pro is terribly heavy in itself, but the amount of adapters, cables, (Wacom tablet) etc., soon exponentially added weight to my briefcase. Hopefully we’re pretty close to Adobe bringing out a professional level page layout app (like InDesign) for the iPad Pro, I’d love to see that.
Concepts from our harvesting team were illustrated freehand (Eimear worked in Illustrator on the Mac and I mainly produced my work on the iPad), these were typically icons and basic graphic forms to communicate ideas mentioned in the presentations. Sort of like Sketchnoting (and Mike, if you ever read this, I will indeed get into Sketchnoting proper at some point!), but not done in a single layout, as the final comping into the main document was achieved in Illustrator on the Mac.
Our production schedule was pretty tight, so there really wasn’t time to craft totally freehand illustrations in the case of the portrait graphics (though that is entirely possible on iPad & Pencil). I used reference images to trace over and create initial linework in Adobe Draw, then went to work creating the vector forms, colours and shading. There’s still a high level of drafting ability required even for this type of work, and certainly if you’re after a specific style, as I was. Choice of brush/pen was critical to get the look I wanted for these images, but Adobe Draw was easily up to the task with rapidly selectable tools and easy editing features. It was a joy to work with.
So here are some of the portrait images I created for this project:
Although I’d been working with the iPad Pro and Pencil for some time already this was the first commissioned project where I employed it and, I have to say, it performed brilliantly. I have only begun to delve into it’s capabilities, and am very excited about where it is going next. The hardware and app ecology for iPad is accelerating at a dizzying speed and is opening up entirely new ways to work - even for ‘niche’ tasks like vector illustration.
I’ll definitely be investing a lot more time into illustrating on my iPad. I have a lot of experience in this business, but I’ve never had tools like this at my disposal, they really are a pleasure to work with.
I also have to mention the stir it created when folks could see the illustrations being created directly on the iPad screen. A lot of them were familiar with iPads, of course, but had never seen them used for illustration work - especially professional speed illustration work at that!