Category Archives: Cartoon

Illustration tutorial – step by step guide – part 1

Illustration tutorial “Pirates”

Illustration tutorial showing my working process to create a dynamic, dashing, daring image filled with glorious swashbuckling action, heroics, disaster and mayhem.

Part one – rough sketches

I decided that if I was going to do a big and exciting picture, it’d be worthwhile coming up with a decent composition. In my mind’s eye I’d decided that I wanted some kind of pirate mutiny scene. I love drawing pirates, so this seemed like the ideal mix of buccaneers and action. I came up with 5 different versions. I knew I wanted a leering, jeering mob poking the captain on a plank, and some tentacles from a krakenesque beast lurking in the hidden depths. And probably a bit of ship or castle, and maybe some city, and whilst I’m at it, a bunch of other stuff too.

Rough pencil layout of Pirate Captain Walking the plank

Illustration tutorial thumbnail of Pirate walking the plank
Pirate Captain walking the plank illustration rough


After various angles, I chose the final pencil drawing to work from. I’ve got a big old block of Saunders Waterford watercolour paper. It’s one of those epic pads that’s glued on all sides to keep the paper taut when you paint on it. Only…. this time, my approach would be different.


I sketched out the drawing with a regular “F” pencil, very lightly, and quite roughly, just blobby and outliney so that I had the people and objects in the right place. Using a Faber Castell 192 pencil “Indian Red“, I then started drawing. And drawing. And drawing. Using the outline that I’d roughly placed down, I embellished and exaggerated to my hearts content.  Then I did a bit more, adding some shadows to the background, to make the characters stand out more. Then a bit of shadow to the bottom of the page to draw your eye up to the hapless captain about to meet his doom.

Stretching watercolour paper – correctly

An old trick I learned many years back when stretching paper has helped me immensely many times over. However, I usually stretch the paper prior to drawing on it, so this time  round I’ve gone a bit while and done things effectively back to front by drawing the image first, then stretching. There’s a rationale for this though, (though I’ll have to wait a day or two to see if it works), and that’s because apparently if you soak a pencil drawing for 15 mins then stretch it, the pencil gets absorbed into the paper so that it doesn’t smudge. Hence this time not needing that incredibly expensive addition of the glued edges on my watercolour paper block.

Pinning out

Anyway, after a 15 minute soak I lay the paper on a stretcher board, placed some wet pieces of gum strip along the edges – and here’s the trick – then placed a series of drawing pins through the gum strip and the paper into the board to secure everything in place. I noticed that this paper didn’t wrinkle at all, so laying everything down was very easy; other paper’s aren’t necessarily this easy to work with I’ve discovered. So this was a lovely revelation. Anyway, here’s the finished pencil artwork ready for the next stage once everything’s dried up and I’m back in the studio next week.

Pirate captain walking the plank to his doom - pencilled version
Pirate captain walking the plank to his doom – pencilled version