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Cartoon Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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See all the steps freelance illustrator Nick Diggory uses to create an illustration for a 2002 calendar using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
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Nick Diggory Brisbane, Australia

Designer, Illustrator, Cartoonist, Art Director


Cat and Dog for 2002 Calendar


Origin Design, Bristol, England

Illustrator Tools and Techniques

Pencil Tool, Layers, Stroke palette

Opposite:Lady in tub | Self promotion

Nick Diggory Cartoons from Down Under

Where does a 21st-century artist live? If you're Nick Diggory, the answer is, anywhere in the world you want. For Diggory, that place is the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia. Originally from England, Diggory moved to Australia and found no work available in the area he chose to live. Thankfully, he kept his English phone number, had his calls routed to his home in Australia, and talks to his English clients as if he were sitting across town from them. "It's funny. When I talk to new clients in the UK, they think that I'm just down the road a bit. After I tell them I am actually located in Australia, they are quite surprised." Diggory quickly reassures his clients that they are only paying for a local call. "Technology certainly has made the business end of things easy to deal with." Diggory found that with his computer, a high-speed connection, and call forwarding, he could serve clients anywhere in the world.

Figure 1 Figure 1 Cow | American Showcase, a journal for illustrators

Diggory has had a passion for doodling and illustration since he was a kid. He couldn't wait for high school graduation to start a career in illustration, so at the age of sixteen, he dropped out of school and went straight to art college. He enrolled in the Cheshire School of Art and Design where he graduated with a Distinction in Exhibition and Design. Since then— over 20 years ago—Diggory has delivered more than 16,000 commissioned illustrations without ever missing a deadline.

Diggory tried the job market for a while after graduating from art college. His first job was with a fashion photographer in Manchester, England, where he worked as a finishing artist. Shortly thereafter he moved on to work as a visualizer for an advertising agency and later became an art director at another agency. His five-year career as an employed artist ended when he was given the boot for spending more time on a fast-growing freelance business than he did at his "real job." The consequence of being asked to leave was a blessing, and he's freelance business has grown to the point that he creates illustrations for package designs and brand advertising for clients all over the world.

The freelance work that occupied his time during his last employment was drawing the character Oddbins, a French peasant who popped up all over the place to represent a wine distributor in the United Kingdom. Other artists have depicted Oddbins since then, but Diggory was the bloke who drew the first illustrations of the French peasant logo.

Figure 2 Figure 2 “Errors can improve the finished article. I often send the client three or four versions of the finished artwork because I prefer the look of some of the illustrations with errors. I love the flexibility of Illustrator.”

When artwork started to become computer generated, he balked. "I held off using computers for ages. I actually told my wife that if that was the way things were going, I'd do something else for a living." Then one day he was introduced to Adobe Photoshop and he learned what people were talking about. He bought his first Mac with Photoshop 3. It wasn't until version 6 that he started using Adobe Illustrator. A client wanted a billboard design, and Illustrator was the obvious choice.

Figure 3 Figure 3 Snake | Contact,a UK advertising journal for illustrators

Figure 4 Figure 4 Dog on leash | Self promotion

Diggory begins a project with a pencil sketch. His clients are relatively firm about the kind of design they want, so he creates only three or four sketches and sends the scanned pencil drawings to the client. "Occasionally I'm called into an agency at the design stage to give some input of my own. More often than not, the designers know exactly what they want but can't draw it. That's where I come in. Nine times out of ten I can hit the mark in a couple of sketches." For Diggory, a 48-hour turnaround is a luxury he seldom experiences. His clients typically want something within 24 hours. Following client approval, he creates the illustration in Illustrator and emails it to the client. Then it's off to another job.

Figure 5 Figure 5 Computer Collage | Internet Advisor magazine

Figure 6 Figure 6 Sports | Internet Advisor magazine

Sometimes a client, such as an ad agency, will provide Diggory with visuals of the concept they want to pursue. They then ask Diggory to put his spin on it. When he has to work from just a written brief, it's harder to predict what the client wants. In fact, occasionally a client will reject his sketches, but use them to refine their needs, saying, "No, that's not it, but now that I have seen something, I think I know what I want." Clients such as Warner Brothers and Disney are extremely specific about what they want. "They will go so far as to say, we want you to use a 1.4 stroke here and a 2.5 stroke here. Those types of jobs are not very fun—they're too restrictive."

Figure 7 Figure 7 Pig | Ad for Graphics International

"With Illustrator I can actually be more creative. There's more room to explore the possibilities. Sometimes errors I make can improve the finished article. I often send the client three or four versions of the finished artwork because I prefer the look of some of the illustrations with errors. I love the flexibility of Illustrator. It's so easy to try out new styles."

Figure 8 Figure 8 Cowboy | American Showcase, a journal for illustrators

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