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Illustrating for Spotify with Jarom Vogel

March 2020

Article

Jarom Vogel

In this article, our guest author, illustrator Jarom Vogel, will answer your burning questions and walk you through the step-by-step of creating the illustrations featured on our Spotify for Podcasters page.

Who is this guy? 

Hi, I'm Jarom Vogel—nice to meet you! I've been a freelance illustrator for about 5 years. I’ve created illustrations for a bunch of companies and a few children's books. I've also made some Skillshare classes about illustrating on the iPad, and I enjoy beaches and fine ice creams, which I'd love to talk about more, but that's probably not what you're here for. Instead, I'm going to show you how I made the illustrations for the Spotify for Podcasters page using Procreate and Affinity Designer on an iPad Pro. Feel free to ask me about ice cream later, though.

What are we drawing again?

What great questions you ask! Fortunately, Spotify had some equally great answers ready for me when I asked them the same thing. They wanted this site to speak to podcast creators and help them understand the values of being on the platform. I was commissioned to create 3 illustrations and was provided with a brief that outlined titles for each, some concept guidance, rough mockups of the site, and a color palette. The brief was super helpful in making sure we were on the same page, and in positioning the drawings to resonate with podcasters.

You talk a lot. Are you ever going to draw anything?

How right you are—let's get started on some sketches! As you may have guessed, I do pretty much all of my work on an iPad. For the sketches part, I'm going to be working in Procreate. ("WAIT!" you might ask, "What brushes do you use??" You may be shocked to learn, dear reader, that I've been asked this question before! For this part, I mostly use Procreate's built-in "Technical Pencil" brush. It's a good one! If I want to keep things more loose, I'll sometimes start with “HB pencil” for sketches as well.)

Because the nice people at Spotify are very organized, I was given a design mockup to work with. This doesn’t always happen, but it helps a lot to have some context for how the illustrations will fit in the page. When working with a mockup, I like to keep it on screen with my sketches to visualize their placement better. Usually I'll create a "scratchpad" off to the side or underneath to work out really rough sketches, then move them over into the mockup when they start to come together more. This helps to keep sketches loose, with less feeling of claustrophobia and pressure that can come from drawing directly on the mockups. (This sounds dumb, but it happens.)

While organizing things this way is helpful for me, it can end up being a bit unintelligible for anyone else, so I need to tidy up a bit before delivering sketches to the client. Organizing the sketches that I want to show and assigning each one a unique letter or number helps facilitate discussion without needing to say things like “That one with the guy with the hair, you know?”

Before we move on though, let’s talk for a minute about these initial sketches. How did I decide what to draw? Honestly this is usually the toughest part of a project for me. Coming up with ideas can be hard. I find that it’s very helpful to actually talk to the art director on the phone before starting a project if I can. The better my communication up front, the less time I waste drawing snakes holding swords when the art director was hoping for a cow. (Definitely saving those snake-sword sketches for later, though!) Fortunately in this case I was given a pretty solid starting point. If you look at the labeled sketches above, you can probably tell that the concepts for the first and second illustrations were pretty well defined from the beginning. The options I sent over are all variations of the same basic ideas. The third one was a little more open, but because we discussed some options before I drew anything, we were able to settle on B3 pretty quickly. Overall this was pretty much the ideal sketch experience.

To show the rest of the process, I’m going to focus on the “Be where millions of listeners are” illustration (C1 from the sketches page, for those of you following along at home). Because this one is a bit more detailed, I need to spend some time here re-drawing my sketch at full size, incorporating any feedback, and working out some of the finer details. If I did my job well on thumbnails hopefully it's not too painful. 

Final sketch for the "Be where millions of listeners are" illustration.

Sketches are cool and all, but are you ever going to color this thing?

You’re right, sketches are cool. But yes, it’s time to move to color! Because I needed to deliver these illustrations as vector files, we’re going to be moving into Affinity Designer at this point. Why Affinity Designer? I’m glad you asked. First of all, Affinity Designer (or AD as I’m going to call it) allows me to work directly on the iPad, which means most importantly that I don’t have to get off the couch. But seriously, I’ve tried lots of different vector programs (including several desktop ones), and I think AD for iPad has the best illustration workflow for how I draw.

A few things I really like about it:

  • It has a gradient tool that’s really easy to use

  • The way clipping masks work actually makes sense

  • You can freely scale and rotate the canvas (much like Procreate)

  • It has the same undo and redo gestures as Procreate

So let’s get set up for coloring! First I’m going to import my sketches, switch them to 50% opacity, and lock the sketch layer. I leave this at the top of the layer stack and turn it on and off for reference as I work. If this isn’t the first illustration I’ve colored, I’ll also import small flat versions of the previous spots that I can keep off to the side to make sure my colors are consistent. Now I just need to switch my brain over to vector mode, which can be a little jarring.

With my sketch in place, I’m going to start blocking in all my major shapes with the pen tool. (“WAIIIIT what brush do you use in AD?” Trick question! I’m using the pen tool here, which isn’t really a brush. Instead, it’s a way of creating control points to really quickly create and edit shapes and lines. If you aren’t familiar with vector drawing, this can take some getting used to.)

I try not to worry too much at first about colors and details, instead focusing primarily on the larger shapes. After my shapes are mostly sorted out though, I spend some time tweaking colors a bit and using the gradient tool to add some interest to my shapes.

(By the way, I’d highly recommend learning and using the keyboard shortcuts in AD if you can, it speeds things up a lot.)  

Before (left) and after (right) adding a few more details and color gradients.

Ok, time to start shading! I do this by creating my shadow shapes with the pen tool, setting them to a very light blue or purple, then clipping them to the shape I’m shading. In AD you create a clipping mask by making the clipped shape a child of the shape you want it clipped to. After that I change the blend mode of the shadow shape to multiply, and use the transparency tool (looks like a wine glass in the toolbar) to fade the shadow out a bit on one side. This works just like the gradient tool, except it creates an opacity gradient instead of a color gradient.  

Now all that’s left is to go in and add the rest of the details. Things like sound waves, little background particles, heat waves coming off the pizza—basically a lot of small things that give the illustration a bit more life. And with that I’m all done! At this point I export a flat image, send it to the art director, and hope they like it. 

Before (left) and after (right) adding final details and shades.

Wait! What if I need an Illustrator file?

It’s really common for clients to need a layered file, and the industry standard is still Adobe Illustrator. You might notice that there's no straightforward way to export directly to AI right now, but with just a little legwork it’s not too bad.

The best way I've found is to export your work to SVG, then open that in Illustrator. Make sure that in your export settings you change the Rasterize setting from "Unsupported properties" to "Nothing," and turn off the "Set view box" switch.

The legwork part is that while SVG will keep your colors, shapes, and gradients, it doesn't seem to know anything about blend modes. After opening your file in Illustrator, you'll need to select all your shadows (the direct selection tool is your friend here) and redo the blend modes. After that all you need to do is save it as an AI file and you’re good to go!

And there you go!

That’s pretty much my process! I had a great time working with Spotify on this, and I like how the project (especially the colors) turned out. While I’m pretty comfortable with vector illustration, most of my recent work has been in Procreate, so it was a really fun challenge to adapt my current process and workflow to vector illustration. I learned a lot working on this, and I hope you were able to pick up some useful tips as well! If you’d like to see more of my work you can find me @jaromvogel on Twitter and Instagram, or check out my website at jaromvogel.com. You can also learn more about my illustration process by taking one of my Skillshare classes at jaromvogel.com/learn. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to send your finished artwork to your mom to put on the refrigerator! Oh, and if you’re headed to the fridge anyway, could you grab me some ice cream while you’re there?

Credits

Jarom Vogel

Freelance Illustrator

Illustrator / Designer / Whatever. When he's not drawing, he enjoys beaches, fine iced creams, Peach Coke, and skiing.

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