How It’s Made: Creating My Illustrations from Start to Finish



Left: work in progress color layer demo /  Right: final “Sound of Music” poster by Adriana Vawdrey

I have been wanting to show you my design/drawing/coloring process for a while, and this week I finally documented it in photos! After attending this show at the beautiful Eccles Theater two weeks ago, I got excited to make a poster inspired by one of my favorite musicals, The Sound of Music.


photo source

On top of loving the music, the characters, and the 1965 movie, I’ve always been so enamored with the setting of this story! Switzerland and Austria are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. When I visited in 2007, the thing that really blew me away about these places was the abundance of natural color.

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One photo I took from a boat in Lucerne, Switzerland.  

Lake Lucerne in Switzerland was crystal clear, and completely surrounded by rolling green mountain benches, which rose up to tall rocky peaks covered in bright white snow. Flowers grew so effortlessly there, and blonde cows with bells around their necks roamed the hills, which were covered in mossy green vegetation. Each church had a cemetery with living floral boxes and mini gardens. The outdoor markets had every kind of berry imaginable, all of which were so huge and vibrant that we had to try them all. The visual magnificence of these countries was exactly what I had pictured, and then some.

Designing the Composition

After getting inspired, it was time to start sharpening up my idea for this new poster. My main interest was to visually showcase the setting of the story (Austrian and Swiss Alps), and to design using graceful shapes and a bold color spectrum. I wanted to use several layers of texture and color to communicate a vast space. I wanted to strike the  perfect balance between highly saturated colors and muted ones, so the palette wouldn’t be overwhelming, but could still be very vibrant due to a good use of contrast. I wanted to included Maria in that landscape, but I didn’t want to copy her much photographed “spinning with arms out” pose. It needed to be something recognizable as The Sound of Music, but not a close up of Julie Andrews or other specific characters, and it needed to feel uniquely like my work. I wanted to include symbols of the culture and story, but I wasn’t interested in drawing tons of people this time. I also wasn’t going to draw anything Nazi-related (not relevant to the purpose of this image).

processI already knew what I wanted to make, and since this was a self-directed project, I didn’t bother to draw out several thumbnail options. Any time I’m making illustration work for a commercial or editorial project, the client sends me a prompt and I draw several well-thought out (but simple) thumbnail options for the art director. They then look through everything and decide which direction they’d like me to go for the final illustration. For personal work, I usually rely more on written brainstorming to direct my ideas, then I just draw one or two thumbnails to make my visual plan. I always tend to run into problems if I skip this step on personal work.

So I never skip the messy sketch.

Planning has become more important as I’ve more recently been completing the drawing phase entirely on one sheet of paper. I used to always draw on several sheets in several layers, then scan and layer them in Photoshop. I’ve stepped back from that quite a bit and in the last couple of years have made the planning stages more intense, which helps with concept clarity and saves a lot of time.

Drawing Everything by Hand


I don’t love digital painting. I mean, I LOVE to see other people’s digital paintings, but this is not my favorite way to work. I always draw everything by hand, and most of the time I draw in black and white. I don’t like to add color from the beginning because I feel like it limits my flexibility, especially because my ideas always evolve a bit while a work is in progress. I mostly work in graphite or black and white gouache, and on this particular drawing I used 2B, 4B and 7B graphite pencils to get different light and dark values. I like to erase out my highlights whenever possible (this is what I did on the mountains to give the illusion of 3D cliffs).  If there is any area I want to stay stark white, I do my best to prevent smudging. Sometimes I come back in with white acrylic paint and go over white areas and make them perfectly bright before scanning.


You’ll notice there were three new areas that turned up in the final illustration, which were not drawn into my little thumbnail from the beginning. I decided to add another rolling hill shape below Maria, with some bold red raspberries for a pop of contrasting color. I also wanted to add a small church to the left of the composition, and some simple clouds with the same graphite texture. I drew each of these additions on separate pieces of paper, then scanned and collaged them in Photoshop on top of the original illustration.

Coloring, Edging & Adding More Details in Photoshop


The left picture shows what part of the bottom color layer looks like without the drawing on top. The center picture shows the drawing layer on top of those flat colors, and the right picture shows a black color layer on top of everything else (to make Maria’s dress, guitar, and boots darker). 

When I want to add color to a black and white drawing in Photoshop, I always do it by layering different shapes of color above and beneath the drawing. Unless you have used Photoshop, that might sound really confusing. Imagine a black photo printed on a sheet of transparent plastic. If you lay that transparent photo on top of a colored piece of paper, you will see the color come through. I make my drawings transparent using the “channels” function in Photoshop. If you want a really simple example of what that looks like, and a demo on how to do it, check out “My Absolute Favorite Coloring Trick in Photoshop”.

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I like to sharpen up small imperfections in Photoshop, because it’s sometimes hard to do that when I’ve drawn a tiny face or something. I also love sharp edges, so I spend some time in Photoshop fixing anything that looks fuzzy or smudged in my drawing.


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Prints of this illustration are currently available to purchase at the 12 x 16 inch size.

So there you go! This is how I create my illustrations. If you have any thoughts or questions about specifics on this process, don’t hesitate to leave a comment ❤

Thank you for reading!



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