Custom Design Process (List-Based)

Last updated 8.27.16

Hello! This is my documentation of my (list-based) design process to better help clients understand how it works, the time that goes into it, and perhaps to help other artists develop their own process. This is only ONE of MY (many) examples of how a design can go. It is always a little different with everyone and is certainly not the way all artists function. My process has also changed with the times, technology, and demands, which means I've done a LOT of processing to figure out what works the most efficiently and effectively.


Why?: I have been a visual creator most of my life, I began "improving" and "working" on myself in 3rd grade (I remember the moment of thought "I have potential, I want to be an artist, I must get better" and began drawing references from graphic novels). I have worked since then (and continue) to better my work and one of my greatest strengths is composition (the way things are placed/laid out to look good to the human eye). This method is the best because I am given a palette (the list of items) to creatively work with in a way that I think will work and look the best in a given area/size. This method involves mutual COLLABORATION and deep TRUST between the client and I. It allows me to create something completely unique to the client based on my experience.


1. Consultation (this one is via email)

These days, for custom work, I open my books up during a "booking period" (usually announced beforehand on IG or via emailing list). I ask clients to fill out of a form that answers most questions that I need for the design. The more descriptive, the better I can get a feel for what you're looking for, though not everyone has thorough thoughts for their design (that's okay).

I don't have as much in-person consultations these days as I travel a lot and time can be limited, so most of the communication is done via email. Tricia gave me a list of things she wanted to include in a design (though not all of it of course) and asked me to pick and choose to "represent an overall pleasing composition".

Tricia asked me to design a triangular shaped chest piece and mentioned how she has a tattoo on her shoulder with large fields of black design, thus she wanted to make sure there was some in the chest piece with fine linework to create a balance/transition. She mentions that she is a visual artist herself and is strongly inspired by Japanese themed art (from traditional Ukiyo-E to current Studio Ghibli), as well as western style block print and Dadaism movement.

She acknowledged that this was a big list and that there is a potential for the design to be overcrowded. This is where my skills come in to make those judgements. She also mentions how she would like it to be a compilation of symbols in which represents her, but has no specific deep meaning.

2. Thumbnail Sketch or First Draft

This is the first thumbnail sketch (small quick drawing) or first draft I sent to Tricia. It's a basic idea of how I imagine things to be laid out. She said she was excited about the direction is is taking. Her feedback was for the snake to be moved away from the fox and rather be a larger element on the left side of the design. At this time I had also discussed how I'm not much of a font designer and text is often a challenge for me, so we left any words out.

3. Working Up to Final Draft

This is the second draft I sent, which is a larger drawing accurate to the final size of the tattoo. It doesn't include very many details, just the skeleton portion of each item. Tricia sent me feedback asking if I could make the snake heading the opposite direction and sent me an overlap drawing (which it totally acceptable) to show what it could look like:


Final draft (about):


This was the final that I came up with. I changed a few things up since the first sketch I sent, mostly some things were bothering me compositionally. The fox I wanted to have more motion to it, so I kicked back its back legs.
The snake I attempted to add it similar to the sketch that Tricia sent, but it just wasn't working. There was too much focus in one point, which was at the fox head and moth. Adding in the snake head in a close vicinity was just too much. So I played around with it a bit more and realized that the lotus like thing in the middle was really throwing me off. It was creating too strong of a focus towards the center, which didn't work with two really strong focal points so close together in an asymmetrical design.

So I threw out the lotus and the snake looked good on the right side, but then I needed to balance the left side. I thought maybe another snake? Even though it suggests symmetry, I feel like the focal point of the two snake heads are just far enough that it's balanced.

We discussed adding more flowers to the base of the snakes and adding various alchemical symbols hidden around the design.

4. Final Tattoo


This is the final tattoo design! I created a final linework version and freehanded the smaller details (hatching, small linework, dots, etc). There is a better explanation of the linework to tattoo transition HERE.

This design that we worked on together was not only a good experience for both of us, the tattoo turned out to be one of my favorite designs! Tricia was very happy with it and gave me permission to document the process and write about it. I hope this is helpful in communicating with future potential clients about the kind of work I LOVE to do!