Exercise: Editorial illustration


Buy a newspaper with a supplement and go through cutting out any article that contains an illustration. Notice the heading for each article and read the text that the illustration refers to. Make a mental note about the way the illustration relates to the text, how its ideas relate to the meaning of the piece, how it extends the content of the piece. Analyse the type of illustration – is it decorative, conceptual, informational? Does it use metaphor to convey an idea or does it have a narrative base? Is it representational, abstract or diagrammatic?

The first illustration I found was an informational one. The picture has intense colours and brings together different elements to provide a narrative. Depicting the subject along with the final product and the technique/process of reaching a goal is well illustrated here.

Bellow is part of the same article only the illustrator has used a diagrammatic image to further expand on the article’s story.

I liked this next illustration as it uses good metaphorical storytelling. Being a four-panel comic style illustration, the creator has needed to provide some text in the form of speech bubbles to help with the narrative. This is a good case where the text is necessary to complete the visual representation to the audience.

Lastly, I found an illustration which took me back to a previous exercise (‘giving instruction”). This diagrammatical illustration shows clearly the steps needed to create your own protective face mask while we are in the pandemic. The instructions being slightly more complicated, are accompanied by text and further overlays to avoid any confusion to the audience.


Now imagine that you’ve have been commissioned by the paper to create an illustration. Your task is to provide a visual interpretation of one of the headings below:

  • How green is your food?
  • The best restaurant in town
  • Loves me, loves me not
  • Throwing your money away
  • The object of my desire
  • Finding your family history
  • An interview with Melvin Bragg
  • Paris, still the best place on earth

For the next part of the brief, I chose “Finding your family history” as my chosen word. I googled the subject and found a NY Times article on why you should dig up your family’s history. I found that this article would fit my chosen word and the illustration that was to follow.

After reading the article, I started to highlight keywords and sentences that fitted in with my chosen subject and that would help me shape my illustration.

After highlighting keywords and sentences from the article, I started to sketch out some ideas. My first sketch resembled a family tree along with the roots below it. Thinking of the title as a possible anchor, I placed a shovel next to the tree. I thought the tree was a good idea to build on, so I created some other versions with this in mind.

Through this process, I created a sketch of a person being at the centre of the tree with the branches and roots protruding.

My next vision was a character working at a computer, trying to find the history of their family while the tree is seen growing through the top and bottom of the screen.


“Make a list of words that describe the illustration you want to create. This should be as clear as the analysis you made of the illustrations in the newspaper or magazine and will help you decide how to proceed. Identify what the function of your image will be. Will it contain information, offer opinion, clarify or decorate the text?”

“I want to create a visual representation of a family tree. My thoughts are that a person trying to find out about where they come from means they have to discover their roots. I can visualise this in a few ways, using a tree and its roots as a metaphor or incorporating this with modern technology and how people today uncover their family history. The title of my article contains the word “dig” which could be used in my illustration, maybe someone digging down to the roots of a tree or metaphorically digging on the internet for information. The article also puts the reader in the spotlight of how important they are to the story and that they are the centre of the discovery.

Text is optional to my designs, the person at the computer could have books, birth certificates, etc. visible on a table or on the computer screen. It is hard to decide about including names/information attached to the roots and leaves of my initial designs. I think a well-illustrated image could also visually hold its own along with this article.”

I also created a mini brainstorm of key words to help push the image and further expand on the illustration.

After completing my brief analysis, I decided to create some more sketches to refine my illustration ideas

After some more sketches I decided that for the illustration to read true to the article, it needed to depict a modern setting. I wanted to show the process of how people go about researching and discovering their family history.

I changed up my thought process and tried to replicate one of my previous sketches in Adobe Illustrator.

I started to add colour, but I was also not happy with the tree, so I removed it and tried again.

I was happy with the colour this time but still, the tree wasn’t working and looked unclear in its position. I kept the colour and began creating the tree. As per the original sketch, I wanted to have the tree growing out of the screen.

In the final version, I finally managed to get the tree looking how I wanted. I made a few adjustments to the colour palette and added some small details to fill out the background. I was struggling to find a solution to having the audience know what the tree represented. But with the family members and small details like the DNA kit and the genealogy book I think it is obvious what is happening.

I really liked the process from sketch to the final version. I think that the final render looks professional and fits with the heading in the brief.


It was hard for me to use direct words from the article title in creating the artwork. I could have maybe had a better go at the play on words but metaphorically my final artwork depicts this action. This is the first time for me that a render of my artwork into a magazine looks like I could actually support an article and be published. I am very happy with the details within the illustration along with the colours and the overall presentation.

I’m trying to break old habits of running off with my first idea so I’m hoping that my sketch work is opening up better idea generation.