I’m writing this just as I finish my letters for #36daysoftype…what a wild ride it’s been! This year, I wanted to bring awareness to endangered animals — one for every letter of the alphabet.
I wanted to challenge myself creatively, both by drawing new, unfamiliar animals, and also by illustrating these by the day instead of in advance (which is what I did last year, with my floral alphabet). To tell the truth, I was a bit nervous that I might not finish the alphabet, or that I may have too much trouble drawing things like pangolins and tree kangaroos.
So how did it turn out? Much better than expected! While it was stressful at times, and I did have to make up a couple of days, I learned so much and am really proud of how much I improved with my illustrations. I’m especially proud of how my workflow really sped up by the end — the first couple of letters took me about two hours each, and I finished the last few letters in just over half an hour.
Like any good design project, it’s important to look at what could be improved in the final work or process. For next year’s 36 Days of Type, I’m going to work on the letters in context of the whole alphabet, so the final illustrations or designs work together — if you look at the full alphabet above, I’m really liking how the numbat of the N is playfully fitting into the oryx jumping out of the O. With a little more planning, it would be really interesting to make the letters work together like a puzzle!
Here are five things I learned from creating this year’s alphabet.
1 — Illustrating daily makes you rethink your priorities.
By forcing myself to make time every day, no matter what other work or social things I have going on, I realized how many things I was doing that were wasting my time! It cut out a lot of mental clutter, too—I didn’t have time to overthink the illustrations, and that meant I spent more time creating, and less time thinking about creating. I’m already thinking of what new daily challenge I should do!
2 — Sticking to a few rules enhances your creativity.
Before starting, I already decided the colour palette, the text and file format, the animals, and the general illustration style. I even made a file for every letter, with the animal’s name in place and a new layer for my sketch. This meant that every day I sat down at my desk, I had nothing left to do but draw — no delaying or procrastination. And it worked! I really had only the animal to focus on, and I could spend time making decisions about the form and pose instead of the colours.
3 — Anatomy is important.
This was one of my top goals with this project, to become more familiar with anatomy and loosen up my drawings. I struggled a lot on the first few letters (especially that tiger! I repainted that one twice!), but once I got the hang of it, I started to see the underlying structure of the animals and which poses would be natural for their weight and structure. I initially had a bit of difficulty with the big cats, but after doing a ton of tiger studies, I understood how to draw similar animals like the lynx, leopard, and tree kangaroo. Deer, which I had never drawn before, were a challenge too, and I am so proud of how they turned out!
4 — Balance realism with minimalism.
I wanted to convey the essence of the animal’s character while also raising awareness for the species’ quirks and appearance. I learned a good balance between realism and minimalism was key — especially to make the animals appealing. I found that I liked a healthy amount of reduction and exaggeration of the main forms, while keeping the colouring, markings, and proportion realistic. For example, twisting the tails around the letters adds playfulness, making the paws smaller to guides the eye towards the face, and enlarging the facial features all led to a more appealing result.
5 — People want to see your process!
Partway through, I recorded myself painting the rhino on a whim, and posted it to my instagram. I actually debated whether it would mess up my feed or not, but I shouldn’t have worried — everyone loved seeing my process! So I made a video for each letter, and I think it really enriches the art I already post. It also serves as a progress tool for myself, and I can see where I can improve my workflow. I’m definitely going to continue posting lots of videos!