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Editorial Illustration Tutorial: How to Adapt to Different Layouts

Learn how to approach a magazine layout and how to adapt your illustration concept from Emma Hanquist

From the pages of magazines to the headers of online articles, editorial illustration is everywhere, using striking imagery to create engaging interpretations of body text.

Beyond the creative challenge of creating images that compliment written pieces, editorial illustrators also deal with a unique set of constraints depending on each project, as formatting and page layout can vary greatly even within the same print publication. Knowing how to look at a mockup is crucial to creating impactful editorial and cover illustrations, and requires more than just scaling a drawing down to size.

In this tutorial, editorial illustrator Emma Hanquist (@emmahan) explains how to adapt your illustration concepts to different types of page layouts and cover mockups, and warns against common mistakes.

4 Tips for Creating Editorial Illustrations

1. Different layouts demand different ideas

It can be tempting to brainstorm or fall in love with a concept before you see a page layout, but try not to get too attached. Your idea will need to fit within the available space, and adapting to either a horizontal or vertical format will impact your design considerably.

Looking at the available space in a layout can help you think not just about the subject of your illustration, but also how people’s eyes will move across it. For instance, if you have to fill a horizontal space you can create something wide, with forward movement, or even a sequence. For a vertical space or full page, you’ll be more likely to fill it with a single image or something that reads from top to bottom.

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2. Don’t forget the golden rule for magazine spreads

If you’re designing for a print publication, it’s important to remember some of the format’s technical limitations. Anything placed near the gutter—the inside margin closest to the spine—likely won’t be visible once the publication is bound, which is important to know when leaving a margin around your illustration. The amount of paper hidden in the spine can depend greatly based on the binding process, though you won’t always know what it is. Regardless, it’s crucial to never put anything important in the center of the spread as it’s likely to get lost or not be presented in the most attractive format.

3. Understanding different types of spot illustration

Spot illustrations are smaller and less detailed than full page spreads. They typically appear on a page that has a lot of text, and there are two general formats. In many cases, art directors will tell you which format they want, both in the brief and through the formatting of the page layout.

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A squared illustration block typically means they want an illustration with a background—that is, one that will fill the entire block. A shaped illustration block often reflects that they want an illustration without a background that will then fit against and flow with the text. Understanding which they want ahead of time will allow you to create an on-brief illustration.

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4. Creating a cover using a mockup

Just as you’d do with a page layout, it’s best to save iteration for once you have a cover mockup so that you can create a concept that best fits the available space. Seeing what colors and fonts are used on the cover can also influence your own palette and style, creating a more cohesive piece.

Because covers are often seen from far away, such as on a newsstand or table, it’s also important to consider the readability of your image from a distance. To do that, Hanquist suggests zooming out of the image so that it appears tiny on your screen. If the message of your illustration can be understood from this distance, and works harmoniously with the other graphic elements, that’s a sign of a successful cover.

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If you enjoyed this tutorial and would like to learn more about editorial illustration, check out Emma Hanquist's online course, Editorial Illustration for Magazines.

You may also be interested in:

- Digital Fantasy Portraits with Photoshop, a course by Karmen Loh (Bearbrickjia)
- Digital Painting for Characters: Color and Light, a course by Joel Santana
- Female Character Portraits in Procreate, a course by Natália Dias
- Illustrated Portraits with Procreate, a course by Elena Garnu

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