Illustration Tips for Beginners

A brief introduction to the main tools of illustration that will make your work more professional

Liza Moiseieva       |       Sep 15, 2021

Have you ever thought of becoming an illustrator? Are you just starting out? This article will tell you about some simple tricks that will radically improve your skills.

There are many paths to becoming an illustrator: a college or university, courses, books, even home experiments. There is no one correct way; it’s up to the artist to choose.

But every path starts with a goal. You have to understand the challenges ahead. Realistic concept art or minimalist, idea-driven posters? If it’s the former, you will find it hard without a classical background. You will need to develop techniques, learn to handle space and proportion, study perspective and color schemes. If it’s the latter, you can succeed without fundamental knowledge.

Where do you start and what skills are indispensable in either case? There are some tricks that are universally applicable, be it in visual arts, music, photography, or cinematography. Harmony and the interaction between the whole and its parts are two things that are reflected in every part of our lives.


“Composition is the value system of a single image,” as Alexandr Livanov succinctly put it. Creating an engaging composition is key to making your illustration attractive. It is the artist’s job to build a hierarchy of objects, to create highlights and contrasts, to lead the viewer down an invisible path from the primary to the secondary, so that the ultimate result is a harmonious, cohesive image.

A beginner’s guide to composition

Of course, composition depends on the type of illustration, and each case will require a different approach. If it’s a pattern, for example, then all the elements will be either equal or rhythmically unequal. But then we would have to ask, what exactly is rhythm?

Composition: Beauty and Functionality


Rhythm is a regular sequence of volumes, surfaces, or color spots.

In visual arts, just like in music, we can find active, fitful, staccato rhythms, as well as smooth, calm, and moderate ones.

Rhythm is one of the main tools for building composition. It’s what creates harmony and balance. After all, one of the illustrator’s primary jobs is organizing the visual space. To do this, you need to keep comparing the objects, considering the general, then the particular, then the general again in a constant cycle.

Rhythm Is Hypnotizing. How to Use this in Design?


Balance is the juxtaposition of elements that creates equilibrium and harmony. A sense of balance is intuitively comfortable for the viewer.

Don’t forget that the overall composition needs to be balanced. In creating any graphic objects, balance should be paramount.

Read more about using balance in composition here:

Balance in Composition: How to Balance Design


Do you need to highlight a focus point? Use contrast: it will always draw the viewer’s attention. You can use contrast between colors, saturations, spaces, temperatures. There are many ways of highlighting an object: you can make it brighter, more textured, bigger, more fractional… It all comes down to your choice.

The principles of design

Emphasis in Design. How to Draw Attention

Top Secrets of Contrast in Design


An illustrator must learn to convey motion, dynamics, and statics. Movement can be highlighted with guiding lines or rhythm. If you are drawing a figure, start with a frame that shows the movements of body parts. Pay attention to the outline of a figure or object. The more distinctive and informative it is, the more interesting and comprehensive the image.

Color and tone

Color and tone are among the illustrator’s main tools. They affect the overall perception of the image and the readability of specific objects. They can be used to convey space and volume, emphasize emotions and flavor.

Here are some lifehacks for working with tones and colors:

- tonal analysis

Beginners can simply number the tones from darkest to lightest. It’s important for the elements of a monochrome illustration to have different tones. This will make the same image more harmonious and contrasting when it’s colored.

- a limited color palette

By limiting the color palette, it becomes easier to create a particular atmosphere. Use a pre-selected set of colors and your work will always be harmonious.

Weather change example

Weather change example by Joakim Riedinger

And don’t forget other means of expression, such as:

- lines and spots

- light and shadow

- softness and sharpness

- textures

- gradients

- opacity

- different brushes

Think also of the unseen things, the mental idea behind your work, its essence and concept. Make sure your work always has meaning. Create illustrations consciously.

Illustration as a game

Start your work by setting a clear goal. What do you need to show? For example, you may want to reflect reality or use metaphors, illustrate an emotional experience or showcase your technical skills. How should your illustration work? What style do you wish to follow?

Your style is a set of means of expression, the rules of the game.

Imagine the canvas as a playing field. Now let’s say the game master has rules that all shadows must be blue, there must be no perspective, all characters must be out of proportion, and no green can be used. This will significantly affect the illustration style.

Such rules, of course, should follow an internal logic. For example, if you’re drawing a piano player, you can make his hands bigger to emphasize their gracefulness and significance. Other times you might not want to make the image too detailed. There’s no point in tracing every leaf in a 4 × 4 mm “Tree” icon for a mobile app.

Explore the world and invent your own language. Don’t be afraid to express your ideas, emotions, and impressions. The same tricks can be used to create a dazzling array of diverse styles just by changing proportions, colors, or underlying concepts.

It’s all about improvement

Illustration is a language, a way of expressing feelings and emotions. Don’t neglect your “vocabulary,” keep expanding and revising it. It’s a never-ending process, but one that is also exciting.

To speak the language of art, you need to widen your horizons, look at high-quality works, analyze them and try to imitate the technique.

Keep asking yourself questions: What drew me to this work? What values did the artist want to convey? How did they do it? What makes their style special?

And don’t forget the classic way of learning stuff: reading. A good starting point is The Art of Color by Johannes Itten. An aspiring illustrator must learn to work with color since it is one of the main tools. This book will teach you to use it well.