So you’ve started sketching your artwork, that’s great! Now it’s time to select your design elements by narrowing down or adding to your preliminary sketches. At this stage, you will want to make the focal points for your design, isolating and focusing on the standout features of the overall design. With your elements complete, you can arrange them into the pattern you are creating. Your elements can come together in many combinations, so pay attention to what you’re drawn to visually as you’re creating each element. You may find that once you start, less is more, and that’s okay, too!

cartoon nun sketches in pencil and digital
Sketches by artist Heidi Kenney evolve into polished design elements

If you’re taking your sketches and digitizing them (so you can clean them up in Photoshop or another design program) the best method of doing this is scanning. Check out surface designer Bonnie Christine’s advice below:

Scanning. Of course, the next phase involves actually getting your sketches into the computer! Depending on how you plan to design, there are several ways to accomplish this. You can either scan them in using a scanner, or snap photos of them using a camera or smartphone. Scanning will give you the best results if you want to use the live trace feature in Adobe Illustrator, but if you plan to trace over your sketches using a Wacom Tablet, a snapshot will work just fine. Just remember to take a photo directly above your sketch (to avoid skewing your drawing) and take it in plenty of natural daylight. I also like to crop out any edges or shadows from my notebook, to give myself a nice clean area to work from.

Scanning in your sketches properly will give you the best results when you begin illustrating. Here’s a step by step tutorial on how to optimally scan in your sketches for the best results when using Adobe Illustrator to design.

Once you’ve scanned in your design and are working in Illustrator, here are some keyboard shortcuts that will make designing a LOT faster, shown here in a beautiful graphic by Bonnie! We recommend printing out this image and tacking it up in your workspace for an easy reference while designing.

Adobe illustrator keyboard shortcuts

steampunk sketches of birds and hot air balloons
preliminary sketches from designer Sharon Turner (Scrummy Things)
steampunk style sketches in Adobe Illustrator
Sharon’s sketches after being imported into Adobe Illustrator