The making of an illustration

Last year while waiting for my wife to get her hair cut, I passed the time making a sketch of the salon. It was small and rough and I only had about 20 minutes, but I was still getting used to sketching “in public”. I’m not even going to publish it here, but you can see it on my Instagram if you wish!

While getting my hair cut recently, they asked if they could use this sketch on their website. I was simultaneously flattered and horrified – it was never intended to be seen, let alone used in a professional context. So I asked them if instead, they’d let me create a “good” drawing for them, and they agreed. This is the story of this drawing, as I thought you might find it interesting to see how it was created.

The first step was to take some reference photos of the salon. These were mainly so I had a record of where everything was.


First drawing – you can see all the perspective workings out in this. The vanishing point is right in the middle, about 1/3rd of the way down (you can see it circled and VP written next to it). From that I can create all the perspective lines (in this case, one point perspective). You can see that outside the frame I’ve made notes about which lines are which – HL (horizon line), EYE (level), etc. That’s experience – it’s really easy to forget what’s what!

The lines that cross over the left-hand mirrors are how you find the centre of a rectangle that’s in perspective – if you draw a line from opposite corners, where they cross is the centre. So first I divided all four mirrors into two halves, then the two halves into two halves again, and that gave me the spacing of the four mirrors. Neat, huh! On the right hand side, there are only three mirrors, so you can see I drew the middle mirror across the middle. I didn’t measure the mirrors for this, I did it by eye by comparing the left-hand mirrors. It’s close enough!

Almost all of the people in the drawing were invented, not copied from the photos. That gave me the chance to create interesting groupings and have the exact poses and placement I wanted. You can see how I created the shapes of heads here (ovals, and a horizontal line for eyes and a vertical line to mark the centre of the face).  I knew I wasn’t going to draw facial features, so there was no need to do more than that. You can also see how I originally made the figures too fat! Also, look at the position of the hair-washing people at the back – that’s where they really are in the shop, but as my wife pointed out, the middle of the picture was a big blank in this layout and made it look like two seperate halves.

Lastly, look at the whole middle section of the floor – you can see that I tried to clean up all the smudged pencil but eventually gave up! Clearly, this drawing is far too messy to attempt to ink and paint, hence the need for a second drawing.


Second drawing. In the second drawing – traced over the first drawing using a light table, but still working in pencil – I moved the hair washing stations to the left to fill up that empty centre space, and drew in “clean” lines for everything, but only the major shapes. No Richfield logo, only a handful of products on the shelf, etc. I also roughed in the floor at this stage – in reality their floorboards are much smaller but to draw too many would have made it look too busy. They are simply 3cm apart at the bottom of the frame and trace back to the VP. 3cm was a total guess that ended up looking good!


Final drawing – I drew in pen, tracing from the second drawing on the light table. At this stage everything is pretty much in place but now I get to add details like the logos, the stuff on the shelves, etc.  You can also see how I refined some of the shapes – look at the head of the man in the chair on the left, for example.

You’ll notice I continued some lines outside the frame – especially the floor – this was a deliberate choice, it’s neater than trying to stop right at the edge. You might wonder why they’re “wobbly” – I could have used a ruler, but I wanted to keep the feel of a sketch. Lines that are too straight start to look like architectural drawings, which isn’t what I was going for.

Even at this stage there are some mistakes. You can see an accidental pen line under the shelves on the right, and also – inexplicably – I drew the reflection of the ceiling too high in the left-hand mirrors. There are a few other lines that went outside where they were meant to as well. Thankfully, these things are all easily solved in Photoshop, where I also colour-corrected the scan so it looked like clean black lines on a white background. Here’s the final illustration I gave to Richfield …

Richfield Hairdressing No Border960w

I hope you found this interesting, and that it reminds you that it’s an extremely rare artist who can product a great end result on the first attempt, which is why we keep sketchbooks! One great advantage of making multiple drawings this way is that you can use cheap copy paper or similar for the rough drawings (in my case, I was using a large sketchbook) and save the good paper until you’re happy with the drawing, which means you’re unlikely to damage the good paper with lots of erasing. The second advantage is, if you irretrievably screw up the painting, you can re-trace your final drawing onto a new sheet of paper and try again 🙂

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