Development - From Sketches to Full Colour


I knew early on that I wanted the book to be magical. "We all know unicorns exist, but have we heard one sing?" How would I translate that? Now, there are a lot of pictures of unicorns out there in the world, so I wanted my interpretation to be a little different. I ended up settling on a giant, good natured, slightly goofy but supportive friend who also happens to sing notes who have a life of their own, and can ride a perpetually happy rainbow.

What about visual style?

My initial thought was to do the book in pencil and digitally colour it, as I knew this would be quicker and therefore more practical to get the book done in a realistic time frame:

Drum guy

However, I soon realised that this pencil execution wasn't very satisfying, and that I really wanted to illustrate the book in my usual full-colour, digital art style. There was a downside to illustrating the book this way though, it takes a very long time!

This artwork is an Adventure Time tribute piece I did for fun that I wanted to become the visual style of Sing Like A Unicorn.

Artworks of this fidelity typically take me around 30-40 hours to complete and knowing the book was going to be 24-32 pages meant I was quickly left facing upwards of 1000 hours of work!

However, I really wanted the book to be the best it could be and Jeremy was fine with the idea of it taking a fair amount of time to come together - so I got busy.

Two years later, after working on weekends while balancing my usual job as a UI designer, the illustrations for Sing Like A Unicorn were complete. 

The Cover 

Sing Like A Unicorn Cover

From initial sketch, to rough colour mockup, to finished artwork. One of the best parts of working digitally is being able to move things around to refine the composition. As you can see the rainbow disappeared from the final cover, but worry not! You can find the rainbow on the back of the cover :)


Initially, the drawings were done on A4, but Jeremy and I made the decision for the book size to be 8” x 10”. So when I brought the scanned A4 drawings into Photoshop, I simply cropped them to 8”x10” and adjusted layout in Photoshop. And from that point on it was a matter of taking the sketches I had done and bringing them to life piece by piece.

Another point of note is I made the decision to work at twice the size, just in case we wanted to make a larger version of the book at a later date, or so that we could perhaps create posters and things in future. This made the Photoshop dimensions 16” x 20” at 300dpi which was a lot of real estate to cover, which meant more brush strokes and therefore more time spent. In hindsight, I would’ve saved a lot of time by working in 8” x 10”!


For this book I went with software that I was already familiar with: good old Photoshop. But there are plenty of other options out there these days: Clip Studio Pro, Painter, Affinity Photo, to name a few. I’m looking to experiment with these in the future as each one has its own unique set of features.


Earth dance

As I'm working in colour, more ideas will often pop in my head, here the earth looks to be enjoying the music more with arms in the air!


You can see that I originally had the text over the image for the single page spreads, more on that in a future blog :)


I really wanted to avoid the overly digital look that artwork done in Photoshop often has, I didn’t want everything too soft and smooth! I was able to achieve a look I was happy with by using brushes that still showed some of the brushwork. 



These are the only brushes I used


Close up

Here's a little close up of some brush work


More on the design of the book later...

Thanks for reading :)