Pierre Kleinhouse
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Firecamp Blog

Firecamp Blog: A blog about illustration, design & being a freelance creative.

Winner of Communication Arts 2018 - Tutorial

I’m very happy to announce that one of my illustrations for the Museum of Communism in Prague won the Communication Arts 2018 Illustration competition.

This is a great opportunity to thank the judges and congratulate all the other talented winners!


I think this is a good enough reason to share with you my working process on this drawing. The truth is, I have already written a short article for Photoshop Creative magazine about the process a few months ago, so I will now give you the more detailed version of what I wrote back then.

In the middle of last year, I was contacted by the Museum of Communism in Prague. They asked me to create 3 illustrated posters for them, which will be offered for sale at the museum's shop and will also be printed on t-shirts and various products. The drawings needed to be based on the visual world of communist designs and drawings of the mid-20th century, however, they asked me to maintain my own style and achieve a result that will appear modern and attractive to the general public of visitors.

Therefore, when I created these three posters, I was inspired by old communist posters and illustrations, as well as famous communists icons such as Laika (the first dog to orbit the Earth) and the Soviet bear - which is the one this tutorial is about.

Research and References

As in any other project, I began my work by searching for interesting Communist references. It is a really important part, to understand which elements were typical for that time, which color palette was often used (in this case a lot of red and black), which compositions, fonts, etc ... I talked about this little bit in the post I wrote about the poster I designed for the fall festival.


For this particular drawing, I wanted to draw a bear to represent the Soviet bear. I also wanted to present a female worker or a farmer. So I ended up drawing a female welder. holding a big hammer. While sketching and doodling in my sketchbook I got the idea that the drawing would consist of layers within layers, much like a Russian Matryoshka doll, as appears in the lower picture on the right. I think that's what made this drawing connect to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sketching the Main Composition

So here's the initial sketch. As you can see, I have not yet drawn the communist star inside the girl. I did it a bit later. What preoccupied me at this stage was finding a good balance for the composition in general.


See how in the top right side the bear's ear is sticking out a bit too much, but in the bottom left side the bear's mouth is also sticking out, it's not 100% symmetrical but that way we get a pretty balanced composition. Thinking about it now, it would have been possible to make it even a little more precise ... but it's all history now :)

By the way, another thing that does not appear in this sketch is the plants, wheat and all sorts of leaves that represent the agriculture that was a very important aspect in the Communists culture. I was planing on adding it later on.

Large Shapes

Once the sketch was all done, I started with creating the larger shapes with the pen tool. I tried to make these shapes as simple as possible, and get a good balance of black, white and red spots.

big shapes.jpg

Adding Details

Once I was done with the big shapes, I started getting into the small details and added soft shadows with the brush tool (it's all happening in Photoshop at this point).

During the process, many things changed. It's not that I take the sketch and execute it as it is in auto-pilot mode. I try and test all kinds of things. Moving it a bit here or there, erasing stuff... In this case the bear's tongue changed, the girl's head changed its direction, I added plants that did not originally appear in the sketch, etc. ... Oh, and I had a hard time getting the woman's hand right. Drawing hands is always a pain in the ass! So I took a photo of my wife holding a broom and used it as a reference.


Color Combinations

Colors are always a big issue in my work, and takes me a lot of time to get right. Sadly there are no shortcuts when it comes to color, you just need to keep testing until it feels perfect. The up side of using a computer at this stage is the ability to test lots of colors really fast. The downside is obviously knowing when to stop, and the fact that you have unlimited options to test.

Because this is not a personal project, I was more limited and had to make sure the black and red are the main colors - so the artwork will feel more communistic. 


color testing.jpg

The museum was planing on having this artwork printed on T-shirts for the museum gift shop so I decided to create 3-4 different color combinations that will work good on light, dark and grey T-shirts.

ידעתי שהמוזאון מעוניין להדפיס את האיור על חולצות. אז החלטתי לעשות כמה אופציות צבעוניות שיתאימו לחולצות בצבעים שונים.


This was very fun and interesting to do! each background color worked a bit different and you can see some of my tests above.

Actually, doing all these color options was my own idea. The guys in the museum didn't asked for it.  But I thought it will be useful and didn't mind going "the extra mile" as they were so nice and basically gave me full creative freedom in this project. 

So this is how I got to the final posters. Red and Black, I like the dark one the most!

final posters.jpg

That’s it for now! Hope it was helpful.


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And feel free to send me an e-mail/comment if you have questions or ideas for other topics which you would like me to cover? 


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