Click on images to enlarge.
STEP 1: THE IDEA
The first step is probably the hardest. How do you come up with an idea that will be fun and fit on a card? There are thousands of Christmas cards out there already. Luckily, since I've been making Christmas cards for awhile now, I actually have a set of ideas to fall back on if I can't come up with something new. This one began as a doodle in one of my sketchbooks several years ago. You can see that the idea was pretty fully-formed from the beginning (that's not always the case).
STEP 2: THE SKETCH
Next came some sketches. I wanted this image to be a bit more realistic (as opposed to "cartoony") looking. So I hired the best looking model I could find to play Santa. He's not too bright, but he works cheaply and he does what I tell him to do.
The nice thing about using a "model" is that I don't have to think too hard about which side of the hand the thumb goes on or how folds bunch up on clothing, because I can just look at a real world example. I also looked at some real fruit (as you can see in the photo above).
I drew the image in pencil on some scrap paper. At this stage, I'm working out a lot of the details (like hands). I try to make all my mistakes on scrap paper first, so that the final artwork is largely pristine. Once I finished the pencil sketch, I "colored" it in with a black magic marker. This sketch would serve as a full-size template for the "real" artwork.
I initially thought I would have more background elements, like a chimney and stockings (as in the doodle), but I abandoned that idea as the image was starting to get cluttered and I wanted to keep the focus on the main idea.
STEP 3: THE DRAWING
Using my mockup as a reference, I redrew the image on Bristol paper; it's a heavier weight paper that is good for both pencil and ink.
STEP 4: INKING
With the pencils done, I next went over all of the pencils with ink. Some people think this means “tracing,” but it’s not. Inking adds a whole different character to the image. I often start off inking with a pen and then go over (most) everything again with a brush. Using a brush lets me vary the weight of the lines and to create big dark areas. Ultimately, inking helps make the image look more polished; and it makes it easier to reproduce. Unfortunately, it can also remove some of the "spontaneity" of the image.
Once I was done with the black ink, I also used white ink/paint to create "shines" on the fruit and the bowl. White ink is kind of a pain, because I haven't found one that is easy to use and does a good job of covering black ink.
Once all the ink was dry, I erased any left over pencil lines.
STEP 5: SCANNING
Next, I scanned the picture into my computer. This process turns the image into a digital computer file. The paper was larger than my scanner, so I had to make two separate scans and then stitch them together with the computer.
STEP 6: USING PHOTOSHOP and ILLUSTRATOR
I took the scanned image and opened it in a software program called Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. These programs allow me to manipulate the image and make it ready for printing.
STEP 6a: FATTENING
I showed the card to JoAnn. She said Santa was too skinny. That's another problem of using models! So I used Photoshop to fatten up our hero (can you see the difference?).
STEP 6b: COLORING
I was initially going to print the card in black and white; but when I showed it to JoAnn, she said it looked too depressing in black and white.
So I decided to color the card. I won't go into the whole process, but essentially coloring requires creating several different layers of color in Photoshop and then merging them together.
STEP 7: PRINTING
Printing in color costs about 6 times as much as printing in black and white, and there are more things that can go wrong in the process. I'll spare you the gory details of dealing with printers, but luckily, it only took one extra round to get this one right.
STEP 8: MAILING
Then JoAnn and I addressed, stamped, added something witty like “Merry Christmas,” and dropped the cards in the mail. See how easy it is! Anyone can do it!
If you didn’t get a card this year it probably means we don’t love you we don’t have your address. Send it to us!