Design Inspiration

Hand Drawing in Digital Publishing

Nick Perez By Nick Perez June 15, 2016

The world is well into the digital age of everything. Blockbuster lost to Netflix. Newspapers lost to online news. And art went digital, while also losing in part to graphic design. But the principles of great art still apply in the digital realm.

While new digital drawing techniques pop up all the time, many designers are using old methods with a new twist. A prime example is hand drawing. From media outlets to traditional publishers to independent news sites, storytellers continue to captivate their audiences with unique, hand-drawn visuals.

Let’s explore the basics of how to do hand drawing in an era of online content, and explore some inspiring examples from a few digital publishers.

Getting Started with Hand Drawing

If you know the basics of drawing, web design, and CSS, you have all the tools you need to create hand-drawn digital content. As long as you have a scanner, digital pen/tablet, and Photoshop or Illustrator, you can create some really compelling content.

Method 1: Pen and Paper

The easiest way to create hand-drawn content is to hand draw it with paper and pen (or pencil). You can then scan your drawings and open the files in Photoshop or Illustrator.

While you have the file in either program, you can color your drawing, recreate it, and adapt it to anything your digital heart desires. Keep in mind that you may lose some texture of the paper when scanning your drawing, so you might want to use a textured background in your digital file.

Method 2: Digital Canvas

With an electronic drawing tablet, you can bypass paper altogether and draw straight in Illustrator. Personally, I find it easier to draw in Illustrator than on paper—but I’m not that good at drawing.

Method 3: Coding

The last way to create digital hand drawn content is by coding it out. Al Jazeera published a great piece recently with digital hand drawn content stylized like a comic book in association with Open News. With some basic coding knowledge, you can follow along with Open News’ guide and create your own digital comic book.

Hand Drawing Examples from 3 Publishers

Digital publishers are experimenting with new ways of storytelling , and hand drawing is a pervasive trend. They’re using creative ways to turn difficult or dry subjects into interesting reads where you’re willing to share with your friends.

Example 1: Al Jazeera’s Terms of Service

Publisher Al Jazeera’s recently launched a project called Terms of Service: Understanding our Role in the World of Big Data.

Al Jazeera Hand Drawing

While the topic is somewhat boring, the comic book style of the art makes it an enjoyable read. Even though the piece is 46-pages long, the hand-drawn art and humorous writing style makes it highly engaging.

Example 2: Parable of the Polygons

This interactive experience from Vi Hart and Nicky Case tells a brave story about the segregation that still happens across the country and around the world.

Nicky Case Hand Drawing

Rather just simply writing an article about this serious topic, the designers created hand-drawn digital art with blurbs and facts about the subject. The piece also uses interactivity to help readers engage with the topic; you can drag cartoon triangles and squares to different parts of the page and see how they react.

Example 3: In Jennifer’s Room

This 11-minute video created by Reveal uses textured, hand-drawn animations and voice overs to tell the story of a mentally disabled girl who’s abused in a group home.

The team wanted to protect the subject’s identity, so they had to approach telling this story in a creative way. Partnering with artist Marina Luz, reporter Ryan Gabrielson was able to deliver a compelling piece of investigative journalism using hand-drawings brought to life with After Effects animations. The video has almost 70,000 hits on YouTube to date, and it’s been shared widely across social networks as well.

Header image credit: Marina Luz

About the Author

Nick Perez is an Urban Journalism student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. He’s a contributing writer at Voices of New York and the New York City News Service, and a freelance photographer for VICE Media. 

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