“The last sketchbook page I made was in the South of France and it’s of a man perched on some wooden crates,” young UK illustrator David Doran recalls dreamily. He shares a picture of the sketch with me over email (below). It’s incredibly charming—note the wood grain of the desk he’s been working on and a nearby cup of tea.
Sharing sketches is something Doran does on his website, too. Amongst his many illustration commissions for clients like the New York Times, Wired, and Creative Review, you’ll find a smattering of humble sketchbook photographs. It’s no secret that I love it when illustrators share images of their work in progress (Jon Jones’ Behance profile is a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes snooping, as is that of fantastically meticulous German illustrator Florian Bayer). Doran’s sketchbook shots are lovely because you can see the context of where the work is created, and their presence in his portfolio reveals a lot about his process and inspiration, especially his love of all things analogue.
“I avoid the computer until the last stage when, after drawing all the elements of the final illustration by hand, I’ll finally bring them together digitally,” Doran says. His approach is influenced by traditional printing techniques, the kind that you might see in early 20th-century travel posters, which explains his use of a minimal and subdued color palette. As with the vintage images he refers to, Doran also avoids detailed facial features. “I like to simplify, and I find that body language can communicate most effectively,” the illustrator explains.
Doran’s artworks are deeply evocative, vaguely nostalgic, and hint at mysterious narratives through their use of soft, overlapping colors and cozy, whimsical shapes. Looking at his work, you really want to know what happens next. Because of this, and because they’re so sturdy and look so print-like in spite of their digital origins, the illustrations stand out strongly on book covers. It’s one of Doran’s favorite kinds of commissions; during his time at art school he spent a lot of time imagining prospective covers. In 2013, during his second year at university at the UK’s prestigious Falmouth Arts University, he even won a Penguin Design Award for his rendition of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
“I love working on book covers. What could be nicer than spending a few weeks engulfed in a good story?”
Early recognition from Penguin helped Doran get commissions that kickstarted his career—before he was even in his final year of school. “I’ve always been keen on actively publicizing my work,” he adds. But Doran’s success is not merely a result of his active self-promotion efforts; his illustrations have both style and substance—even his sketchbook illustrations radiate a unique and personal charm that attracts plenty of likes online as well as clients IRL.