Chelsea & The City: What art directing taught me about process


Last week I was assigned a page about one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, that is thought to have a 100 mile deep ocean under it’s icy shell. Obviously there are no photos, so assigning a realistic illustration of what it is thought to look like was the next best thing. It was important to stress the ocean depth while also showing it’s complex surface. I can definitely say I learned a lot more about Jupiter’s moons than I ever knew before – it was a fascinating subject.

When I was assigned this page my very first vision (and sketch you saw) was completely different than the final product. Sometimes I forget about the process that goes behind creating something. I go through all the steps and see the final product, but rarely think to look back at how something started and ended. There is so much more to learn from the process than just looking at the outcome.

It can be hard when your first idea totally fails and you have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a better solution. This obviously happens quite often –as it should. One of my favorite professors once told me “never stick with your first idea.” I always give myself five seconds to be frustrated when I fail and then turn that frustration into excitement for the new and better idea I will come up with next.

I was collaborating with three or four different editors and reporters on this piece along with the illustrator. I worked with the illustrator and the reporter to make sure every single part was absolutely perfect – down to the light red dusting on top of the moon. This was my first time working on a page and illustration so complex – and it was such a rewarding process being able to watch the graphic take form and
become something so real.

When I got the final illustration and it was time to finish the page with text– I got really stumped. I thought this would be the easy part. But I didn’t want to ruin such a beautiful graphic by putting text all over it. Obviously I had to get over that really fast and find a subtle yet effective way to call out each point. It took several tries (as you can see in the video) but after some guidance from my wonderful editors,
I finally figured it out. I didn’t have any text in color on the page and nothing was really making the names of each pullout pop out. I finally decided on a thin white outline with yellow type to make it (hopefully) say “Hey you! Read me!” and lead your eye through the graphic. I think it worked.

Click the image for a larger view.
Click the image for a larger view.

I was really happy I kept every piece of this process to look back on. It is a great reminder for me to never give up when things get a little frustrating and always be looking forward to what can be better.

— Chelsea

(Chelsea Kardokus is a freelance designer for TIME magazine in New York City. See more of her work here.)

About Chelsea Kardokus

Chelsea Kardokus is a designer at TIME magazine.

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