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SKETCHES & SKULLS: What Illustration Does For Your Brand

Beautiful graphic design can be found wherever you look. The digital age has allowed the image to take prominence over the word, and the computer can be used to produce just about anything. But at times, imagery is still birthed from skilled, hand-crafted illustrations with ink and colored pencils. These works of art are turned into marketing materials and – in the end – can raise thousands of dollars to support a cause.

The Canton Museum of Art asked us to create a logo and brand for their fundraising event—In the gARTen of Good & Evil. At first, we were merely excited, but when they said they needed something with an exotic and mysterious look, we became personally devoted to making sure the project had an over-the-top “WOW” factor. The committee for the Museum event came to our kickoff meeting with many great ideas for imagery. They liked the idea of including a picture frame. They were intrigued by the jungle landscape of South America, and thought sugar skulls could potentially be a colorful point of focus.

Immediately, we knew that an original illustration was the way to go, but this really forced us to dig deep and flex our design muscles to develop something that was edgy, felt South American, and juxtaposed both good and evil. Our research led us to things in nature that were both beautiful and poisonous. We sketched and painted at both actual size and larger than scale to maintain sharpness of the design. And we fleshed out our illustration across several touchpoints – invites, posters, social media and more.

To start, we presented the Museum with three concepts. The first concept was a whimsical tree with many variously colored sugar skulls hanging from its branches. The tree represented the “garden” aspect. The second concept was a devil coaxing an angel into a picture frame, which communicated the idea of temptation and the allure of being naughty.


What successfully included all the elements of mystery, the garden, and fun was the third concept. Initially, it was a skull with the event title inside, crowned with flowers. We then added a picture frame with lush vegetation and animals bursting out of it.


In choosing items for the illustration, we made sure to select items that were (1) native to South America and (2) as exotic and unusual as possible. The snake is called an Eyelash Viper. To give it a menacing “evil” presence, we positioned it to oppose the “good” Zebra Longwing butterfly. Many of the flowers are Marigolds, which are traditionally used in Day of the Dead ceremonies. Since Marigolds are typically yellow and orange, we ended up modifying the color on some of the blooms to get a more festive feel and to integrate different colors all around the illustration. The fruits, which look a little bit like peppers, are native to South America. We took some creative liberties and combined the fruits and the vines (a different plant called Cats Claws) into one plant.

We refined the composition by drawing each element on a separate piece of tracing paper. This allowed us to reposition and overlap the elements as needed while making it possible to quickly and easily edit the pencil work.


After all the elements were in position, we enlarged the sketch and traced it onto illustration board. We then put acrylic paint to brush and applied it to the illustration board, using the sketched lines as a guide. After the paint was dry, we cut the illustration into several pieces (which is a daunting task for a designer to do to his or her own work) and scanned each one into the computer. We wanted the paint colors to look more vibrant while still maintaining enough light to dark value contrast, so we digitally enhanced the color saturation and added lines around some of the elements. Because there were a few different pieces (Save the Date, Invitation, Poster, Social Media Images) that this illustration had to fit into, we created additional vines so that the composition could be configured in multiple ways.


The sugar skull, as the main focus of the composition, had too dark an undertone and muddled the composition. A simple solution was reached: we removed the sugar skull in favor of allowing room for the event’s title.

To match the personality of the title text to the illustration, we decided to render it by hand. We scanned and vectorized the type so we could enlarge it to any size needed.



The fundraiser was a sold-out success, a fabulous summer event in downtown Canton, and we’d like to think the logo played a part in raising money and giving everyone a memorable evening that won’t be forgotten.

Let’s talk about what we can create to promote your next event – and perhaps we’ll have a chance to work some more illustrative magic for your brand.