Why Illustration still matters in the creative process… and in our lives

Drawing can really be a challenge sometimes.
Creativity strikes you everywhere, it is often very vague, strange like a painting covered with dust that we are not allowed to touch.

I like to let ideas come to me and put them on paper. So I can reorganize at my convenience the scenario unfolding in front of me.
I’m talking about scenario because, before touching pencils or opening drawing software, you have a story to tell! I always thought that creativity happen without you forcing/pushing it. When there’s force involved it’s counter productive.

For example, let’s work on this case study: crafting an ad for Toastmasters.
Toastmasters is a non profit organization that help individuals hone their skills in public speaking.
Goal: how to tell a story about the fear that every speaker get on stage ?

Problem: Serious topic, speaking is hard. It has been said that some people fear public speaking more than death-they obviously forgot about the taxes-. Corporate advertising always go with cliché like: people in an office, shaking hands, surrounded by more people sitting, waving, and smiling (Have you noticed? Everyone in the room is smiling) . Photography have boundaries. I don’t see people smile so warmly when they are about to hit the stage, it’s really quite the opposite!

Solution: A clown in a suit is still a clown, and that’s also true in the cartoon world. To break this corporate image of people in offices smiling and laughing, I take the opposite route, I choose to illustrate a facial expression that will point the real discomfort out.

Inspiration : At this very point, Disney comes down from Heaven to help us. In all Disney animations, the facial expressions -and how they are executed in such an elegant, simple way- always leave you speechless : it’s beautiful!

Where to find inspiration? Looney Toons, Comics , or your favorite shows, anything goes! One of my favorite shows -the greatest ever- is the Cosby Show. Watching Bill Cosby is witnessing the master in motion. He doesn’t give you a break, he always got you rolling.


Bill, you are the greatest!! But have you heard about Calvin (the hero of the famous comics: Calvin & Hobbes)?  Another great choice. Watch him go:


He’s awesome, isn’t he ? Again, if you read Calvin & Hobbes you’ll crack a laugh on the same page for hours.

Tools of the trade: Adobe Illustrator (vectors everywhere). BUT, I always suggest to start with sketchbook, pencil, scanner, ERASER!

Let’s go! I love blue –matter fact, many people like blue- it’s a soothing/stress free color.

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Now the suit: you draw it, scan it, and import it in Illustrator (building shapes with the Pen Tool). Remember, the design should be simple do not give too much thoughts on the details.

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Let’s not do a remake of Sleepy Hollow or Beetle Juice, ok? We’ll add the head to the suit

30-09-2013 00-09-27.A head, a neck, and a suit. Let’s move on.

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Why so seriousWhat are you hiding behind your back?
Mr Storyteller, you’re supposed to be on stage, there should be a microphone, lights… do not forget, you ARE the center of attention!

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That’s better! Wait a minute, a hole? What for?

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Ok I see, 

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Now copy time!

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That’s it!

I’ve found this on Tyrese’s instagram (the R&B singer), he ended it with a vibrant “Damn I miss you”


I’ve used many sources of inspiration (comics, cartoons, shows..) it’s all childhood memories. The same memories that resonate in all of us.
Creativity should not be a sad process. It’s about love and passion, something that we miss so much we want to/have to get it out.
I think every artist must first create from their experiences (and when it comes from childhood it’s even better), we do not try to reinvent the wheel (it’s time waisting), it is just appropriate to grab snippets of what exists and add a personal touch.

What do you think about the use of illustration in visual marketing? How it can help businesses succeed?


The Importance of Sketching in Logo Design

A man without smile should not open shop! That’s a chinese proverb.

Here’s something that’s going to shake things up: A man without a face should not open shop!
Businesses should write it down and stick to it!

Good Logo Design can either bless or doom your business forever.
With all that technology surrounding us, we forget the efficiency of paper and pencil combination.
After the client brief, we often see designers rushing through Illustrator (or any design software), with just no clue of what they’ll probably do. They’ll just play around with buttons and they’ll manage to come up with something called “disaster”.

Trust me, I’m baffled, asking myself the question: why it has to be like this?

Graphic Designers: The first thing I’d recommend doing is to go to your favorite paper shop, buy a sketchbook, good pencils and an eraser.
Most importantly: get some fresh air, sketch and jot down anything that cross your mind. Let me spell this out: E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G !
Of course, it should be based on the mind mapping you already have made after getting your client brief. Is it a logo based on letters? Or maybe just one letter? Are there curves? Colors? So many questions.

Why going out? Because, you’ll “see” things differently. Sometimes, you need to think about something else. Sometimes, you just need to back off, go watch a movie or to the gym, anything that disconnect you.
You might even just need to sleep on your ideas (and sketchbook) and who knows, miracles will happen the day after.

Relaxation in a creative process is very important, it’s a necessity.

Here’s the example of “Lifestyle”. They offer services and counsels in cosmetics field. More than a logo they wanted a dynamic, classy design, more similar to a clothing brand or luxury.

After many sketches, we found this and we liked it, handwritten script gives authenticity, flow, attraction:

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We scanned it and let the computer comes in. Remember? The technology is the icing on the cake.


Exploring further more:


Interesting isn’t it? The one at the bottom might rock.

Clients: We always gives three choices to clients. It’s a magic number and they can choose more quickly. If you are seeking for a professional, it’s because you whispering shards of ideas, words, in no particular order. You have a feeling of what you want and what you don’t. A logo designer provides a visual solution to all your sleepless nights. You’ll feel that, at the end of the day, a logo is just more than just a logo. A priceless experience.

Oh, I forgot…

We all have heroes, I want to dedicate this article to : Paul Rand, Milton GlaserDavid Airey, Graham Smith, and so many others who push the logo design envelope pretty nicely.

Now you can royally close your computer, and go to your sketchbook 😉 But before that, tell us: Do you give any attention to the sketch process? Do you think it adds up something to the whole design?

How Designing for Simplicity makes your Business more competitive ? (A Calendar Case Study)

Are you a fan of the flat, minimalist aesthetic that seems to be all the rage these days?
If you are not, it’s still worth a look.


This whole sorcery started up with Google, they gave pretty much the tone, many companies followed (including Apple), and now we’ve been invaded : flat design is everywhere.
Flat design is simple! That simplicity gave us, creatives, pretty much efficiency and speed in our workflow. No more complicated effects: blur, shadows, gradients. We are finally way more creative this way, more focused, more productive. That’s a really good thing.

Let me tell you about Calendar design. It’s a painful experience. Coming up with a brand new calendar for a client is not fun at all. Because:
1. They always want every single information displayed on a A4 format (It really feels like writing a novel on a napkin.)
2. We’d rather draw, design, conceptualize something else. It’s way more fun and interesting !

Clients hate empty spaces. There! I’ve said it.
We are surrounded by this Everywhere-you-see-a-blank-fill/kill-it! syndrom. Are they scared about their customers reactions?
May be they think a customer might say “Oh, not so much information on this, may be they have nothing important to say, let’s dump them!”

Neatness is a weapon. For example, cleaned, well-organized premises attract customers, because they’ll think that’s how you manage your business. What’s wrong with that? Nothing!

We will take Calendar design as a case study here. It’s really challenging: on one hand you have to make it functional (something people will look at everyday) on the other hand, you have to make it beautiful (something people will eventually share, remember it’s the beginning of a new year!).

Tear-off calendar part will take a major space on your canvas, then you’ll have less room to make an impact. (Forget your client’s voice saying: we want phone numbers, e-mail, location, photos of us and our employees, maps, fax numbers, greetings…) Of course, you can only choose three elements you’ll communicate on but anything can’t goes there.

This is a pharmacy calendar. We liked the layout,  the green ribbon at the bottom. We didn’t like the clutter with random elements: photography, logo, typography, colors. To our dismay, such type of design is common. Plus, the pics aren’t retouched, that gives you the washed out sensation, and the eyes don’t know where to focus.

Before the simplicity

Photography is a great tool, but there is a caveat: it makes us lazy. Retouching is hard work, many businesses don’t have time and the ressources to deal with it. That’s why combined with bad design, non retouched work leads to bad results.

After a few sketches, drawing, testing, this is the concept we ended up with:


The green ribbon surounding the layout, medicinal plants as an extension, the constant typography, and a simple logo on top.
The user can focus more on the Tear-off calendar part. That’s an elegant calendar which breathe. Isn’t it?

Apply this concept of simplicity by design to every projects you will have, and you’ll be sure to meet your marketing goals.
If you don’t know where to start, the folks at Creative Bloq do a very good job at providing you examples of stunning calendars to use for your inspiration.

Leave us comments down below, tell us if you agree that simplicity in design is the best advertising and marketing solution? Did you rip its benefits?

4 Things that Africa have to do to catch up the advertising wagon

Africa is THE future. No doubt, right? You can’t think otherwise. It’s advertised everywhere.

Here you are, packing your bags for a business trip to Africa. Let’s say you’ll launch a venture: an ad & design agency to be more specific. You have everything scheduled already, this one way ticket is part of the plan. 
Determined, your head is full of dreams and you can’t wait to see a brighter sun!
The weather is shitty in Paris in October anyway…


This is my story, I’m carrying a guitar in my back -xxl graphic tablet in the bag- leaving Europe: free at last! 
Matter of fact, do you know how hard it is to convince airlines company to let you carry your instrument and not put it in the luggage hold?  But that’s another story. I’m Lionel Thomas, illustrator designer and musician, artist and… I’m African. I take great pride saying that.
My continent gets so many compliments like:
“The fastest growing region
“Second growth rate after Asian market”
“A vast market” 
“A land of opportunities”
“The last frontier for the advertising industry” (I really love this one! More in this article.)

And on & on it goes. After reading/hearing so much beautiful things, you start dreaming, who wouldn’t? We proud to be Africans, especially for things that don’t affect our ways of living. Hell! We wish they did! Economics rumors about Africa are true. But on the field, it’s a different story.   
The thing is: problems never ring your doorbell on the day they come. In my opinion, these are 4 issues we need to tackle -quickly- in the communication/advertising/design industry, before we actually see some changes -and a warmer sun- coming.

1. Design fell appart 


Design sells, and good design sells even more. Businesses need to learn this phrase by hearth: master design and show it. If they can’t they should hire professionals to help them do so. Typography, proportions, aesthetics.. everything needs to be perfectly set to attract customers. It’s paramount. For example, if a restaurant’s name isn’t well displayed or don’t tease you, chances are the menu will fail too and you will judge the food and the chef as terrible. Your money will stay in your pocket and your feet far away from this place. See the series of reactions that happened at the first sight? Loss of revenues.

Business owners don’t realize those subtle details. Design is here to solve communications problems. Aesthetics aside, It has to be functional.
“How can I bring me more customers through my door?” they asked. 
“Finesse your design and EVERY touch points your customers might encounter.” I said
“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares?” they replied.
“Well…for business sake, we should care.” I said.

2. Lack of Creativity


This confirm what I said earlier: desing gone bad. Bad typography. Bad advertising at its best. This really saddened me, in a big way, and I needed to talk about it. I ran through this ad as I was driving back home.
Picture me in the roundabout, pulling my car over and taking pictures. My brother’s telling me “what we doing here? Let’s go home!” i’m sorry… I just couldn’t just “go home”.

This is an ad about a local optician brand. Badly articulated, poorly executed, ugly, and that obviously violate every copyrights under the sun. 
The idea: “wear our glasses and you’ll find the genius you’ve always been seeking all your life.”

Now we should redefine the word genius. Don’t get me wrong but Steve Jobs was an “insanely great” effective person -I’m not writting these words on a Mac- I don’t believe that his glasses had anything to do about it. That’s obvious, but need to be pointed out: just because you wear glasses doesn’t make you a genius or an achiever.

Communication & technology walk hand in hand: every tools we, creatives, use are given (at a cost) by technology/software industry. Photoshop is one of them; In Photoshop you can genuinely select, modify, copy and paste and that’s it! You got your ad on its way to the printer: Wrong…
With the limitless creativity power we have today, we should avoid such common mistakes.
The “copy & paste” era in graphic design is over since the 70s or 80s. The world has changed and Photoshop too. 

Creativity is a very powerful thing, because it allows you to be totally devoted to your vision. In that case, they could have:

  1. Used a great african leader’s/thinker’s photo (copyrights infringement free, of course).

  2. Shot a pair of glasses, and tell a story through the

  3. Used 3D to show a broken glasses, how uncomfortable it is, and tell the clients how they can have new ones delivered in no time.

  4. Used an open book with blurred lines, that can make the viewer come closer, and feel the need of new glasses.

  5. Sky is the limit.

You see how you can set your business appart with creativity. There are optician stores everywhere but how special & unique your brand is? What you do differently? That will trigger the interest of your customers.

“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares?” they replied.
“Well…because creativity differenciate your business, we should care.” I said.

3. Lack of Know-How and techniques

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A Wacom tablet, a Macbook Pro-or a PC whatever might do the trick– , the Adobe Creative Suite running, a descent desk, a well–lighted space, some good music in the background. That’s the working environment of a creative agency.

That seems normal. But for most of people out there, it’s still an expensive dream. I told you about the 80s and the evolution of Photoshop. I’ve met professionals here still managing to do the job with some few clicks on the mouse, I find it amazing. Some old school guys are still going with the mouse, though. Much respect for them. Keep doing it if you doing it right.

For educational purposes, I’d manage to get a tablet and teach children how to make their way around an illustration software.
You can get a wacom bamboo for 65$. That’s enough. It’s still a challenge in some countries: we are poor. And I  pc and Adobe suite yet.
The solution is to make them affordable or at least introduce creative programs in schools.

Needless to say, governments are very terrible dealing with that issue. We have basics education program: science, economics, literature. When you want something more “artistic” you need to go a different path, this concept is well popularized in western countries, and some parts of North/South Africa…can we go in the middle please? There’s nothing.

Most artists are self taught, and internet played a big part in that evolution. Here comes the access to knowledge: it have to be quick and easy. If you go on YouTube you’ll find every tutorials you need. How fast you can access that knowledge is THE problem. The speed connexion we have allows you to play a video, go out for 2/3 hours and watch it entirely once you get back.

Who to blame? Governments, Internet providers? Both actually. I can only salute initiative of leaders like Mark Zuckerber to bring Internet access to everyone everywhere.

“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares about connexion speed?” he replied.
“Well…because internet is a big factor of development, we should care.” I said.

4. Barriers in our minds


Ice on the cake. This could be the biggest of all the 4 issues: pessimism. Trust me. It’s everywhere but its power get very strong in poor countries. It hits you so hard you get insomnia. It goes like:

“It’s never going to work”
“Others did that already, it don’t work”
“You can’t make a living with that”
“Go to school and get a real job”
“It’s hard !”

Every artists heard it once in a while. “All artists end up in the gutter” Gutters are everywhere in Africa! Don’t get fooled by nay sayers, you’d left your money on the floor. Life is hard, writting is hard, drawing is hard, shooting a video is hard, playing music or producing it IS HARD. We love beautiful things: great movies, beats that knocks, Picasso masterpieces. I can’t tell you how much we like to take these for granted. At some point, somebody sat all night working on it, and get rich in the process. This could be you?

Get your art out there, don’t care about what they say, if they say something it’s always good! Art triggers reactions, good or bad This is the goal: doing things because we love our craft so much that it keeps us up at night. If the marketing strategy is good, money will come.

Africans need to work hard and grind hard, nobody will come and do it for them.

“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares about artists anyway we need lawyers, doctors, economists: ” they replied.
“Well…because our music/art hardly sell overseas, we should care.” I said.

Oh, I forgot…

This is my point of view on Design and Ad industry in Africa, i’m very optimist about it. Change is gonna come. We just need to work on it slowly, not being rough, or arrogant on our peers. Always share knowledge, and always give. It’s gonna be okay. I’ve used some materials to illustrate my point, some people would have liked more African pics, more black skinned people. I don’t want to fall in this. I invite you to focus on the real problem: how can we change the visual marketing landscape in Africa, one step at a time. It’s about identifying the problem and coming out with a solution.

The field below is yours! Join the conversation! Let me know if you disagree, if i missed some points. Would you take a one way trip to Africa, leave everything behind you? How you’d manage the difficulties that’d come your way?