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  • Leah Sayles

Covoirs: Memoirs of Quarantine – Illustration Debut


Time flies when you're drawing, so that means the last two months of my life have passed by extremely quickly.


At the beginning of June, I started taking several continuing education courses virtually at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I had the amazing opportunity to work with both Steven Brodner and Grant Shaffer. Through sheer inspiration and set deadlines (I love deadlines!), I was able to create an extensive array of final sketches which I will be turning into final pieces over the coming months. Bonus? Behind-the-scenes insight of the illustration industry, from experienced professionals.


One of the first assignments I was given was to design an inside, double-page spread, illustrating my quarantine experience up until that point (aka. pure emotional CHAOS). A memoir of sorts, Covid Memoirs… The Covoirs!


This initial piece, on top of quarantine, spurred me into a drawing hibernation, driven by a combination of self and deadlines. So for the past two months, I've been working on the most complex piece that I've ever created, in both concept, process, line, and color, and I am finally ready to share it with you.


With that, I would like to debut a whole new type of piece, ushering in a new era of my work.

This piece and the process I decided to take with it, both brought me back to my traditional artistic roots and merged it with the bold, vibrant color and digital processes that I’ve been incorporating more and more into my illustrations.


From thumbnail and staged sketch (graphite pencil on printer paper)…

...to final sketch (graphite pencil on drawing paper), then final digital sketch (scanned final with final edits in Procreate)…

...to inked linework (Speedball black ink, Arches cold-press watercolor paper, crow quill pen)...

...and finally, to color (digital, Procreate).

I can’t believe how much I learned, and how I was able to evolve my work, after thinking about these new processes for quite some time.


Since the beginning of 2019 – when I received my iPad Pro and experienced Procreate for the first time – I had been working and coloring 100% digitally. This in part is why I wanted to depart from my fully digital work. It consumed me, and I learned a lot, but I didn’t enjoy illustrating solely digitally – something was missing.

During the initial stages of this piece, I fell in love with building up that final sketch and imperfectly perfecting my crow quill-inked line work. I was so happy to add that traditional flare back to my work. Those perfect imperfections, to me, are key.

And then, it was time for COLOR.


Color was an immense challenge in this piece. For the first time, I started coloring my line work something OTHER than black, on top of also working with a complex narrative and design. This process was inspired by the amazing Yuko Shimizu, who I met while I was in college, and have looked up to since. So many selections and layers – and, since this was the first time I was experiencing this process with my own work, I restarted the color process at least four times, if not more. The color in itself took a little more than the time it took to create the concept, final sketch, and ink work combined, but I am now so much more informed in regards to this newfound coloring process.

And all through this process, I was perfecting other final sketches – my next pieces. However, no matter what, I knew I needed to complete this first piece – the Covoirs – in full before I could bring any of these other pieces to ink or final. I needed to fully test out my updated tradigital process before I could repeat it.


I knew from the start that this piece would be a breakthrough piece, and it is. Through its complex narrative, design, color, and line, I surpassed all of my previously achieved limits through its creation and, now that I’ve created it, will be able to streamline my process for each piece from here.

Now that this piece is complete, I feel more confident in my narrative illustration ability, my intended path, as well as my thought and work processes. Sometimes, you just need a few people to explicitly tell you, “You’re good. You have to know how good you are.” I promise, from here on out, I will.

So, what’s the plan now?


From here, I’ll be creating a lot more work like this. I’ll be completing the other narrative illustrations that I’ve begun over the past few months, as well as working on small tradigital portraits and working on several illustration commissions. All for the sake of my illustration portfolio, and the potential for future conventions and collaborations with art directors after the chaos that is COVID-19.


Expect more illustration process work from here. Now that I’ve experienced the process in full for myself, it’s time for me to come out of Covid hibernation and share what I’m doing with you, and the world!

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Leah Sayles © 2020