I am a student and I made an illustration with illustrator. As you can see in the example I made, it isn't the best illustration and It can be much better.

As you see, I gave the rocks underneath the lighthouse some sharp edges. I put some movement lines in the water. Some shadows. That's all. I don't know where to put more details into my design. It feels the design is missing some elements and I don't know what.

Basically my question is: How do you when, where and what to put some 'subtle' details in your design to improve it ?

enter image description here

  • 2
    Well why did you add shadows to the cliff and not the lighthouse, for example? What kind of result are you trying to achieve? Good and Bad are very subjective.
    – Luciano
    Jul 26, 2017 at 13:33
  • Tbh I didn't think about it yet, I am trying to figure how I can know where for example I have to put shadows and so on. I am going for the flat design look but with that little bit of extra. It is hard to explain.
    – Lego
    Jul 26, 2017 at 13:53
  • Please avoid answering questions in the comments. :P
    – Vincent
    Jul 28, 2017 at 10:22

3 Answers 3


I will try to partly answer your questions (there are many!)

"It feels the design is missing some elements and I don't know what."

You mention you are a student. It's common as a novice, not being able to point out what exactly is "missing" (don't worry, it should improve with time!). Sometimes it's not what's "missing". Sometimes things need to be rearranged or tweaked. I think the previous posters have offered some great pointers. However, you can have a nice illustration that looks "finished" without adding much details.

"Basically my question is: How do you when, where and what to put some 'subtle' details in your design to improve it ?"

Like I commented before, details are often added where you want to attract the eyes, such as in sketching portraits, eyes are detailed and the rest of the face is usually fairly rough.

The details I see added in your illustration don't strike me as subtle. They are small details, but they do attract the eye very much because their surroundings is quite simple/flat. Thus, by addind small waves in the water, you are attracting the viewer's eye there. Is this what you want? What do you want to communicate with your image? This is the first question you should ask yourself when reviewing your own work.

I am assuming that the lighthouse is the focal point of your image, and my suggestions below will be reflecting this. Some issues in your illustration come from contrast, some from inconsistencies, here are a few I can pinpoint:

  • Make the stars a bit smaller
  • Bring the moon inwards a bit (it attracts the eye very close to the edge of your illustration, try to avoid this if you want to keep the viewer in)
  • Your waves are all at the same size, regardless of where they are; this doesn't make sense, they should appear smaller the further they are. By putting some waves against the coast and some that go out of your image, your illustration would seem less enclosed in the frame.
  • Shadows are not applied consistently (you have two light sources, the moon which should cast faint shadows and the shadows cast by the lighthouse beam, which should be harsher) The rays in the lightbeam. You might want to skip the shadows altogether, that's up to you!
  • Light beam rays should likely be in the same orientation as the beam, unless you want to suggest the beam is flashing or something of the sort.
  • In terms of color values, I see the white in the lighthouse seems to vibrate with the green of the grass and it makes my eye uncomfortable. I would change one of them for brighter/darker.
  • The grass is extremely bright for a night scene.

There could be more pointers but it also depends on what kind of style you are striving towards. Hopefully some of what I'm offered will help you find what you need.

  • I have read your comment carefully and I see what you mean. Thnx for the answer !
    – Lego
    Aug 1, 2017 at 11:22

enter image description here

Here's your image without some details. Your playground has got much higher degree of freedom.

First think, what you want to show. There's now plenty of room available for it. Even the light beam is freely redirectable and resizable to boost something that you see important.

Do not add anything before you have a purpose ie. what you want people to see and feel or think.

It's you who should want something.

Here's a couple of brutal and ultra-trivial examples:

enter image description here

enter image description here

ADDENDUM: Maybe we have here a misunderstanding. You probably reach not a decent illustration for something, but an independent piece of art. That does not change the text, only the given examples and starting by simplifying your drawing become ridiculous.

  • The last piece you made looks pretty good, the colors are much better and the shadows as well. I think that was what I was missing for the most part.
    – Lego
    Jul 27, 2017 at 10:17

First of all, the image is nice, it is clean and friendly.

First, some specific observations but this part is a bit subjective, This is only my opinion.

I have the feeling you do not prepare your overall composition with an objective in mind.

It is not carved in stone, but a composition tool is the rule of thirds. Your horizon is on that line, but the lighthouse is not.

This is a first guide on where to put, not details, but a point of interest.

I feel too much empty space on the green ?. It feels that something should be there, that is only from the empty space alone.

This is because I feel an unbalance on the overall image., not only for the obvious lack of elements on the right side but additionally because the lighthouse feels too much to the left.

The light pointing down makes me feel a bit disoriented, is the lighthouse, in reality, a search light? what is that searching for?

enter image description here

This takes me to my second point. What is the story you are telling?

What is your style? What do you need?

This are things you need to need to answer yourself.

  • Hi Rafeal, thnx for your constructive feedback. Thank you that you think it looks clean and friendly haha. I fully agree with you that the illustration feels empty indeed .
    – Lego
    Jul 26, 2017 at 19:36
  • Hi Rafeal, thnx for your constructive feedback. Thank you that you think it looks clean and friendly haha. The composition tool is not a tool I use a lot, I make my designs more with a natural feel. But I will give it a try. I fully agree with you that the illustration feels empty indeed. It is missing something indeed, maybe some rocks on the shore or something. Yea the lighthouse light was just to make a light, I didn´t have a real purpose. I just wanted to make a nice illustration. I have asked myself many times what my style is, but I really don´t know what it is. it comes with exp
    – Lego
    Jul 26, 2017 at 19:48

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