The way we consume and create visual content has been transformed with the rise of social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, influencing aesthetic trends and techniques to visual storytelling. Add to that, the digital revolution providing access for wider audience to utilise different creative mediums.

Today, we take a look at incorporating photography with digital illustrations, a trend that’s been growing gradually in graphic design, specifically.

An example of what this art form can look like:

Photo of green sneaker with floral illustrations. A marketing design for Answear created by Ewa Mos

Step 1: Let your imagination take flight

Your imagination is your best friend – take your camera and create! You can wing it and just shoot whatever pops up as you walk down the street. Or, if you’re more of a planner, with a clear idea of what you want to do, you can conceptualise and make your idea come to life. Point is, the photograph is the starting point of the project. If you already have a body of work that you can or want to start with, then this step is done.

Step 2: Get organised

You’re going to get cozy with design software. There are a few options to choose from, and if you’re not familiar with any, you’re going to want to try free versions before investing in a particular one.
Some options to try: Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Procreate, PhotoScape X, GIMP and Corel Painter. After playing around a bit you’ll find the software that best suits your style and budget.

Step 3: Experiment and find your style

Start off with some experimenting. Combine different photos with graphic elements, creating unique works of art. There are so many different brushes and features software has to offer, so the sky (your imagination) truly is the limit. You can play with different colours, textures, graphic elements, typography… As you continue experimenting, you’ll soon find your personal style start to peek through. This is when the magic happens.

Step 4: Share your work

Don’t be shy now, share your work with the world. Whether your style is retro, sketchy, bold and edgy, or minimalist, your audience deserves to see your work. Embrace whatever comes from it. You can create a new Instagram account dedicated to your creative work, or use MySpace. Yes, it’s still active, and predominantly used by artists and musicians… Pinterest will also work well, and it’s a sure way to get you noticed.

Step 5: Don’t stop learning

This is only the start, don’t stop exploring and experimenting with new techniques. And don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of your imagination.

Whether you’re looking to start a side business, grow as an artist or simply have some fun, this is a fun creative outlet anyone can learn.

Photograph of woman resting on an illustrated floating cloud on the beach
A photo of a woman with illustrated butterflies

Q&A with a pro:

1. What software or tools do you find most effective for blending digital illustrations with photography, and why?

I’ve always used Adobe Photoshop and Wacom tablets, but more recently, tried drawing on an iPad Pro, using Procreate; and I must admit it’s very good too, especially for the drawing! Photoshop gives more possibilities when it comes to photo editing and overall post production, so at this moment it’s a combination of all of these tools. When I started exploring this technique about 15 years ago, tablets weren’t an attainable thing – I was just drawing on paper, scanning into Photoshop and matching it afterwards with photographs. That is also a possibility if you don’t have a tablet – but it’s definitely more time consuming and and not as effective.

2. How do you decide on the balance between digital illustration and photography in your compositions to convey a specific mood or message?

It’s hard to tell without an example, as it all depends on the project. A busy image doesn’t necessarily mean you should limit yourself, just like an empty canvas doesn’t mean you have to go crazy. My advice, as someone who has a tendency for chaos, who lives in Copenhagen… the Scandinavian minimalistic approach in design taught me that in most cases, less is more. I’d probably focus more on colours and shapes or if an illustration should be abstract or not, depending on the photo and preferred mood.

3. Are there any particular techniques or tricks you’ve developed for seamlessly integrating the two mediums while maintaining a cohesive artistic style?

I can’t think of any tricks or techniques, but rather, a lot of trial and error. I’m still looking for new ways of exploring this craft. It’s mostly just my creative intuition, and that’s hard to define.

4. In your opinion, what distinguishes expressive art created through the combination of digital illustrations and photography from traditional forms of art?

The combination of illustration and photography should be treated as another way of creating traditional forms of art. It has the exact same role, which is a bridge between imagination and reality – creating a new universe that brings abstract thinking into everyday life. I’m not a fan of the term ‘digital’. The work you make is still created by your brain and hand, the only real difference is it’s on a screen instead of a canvas. With an academic background in Fine Arts , ‘digital’ painting is way more difficult.

5. How do you navigate this unique creative space?

Since I’ve been doing it for more than 15 years, I can actually say it’s my natural environment. I love both illustration and photography, so through this technique of merging them, I feel like I can do more. I have more possibilities and that’s amazing. It’s interesting and I must admit a bit frustrating to observe how it was perceived then vs now. Back in the day, people didn’t understand it, or even know how to feel about it, but because of popularisation of AR and drawing tablets, it’s way more of a mainstream art form. I’m really happy to be on this journey for such a long time now, and I can see even more possibilities in the future, and that’s very exciting!

Meet the artist, Ewa Mos. All of the work used in this blog has been created by her. Follow her on Instagram to stay in the loop.

Ewa Mos standing against a wall, with illustrated angel wings.
Marketing for Samsung by Ewa Mos