Every project bring new challenges. Discover how these seven pro illustrators grew their skills and abilities by overcoming unexpected hurdles in their work.

Shutterstock is home to well over 50 million illustrations covering almost every conceivable topic, and while the finished images might seem effortless, top illustrators put in hours of research, sketching, editing, and fine-tuning behind the scenes. Last month, we asked photographers to tell us about some of their most challenging shoots, and this month, we decided to do the same for some of Shutterstock’s influential and pioneering illustrators.

Great illustrators make their jobs look easy, but in this article, you’ll discover how seven top contributors tackled their most difficult projects. Some illustrations were challenging for technical reasons, like designing the perfect text, while others were conceptually demanding and required creative problem-solving. Along the way, each artist was able to reflect on the valuable lessons they learned in the process.

1. “There are no limits to your imagination when it comes to 3D illustrations.”

Digital Storm

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — No Limits to the Imagination

Image by Digital Storm.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

I would have to say my most challenging illustration to date was The Pegasus. The interesting thing about 3D illustrations is that you start off with nothing there. The next thing you know, you have a living, breathing mythical creature in front of you that has come to life.

Pushing the envelope of photorealism illustrations is one of my passions because you have the potential to capture something that is not easily possible with photography. These illustrations come with learning curves. In addition to photo editing programs, you have to master several modeling programs for creating, editing, and rendering perfect lighting.

Pictured: [1] Digital Storm [2] Digital Storm

What did you learn from this illustration?

I learned that anything is possible. There are no limits to your imagination when it comes to 3D illustrations. You must have patience, creativity, and the desire to build your knowledge base to continue to grow as a 3D illustrator. My motto in life is, “Every day is a school day.”

2. “…It’s necessary to conduct a lot of research and to focus on every detail in order to create effective images.”

elenabsl

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Conduct Research

Image by elenabsl.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

I like to explore different themes, and in this image, I wanted to challenge myself to imagine how new technologies will impact our society in the near future. I researched the latest hi-tech trends and then illustrated them in a way that merges reality and virtual environments. Here, people work together while interacting with touchscreen devices, AI, user interfaces, and holograms.

My intent was not just to show how these innovations might be integrated into our daily life but also to explore how people’s unique creativity, diversity, and teamwork cannot be replaced by any kind of technology. For this reason, I also portrayed a realistic and heterogeneous idea of community. When I illustrate groups of people, I make sure that any person looking at the image can feel included and valued beyond gender, age, and ethnicity.

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Focus on Details

Image by elenabsl.

What did you learn from this illustration?

Working on this illustration made me think about how all the microstock images that populate our everyday life can influence our collective imagination. As content creators, we all contribute by illustrating our own personal viewpoints, but we can also help other people to express their ideas about society and identity. I learned that it’s necessary to conduct a lot of research and to focus on every detail in order to create effective images.

3. “I strive to emphasize certain elements, while creating a sense of unity, balance, and contrast.”

browndogstudios

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Balance and Emphasis

Image by browndogstudios.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

The challenge with drawing any icon set is to communicate your message as simply as possible, while making the icons recognizable at the same time. I strive to emphasize certain elements, while creating a sense of unity, balance, and contrast. Bringing in rhythm and movement helps make the icons more interesting.

When drawing this icon set, I tried to strip away as many unnecessary elements as possible. Icons are a universal language, so I try to communicate ideas that can be understood instantly by anyone, no matter what language they speak.

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Follow Your Passions

Image by browndogstudios.

What did you learn from this illustration?

Honestly, I’d have to say that I don’t think my work is ever done. I always want to go back and change lines here and there. I’m constantly learning and trying to perfect my craft. I think what I learned the most from this illustration is to concentrate on subjects that you’re passionate about.

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4. “…You can develop your skills by constantly experimenting and trying to realize new ideas.”

AmazeinDesign

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Keep Experimenting

Image by AmazeinDesign.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

Creating an illustration with a 3D-like effect in vector format is challenging because you need to have a great understanding of how to apply highlights and shadows to make every part of your illustration come alive. Every summer, I always try to make new illustrations with a different style. For this illustration, I spent a lot of time on the “SUMMER” text to make it look smooth and soft. The challenge was to make the text readable as it overlapped.

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Aim to Realize New Ideas

Image by AmazeinDesign.

What did you learn from this illustration?

I learned that you can develop your skills by constantly experimenting and trying to realize new ideas.

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5. “I tried to merge objects from real life, like a cup of coffee and a laptop, and objects from a virtual environment, like blockchain blocks, charts, and interfaces.”

Visual Generation

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Explore New Concepts

Image by Visual Generation.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

It’s hard to choose the most challenging since every new artwork is challenging. I’ll talk about the latest one, which I created with Adobe Illustrator CC. I set myself the task of showing a blockchain developer/programmer inside the virtual world of his ideas. I tried to merge objects from real life, like a cup of coffee and a laptop, and objects from a virtual environment, like blockchain blocks, charts, and interfaces.

Pictured: [1] Visual Generation [2] Visual Generation

What did you learn from this illustration?

I learned how to create a non-existent environment, and I’m happy with the result. In the near future, I will continue to experiment with creating non-existent environments. I hope it helps me to produce awesome concept illustrations.

6. “I learned to find inspiration in my own life and experiences.”

pimlena

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Draw Inspiration from Real Life

Image by pimlena.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

The theme of motherhood has been a favorite of mine for the ten years I’ve worked with Shutterstock. At first, it was pregnant women, and later, mothers with children. I have two children, so I can observe them as they grow up.

For me, the most difficult stage of any illustration is the sketch. In this case, I needed to find those beautiful shapes and lines to convey the softness of the mother, the tenderness of the child, and their bond. From there, I changed the lines and shapes in a vector to find an ideal variant.

Pictured: [1] pimlena [2] pimlena [3] pimlena

What did you learn from this illustration?

I learned to find inspiration in my own life and experiences. The children in my illustrations will grow older, I think, as my own children grow.

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7. “Sometimes you have to try something new without deviating too much from your own style.”

Hein Nouwens

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Try New Things

Image by Hein Nouwens.

What’s the most challenging illustration you’ve done?

Most of the time, I make black and white illustrations, but this time, I tried something new and incorporated color. It was a challenge to find a nice collection of popular toys and to find the right color combination.

What 7 Top Illustrators Learned from Their Most Difficult Projects — Embrace Your Personal Style

Image by Hein Nouwens.

What did you learn from this illustration?

Sometimes you have to try something new without deviating too much from your own style.

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Top Image by Visual Generation.