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Building Bulb

Illustration at Bulb

An illustration of a happy Bulb member

Illustrations are a big part of how we communicate at Bulb. If you’ve visited our site or opened an email from us, you’ll have seen them. And we get lots of questions about how we do them. In this post, Aurelia Lange, our illustrator, shares some of the thinking and processes behind that work.

Our illustration style reflects our brand

Our illustrative style is inspired by the Bulb supergraphic and logo. The Bulb supergraphic is a large, hand-drawn ink version of the Bulb logo. We use close cropped sections of it throughout our branding.

The Bulb supergraphic
The Bulb supergraphic and how we crop it in our branding.

The ink texture in our supergraphic brings a sense of energy which I really love. It’s a visual representation of what we provide to people. It can be abstract, and represented in many ways. Sometimes it is not visible. But I love that this is a trace of movement that has had to take place for us to see it. I want to create the feeling of movement in our illustration and whether it's moving or still, the ink texture makes this work really successfully. It’s also a great representation of the four elements that create green energy; earth, water, air and fire, so wonderful!

The hand-drawn nature of this work sets my process apart at Bulb. Bulb is a tech company and most of our work is produced with digital tools. I have thought about using more software to produce illustrations, which could be seen as more time efficient. But I feel taking out the tactile, pen-to-paper element would remove important parts of the process which encourage exploration, and looser experimentation.

Our June seasonal email header, depicting Stonehenge, features the animated brushstroke
Our June seasonal email header features the animated brushstroke.
A stamp representing a Bulb hydro generator used on the generator map
Ink brushstrokes in the site stamps on our generator map. This one is for a hydro plant in Wales.
Bulb's September email header showing a cyclist with wind in their hair
Our September themed cyclist with the wind in their hair.

The process allows room for exploration

The process for creating an illustration is an iterative, explorative journey. Here, I’ll share what that process looks like from start to finish for one of our monthly email headers.

Step 1: find your concept

At this stage, it’s good to ask some questions: ‘what do you want to communicate?’, ‘who is your audience?’

For the December email header, I worked from a concept of bird feeders over the winter months. This felt like a familiar, seasonal idea, which related to the environment and our relationship with it.

Initial sketch for the December Bulb email header showing birds and bird feeders
Initial sketch for the December email header concept.

Step 2: research to understand your concept

It’s important to research around your concept and approach the idea with fresh eyes. Again, I asked myself some questions: ‘what type of birds do we see in December in the UK?’, ‘how do they behave?’. I watched videos of robins on YouTube before I started drawing.

A screenshot of a video on Youtube about robins
Robins on Youtube.
A second sketch of the December email header featuring a robin on a branch
Second development of sketch.

Step 3: question through drawing

Drawing is a practice and language of looking, questioning, communicating and responding. To make an animation you need multiple frames, or many drawings. Together, they create the final moving image.

The need for so many drawings requires patience and allows room for exploration and playfulness, as you don’t rely on a single image to tell the whole story. I use pen, black Indian ink on paper. I believe drawing by hand creates more room for expression and experimentation.

Drawings of a robin in different positions
Drawings of robin in different positions.

Drawing from life or movement can produce interpretative, looser lines which can feel like an emotional response, or dance on paper.

Ink studies of robin in flight
Ink studies of robin in flight.

Step 4: sequence, edit and simplify the animation

Once I have enough content to play with I scan the drawings and clean them up on Photoshop. This can take time but, by going through and addressing each frame, I always see something new. At this stage, I apply colour to the drawings so that they fit with Bulb’s brand guidelines.

A screenshot showing 41 edited drawings that make up the animated frames of the Robin
41 edited drawings that make up the animated frames of the Robin.
A sketch showing a robin in flight in colour
Robin in flight in colour.

One of our design principles is to ‘Keep it simple’. When illustrating this robin, I decided that the personality in its movement was charming enough that the original concept of having multiple birds and bird feeders wasn’t necessary.

The final version of the December email header featuring a robin
The final version of December email header.

Using process to drive the outcome

When creating this email header, I was delighted to finish with drawings that I would never have arrived to had I not gone on such an inquisitive journey to study our robin. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:

When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we have already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we are going, but we will know we want to be there.

Bruce Mau, ‘An incomplete manifesto for growth’

We even used some early versions of the robin to create an emoji on Slack, a tool we use at Bulb to communicate between teams.

The robin illustration being repurposed as a slack emoji
A slack emoji: one of the outcomes of the many Robin illustrations

We are looking at including more of our illustration across other platforms at Bulb, including our App. Please keep a lookout for our seasonal emails and let me know if you have any more questions.

Have you noticed our illustrations? Let us know your favourites in the Bulb Community.