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The Future of Water Illustration

WATER IS A RESOURCE we so often take for granted, yet is incredibly precious. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to illustrate various issues and solutions related to water for the Future of Water project. This is the story of my process.

Dow and GolinHarris saw some of my illustration work and contacted me about doing a sketchnote style illustration about water for the Future of Water project.

Concept Notes

After an initial phone discussion, I reviewed all 60 of the 1 minute videos on the Future of Water site, noting ideas I found interesting as I watched and listened.

Future of water sketch tidbit

Pencil Sketches

From my general notes, I created pencil sketches of the illustration, laying out the structure of the piece. I shared my pencil sketch with the client, providing them with a clear sense of where I was headed with the illustration.

Future of water pencil tidbit

Inking the Illustration

Next, I began inking the piece, creating the elements on tracing paper over the tight pencils I'd created, making adjustments as needed.

Future of water inked tidbit

Once the inking was complete, I scanned in the artwork and began assembling the scanned pieces into a multiple-layered, unified Photoshop file. This approach lets me adjust images within the whole or make changes if need be.


When the black and white art was approved, I moved on color — the most challenging part of the piece. It took a while to get the blue colors I had envisioned, but once they were established, I began working down the B&W art, colorizing the whole piece.

Here's the final illustration as it appears on the Future of Water website:

Future of water final

Thank You

Many thanks to Dow, GolinHarris and Len Kendall for working with me on this project. I had a great time and am pleased to bring to light the challenges and opportunities we have on the topic of water.

Reader Comments (7)

You're inspirational. Gifted with the pen. Or pens.
Because of your fine examples, been sketchnoting more than ever.
In the flow. LOVE the flow!

Thanks for your weblog's bounty of info. You are a hero to many. Much continued success.

Mary Brown
Chicago (via Racine, WI)

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Brown

Thanks Mary, I appreciate your kind words! Great to hear my work is inspiring you to sketchnote more as well.


August 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Very nice.

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott Offord

These are amazing. The are great looking and they communicate the message very effectively and very quickly. I am a great fan of your work (I have even printed and spiral bound some of your sketchnotes).
Last year I made a calendar on environmental issues which I would like to share with you. The first two months are about water. Yon can take a look at it on my blog

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNavin Harish

Mike, I'm really inspired by your sketches and illustrations; beautifully done.

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOMSH

Hey Mike!
I always get so excited about what you've done....As so many have said to you before...You truly inspire me with my typography efforts.
Question? Did you do your colorizing in Photoshop?

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervaldez

Thanks Scott, Navin, OMSH and Valdez!

Navin thanks for the link to your calendar.

Valdez - in this case I did colorize with hues in Photoshop. I thought about vectorizing the art but in the end it was faster to colorize high-res bitmaps.

August 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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