2D Animal Forms & Illustration

Representing our endangered animal through 2d illustrations: Considering hierarchy, scale, and placement (Part 2 of 3)

Spoorthi Cherivirala
24 min readMar 16, 2021


  • Create a two-dimensional translation of your animal form and its habitat, in color, and on paper.
  • Integrate original text and imagery to tell a story to the viewer.
  • Text related with three levels of hierarchy (header, sub-header, body copy). Communicate animal’s habitat and why it is endangered.

Materials/ Logistics

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • 7 colors, cannot use gradients
  • Tabloid paper (11x17) in landscape orientation
  • No more than 2 of the specified fonts.


  • Translating the geometry of models into two dimensions
  • Balance representing both your animal and its habitat
  • Color schemes and placement with digital illustration

Time Frame: 2 weeks

03.15.2021: Day 1 — Ideating

Task: Sketches and thumbnails of ideas for our illustration/ poster

Initial Thumbnails

Quick pen sketches of thumbnails

For some of my initial ideas and sketches, I explored a variety of ways to show my bat close up, but also have it in perspective with its surroundings. I experimented with having it on a branch — which Q mentioned would be flat (bottom left) sketch and not necessarily what we are going for with the project. However, this would allow me to show a close-up version of the bat's face and its surroundings, but not portray as clear of an image about their predators.

My species does not have many predators, and its main threat revolves around the destruction of their roosting sites through urbanization, and disease. I think the first option is more promising with the option to incorporate this threat into their natural habitat.

For some of the sketches, I had the bats clustered in a roost within a cave since they tend to live in large colonies, however, I thought these focused too much on the habitat rather than the threat (right middle sketch). I then came up with the idea to have the bat inside a cave filled with agaves (their typical food)— their natural habitat to demonstrate the primary cause of their endangerment status — habitat loss and destruction. However, to show how the primary threat is humans, I contemplated having the outside of the cave being starkly different — showing the human “man-made” world. I considered illsutrating this man-made component through construction? or a cityscape? Whatever I choose to do, it should be fairly faded since it's far into the background.

Drawn on tablet (Right)

Here are some more thumbnails trying to flesh out how to draw a cave in this manner. At first, I was thinking about having a large branch in the foreground with the bat on it (Left top sketch). However, if the bat was going to be accurate with proportions of the rest of the cave, then the bat on the branch would have to be quite small. So I decided a better approach to the perspective flaw was that the bat could be flying forwards, thereby allowing it to sensibly be a larger size.

Concept Moving Forward

Purpose: Inside of the cave: blooming, earthy, protected feeling with luscious agaves; Outside of the cave starkly contrasts with cityscape/ construction/ human-made efforts to show the threat of habitat destruction for these bats

Color Contrast: Focus between these 2 components

Improved Sketch done on tablet using Medibang

Daphne & Peer Critique — Things to consider and change

  • Try to incorporate the colors of the cave and the exterior with each other.
  • Make front bat not face the audience — not natural
  • Make the front bat even bigger (doesn’t hurt to be big in this case)
  • Check proportions (small bat hanging on a tree is maybe too large)
  • Ground- decide if rocks or water — maybe do water to represent moist caves
  • Connect the cityscape section better with the cave — connect through the water
  • When going to illustrator, I plan to simplify a lot of the different components of the drawing

03.17.2021: Day 2 — Iterating

Task: Create 3 different iterations of the illustration (can vary in colors, composition, details, etc)

I have never really used illustrator before so hopefully, it’s not too big of a learning curve from the other Adobe products. I watched the tutorials mentioned in class for all of the shapes, pens, drawing tool videos to get a better idea of how it works. Why are there so many different types! Vector graphics don’t seem as intuitive as drawing on photoshop.

Creating the front bat

Determining Position of wings

Bat #1 (left), Bat #2 (right)

I wanted to have a large bat flying in the foreground but not necessarily straight towards the camera — Daphne mentioned how this might make it look unrealistic. So I was hoping to find a midway half-closed flying pose to emulate in my bat illustration.

Color Palette for wings & the piece

The bat is primarily an unsaturated array of browns, mixed with some pinks and yellows, which is what I tried to emulate as I picked out colors.

First, I drew the outline of the bat in illustrator in a bright green color, extracting colors from the photo, and am going back and inserting colors for the different paths I created.

An Unfortunate Occurrence

Face Progress 1

Learned something extremely important — Save more often! (and save in under different files for backup) I ended up making negative progress at this point when illustrator crashed:

I restored the recovery file except I then realized I accidentally deleted an element from the background a while ago — didn’t know what to do? So I attempted to ctrl-z all my actions except I soon realized I can’t “redo” more than 3 moves. So at the end of this incident, I deleted most of the progress I made on the bat's face and body in the recovery file itself.

Bat Progress 2 (Deleted Version)

I decided to make the colors more muted — to be more accurate to the bat and also less distracting, as the colors work better with each other. I also realized the fur on the bat's face was unnecessary and a bit too emphasized and explicit with the curvy lines; I will simplify this.

Working on the cave

Reference Photos

Real-life Interior of Caves

Looking into the subtle vegetation, rocks, and typically water within these large caves

Illustrative Clipart Renderings of Caves and Plants

Understanding the shape and perspective of representing a cave in a vectorized manner. The right image shows a variety of agave species (my bats favorite plant).

The right image shows how caves can be filled with plants — shrubs and trees within them.

Illustrative Clipart Renderings of the interior of caves

Water or grass for the ground? These photos were helpful to understand how my illustration can also portray the interior of a cave in a similar manner.

Process: Putting all these pieces together

Starting to draw paths and shapes in Illustrator on top of my sketch

Which way should the gradient of the cave be to imply that we are inside the cave? Does it matter if people think were outside the cave though? I think the right view is more accurate but would lead to a dominant section of dark brown at the top — for now, I will continue developing the right drawing.

Working on the left side of the cave
Left and ride side mostly completed

Things to do at this point: fix face, fix trees, fix cave, do water and background, add colors, add more bats

Cave portion of the drawing done

Determining colors for outside the cave

Right now I have used 4 colors, so I have 3 left

  • Green to match the colors of the grass — is it grass or water?
  • Shades of blue to match the cityscape and the water — maybe more suitable
  • Black — Not a good idea I was just curious — it's too dark can’t see the bats, draws too much attention immediately. Also far away color should be the lightest to indicate depth.
  • Yellow colors are very complementary to the brown

Adding a Cityscape

Water or ground?

Chose to do water with some ripple-like accents

Finalizing Iterations

Monochrome — only 4 colors

Changing the color of the cityscape — still blends with the foreground?
With or without an abstract branch on the right side?
Different effect if the colors were more vibrant?


Monochrome: Only 4–5 colors
Yellow is the best one

Things I want to change

  • Clearly establish whether its inside or outside the cave — define this and change the values of the colors
  • Better integrate color within the pieces- also create distinctions between layers
  • Simplify unnecessary details to differentiate between the foreground and background
  • Use more colors- maybe use other drastic other colors like the bright red above
  • Also, I think I’m using illustrator wrong — I don’t think I should have 130 layers :)
  • Maybe the bat in the front should be larger

General In-Class Tips

  • focus on habitat
  • consider the placement of text and the distance between lines

Specific Feedback from Daphne & Q

  • Lighting is off (Highlights should be dark within the cave so the lighting should be on the sides of the cave opening) & The outside of the cave is too light
  • Low saturation/ narrow range of colors (Q mentioned that standalone it would be nice but next to more colorful illustrations it looks very muted) — explore vibrant colors and this will help distinguish different shapes
  • Change colors of the bats as they move backward based on depth
  • Change text — some is left aligned some is right (oops)
  • Simplify the objects — everything is detailed — don’t know what to focus on

03.21.2021: Day 3 — Revising Iterations

I began with making all of the changes that Daphne and Q recommended in the previous session.


Changes based on the feedback

  • Left-aligned all of the text
  • Made the bats fade into the background (not all the same shade)
  • Changed the direction of all of the highlights! They all face inwards now since the light enters from the middle outside of the cave
  • Inverted colors so that the foreground of the cave is darker (perspective closer should be darker, far away should be lighter)
  • Changed ripples of the water to be a different color (find a way to incorporate that color more now)
  • Made the city pink to match the color of the water — but then the reflection onto the water seems off.
  • Removed a lot of the highlights to be less complicated
Before- Old Iteration (Left), After (Right)
  • Abstracted the bats so they appear less detailed the farther back you go. Perhaps, they should be further abstracted/ remove the curves of the wing segments? I removed the claws/ hooks on the feet and wings, and for the farthest back one, I removed the face and just included the wing shape.

Trying more saturated colors with layering for the city

Trying to pick a color scheme

Should I go back to what I originally was considering with the greens and the browns but inverted so the cave is brown and the outside is green? This green shade is definitely too bright. The man-made city elements don’t seem fitting to be in green though.

Changing/Experiment with the wings of the bats

  • How can I balance the pinks and yellows in the wings of the bat so that it doesn’t blend into the background as much?
  • Are these colors still too muted? not vibrant enough? I seem to like them more than the brighter colors.

Color palette exploration

Choosing more vibrant colors

Finished left side (Left), Finished rocks on both sides (Right)

Questions & Ideas

  • In order to incorporate more of the two colors as intertwined with each other rather than separate, I had the rocks be blue in addition to the water, while they mixed in with the rest of the brown cave.
  • I’m not sure if mixing colors throughout the piece is a good idea or if I should specify certain objects to be certain colors to be more consistent. Which one will help me distinguish objects better?
  • Do the more vibrant colors bring the bat out more? Should the bat's wings be blue as well as the water since it is angled to be on top of the orange cave, or will it blend in too much?
  • I divided the ground portions so that there is more light (lighter color) on the part that is near the entrance of the cave, and the outer (far left and far right) edges are darker since it is farther away from the outside.

Margot Office Hours Critique

  • Maybe try removing vegetation and trees (make it appear less like the outside of a cave)
  • Darken the color for the brown cave walls even more — almost black color to make it appear to be inside a cave more
  • Make the bat more yellow (in the pink one)
  • Consider separating the colors so there isn't an even distribution of them (make cave brown, water blue, bat yellow, etc) — maybe that will help distinguish them
  • Make text wider so that the title will line up — make sure it lines up

2 Iterations without vegetation (plants + leafs) & color changes

  • Made all the browns darker shades
  • Removed all of the vegetation (added rocks in some of the spots)
  • Made the wings of the 2 bats synonymous with each other
  • Paralleled these changes with the brown version
  • Removing the vegetation definitely looks less cluttered
  • Considering also removing the shadow of the other cityscape in the background — seems unnecessary


I prefer the first two iterations (the red seems a little bit too bright and harsh compared to the rest of the colors that aren’t as saturated) (the second brown one’s colors are very orange and also quite bright, not reminiscent of a cave, the gradient is also not as smooth, and the shadows seem shallow without a darker brown tone to rely on

  • How should I distribute the colors for the bat’s wings and body (including the eyes)? for it to not blend into the background but also incorporate all the colors — should I even attempt to incorporate all the colors or is that unnecessary — should I just use the browns only?
  • Which treatment of color will help me distinguish objects more clearly? Mix colors within different objects throughout the piece (like the above examples) where there is an even amount of one color throughout the drawing, or should specify certain objects/ parts of the piece to be certain colors to be more consistent?

03. 24. 2021 — Day 4: Revising Iterations

Feedback from Q

  • Take out some of the details on the rocks in the background (2 colors instead of 3 or 1 color) — simplify them so they're not as detailed without as many accents
  • Change the thickness of the ripples to show depth (make the ones in the back thinner and the front ones thicker)
  • Add details/ accents to the ripples in the front (distinguish them from the ones in the background)
  • Make the second bat smaller and simplify the details- take out colors- reduce contrast so it doesn’t stand out as much
  • Maybe make the front bat have no blue in the wings so it doesn’t blend in with the water — only have small blue accents on the face
  • Can probably remove most of the vegetation
  • Increase space between body copy text to make it easily legible
  • The bats in the background can be smaller to make perspective more accurate

Q’s Edited Illustrator Version

I definitely agree with all the feedback Q gave. I was unsure about the color schemes, but he mentioned that either color scheme would work depending on the mood I wanted the drawing to portray. For instance, the darker less saturated one appears more lonely.

Choosing between 2 color schemes

The top pink and the bottom orange/blue ones are the best out of these 3 for sure. I couldn’t decide between the pinks and the orange version—I like the pinks because I always tend to prefer muted and monochrome colors. I’m not sure if that’s ideal for this project though, and it doesn't seem as inviting, so I think I will continue iterating with the brighter orange one instead. The drastic distinction between the gradients of these 2 colors (brown and blue) in the brighter one also allow it to stand out prominently, separating the water from the cave. The blue is also somewhat synonymous with water’s typical blue appearance.

Editing Illustration:

Simplifying the rocks in the background

Left side rocks: Before (Left), After (Right)
Right side rocks: Before (Left), After (Right)

The rocks in the background should be less detailed than the one’s in the front so I removed all the highlights and made each rock at maximum 2 colors rather than 4 shades of blue.

Decreasing size of bats in the background

Before (Left), After (Right)

The bats should be much smaller in relation to the cityscape. Q said I abstracted the bat shapes well though!

Removing all the vegetation (leaves and plants)

Left side plants: Before (Left), After (Right)
Right side rocks: Before (Left), After (Right)

I thought the plants might be unnecessary details and also hinder the understanding that the scene is within a cave, so I removed them. Since the plants were overlaying rocks in the very front of the drawing, once I removed them, I made the rocks more detailed with some highlights to compensate — since the front of the drawing should be the most detailed.

Improving depth through differing ripple thickness

Before (Left), After (Right)
Difference in thickness

Q mentioned that depth could be better portrayed if I increased the contrast between the thickness of the ripples in the back of the drawing versus the front. It would help push the city into the background better, hopefully making the drawing easier to understand. I cut the path of the ripples and condensed the ones in the back and stretched the ones in the front to create these differing thicknesses. Should the ripples be sharp at the ends or should they be curved — which represents the flow of the water better?

Adding accents to the ripples of the water in the front

One-color accents

Dark Blue accents (Left), Light Blue (Right)

Should they be dark blue or should they be the light blue color of the water? Should they be layered? Should they be sharper or smoother curved?

Two-color accents

Gradient layered accents
Alternating color layers

Should they be multiple layers? I think the gradient doesn’t work well — it looks like it's too patterned and too similar to the rocks. The bottom two versions with 2 layers work better where one of the colors is repeated. I like that the light blue ripples look like the water color is coming through the curves. I think they should be curvy — not as pointy. But at the same time, the dark blue works well with the middle blue color and especially matches the colors of the buildings in the background.

Simplifying second bat (in the background)

Before (Left), After (Right)

How much simplification is necessary? I changed the face a lot, taking away all the different colored details, especially with the eyes — making them one solid color. Q also mentioned that the contrast in the wings should be reduced so I changed the wings to be more similar colors (right image). But, should I make the wings blue to stand out against the cave more?

I learned about the grouping tool and locking layers from when Q used it in class! It was extremely helpful in isolating the background bat in order to shrink it without having to select each layer individually.

Further simplification

Which abstraction is better? In the middle drawing, I removed the accents of the wing texture, and in the one on the right, the winged fingers appeared too detailed, so I hid those instead.

Darken the background/ Change colors

Current colors

Water darker ripple

Maybe I should darken all the colors slightly, or just darken the darkest brown shade more? It will create more contrast with the background and the inside of the cave, as well as make the text stand out more.

Colors changed: Darker brown and water/ripples softened edges to be curved

Trying all darker shades of brown (Left), Only the darkest brown shade has been darkened (Right)

I think the softened curves of the water ripples work a lot better to show the fluidity of the water. I’m curious what would happen if I inverted the water?

Inverting water experiments

Does the water look better inverted like this?

Water inverted & Brown colors changing comparison & Tree colors slightly changed

Next Iterations

Ripples (light colored)
More abstracted second bat & Inverted ripple colors (Left), Dark-colored accents (Right)

03. 25. 2021: Day 5— Final Iteration

Feedback from Daphne & Group Critique

  • Making the second bat simplified is good, maybe not make the back bat blue because it blends too much
  • Inverted colors for the water are better because the ripples stand out more
  • Make some of the rocks in the middle ground more simplified (left and right middle don’t match that well)
  • Print to see text contrast (difficult to have text over 2 different colors)
  • The white sand pops out a lot- draws a lot of attention- attention away from the bat as well
  • The middle bat in the distance overlaps with the complex buildings, scoot it over to the right more
  • The blue in the rocks and the wavy pattern makes it look like water, maybe make the rocks darker so that it's not the color of the water anymore — or make the rocks sharper
  • The dark blue reflection into the water could be changed — if it is supposed to reflect the reflection of the buildings then why is it only in the center? Add more of the reflection or remove it entirely

Feedback from Connor

  • Maybe remove the second city highlight in the back
  • Make the second bat not blue — looks sickly
  • He liked the lighter-colored water with the dark blue highlights since it better follows the light entering the cave? Different from what my group said
  • The detail on the ground on the right side is a little confusing — looks similar to the bat wings
  • The text overlapping two colors is a bit weird — consider changing the shape of the cave so that the text doesn’t overlap
  • Remove some of the highlights in the middle rocks so that only the front ones are the most detailed
  • Small bat face looks like smiley face — remove the curved mouth piece

I’m still not sure about the dark blue water because it doesn’t make as much sense with the way that light enters the cave, but it does look better, creating more contrast with the bat.

Making Changes

Changing Text

Shortening body copy, reshaping cave, so they don't overlap

Not sure how I feel about this. I think there is now tension between the cave and the text since the gap is so narrow

Refining the bats

Smaller bat: Removed smiley face like piece, changed blue to brown to decrease contrast and not blend in with water

Big bat: Changed the skin triangle inside the fingers to light brown instead of dark, increased darkness on the front leg to decrease depth appearance

Q Feedback on Text

After class, Q mentioned to fix the overlap I could warp the text around the curve of cave, since no matter how much I remove from the cave, there will always be tension if my text is rectangle-shaped.

Version 1: Overlap on 2 different colors/ diff contrast — kind of difficult to read

Version 2: Box with cave pushed in — Weird tension between text and cave

Version 3: Curved alongside of the cave — Right side is a bit weird

Version 4: Left aligned? — No looks really strange when trying to read

My three options

Printing them on legal paper

I think I will go with the curved text like Q suggested, especially since many of my peers said the overlapped text onto the cave looks really strange. However, I shortened my text to make the curve smoother, and the right side slightly more uniform than before.

The colors mostly look the same when printed except for the dark brown — which is much darker. I think this actually helps the composition though; I was actually considering increasing the darkness on the darkest brown, but now I don’t have to. The contrast with the overlapping text is readable but still distracting.

Changing colors of the ground

In order to make sure the bat doesn’t blend into its background as much, and there isn’t as much contrast between the different colors on the side, I replaced the ground eggshell color with the lighter brown.

Before (Left), After (Right)

Color of the water ripples — inverted or not?

Daphne and group critique said the inverted looks better since it creates more contrast with the bat, but I’m concerned because does not follow the lighting typical of the cave? But at the same time, Anthony pointed out that the ripples and highlights in water are usually lighter, so maybe the inverted version does look better. Based on all the feedback I got, I think the darker is the better way to go.

Before (Left), After (Right)

Questionable Building Reflection

Many ripples

I tried to make it more accurate to the forms of the buildings by adding more of the ripples, but this looks incredibly weird and distracting.

3 bigger ripples

I then deleted some and stretched the others, but it still looks a little awkward especially when the dark blue touches the light blue.

This is what I had in the beginning with just one larger ripple — a very drastic simplification. I like this one for aesthetics but as Daphne mentioned, it does not make much sense, so I will probably just remove it.

Simplified rocks to match the detail on the other side

I removed many of the light eggshell highlights, and only kept 2 on the middle rocks. I also made the rocks on the other side slightly more detailed (not as round) to match these shapes better.

My poor organization :)

Final Illustration

I definitely learned a lot about colors and composition from this project, as well as how to simplify shapes, especially as they regress into the background. It kind of reminded me of the first studio project last semester, except on a much more elaborate scale — going from monochrome to adding in the variable of different colors. I think the restriction of 7 colors was really effective in making sure we took advantage of every precise color we selected. In the beginning, I was really fond of monochrome desaturated illustrations, but now I’ve warmed up to the vibrancy effects of colors. I also appreciate being able to learn new software, learning about vector graphics for the first time, and the facets of the many different pen tools in Illustrator. The project was also really captivating and different, compared to all of the 3d things we have done in the past, being more related to illustration and fine arts similar to what I have done in high school. I hope to keep making illustrations in the future and experiment with different software to compare them to Illustrator.