Creative Guide: Illustrate a sticker set for your “future self” with Ohni Lisle
As part of New World, our collaboration with Today at Apple, we’re bringing you a series of step-by-step Creative Guides which allow you to complete a project, guided by a leading creative.
As part of New World, we’ve worked with five artists, designers and photographers on a series of Creative Guides, designed to teach you tangible skills in an engaging and hands-on way. In these Guides, you’ll have the chance to follow along the stages of a project step-by-step. Whether you’re interested in learning more about poster design, how to create imagery in AR or the process of composing portrait photography, at the end of each Guide, you’ll have completed a full project and will have new skills to take into your own creative practice.
Ohni Lisle is an illustrator working across digital and analogue media whose portfolio is characterised by its experimental and ever-shifting style. Linking her pieces, though, is an often-cheeky narrative and bold colour palette. The human form also crops up as a motif throughout Ohni’s work and she often plays with composition, facial expressions and characteristics. She currently lives and works in New York City and has worked with clients including The New York Times, Spotify, Sephora and The New Yorker.
As someone who has mastered the art of depicting the human form and creating expressive artworks, Ohni has decided to focus her Creative Guide on communication. Your brief is to create a set of stickers that you’d like your “future self” to use to communicate with others. You’ll draw your facial features and objects that represent you, to bring this vision to life, eventually creating a set of stickers you can share over Messages or add to your photos. Bookmark this page so you can return to it as and when you need to. There are five steps in total in the project, which are as follows:
Step 01: Imagine your “future self”.
Step 02: Sketch your ideas.
Step 03: Design your sticker set.
Step 04: Explore colour variations.
Step 05: Export your useable sticker set.
We want you to complete this Guide at your own pace, so it’s designed to be adjustable – you can spend an hour, a day or a week, it’s up to you! You’ll also be able to hear more about Ohni’s process and draw along live with her during her Virtual Studio session on Wednesday 14 April. Sign up for that here.
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Examples of Ohni’s work to date: Modern Witch cover for Missy Magazine. New York, 2015 (Copyright © Ohni Lisle, 2015)
What you need to complete this Guide
The research and design phase of this Creative Guide (Steps 01-04) is designed to be completed on Mac or iPad, using Adobe Illustrator. Step 05, when you make your stickers useable in Xcode, you will require Mac. Below is a list of apps you’ll need to complete the Guide – most of which are already installed on your device, or easy to download if not.
Camera is already installed on your iPhone or iPad.
Photos is where all the amazing photos you take with your iPhone and iPad live.
Adobe Illustrator (AI) is a vector graphics editor and design programme and is available on Mac and iPad. If you don’t already have the software, you can get a free trial here.
Xcode is available on Mac and includes everything developers need to create great apps for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to know how to code; the process for making sticker packs is simple.
Apple Creative Pro Tips
Our Apple Creative Pro is back once again throughout this Creative Guide, bringing you tips and tricks on all the technical aspects of Ohni’s brief. Just as they are when you visit your local Apple Store, they’re on hand to offer guidance on how to get the most from your devices. Keep an eye out for the Apple Creative Pro Tip box for information on how you can find inspiration hidden with Photos, how to draw fluid shapes using Apple Pencil and much more.
In the future, communication will continue to expand beyond words. Emojis are already an essential part of how we interact with each other on a daily basis, but during this Guide, we’re going to take it one step further and create a set of stickers that are personalised and specific to your future self. They will let you express your emotions and embody your hopes for the future, so be optimistic in your outlook when envisioning who that person is.
As you’ll be creating a set that is specific to you, there’s only one place to start: by observing yourself. This is a crucial part of the process, so grab a mirror, iPad, iPhone or use Photo Booth on your Mac and take some time to really look at yourself and your features. Consider which you would like to include as part of your sticker set and whether you would like to overemphasise, alter or abstract them in any way. Also have a think about any objects or items of clothing that are distinctive to you. What do you like? What is quintessential “you”? We’d suggest taking some photos here for reference later on. You can keep these photos in Notes along with any written ideas.
Ohni Lisle: Arguably most of my work is me, or a facet of me, even if it doesn’t look like me. When starting to observe yourself, you can use your mind’s eye or a mirror, or a mix of the two. Look out for things you like, things you want to exaggerate or recede.
It feels like the New World reference speaks to the feeling that we are entering a global higher consciousness about our place on earth. So in that world, I think, like a lot of people, that I’ll be a more thoughtful person compared to the faster pace of pre-pandemic life.
Ohni’s vision for her future self is malleable, fluid and bold so she’ll be drawing features and objects that help her express that vision. This vision will also influence the style she works in.
“Look out for things you like, things you want to exaggerate or recede.”Ohni Lisle
As with any creative project, it’s important to know what else exists out there in the world you’re about to venture into, so we’ll take some time to do some image research before making anything. Gather images that inspire you and which embody how you envisage your future self; look at stickers, portraits and still lifes made by illustrators working in varying styles, but also delve into other creative media like photography or painting. At the end of this step, compile your selfies and between five and seven reference images on a moodboard using Keynote or Pages – this will set the tone for the rest of your project.
OL: For inspiration, I look to artists and current photographers. A lot of contemporary fashion and makeup photos tend to take up space in my head, as well as my screenshots folder. Sometimes I just get obsessed with a certain striking visual and it orbits me… forever. Inspiration could be viewed as the distilled essence that is going to help you get excited to create, as well as to try to convey a feeling. Part of your own motivation and guiding light.
The inspiration you find should help shape the “future you”; a heightened version of yourself not burdened by things that may be a struggle to you now. More like the essence of you even. Maybe even bringing back parts of you that have been lost from childhood.
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Ohni often looks to artists, photographers, fashion and makeup to get inspiration for a project.
“Sometimes I just get obsessed with a certain striking visual and it orbits me… forever.”Ohni Lisle
At this stage, you need to channel everything you’ve absorbed during your image research, as well as your observations about yourself, into a series of sketches. Have fun and don’t hold back when it comes to how many drawings you create – iteration is key at this point. Try not to be too precious either – this isn’t the final artwork but rather a chance to try things out, see what works, what you like and what you want to put aside.
Draw as many versions of your mouth as you can, for example, playing with how you can express emotions through different compositions, and then choose your favourite. Your favourite should be the version that best expresses an emotion associated with your future self; maybe it’s cheeky, or joyful or even witty. Do this with every sticker you want to create until you have a rough but full set.
If you’re stuck for ideas, have a look at your frequently used emojis in Messages, they probably say a lot about your personality! These can serve as inspiration for the designs you want to create or help you identify any common themes.
Ohni has created her own set of stickers which you can download and work with for the rest of the project. These could be a starting set that you add to or you could simply use Ohni’s stickers. If you decide to do the latter, jump to Step 04 now.
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Ohni’s sticker set. Download them above!
OL: Sketching helps create an island in a sea, so you’re no longer treading water. You can quickly make sure you have the right composition, angle and feel without too much preciousness of it being perfect. My tips for sketching are: work with shapes, then refine into those. Kind of like big slabs of clay that you add to or remove from in sculpture. If something’s gestural – that’s OK too. A lot of the times my sketches are just to get the vibe and placement of a piece, more about a feeling or its essence.
During the sketching process, Ohni played with several features including a mouth, an eye and an ear, all of which would help her express her emotions in the future. They have a delicate and intricate style to them, making them feel almost gossamer. She’s also worked on objects including a butterfly and a flower which convey ideas of freedom, brightness and growth
“Sketching helps create an island in a sea, so you’re no longer treading water.”Ohni Lisle
Now it’s the fun part – it’s time to tackle the main part of the brief and actually design your sticker set. Use your favourite sketches as starting points and go through a process of refining them. Below, you’ll find videos outlining Ohni’s process in AI, which you can follow when designing your own stickers.
If you want to work directly from a sketch you’ve just made, import it as a layer in AI. Then on another new layer, draw over it with the Pen tool. Alternatively, don’t get too hung up on the sketch and merely use it as a loose reference!
OL: I recently saw a funny TikTok of an illustrator’s process, riffing on how people think an illustrator’s path from start to finish is very linear, an “A” to “B” process. The video instead shows a jumbled up ball, taking into account all the twists and turns that can happen when you’re making. Honestly, at this stage, I try many things and see what feels the best, comparing and contrasting, trying to excite myself. Then when something feels solid, I move on.
Once you’ve drawn your first sticker, copy and paste it a few times and manipulate/distort each one differently using Illustrator’s Effect > Distort & Transform. This is an easy way to test out lots of variations.
OL: Start throwing things at the wall and see what sticks. Don’t stress, there’s always Command-Z. It helps to be in a good mood, listen to something that brings out the essence or vibe you are after. My advice is also to try to work on the bigger picture first then go into details. What feels most “you”? Really big eyes and a small mouth? Or maybe all your features are big? You can play with the bare bones of the piece, and get a sense of proportion before rendering these things in detail. One caveat, if you are getting lost on one particular sticker, go with it! It can always be a focal point to reference when rendering out the rest too.
“Start throwing things at the wall and see what sticks. Don’t stress, there’s always Command-Z.”Ohni Lisle
We’re aiming to have a full set of stickers by the end of this step, so you need to go through a process of distillation in order to work out which are your favourites. Sometimes it’s easier to judge your work when it’s not in the software. Export the options you’re torn between as PNGs or jpegs and view them in Preview. You could even print them or AirDrop them to your iPhone to see how they work in that context. Looking at your work through a different lens can give you a fresh perspective.
OL: It’s time to crit yourself which is also a fun phase. Think objectively. Does each sticker have the same bold impact your sketch did? Are you happy? Could these dimensions be warped and even more impactful? Make any final tweaks. When I think the “pot is starting to form”, I clone files or elements of the file to compare the best options as I’m trying things along the way. This stops things from getting too precious at this stage.
The set Ohni has decided on feels graphic yet elegant. The stickers feature thin black lines which help create a boldness – something she envisions for her future self – and they also feature a spectrum of colours, mirroring the vivacity she hopes to embody. Although simple, they are punctuated with personality and you can imagine how they would set the tone of a conversation.
A key stage in Ohni’s process involves spending dedicated time playing with the colour and texture of her artworks, and so she wants you to do the same. The colours you choose will really set the tone for the portrait you later create, so try out loads of combinations of things. You could play with the eye colour, for example, or add a glossy texture to a pair of sunglasses in order to make them look reflective.
In the video below, Ohni demonstrates how to use the Mesh Tool in Illustrator but feel free to experiment and explore further.
OL: I play with the hue and saturation bars and see what’s exciting. In this close-to-completion phase, I love adding solid colour layers on top of my artwork and playing with all the transparency effects: difference, exclusion, screen, overlay, etc. A lot of interesting shifts come from this.
Colour has huge emotional power and can enhance a mood, so don’t be afraid to colour slide everything on the stickers you’re making and see what you’re responding to. “Future self” sounds abstracted and otherworldly, so carry that into colours that evoke this feeling.
When using colour, it’s helpful to think of the stickers as a series, a family, rather than individual artworks. Working from a colour palette with help create this uniformity. Under swatches in AI, you can build your own unique palette (you can then save this for future projects too).
OL: Knowing when to stop usually comes naturally to me, because I’ll be at a point where I’m happy, and the more and more little things I finesse or try start to feel more and more taxing and draining. I firmly believe there is a guiding light in everyone that lets you know when a work is done: listen to yours.
When you feel your stickers are complete, save them as individual PNGs, at a maximum size of 500KB.
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Experiment with colour variations until you find a version which best expresses your future self.
“‘Future self’ sounds abstracted and otherworldly, so don’t be afraid to carry that into colours that evoke this feeling.”Ohni Lisle
Finally, you need to turn your series of drawings into a useable set of stickers for Messages which you can also add to your photos. Head to Apple Developer to find a full run-through of how to turn your artworks into a sticker pack for Messages.
OL: I’m looking forward to using my stickers as a fun addition to texts! Eyes and lips are always a visual win...
Now you’ve got a set of stickers that expresses your vision for your future self, you can use them in various locations. They work in Messages where you can drag and drop them on top of messages you’ve been sent. Try taking a photo or video directly from the Messages app and overlaying your stickers on that – you can even track them to your body when in Facetime. To add a personal touch to your documents, stickers work in Pages too.
Finally, Ohni shares some thoughts on what kind of results she’s looking forward to seeing from you, and on what she hopes you take forward from the process.
OL: I hope people have fun and don’t feel self-conscious about making. If you’re enjoying yourself when making, no matter how skilled or unskilled you are, I promise people are going to enjoy your final result.
I hope to see fun stickers! Wacky ones, elegant ones, and everything in between.
“I hope to see fun stickers! Wacky ones, elegant ones, and everything in between.”Ohni Lisle
Whether your stickers sit on the wacky end of the spectrum, the elegant end, or somewhere in between, we’d love to see what you’ve made during this Creative Guide. We’ll be collating some of our favourite responses to the brief in an article towards the end of New World, so make sure you share a screenshot of your stickers in a conversation or on a photograph on social media. Use #CreativeNewWorld and #TodayAtApple, and also tag @ohnilisle, for a chance to be featured on It’s Nice That.
Draw a self-portrait embracing the future you
The illustrator will discuss the various ways she approaches portraiture across her portfolio, before walking participants through the process of illustrating a self-portrait that captures how they would like to express themselves in the future.
Wednesday 14 April
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.
More from Creative Guides
Try out our other Creative Guides. We’ll be publishing five in total throughout New World, across a range of disciplines from leading creatives.