There was a design school project I did long ago that I really enjoyed. As part of our Adobe Illustrator class we were asked to create a vector illustration of something we found in a book or magazine. I didn’t have to search for long before I found the image I wanted to use. It was an ad for a Hummer H2 that had the most brilliant cobalt blues and yellowy oranges hues. I thought it would be the perfect image to vectorize.

That weekend, I sat down at my desk and, using primarily the pen tool, drew the entire thing in about three hours. I drew the Hummer, the sky, and ground in Illustrator. Then I used the built-in textures, gradients, and transparencies, and made what I considered at the time, to be my very best work.

I remember being so proud of my illustration. It looked amazing. When I graduated design school, it was by far my favorite piece in my portfolio. For years following design school I always remembered how great of a job I did on that vector drawing, though I didn’t actually look at it again until only a few years ago. And that was a shock.

Hummer Magazine Ad

The Original Ad (Cool right?)

Not What I Remembered

It took a bit of a search to find where I had stored my old design school projects files. When I found the Hummer illustration, I stared at it for few minutes, completely confused as to what was staring back at me. It was junk. The shapes were jagged, the lines didn’t blend, the lighting wasn’t uniform, the textures were at the wrong angle, and the gradients were too harsh. I immediately though that must have not been the right file. Maybe this was the rough design I made before the real one? After a bit of searching, I realized that was the correct file. Yikes.

Adobe Illustrator Hummer Vector Drawing

My Vectorized Illustration (Ugh)

Looking Back

Realizing that after all these years, the project that I was most proud of from design school was really not so great, was not nice. I thought my design skills must really suck for me to think it looked good. But really, I was just looking at my situation in the wrong way.

My design and illustration skills did suck, back then. At the time, this illustration was the best I could do, and that made me proud of it. But looking back now, after over a decade, made me realize how much my skills and eye for design have evolved.

What I Would Change

Doing the exact same design school project again today, there’s much I would do differently.

I would build smoother shapes. Instead of two colour gradients, I could use a freeform gradient or layer different gradiated colours on top of each other with blend effects. I would hand draw textures, especially on the wheels and ground. More time would be spent on detailing and adding in the finer features to make the illustration more realistic. I would tone down the colours so they were closer to the original ad, since the toned down hues are less jarring. I could add more shapes to indicate a metallic finish as well. Certainly, I would spend more time on the sky.

I don’t actually plan on redoing the Hummer illustration. That ship has sailed. But I enjoy looking back and seeing how it could be improved. Being able to critically analyze my own work is a skill I’m glad to have.

Revisiting an Old Design School Project – In Summary

It was weird to see how skewed the memory of my old design school project was. Although, I suppose that since it was my very first Illustrator project, that makes sense. It was my first year of design school and I still had so much to learn.

Have you noticed how much you’ve grown as a designer by critiquing your old work? Are you shocked at how bad your student work was? (Or is it just me?) Let me know in the comments below!


Photo by Stefen Tan on Unsplash