Studies and sketches leading up to a final illustration (montage)

The Difference Between Drawing and Illustrating

Why I Don’t Illustrate How I Draw

Tom Froese
7 min readMay 12, 2021


This is a drawing:

A drawing of a runner in the desert (2021). Mechanical pencil on paper (digitized).

And this is an illustration:

An illustration of a runner in the desert (2021). Digital illustration.

You might like one more than the other. You might see one as being more artistic than the other. Or showing more skill.

It depends on what you mean, and what you are looking for in an “art” piece.

The first image is a drawing from a photo. I drew my friend Ryan, running the Javelina Jundred, an ultra marathon through the Arizonian desert. I looked at the photo and draw what I saw. There is definitely a certain amount of skill involved. I had to know how to hold my pencil. I had to make decisions about which details to draw, and which to leave out. I had to measure proportions with my eyes. There is also a certain amount of stylization. While the drawing is representational, it does take certain liberties with shape and line. There is also a velocity to the line quality itself. All in all, the drawing, while not necessarily the best in the world, has some artistry to it.

The Difference Between Drawing and Illustration

Why then would I not consider it an illustration? To answer my own question, it’s because it is drawn directly from the reference. There is no concept to it. If it has any idea at all, the idea already existed in the photo. No conceptual value was added through the act of drawing. More importantly, I needed the photo to make the image. I could not have made the image without the photo. That’s all well and good if that was all I ever had to do as an illustrator. If my job was re-creating photographs through drawing, then this heavy reliance on references would be acceptable. My job, however, is to express ideas through images. Sometimes, that means devising entire scenes that don’t exist. Sometimes that means isolating one object and using it to represent a clear idea. Every time, I need to be able to “draw” my…



Tom Froese

Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare.