1. Brief - The first step in the process is the brief. This is usually in the form of an email from the client, and it outlines the details of the project. In the case of The Progressive, I received a copy of the magazine article to read, as well as some notes from the art director outlining what they are looking for, or don't want included in the illustration. The article was on animal rights, and the art director's notes included things like they didn't want any violent or bloody imagery. The brief should also include the size of the illustration, whether it is colour or black and white, and the deadline for the project.
If you are working with a private client, for example a logo for a small business, you will have to write your own brief. This will involve asking your client questions about their company and their project so you can get all the details you need. For example, when I am designing a logo for a client, I have a questionairre that I get them to fill out, or ask them questions over coffee, so I have a good idea about their company and what their needs are. It is also important to have a contract written up and signed before you start working on the project.
2. Research / Thumbnails - The next step is research and thumbnail sketches. In the case of illustrating a magazine article, I read the article two or three times, and circle words or phrases that I think are important or stand out to me. I may also doodle to jot down ideas. I may do more research into the parts I circled in the article. I usually also jot down a list of words that come to mind.
Next stage is thumbnails. Thumbnails are quick little sketches that take only a few seconds or minutes to do. This is where you sketch out ideas really quickly and play around with different compositions. The important thing to remember in the thumbnail stage is not to censor your ideas. Sketch out every idea you have. I like to sleep on my ideas at least one night, so my subconscious brain can work on ideas that I have. I find the next day I have stronger ideas that come up overnight.
3. Roughs - In the roughs stage you go through all your thumbnails and pick out the strongest ideas. Usually art directors require three different roughs, so you pick out your three strongest thumbnails. Then you do a larger rough sketch of each of the thumbnails. Roughs are still really loose sketches, so don't spend too much time on the drawing. As long as they are clear enough so the art director can understand what is going on. I like to send colour roughs, so I scan in my sketch and colour it digitally. My process might be a little different, as I also tend to collage my sketches together into the final rough. It is just how I work and I find it works best for me.
4. Client feedback - Once you have the three roughs done, you send them off to the client. The client or art director goes over the roughs and either picks the one they like best, or emails you back with feedback and changes to make. This stage requires some back and forth between you and the client until you reach a sketch that the client approves. In this stage it is also important to establish boundaries, for example you will only do 3 revisions, and any further revisions require additional payment. This is important to outline in your contract.
5. Final artwork - Once you and the client arrive at a sketch that is approved, you can go ahead and create the final artwork! The client may have minor tweaks to the artwork at this stage, but hopefully they are minimal and don't require too much work. I usually upload a high res file to Dropbox and also send a low res jpeg to the client so they know what to expect. And you are done! Whoo hoo!