Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Drawing from reference, part of Creating a Hand-Drawn Type Portrait.
- Before you begin to draw, you need to know what you're going to draw. That's a given, that's the obvious. But in this case, for a type-based portrait, since we're dealing with a portrait, you need to have a personality you're working with. In this case, I'm using the personality of my favorite film director, Alfred Hitchcock. Now, Hitch passed away quite a few years ago, but this is a classic pose of his. It's not the ideal pose I wanted to use. I had a specific image in mind, and I even contacted a Hollywood studio, since they still own the rights to it, and tried to get permission to use that, but they wouldn't give it to me.
So I reverted to what's called a public domain image, which is safe to use. So, you can also do a type-based portrait if you want to take your own photograph. Maybe it's of somebody local, and you can just take a photograph reference for yourself. But regardless, you need a good photo reference. And in this case, this one's going to work ideal for the project I'm working on. But, there's some things we need to do before we start drawing, and this is all kind of establishing a good reference point that is going to aid in our drawing, in this case, drawing our letter forms.
We need shape recognition to know how to form and shape the letters that we're going to be drawing to create this portrait. So, this is my base photograph here of Alfred Hitchcock, and I've just made a copy and put it on a level above it, and the first thing I do is I go into Image, under Adjustments, and we're going to go to Levels. And this is where I'll start playing with the levels. And I want to kind of blow out the whites, get rid of some of the mid tones, and create some nice darks.
We're essentially creating a high-contrast image. If you've ever watched the movie "Apocalypse Now", it utilizes high-contrast imagery, especially in the latter half of the movie. So we want to create more drama with our image that we're referencing as we draw. And so to do that, I'm going to kind of force it. Right now, it's very muted. Everything has kind of a mid-range tone, and we want to kind of make it better reference to draw from. So, we're going to blow this out, and I'm just going to do that by pulling it in on the levels here, and...
This is a visual thing, so as we're doing it, you can see how it's adjusting it, and it's making the contrast higher. And I try not to do this all in one fell swoop, like, just pull it over and call it good. I tend to do it in steps, so I'll take it so far, and I'll look at it and think about it, and then I'll keep moving it forward. And so, what we're doing here, and I think we want to, that looks pretty good, I think, and we'll go OK.
So, we've adjusted the contrast. Now, if I toggle this on and off, you can see faint, muted, and now we're kind of getting more high-contrast between darks and lights and removing some of the mid tone. I still think it has way too much mid tone. So, we want to go back into Adjustments, into Levels, and we're going to push this even further. So, let's see, we're going to go to... I want the darks to be really dark black, so we're going to kind of get really overt with it.
So we're creating some really nice darks here. And if I toggle on, you can see these were still grey. I don't want them grey, I want them dark. Because essentially this design is going to be two or three colors. And the reason why I'm doing that is 'cause I intend to do a silkscreen poster, and I don't want to spend a ton of money printing eight different spot colors. I want to reduce it down to a more manageable three or four colors at max. So, that's why I'm doing this. So, we're adjusting that.
We're going to pull in and blow out the white quite a bit more. And, I think that will work. So, you can see how a lot of the grey, the mid tone grey is going away as we're doing this. Now, Photoshop is very flexible. There's a million different ways to do things. I'm going to show you another way you can kind of approach this if you choose to go that way, as well. Because even though this might be the way I prefer it, it might not be the way you prefer it. So I'm going to show you another option of a way you can kind of discern shape recognition by blowing out content like this, but using a different methodology in Photoshop.
So I think that looks pretty good, so we're going to go OK. And so if we compare this now with the original, you can see very faint, and now we've established some distinct high contrast with this art. Now, the problem with doing this is we've lost some of the detail in the eye. So if I turn this off, you can see his eyes show a lot more detail. So, what I've done is, this is the exact same artwork here, but I've copied the eyes from the original photo, adjusted the contrast just so I get some of the detail back in the eyes.
Because when I draw this, if I turn the eyes off, and you look at his right eye here, there's too much black there. I don't want it to all blob together as one giant mass of black. The eyes are what's going to give this illustration its soul, so I want to make sure the eyes read really, really well. So, that's why I pull them out of the original photo, adjust them so it would allow us to have that form of the pupil. And that's really important, so that's what I've done here.
And if I turn the eyes off, you can see how the clarity isn't as well as it is here. So, it's all about establishing a good reference base that we can draw from. And you might try that in a bunch of different ways. Now, one thing I want to show you is, you saw me adjust the original photograph using levels, but there's another way you can do it, too. So, let's say you get it to this point and you're thinking well, how are you going to discern to draw the lettering out and form what shapes? How do you know what shape to create based off of a photograph? Well, that's some artistic decision making.
But in this case one thing that might help you is you can also go to Image, and you can go to Adjust and go to Posterize. And what you get here is, it will take a greyscale image that this is, and it will break it down into distinct posterized levels. Now, you've seen this style handled on, like, rock and roll t-shirts or posters where they simplify the levels of hierarchy of color in order to form artwork.
So you can see here that it's taken the darkest area, and that could be one plate, and then you have this area, and right now, it has four levels. So, four colors, essentially. So, this could help you do that. It's not a bad way to do it, actually. Here's if we go to three, and this is another way to approach it. So, if this makes it easier for you to discern shapes that you can then hand letter on top of, you might choose to go this way, as well. I kind of prefer the other one, 'cause I don't want an algorithm kind of defining how I shape things overall.
I like taking a little more artistic leverage with how I discern those shapes. So, I don't use this, but you might choose to use it, and if you do, that's great. Whatever makes the process easier for you. So what I end up with from my original, is I end up with the artwork looking like this. And you can see I've nested it inside of a mask here, and I allow his head to kind of bump out of that frame. And I just like it, I don't want it confined into a box but because this is a poster it's going to be on a rectangular-shaped poster that's vertically oriented, so I'm going to now compose it into this shape because it will guide what I intend to draw.
I intend to draw the type, of his name, for example, running up the left and down the right side. And the type, in and of itself, will kind of frame the composition. Now, before you being drawing, not only do you need a good reference like you see here, you have to know what words you're going to draw. And this is part of the creative process where it really has nothing to do with software, nothing to do with Illustrator, vectors, or drawing, for that matter. It has to do with thinking.
And that is a list of words. So this is just the actual note that I started writing out all the words associated with Alfred Hitchcock. It contains quotes of his, titles of movies he made, the disciplines he was good at, directing, producing, and people who were very close to him or part of his life in such a way that it made up who he is. And one of those is his wife, Alma. So that's why Alma's on here. But this has more to do with research.
This is where you need to kind of step away from creating art and you need to do some good research. So whatever topic you pick, if you're going to create a type-based design like this, you need to research it and find out as much as you can. It's always good to have more than what you need. And this, I used almost all of the words listed on here with the exception of a quote of his down here at the bottom, a description of how he talked, his signature droll delivery, a movie of his called Strangers on a Train, one of my favorites, but I just didn't happen to work it in.
And other words that weren't even on this list that I ended up using after I read another article on him. So do some research, start making a list, and make sure you have more than what you need. And then as you go along, you're going to make some design decisions in terms of where you place those words. And I'll cover that in just a little bit. Now, one thing I noticed as I was getting along is I blew out his suit so much you couldn't see where like his collar and tie edges were because they were blown out so much and fused all together into one mass.
So I needed to define that really quick by just drawing in some crude lines just to guide me. Now, this is where drawing comes in. This is where I print this image out and then literally draw on my lightbox, using tracing paper above it, and I just start working out the areas of the drawing. The first thing I always do is I draw the non-lettering content of the illustration. Now, 99% of this illustration is based on hand lettering.
But the only parts that end up being the actual non-lettered illustrative drawn parts of this design are such as in his eyes. So you can see how I've interpreted the shapes of those eyes, and I created the shapes that I will then ink out, moving forward to create solid areas and shapes to represent aspects of his face that are going to help make it read better overall.
But I don't want to do too much dependency on non-lettering forms. I want this to be very minor, but be mainly made up of letter forms, not non-letter forms. So this is where I start. The next stage I usually do is his name, and that tends to be what I call the frame of the illustration. So "Alfred" running up the left, "Hitchcock" running down the right. And this will frame the form and shape of his head. I'm even looking at this now, like with the letter A in Alfred, and as I go to digitally ink this out in Adobe Draw, I'm probably going to mess with that a little bit.
Now that I'm looking at it, I think I could have shaped that a little better. So that will be one area I probably improve as I move forward. But this was the first stage of drawing letter forms was his name. The next stage is where I pick the darkest areas in his face. And where I usually start is right by his eyes. This is where people are going to engage immediately when they first look at the illustration.
And this is where I tend to use the key phrases or words that most closely associate with who he is. He's a director, so I made that one of the eyebrows. And I'm not just drawing it little, exactly as the photograph is. I'm letting the photo guide me, but not restrict me. So "director" becomes this eyebrow. He's British; that's where he was born. He was initially a British director, and then he moved to the States. So "British" makes up that.
And then moving down into his nose, I just start using words that I can form and shape to align with the darker area that's in his nose. In this case it's a movie title, The Wrong Man, and the killer in that movie. So that's all this is. It's picking those shapes and then picking a word from my list and drawing it out. You can see how I've shaped the type in his collar to kind of reinforce that collar.
And when I move to the coloring stage I might shift that color a little bit. That will be the exploratory part, I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that. But I try to draw out all the darker areas first. This way I don't lose track of what I'm doing. And I might even draw this on a separate sheet of vellum. It's almost like doing layering in Photoshop, where I can kind of focus on only the elements I'm trying to draw out at this time. I put his wife's name right on his upper lip, and you can see all the other various words I've worked in.
So this is the darkest part I draw up first. And then the next part is the mid tone. Now, you can see, if you don't draw these on separate layers, in my opinion, it can get very confusing. You're not sure where the lightest color is and the darkest color is. And this will especially be true as we move to Adobe Draw and we ink this out digitally, is I will draw the darks on their own separate layer, then the next one, and then when I bring it into Illustrator it makes managing the artwork a whole lot easier.
So if I tint this back in Photoshop here, you can see the effect we're getting. And I'm going to turn off the photo reference. And you can see kind of the look and feel we're going. So this is the final hand-lettered drawing. And it's at this stage that I'll save this image out, usually as a JPEG image, and then I'll move it to my iPad and begin inking out my final hand lettering using Adobe Draw. Now, this style, for me, is still very experimental.
I've only done one prior to this. So as I continue to move forward with it, I'll probably run into areas I know I can improve on. I might even re-draw some of the content. But I won't be able to tell until I get a little further along in the process. So if you see me get hung up or second-guess myself, welcome to my reality. The creative process is hardly ever as clean and painless as some might want to think. So we're going to now move from this stage and start creating it digitally.
Want to learn more about creating hand-drawn letterforms? Check out Von's companion course, Drawing Vector Graphics: Hand Lettering.