Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating a contour illustration, part of Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory.
(loud whoosh) (gear clicking) - [Instructor] Welcome to Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory. In my iconography course, I touched on a style called contour illustration. I wanted to revisit this style and document it a little more, because it's a very universal style that I believe anyone can pull off if they understand the process behind it. So let's walk through how to pull off a contour style illustration.
Where does it start? It starts with having inspiration, or in this case, a genre to work from. I'm working from blues music. I absolutely love blues music. And the theme of this one is a sax player, and specifically, it's gonna end up being my favorite, one of my favorite I should say, blues artists, as you'll see coming up. But this was the reference that I use to draw from. Now, when I draw from a reference like this, I like to turn it to black and white so it's easier to discern shape and form.
I don't wanna worry about color because I'm not colorizing this realistically when it's all set and done. It's gonna be very stylized, as you're gonna see. But I'll usually print this out, and then I'll draw on top of it. Now to explain this, we'll go ahead and set this one to like, let's say 30%, like this. And we'll go ahead and lock this layer. And when I say draw on top of it, that's exactly what I do. So if I turn my drawing on and then I zoom in on this, you can see that I've used a light table to simply put a printout of this reference image on the light table, and then on top of it using vellum or tracing paper, I'll sit there and I'll work out the contours.
And when I say contours, I'm looking at the shape of the hat and figuring out what simple contour strokes are gonna form that shape of that hat. That's all there is to it. It's not hard. It's not complicated. You just have to work that out based off of whatever you're drawing, whatever the theme is of what you're drawing. Look at the various elements in it, the shape, the form, and then discern from that how to draw the simple lines that reflect those contours in the image that you're working on, in this case, the blues artist.
So that's where I started. That's how I work out my baseline artwork that I'm gonna build from. Now, once I have that, I can take my artwork like this. I can go ahead and tint it back. And then I can just start simply building my base vector shapes. This is about as easy as vector building gets. We're not dealing with any fills. We're not dealing with any fills of color. We're dealing simply with strokes, simply with paths. And the hardest part of this is drawing it out and working out your drawing.
Once your drawing is worked out, it's easy to build because you don't have to discern anything. All you have to do is look at your drawing and follow it like a road map. So that's all I would do on this one. And I would pull out Beziers when needed. But notice that I've broken up this line work so that it doesn't show up, like on this one. It goes over here, bends down, comes down, ends here, so I have it continued here but it's a separate line, and that's what you're gonna wanna do when you're working on this style.
You're gonna wanna break it up. You don't want one long line. It's gonna work better if you segment it out. And you can see how I've massaged and adjusted these Bezier curves to align with my underlying drawing. That's all I'm doing. Other elements, such as these little valves and stuff, you can use simple shapes. Then you can go in with those simple shapes, take the scissors tool, and just cut off what you don't need and toss the rest to get the lines you need.
So it's a combination of both point by point building with the pen tool and also shape building with, in this case, the ellipse tool to create those little valve shapes. You can see more up here, once again, where I've taking these shapes, and all I'm gonna do is take the scissors tool and I'm just gonna cut the parts out I don't need. And once again, this is gonna be based off of my underlying drawing of what I determined to be the areas that don't need to be there, in this case, these right side areas on this.
And then I can select these valves and I can go ahead and lop off what I don't need on this artwork to reveal the artwork I do want. So that's how I'll approach this. That's how I'll build out all of my artwork. And when it's all set and done, my base artwork is really loose. And once again, it's all stroke based. Now, you can see here that there's a couple areas I didn't build. It's because as I was creating this, I realized that added too much complexity, so I chose not to build those lines to be part of this illustration.
Now, this is where I need to start working out what the thickness of the line is gonna be. This is too thin. So I'll select everything. I'll go to Strokes. Right now it's one. So we'll go two. Maybe more, so we'll go half again as much. And I think that's gonna look pretty good. Let's zoom in. That looks good. But notice how these lines come to a flat cap. I want this appearance.
See how this roundness is here? That's because we have round selected on the mitering, and that looks nice. So what we're gonna do, we're gonna select all of our lines and we're gonna put a round cap on it. So I'll just click that. And you can see how it adds this nice roundness to the end of the lines, and that's a lot more approachable, I think. Now, as we create, you're gonna notice areas start to pinch. They start to get tight. If I go in here, like this area, because we added this cap, it's getting a little tight.
So this is where I'll go through my entire artwork and I'll just trim off the end just to add some nice breathing room in here so nothing gets too tight, nothing gets too close, and it's gonna work well once we end up coloring it. So we go in here on the tie, once again, I think this is getting a little tight here. So we'll just go in and trim off some on that. We'll select this. And I'll go ahead and trim off some on that. So I'll make all these calls on my artwork.
I'll just start from one side, go all the way to the other side, and make those improvements so when it's all set and done I have what I would consider my improved artwork. And this is ready now to begin using the Width Tool. Now, the first thing we wanna do is select everything. We'll go ahead and colorize this. We'll go ahead and colorize it black, like this. And now what we're gonna do is we're gonna go over here, this is the Width Tool right here, and we're gonna add some nice thick and thin.
So let's zoom in on his face here. And this is where the style really becomes fun, because we can take the Width Tool, and the Width Tool allows you to grab anywhere on a path, and then you just click and pull, and you can see how it adds this nice thickness. So you're creating a thick and thin. Let's Command + Z to undo that. As soon as you touch it, if you hold Option down and pull out from one side, you can do it from one side only. And I'll handle it that way for this one because I don't want it touching the other path below it.
And we'll go like this. Now, keep in mind, if I go to keyline data, this is still a stroke, so the Width Tool is visually showing you what you're doing, but it hasn't converted it to a shape yet. We'll end up doing that eventually, but we'll just go through everything and I'll just add some nice thick and thin to my entire artwork. Once again, if I hold Option, I can pull out from one side. This just allows me to add these nice thick and thins.
You can add more than one. We'll add this one here, then come back over here and make it go thick again to add a little bit of character. So it's all visual. It's all based off of what you think looks best. And just play with it, and if you don't like it, one thing I tend to do before I even get started building is I'll take this final thickness and I'll drag it to the graphic styles palette. And I do that because it's a lot easier if I'm working on a shape, let's say here, and I go, "I'm gonna add this," and then you get some you don't really like, well, it's a lot harder to edit on the shape with the Width Tool once it's applied, so it's a lot easier just to reset the shape if I go over here, click the graphic style, get it back to my base.
Then I can go back to the Width Tool and I can start working with it again. I just find it easier to reset it and redo it rather than mess with the Width Tool to try to remove it from the shape. It just goes faster. So this is all I'll do. I'll go through everything and spend the time to really add some nice thicks, some nice thins, all through the artwork and to add that kind of hand ink quality so when it's all set and done you end up with artwork like this.
Once again, this is nothing but vector paths, as shown here. It just has these width appearances applied to it. And so what we need to do is we need to move this from a stroke based environment to a shape based environment. Now, if I go ahead and select this, I can go up to Object, go to Expand, and then it'll convert everything. And if I go to PathScribe panel here, once again, this is a plugin, it shows me that there's 1902 anchor points.
So it does add a lot of anchor points when you do that, and there's a couple ways you can clean it up. It's not that it's gonna look bad. It's just gonna be hard to manipulate. Notice when areas cross over, you get this weird crossover, so you'll wanna fix that, too. And the easiest way to fix it is Path Finder, Unite, and fix it. But it still doesn't deal with all these extra anchor points. So the way I deal with those is I'll just select everything, and you can go to Object, Path.
You can go to Simplify. Now, you have to be careful with this, 'cause if you go too far, it literally destroys your artwork. So I don't find this tool very helpful because the margin of error is so short, but 98 seems okay. It's still changing some of the arch shapes in a way that I don't like, so you could go even more to 99 so it's only changing it one percent. And you end up saving about 800 anchor points, so you could do that. I'm not gonna do that.
What I like to use is once again a plugin called Smart Remove Brush. It's part of VectorScribe. And with that brush, I can just go over, actually, let's zoom in so we can see what's going on, there we go, I can select this brush and I can just go over all my vector shapes and notice how it just cleans up all these extra anchor points. It removes them. It's smart. It knows that you don't need them to form that shape. And so this is how I'll handle it. This is how I'll clean up my artwork.
Now, I'm not gonna spend the time doing that right now, but that's exactly what I did with this art piece, so if I select this, once again, our original had 1902 and now on this once you can see I have 576 anchor points, but it didn't destroy the artwork. So now we wanna take our artwork and we wanna view it with all the cool colors. When I think of blues, obviously I think of blue, but for this design, there's a lot of color, colorful character associated with blues music, and that's kind of what I wanna encapsulate on.
And when I think of blues music, I think of darkly lit rooms where music is being played and jams are going on, and so that's what we're gonna do here, is we're gonna switch to a darker environment, and now I'm gonna go ahead and start just simply colorizing our artwork. And so right now it's grouped, so we'll go into Isolation Mode by clicking into it. And I'm just gonna start associating shapes with one another. A lot of the shapes within the sax are gonna be the same color, so I'm gonna associate all of these shapes with the exact same color, and in this case, that color is going to be an orange-ish type of color, like this, and we'll color it.
Oop, not outline. We wanna do fill. Dark orange, kind of like that. That looks really cool. And now I'll take some of the other elements in this. I wanna colorize them an orange-ish color but differentiate the hue. It doesn't have to be the exact same hue. IN this came, it'll be a little more paler, like that. And there's other elements which will remain in that same kind of color tone family.
And this is where experimentation comes. You can just experiment, see what color hues look best as you're working this out. The nice thing about this style, it's very forgiving. There is no literal interpretation really. I could color this instrument red if I wanted to, or a fuchsia or a hot pink. It really doesn't matter. So I just encourage you to explore and experiment and see what you think looks good.
So we're just gonna start coloring a lot of different elements here. Colorize skin tone. I'm gonna colorize his face and his hat. Not sure what color. Maybe this kind of grayish color. It doesn't need to pop that much. And go ahead and colorize this that.
This can be the same kind of gray color. This blue. Let's finish up around this guy. Maybe that. Just take your time. Figure out what color palette. I've created, you can see, a total family I've created here that I'm kind of sticking with. And I think it's gonna look good.
That looks pretty good. I think I'm gonna keep his shirt white. It's probably the only thing I'm gonna keep white on here. I'm liking the way this is looking so far. Do that. This is representing, it's kind of just a chair, so it doesn't need to be super colorful.
We're almost there. This represents his wristwatch. I think that does it. Let's click out of Isolation Mode. Oh, that looks really cool. I like that. So I think that's working really good in terms of the coloring on this. Now, as I was working on this, I thought, "Well, this is kinda like Blue Note." Blue Note came to mind. I got a couple Blue Note jazz books with all the album cover art.
So I decided to play off of that more and actually push the reference of the artwork to the specific artist I like, and that specific artist is John Coltrane. Absolutely awesome blues artist of all time. And I just love the way this came out. And this would work great for an album cover. I could see this as a poster for a jazz festival or blues festival. So a lot of different usages you can use this style on. Contour illustration is a great way to artistically handle a visual for use in publication or an event graphic.
Pick a subject or genre you're passionate about and give this style a try. I think you'll find the whole process pretty fun and not very difficult. Thank you for watching DVG Lab. Until next time, never stop drawing.
Skill Level Intermediate
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