Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating a photo-based illustration, part of Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory.
- [Narrator] Welcome to Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory. One of the best things about vector-based artwork is that it's resolution independent. All that means is once you have artwork in a vector form, you can scale it as large as you want without losing resolution or clarity of an image. Unlike photography or pixel-based images who are sat a specific resolution for a specific size, if you exceed that size you start to lose image quality and you don't have that problem with vector-based illustration, that's why I love creating with vector graphics.
So, in this movie I want to show you how I derive a vector-based illustration from a photographic source. And I'm not talking about using filters and we're not going to do any image tracing, we'll create this from scratch and the end result will be a precision-built vector graphic that is easy to use. So, let's get started. Now, before we jump in to Illustrator, we need to go ahead and do some proper preparation of some reference material.
And we're going to do that in Photoshop. And as the theme for this project it's going to be the magnanimous Ron Swanson, one of my favorite characters of all time, and we're going to have some fun creating what I would consider some pop art using his very familiar hair-do and his gruff manner. So, we're going to have some fun with this. Now, the first thing I do when I'm creating reference for this type of project is I'm going to cut out his head, so that's all we're going to focus on, is just the head itself.
And when I'm actually creating a PSD file like this for reference, if I ever need to go back I always try to save it in a PSD format and then once I have a cutout, then I make a separate layer specifically to do some adjustments so I don't ruin my initial layer, I can always go back to it if I need to. So, that's why I did that. And now we're just simply going to go to image, adjust, we're going to go to levels, and we're just going to blow out this photograph because I want to create something that has a higher contrast.
And the first thing I do is I pull in the white levels, and so, we're going to pull that in to about there. And then I'll pull in from the left-hand side to maybe right about there. And this is a visual thing, I'm looking at this as I'm doing it, I'm not really looking at the input levels over here, I'm just grabbing the handle and moving it and then once it aligns with what I think is looking good on the other side then that's where I'll settle. So, in this case, that's getting us pretty much what we want, and so, I'm going to click OK.
So, if we compare that with our source, this had too many gray values, not enough contrast. This is improving the contrast and thus defining edges on form and shape that are going to give us cues on how to draw from this. That's the most important thing. Now, the next thing I want to do is, when we did this, notice his hair. In the original image there's more detail but because we adjusted it, it's kind of too dark and I want to have a little more highlight there because one of the attributes of his character is his immaculate hair, and we want to kind of capture that.
So, we're going to go back to that original source here, I'll go ahead and turn these layers off, and on this source I'm just going to go to adjustment and levels again, I'm going to blow out his hair. And I don't care what it does to his face, I'm just focusing on his hair and his hair only, like this. And I'm just trying to get that nice kind of reflective attributes of his hair, such as this. And I think-- actually, let's pull it in right about there. I think that'll work. We'll go OK.
So, notice how it really blows out his face, but that's okay. I don't need to worry about that more. What I'll do at this point is I'm going to do a quick and dirty kind of cutout of this like this. This is literally how I do it, I use the lasso tool to kind of isolate it. So, I'll do this, something like that. And then I'll just go Command + J which creates a new layer from that selection, and you can say I can isolate the hair.
So, if I turn on my initial adjust layers you can see now I have that nice hair to draw from. It gives me more information to base my illustration off of. So that's all I've done. And then I'll usually go back in and adjust more contrast, maybe, and sometimes I'll even gaussian blur it because it helps to define areas more. In this case I didn't, I just left it this kind of reference here. And so, it's at this point now, I'm going to move back to Illustrator and walk through the rest of the creative process.
Now we're inside Illustrator and I want to show you where I go from once I've defined my own reference that I can draw from, and that is actually starting to draw from this reference. So, I'll use tracing paper and a mechanical pencil, and on a light table, I'll just literally start drawing on top of the reference image to get a nice refined sketch. Once again, I'm using the reference image to guide me, but I'm not being photorealistic here.
I'm looking and analyzing its shape and form. Specifically, if we zoom in a little bit on his mustache, you can see his mustache looks like this. There's not a whole lot of characteristic, especially on the bottom base of it, and what I've done is I've used some artistic license to add some of those characteristics to make hair very hair-like, if you will. And I've worked out his eyes in a very simplistic nature and his eyebrows. His eyebrows aren't this defined in the photograph but I used the angles to match what the photograph is representing, and then, once again, took artistic license to form and draw those shapes out.
I'm drawing it, and this is very important, I'm drawing it as I intend to build it. I want to build my vector shapes based off of my underlying drawing, so I'm thinking about how I'm going to build this, and that's what's guiding my drawing efforts. So, you can see I've even drawn the shading aspects on this. And if you look at the Ron Swanson sketch here, if I select this tool, and, actually, let's go ahead and just focus on the stroke here, if you look at this sketch, if I drew it literally, you know, I might think of the shading kind of going like this.
And that's kind of okay, you could do that, but when I actually drew it out, I simplified it more. I actually left more of his cheek area and I just looked at the photograph and used it to take an artistic license, and there's a lot of forgiveness to this style, by the way, so you don't have to be so rigid to follow exactly what a photograph is showing because it's not a photograph, it's an illustration. And once again, to facilitate this process using tracing paper, a mechanical pencil and obviously eraser.
You can see on his right eye I erased it quite a bit, kept drawing it, didn't like it, erased it, re-drew, didn't like it, erased it, re-drew again until I got it looking, until it felt right. And that's the point about drawing that's hard to really teach or relate, is that you'll get to a point when you draw things, where things will feel right and that's when you know they are right. That's the best way I can explain it, but the more you draw the more you can develop that skillset. So, once I had my refined sketch it just came down to simple building and this isn't hard whatsoever.
So, let's go ahead and zoom in on his eyebrow, for example, and we'll go ahead and quickly build this. Now, I usually go to my graphic styles and I select the stroke style that I want to build with, and then, on the layer that I'm building, I'll just take the pen tool and I'll start working out the building of this shape. Now, anywhere your art comes to a point gets a point, and on this eyebrow, this is really a no-brainer shape whatsoever because there's a lot of points here so you know exactly where to place your anchor point.
Now, I have smart guides turned on so it tells me when I am over an anchor point, when I'm over a path. As you're building, you'll want to toggle that on and off and you can do that by going Command + U. So, we're going to just toggle it off and then you can either use the anchor point tool right here and grab a path. Once again, you have to have CC or above to use this functionality, it's not in CS6. And you can adjust your path like this. Now, if you want to do it in Illustrator you can. Once again, I prefer a plug-in called PathScribe which is shown here, and it essentially works the same way, it just gives you a little more flexibility, because as you build you're going to pull this off where you're creating a curve on one end and on the opposite end, it kind of breaks that smooth curve.
And the only way to fix that in Illustrator is you have to select it, go up here and you have to select curve and then it will still be a little off and wonky. So, if I undo that, what I like about this plug-in is I can select the PathScribe plug-in when I'm using it, and when this happens I can pull this down, and notice it'll show me this s. That means it's smooth, it's fixed and it doesn't destroy the corresponding path. So, that's kind of why I use this plug-in all the time, it just has a lot of nice features like that that makes vector building go faster, it helps me to be more precise.
And notice how this little white dot shows up, this is what's called a ghost handle. So, I can grab this and immediately get access to the bezier path, so that's just one of the best features of this plug-in right there. It saves a lot of time, I don't have to pull a bezier curve out, it's immediately accessible. And you can see how I'm going in and just adjusting these curves, and because I've thought through how this shape should be built as I drew it, it makes vector building easier because I'm just matching my underlying shape until I get the needed shape.
So, we can select this and make it a little bolder so you can see it on-screen. And then other details such as his hair, here's another one, I can select this. And, once again, these are about as simple as it gets because I can just simply go in and start adjusting these by just pulling them out. And once again, kind of matching my underlying drawing even though I wasn't trying to be super precise on my drawing of the hair, a lot of forgiveness with this specific detail.
Nobody's going to be able to look at it and go, "You didn't do that right." So, don't worry about that, but this is how I'll go through and just do these simple bends in order to form and shape my artwork. So, that said, when I'm working on this stuff I'm also using shape-building methods. So, for example, on his eye, there's no reason to draw this eye one point at a time trying to get a perfect circle when you have the elliptical tool and you can create perfect circles like this. So, I'll take a shape like the eye here, I'll clone it, Command + C, Command + F, select this inner part here which is going to make up the shading.
And if we go to PathFinder, I'm going to go ahead and intersect it like this to get the shape I need. And now here is the background which will be the white. I'm going to Command + C, Command + F this to clone it and we're going to select the background part of the eye right here. And I'll go ahead and intersect that to trim that off. And we'll also use that same shape, I'll do it again, Command + C, Command + F, select the inner pupil of the eye, intersect that with PathFinder, select this with the inner part of the eye with the overall shading of the eye, and we'll unite all of these, and you can see what it's doing there.
Once this is united, I can now-- actually, one thing we should do, we should take this which is going to make up the color of the eye, we'll actually leave that the way it is. Actually, I could leave everything the way it is here. You don't necessarily have to trim everything, so, we'll just do that really quickly. We'll fill this with black and just to show you why I'm building it this way. And let's say this is this color, we'll get rid of this outline. We'll select this, we'll select this.
We'll go Command + Z and then we'll paste behind this little highlight. We'll take the highlight, get rid of this stroke and we can create that. Now, this shape will have white filled into it so that's how you can use some simple shape building to pull off the look and feel you want. Now, when it's all said and done, we have our base art like this, and once we start coloring these, this is what we end up with, our fundamental base art as shown here, but we don't have any of the shading but because I've drawn the shading already, I just place it on top of this drawing.
And once again, this is going to guide our vector building efforts for all the shading, so once we work through that the same way we created the base art, just creating the shading for this art now, then that gives us all the base shaded artwork that we need for this design. And you can see that, so far, this is looking really cool. It's a simplified hierarchy of shape and form. I'm not getting over-complex, I don't have a ton of different colors. I'm kind of illustrating this in a way that limits the color pallette.
Now, as I was looking at it at this stage, I thought, "You know what, this could be improved." So, what I did is I made a copy of part of this outline shape that makes up the black. If I move that you can see what that's all about, and I just created a shape based off of that. Let's go ahead and zoom in so you can see what's going on here. And what I want to do is I just thought the outline on the right side was too thin, it didn't match the aesthetic of everything else. So, this is where you have to art direct yourself, or if you have somebody else who can look at your work and give you some honest feedback saying like, "Well, I think that looks a little weird," that might help you as well.
But in this case, over the years I've learned to art direct myself. So, I'm going to take this and I'm just simply going to, right now on the black we're just using a standard black here, so I'm going to take this shape I've created and fill it with black, and we'll go ahead and fill the stroke. I'm going to go ahead and go to stroke and we're going to increase this up to six, and then I'm going to make sure the corner is on round. So, the whole reason I've done this, let's go back to layers now, is I'm going to copy this, and we're going to copy it and then I'm going to paste it behind our shape here.
We'll go Command + B. And now, you can see what it looks like. This is what the new one looks like and this is what the old one looks like. So, old without that added, and new with it added. It looks a lot better with the weight being added to it. So that's how you can art direct yourself, and I do that all along the way with anything and everything. I really, kind of if I have a few minutes even, I set something aside, come back to it with fresh eyes and then art direct myself.
It's a good thing to do if you can set a project aside and come back the next morning, it really helps to critique yourself doing that. Now, this is where colorizing our artwork comes into play. And because our hierarchy of shape and form is simplified it's going to make coloring really simplified and go pretty quick as well. So we're just going to use eye dropper and all I'm going to do is I'm just going to select the elements and I'm going to start coloring them. And you can see how fast this can go, and in this case we're going to select the insides of his eyes and color it like that.
So, maybe this is a more literal approach for this illustration or maybe he's grumpy (laughs) a grumpy smurf or whatever. And we're going to give him unorthodox coloring with just hues of blue as you can see here. Select the inside of his eye and change that. So, if you wanted it blue for some reason you could do that. We could get really kind of crazy and we'll make the dark color a dark red and we'll make the highlights that, we'll color them maybe as jaundiced, so we'll give him nice yellow skin, a nice yellow shading or orange shading that is and really bright orange eyes.
So, you could do something this crazy, so the possibilities are all over the place. Now, the literal one was okay, but the one I kind of came up with it I really like just because I like just the organic nature to it was this one. So, we're just going to go ahead and I'll color this. And it's almost like a monochromatic color scheme which I kind of liked. I kind of like this, I thought it worked really well, and it's going to ultimately be the one I go with.
But as I was playing with this I'm going, "Hmm, I wonder if I could handle the shading "a little differently," and that's where I came up with the idea of maybe instead of shading it with a flat color, let's go ahead and zoom in on Ron here, so we'll do this. I'm going to select that shading and I'm going to fill it with a pattern. So, I'm going to select the fill and I'm going to fill it with a pattern, and this looks really wonky on-screen, but if you zoom in you can see what it does.
It just has turned that shading into a linear line screen which looks really, really cool. I'm liking this. Now, one thing that this gave me an idea for, as soon as I did this I'm going, "Oh, I got an idea." So, what I did is I set up this just to explain it, and if I select this top one and I just nudge it to the right, so we'll nudge it once, twice, three, four, five, we'll do it six times to the right.
Oh, we're starting to get a 3D Ron, then we'll do it six times to the left on the other one. One, two, three, four, five, six like this, and you can get a 3D look. So, it's a cool, especially with those linear lines, you can get a really cool 3D effect. So, it's a good way to handle that if you ever need it. Now, I'm not creating a 3D art, but actually I put on my 3D glasses I have in my office and this looked kind of cool doing this. So, you can do a design utilizing this methodology and pull it off that way.
So, I just thought that was interesting and wanted to show you that really quick, but when I came back to this artwork, this is how the final artwork came up. I did a pull quote, one of his famous Ron-isms, and then the last thing I'm going to do is just bring this over and this is just going to be a nice texture that I want to add to this. And we'll colorize this white, and I'll select the value to be like a 30. I don't want it to be, actually, maybe even less than that. Let's try 20.
I think that looks good, and then-- oh, you know what I forgot to do, I forgot to make a copy to use as the mask. So, we're going to select all the type, clone it, Command + C, Command + F, just so we can see what we're doing. We'll make that yellow just so you can see it and I want to make sure these are all united as one shape, and make sure it's a compound path because right now if you go to, let's see, our appearance panel, we'll bring that up, you can see right now it's a group and we want to make sure it's a compound.
So, we'll go to object, compound, we'll go make. Now it's a compound, and with it being a compound now I can move my texture over again. Actually, we'll make sure it's underneath the mask, Command + B, select the mask and then I can apply the mask or mask it. Go to object, clipping mask, make, and now you have that texture overlapping that artwork and just to zoom in so you can see what subtleness it added to it.
It adds a nice subtle texture to the overall type and the overall design. So, with this style the most challenging part will obviously be the interpretation of form as you analyze your photographic reference, whatever you're going to create using this approach. Don't think too literally when you do this, though. Illustration isn't photography, so take some artistic license in your execution of the shapes and have fun with it. Years ago I did a tutorial for Mac User Magazine out of the U.K. on this specific style and I've included a PDF of that article in the exercise files for this movie.
So, make sure to check that out and it will give you some other other information you might want to consider when you're working in this type of style. As always, thank you for watching DVG Lab and until next time, never stop drawing.
Skill Level Intermediate
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