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Realistic Vector Motorcycle Portraits

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Every semester, in my Illustrator classes, my students always want to know how I create the Motorcycle Portraits I am known for. I often give them a brief explanation, but I have never really sat down and described the process in detail...until now. My approach to getting a "realistic" look in my work is a bit tedious, but I think you will agree that the end results are well worth it. Enjoy!

This Post is Day 9 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions

1. Using the Proper Equipment

Another question I get a lot from my students is, "What kind of computer should I buy to become a great illustrator?" My response is simple: I tell them that the question they should start off with is, "What kind of camera should I get to capture my reference images?" Stop stealing all your references from Google!!!

A computer is only as good as the techniques and steps you put it through to generate your images. A computer does not necessarily make you a good artist. YOU are the artist...the computer is just the medium for your art. You have to start out with a unique vision and a good eye for composition. I don't have any top of the line equipment. I shoot all my reference images with a simple, point-and-shoot, 8 Megapixel Kodak Digital Camera. I work in Illustrator CS4 on a 19 inch iMac. That's all I really need.

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2. Getting the Reference Shot

I draw whatever captures my attention. I typically find the motorcycles on display at outdoor shows and events. I came across this particular Indian Motorcycle at a car show in Beverly Hills. It was just parked up against the sidewalk among a bunch of other bikes, but this one caught my eye!

When I take my reference shots, I take as many different angles as I can. I will be the first one to admit that I am NOT a photographer, I am an illustrator. I never know which shot is going to work until I get home. Most of them, to be honest, don't come out well at all. For this bike, I shot about 25 different views. I only liked two of them when I downloaded the images. The other ones just didn't do it for me, so this is the final image I decided to work with.

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3. Setting Up the Illustrator File

One rule I always tell my students is: In order to trace, Choose File Menu and Place. Then I tell them to set up their scans as Templates so they can draw, or trace, over them.

I don't follow my own advice! When it comes to my personal work, I don't like working over a dimmed template layer because I like to focus in on all the amazing details of a motorcycle's assembly. I place my reference shot into my Illustrator file, but I do not set the layer as a template. It is easier for me to work on top of the saturated image. Sure, it makes it a little more difficult to see my line work, but I have learned to live with that. I am stubborn and stuck in my ways, what more can I say?

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4. Start With the Big Shapes

A motorcycle is made up of so many elements put together. So, to start out, I create the larger elements first, as you can see here. I draw the basic outline of an object when I begin. Details will come later in the "Dividing" process.

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5. The "Divide" Pathfinder

Now that I have a few larger objects to focus on, I zoom in for the detailed work to begin. And, when I talk about details, I am referring to the way I see color breaking down into multiple, smaller shapes. As I have shown here, I work on a series of individual paths that cross over the larger shape that I started with. In this case, I have focused on the seat of the motorcycle. I have also dimmed the scan so you can see things better in this demonstration.

With a few lines started, I then select the larger seat shape and one of the lines that is crossing over it. On the Pathfinders Panel, I Click the Divide Pathfinder and then Ungroup the results. Now I am left with two medium sized shapes - the resulting shapes of the larger seat object that has now been literally divided into pieces!

I can then move on with more lines, cutting the medium sized shapes into smaller and smaller pieces for colors in the next step.

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6. Working In Sections

After some of the larger objects have been divided down into the smaller shapes, I apply colors to see how it is all coming along. For my work, I select one of the smaller pieces and use the Eyedropper Tool to sample color directly from the underlying photo. If I don't like the color I get, I tweak it with the Colors Panel. I tend to do that quite a bit!

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7. The Progress

Here are some more "Work In Progress" shots as I have continued the Dividing and Coloring process to bring this work to completion.

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The Final Results

So, there you go! 100,000 + anchor points and over 400 Layers later, and there she is! And, keep in mind, this process works the same for me, regardless if I am working on another motorcycle, or a dog, or a portrait of a person. I like the Stylized Realism I get with this creative process I have developed and I would love to see what you come up with in your own explorations. Good Luck!

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This Post is Day 9 of our Digital Illustration Session. Creative Sessions
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