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Vectortuts+ Assignment: Create a Vector Silhouette

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This week the assignment is to draw a silhouette. This is a simple drawing exercise, which has a long tradition. It's a great way to learn to see larger shapes, poses, and more. You can grab your last family vacation photo to draw from or have your significant other pose for you. Be sure to vectorize the results.


Today's Assignment

Today's assignment is to draw a vector silhouette. The tradition of creating Silhouette's goes back to the 18th century and originally involved cutting out the outline of someone's figure in black card, though you can of course draw yours. Here are a few vintage silhouette examples and even a few silhouettes available for free download, which you could review.

If you have a Wacom you can draw directly in Illustrator. In the following example, I used the Blob Brush to trace a photo of my son holding the hand of an astronaut model. Here is a quick tip introduction to the Blob Brush Tool.

silhouette sample

Capturing a subject in profile will provide for better results in most cases, as more distinguishing features will show up in the profile. Another simple technique you can use is to add a few contour lines to help bring out identifying features of the silhouette (as shown above), or you can cut into the figure with lines.

The focus of this assignment is to learn to draw the outer shape of a figure, which helps to develop your ability to look past detail and see shape. Aside from seeing overall shape, silhouette is also a good quick technique to use to see how shapes interact with each other, and can serve as a good initial exercise when creating a drawing, as indicated in this video tutorial series on drawing silhouettes: Silhouettes Part 1/2 and Silhouettes Part 2/2. Also, keep in mind that drawing silhouettes is not only for realistic subjects, but imaginative ones as well.

For subject matter, you'd typically be working with a person for this assignment, but it's up to you - anything you want to draw is fair game to the artist. You can draw directly over a photograph to practice tracing a silhouette, or make it more challenging by free-handing the shape with pencil on paper before heading into Illustrator to vectorize it.

It's not necessary to have a tight brief with this assignment and feel free to work on a subject that inspires you. Here's a narrow assignment for a targeted session though:

  • Grab a family photo.
  • Either print it out or drop it directly into Illustrator.
  • Now trace around the photo, you can use tracing paper and pencil (analog), or the Blob Brush in Illustrator (digital).
  • To make it more challenging you can freehand draw the silhouette, rather than trace.
  • If you opted to draw on paper, then scan it in and vectorize.
  • Comment, critique, and learn from other's work in the Flickr group.
  • Ideally complete this assignment within one week, though feel free to move at your own pace.

Skills You Will Learn in this Assignment

  • Help you see poses and the overall shape of subjects.
  • Learn to bridge the gap between your drawing tools and vector tools.

Share Your Vector Silhouette

Once you have a vector silhouette you're happy with vectorize it, export a final JPG, and then share it with the community by uploading it to the Vectortuts+ Flickr group. It's also fine to place it elsewhere on the web. Be sure to tag your upload as "vtassignment-silhouette" so we can see everyones uploads together, which will make it easier for everyone to comment on each other's work. You're welcome to link to your work in the comments below as well, and any feedback on other's work or this assignment is encouraged.