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Create a Large Face, Cat Illustration from Stock in Adobe Illustrator

by
Gift

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I'm not hiding it... I'm a crazy cat lady. When the trend of having t-shirts of large faces of animals, merged into the canvas started, I was going through all the t-shirt design sites to find the perfect one for me. So inspired by that trend, I'd like to show you how to create your own design, from a stock image, in Adobe Illustrator.


1. Rotate and Crop Your Stock Image

Step 1

It all starts with a cute stock image. Take your time to look through the many photos of cats on your favorite stock site, mine is Photodune. Pick one where the cat is looking straight onto the camera. I've gone for this cute, British Longhair, kitten.

Kitty Vector Tutorial
You could alternatively take a photo of your own cat... if they sit still long enough!

Step 2

So let's bring the stock image over into Adobe Photoshop. The portrait works best if the eyes are perfectly horizontal aligned. With the Crop Tool, I've first selected the crop area I want and then rotated the photo with it before cropping. The handy grid in the crop Tool interface will allow you to line up the eyes within the horizontal lines.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

I have my crop now, ready to move over to Illustrator.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

2. Prepare Your Mirror Layer

Step 1

Let's first prepare our document. So create a New document and File > Place your cropped stock image on the canvas. I've then put a brown filled Rectangle (M) with a 50% Opacity on top. This is so I can add lighter strokes on top of the stock image and be able to see them. I can also change the fill color of this to white to see the darker strokes.

Then create a new layer, this is where the magic is going to happen.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 2

One of the main reasons to have your kitty looking straight on and with the eyes balanced horizontally, is that we're going to mirror the strokes and shapes you add to the canvas. Therefore in theory, you'll only need to draw half of the face... that will make rendering the fur a lot less intimidating right?

Use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a vertical line down the middle of the portrait. With Smart Guides (Control-U) enabled, draw a Rectangle (M) over half of the kitten, making sure the shape is aligned to the vertical line. Once done, Group together the line and rectangle (Control-G).

Let me explain the theory behind this. We're going to want to reflect whatever is contained within the area of the rectangle to the right hand side. By specifying a boundary, we know that whatever we create within this area will be reflected without distorting our soon to be mirror effect.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 3

Did you know you can apply an effect to a whole layer, not just a shape? Well that's what we're going to do here, so it affects everything within the layer. Toggle the layer containing your line and shape and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. We're going to Reflect on the X axis, from the left hand side of the shape and creating 1 Copy.

If you've filled this in correctly, you'll be able to see the outline of the rectangle reflected on the left hand side. Click on OK once done.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

3. Render the Fur

Step 1

When you're rendering fur, you need to pay close attention to the length and direction of the fur. Notice on the nose the fur is a lot shorter and finer. As you move outwards, the fur as thicker and longer. Keep this in mind.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 2

I'll be rendering the fur with a tapered brush. You can find out how to create it from my Width Profile tutorial. I'll be using the "Width Profile 1" brush, along with the Paintbrush Tool (B).

When you draw loads of strokes, it can be memory intensive for your computer... no matter how powerful it is. So I suggest for each set of fur you render, drag and drop the mirror layer onto the Create New Layer icon, to duplicate it. Then create your fur in this newly created layer. This way you can hide the strokes you've already done and your computer won't lag behind.

Let's start by duplicating your mirror layer and creating the first strokes. These will be a 0.5pt Stroke Weight and will have a dark brown color. These will be fine strokes focused about the center of the face and will help carve out the nose. I've set these strokes to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 20%.

Remember, you're only drawing the right hand side as it's being reflected on the left.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 3

Let's hide the first layer of strokes and duplicate the original mirror layer.

I'm going to add some lighter strokes around the center of the face now. Again with a 0.5pt Stroke Weight, with an off white/grey stroke and set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 70%.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 4

I've then created a new layer below all the fur layers and drawn a cream filled Rectangle (M) underneath. Now you can see what the fur looks like on top of the background.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 5

So let's continue adding more fur. First some mid brown strokes, to help blend the colors of the lighter areas in with the darker areas.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 6

Then create some mid brown, long strokes around the outside and some in the middle. You're wanting the center of the portrait to be the focal point, but you also want the outside of the portrait to blend into the background.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 7

Blend further with some lighter strokes.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 8

Then with a much lower Opacity, add lighter strokes.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 9

Within the background layer, add a Rectangle (M) with a Radial Gradient to the center of the portrait. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to modify the dimensions of it. I've used the exact color of the background for this transparent gradient and then set the Blending Mode of the shape to Multiply.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 10

Let's refine the fur around the center of the portrait with some darker strokes.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 11

Then with a thicker Stroke Weight, add some low Opacity strokes underneath the finer fur strokes. Layer the strokes upon each other to achieve darker shades, to help vary the tone.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

4. Create the Nose and Mouth

Step 1

Use the stock image as a reference to follow the shapes for the nose, but remember you're only required to draw half. You'll notice that the fur has fallen short of the top of the nose, so I've just filled this area in with a filled shape.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 2

Toggle the layer with the nose shapes in and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 3

Then use the Pathfinder panel to Unite the matching shapes and color them like below.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 4

For the main nose shape, I'm going to apply Effect > Stylize > Feather to the shape to create the same color effect as the stock image.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 5

I'll apply a similar Feather effect and a Radial Gradient to the shape underneath the nose, to help define the area.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 6

Move the bottom point of the nose upwards with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to create the split in the nose.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

5. Create the Cat Eyes

Step 1

Duplicate a mirror layer first of all, then let's work on the cat eyes now. Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the overall shape of the eyeball, including the tear duct. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the pupil and iris shapes.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 2

I've then decided to enlarge the pupil (big pupils are cute on kitties right?). For the iris circle, I've applied a Radial Gradient as shown below with a 2pt stroke around the iris to line it. I've Grouped together the two shapes and then placed them within a Clipping Mask for the eye (Control-7).

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 3

Let's add some highlights to the eyes to create more depth. I've used the cream background in an inverted transparent Radial Gradient and drawn a shape with the Pen Tool (P) covering the majority of the eyeball, leaving space around the edges. I've set this to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50%.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Create a new layer and draw two Ellipses (L). Fill it with a transparent Radial Gradient with the same cream and transparency settings. Group together both shapes and duplicate it. Then move this over to the other eye. If we were to use the mirror effect here, the highlight would be coming from either side and not from an accurately placed light source.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

6. Refine Your Kitty

Step 1

Apart from the absence of whiskers, there is one thing which our kitty is lacking... cuteness. He's looking a little mad at the world right now. To be fair, that didn't hurt Grumpy Cat, but this cat need to cheer up!

So first I'm going to add some thick strokes of varying color around the portrait to help blend the previously laid strokes better. This will make the colors more consistent and more natural looking.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 2

Then in a new layer, without the mirror effect, I've added as dark transparent Radial Gradient to blend the nose fur better.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 3

Back to the eye layer, I've added the same dark brown gradient behind the eyes to make them appear further set back.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 4

Then added off white strokes around the eyes and mouth area. These strokes of fur should help soften the edges of the eyes and add longer fur to around the mouth.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 5

The whiskers will help make this guy look more like a cat. I've use the Appearance panel to add two strokes in one... the darkest stroke has a 1pt Stroke Weight and the lighter, a 0.75pt Stroke Weight. This will give a subtle outline to the whiskers.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 6

I've went back to the eyeball and decided to give it further depth by adding a dark Inner Glow within the edge of the shape. This will help create a glazed look to the eyes.

Kitty Vector Tutorial

Step 7

Let's finish off by adding further fur around the portrait to help smooth out any gaps.

Kitty Vector Tutorial
Kitty Vector Tutorial

Purrfect Portrait!

I love a good excuse to create a cat vector and the trend of big faces on t-shirts has afforded me just that. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and find your excuse to vector cats all day long!

Kitty Vector Tutorial
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