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
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.
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.
I have my crop now, ready to move over to Illustrator.
2. Prepare Your Mirror Layer
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.
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.
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.
3. Render the Fur
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
Blend further with some lighter strokes.
Then with a much lower Opacity, add lighter strokes.
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.
Let's refine the fur around the center of the portrait with some darker strokes.
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.
4. Create the Nose and Mouth
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.
Toggle the layer with the nose shapes in and go to Object > Expand Appearance.
Then use the Pathfinder panel to Unite the matching shapes and color them like below.
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.
I'll apply a similar Feather effect and a Radial Gradient to the shape underneath the nose, to help define the area.
Move the bottom point of the nose upwards with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to create the split in the nose.
5. Create the Cat Eyes
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.
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).
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%.
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.
6. Refine Your Kitty
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.
Then in a new layer, without the mirror effect, I've added as dark transparent Radial Gradient to blend the nose fur better.
Back to the eye layer, I've added the same dark brown gradient behind the eyes to make them appear further set back.
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.
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.
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.
Let's finish off by adding further fur around the portrait to help smooth out any gaps.
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!