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Create a Male Portrait from a Photo Reference

by
Gift

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This post is part of a series called Vector Portraits.
Creating with Vector Blends In-Depth
Create a Blood Elf Inspired Portrait in Illustrator

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a detailed male portrait from a photo reference with a slight cartoon styling. I'll go into male portrait theory and talk about the common errors in creating a male portrait and how to avoid them.


Introduction

The majority of my art contains female portraits. The reason is because women are beautiful and we like to look at art that is visually attractive. However that's not to say a piece of art has to look bad with a man in it.

I'm going to show you how to create a male portrait from a photo reference and give you some tips on creating your own detailed vector portrait of a man.

Lucky enough, I have the perfect model... my partner, Mr. Paul Pringle. Now I'm not just picking him as he is someone close to me, but also because he has a beard. Facial hair is a masculine characteristic and can often be difficult to render.


Step 1

I've chosen my photo reference as it's a clear shot of Paul.


To make the image easier to pick out the highlights and shadow, I'm going to adjust the colors in it. You can do this quickly by going to Image > Auto Contrast, Image > Auto Tone and Image > Auto Color.


Once you've adjusted the reference image, Save for Web & Devices with about a 600px width. The reference image is ready to be taken over to Illustrator.


Step 2

Create a New Illustrator file with a Portrait Orientation. Then go to File > Place... and locate and position your reference image on the canvas.

Double-click on "Layer 1" and rename the layer folder "Reference." Then lock the layer folder. Create a New Layer and rename it "BG." Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a white rectangle over the entire canvas. Then reduce the Opacity to 30%. Then lock the layer folder.

Create a New Layer and rename it "Bases." You should now have the below:



Step 3

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw the bases shapes for skin (which includes the neck, face and ears) and the t-shirt. The skin will be C=10, M=20, Y=20, K=0 and the t-shirt will be C=80, M=70, Y=65, K=80.



Step 4

Create a New Layer and rename the layer folder "Skin Shading." Using a slightly darker skin color (C=10, M=20, Y=20, K=20) for the fill color, use the Pen Tool (P) to begin drawing the shapes for where the shadow and darker elements of the skin are. This is typically more so in men around the eyes, nose and chin area.

If you consider portraits of women, the subject tends to wear make up. Therefore these areas of the skin are more smoothed over and are less varying in color. When drawing the darker areas, imagine the facial hair is darker skin. Do not worry if the shapes around the chin/upper lip aren't as smooth in appearance as the rest of the face. This is easily corrected when we illustrate the facial hair.

Set the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 5%.






Step 5

Select all (Command + A) of the skin shading shapes and Group them (Command + G).

Go into the "Bases" layer folder and Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the skin base layer. Drag this shape into the "Skin Shading" layer folder on top of the group you've just created.

Select the group and the duplicated base layer, then create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).



Step 6

Using a darker skin color (C=30, M=50, Y=45, K=5), add shapes for the areas of more darker large areas. Set these shapes to Opacity 5%.






Step 7

Group the newly created darker shapes (Command + G) and then drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask group.



Step 8

Using a brown color (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45), add shapes for the areas with the darkest shade, which are smaller areas. These are typically the nostrils, ear, in between the lips, the darkest parts of the beard and eyelid creases. Set these shapes to Opacity 5%.





Step 9

Group the newly created brown shapes (Command + G) and then drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 10

Go into the "Bases" layer folder and Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the skin base shape. Then drag and drop this into the Clipping Mask Group.

Using the brown, create an inverted transparent radial gradient (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45). Fill the duplicated skin base shape and use the Gradient Tool (G) to modify the shape and position of the source of the gradient. Duplicate the shape twice and reposition the gradient.

The gradients here are used to add contrast and shadow into the portrait. Following the gradient positions below, change the Opacity to 10%. Change the first two shapes to Blending Mode Color Burn and the last to Multiply.



Step 11

Create a transparent radial gradient using the skin base color (C=10, M=20, Y=20, K=0). Using this, draw the areas of the face that catch the light or appear less dark to the rest of the portrait.

Going back to the theory about how a woman's skin tones are more smooth due to make up and being more delicate, this also would apply to light on the skin. Make up helps to prevent shiny skin, so based on this theory; make a males skin more shiny than you would a females. It doesn't have to be overly shiny, but to show it's more rugged.

Set these shapes to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 30%.




Step 12

Group the newly created brown shapes (Command + G) and then drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 13

Create a transparent radial gradient with a dark pink color (C=35, M=80, Y=45, K=10). Use this to draw areas on the face where the skin is a slight red tone. This would be mainly around the eyes and nose.

Set the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 20%. Then Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). Change the Blending Mode of the duplicates to Color and the Opacity to 10%.

Then Group these shapes (Command + G), then drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 14

Create a transparent radial gradient with a pure gray color (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=60). Use this in the corners and underneath the eye. Then set the Blending Mode to Color and the Opacity to 50%.

Then Group these shapes (Command + G) and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 15

Often in the process of building up a great skin rendering, you might notice that aspects of the skin aren't showing enough contrast. Don't be afraid to add further shapes or modify previously created shapes.

In this case, I think that further contrast is needed for the darkest areas. So I'm going to use the brown that I previously used (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45) with a Blending Mode of Multiply and Opacity of 10% to add further shading shapes to the smaller dark areas.



When this is done, Group the shapes (Command + G) and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 16

Now that I'm happy with the skin, I'm going to go ahead and begin shading the t-shirt. This is where the white rectangle in the "BG" layer folder really comes in handy.

I work a lot in preview mode for drawing the shapes in certain layer folders. You can do this by Command-clicking on the eye icon in the layer palette. You'll notice when you begin to draw shapes like this, you will get the outline of the shape you're creating. You'll also notice that the outline of the shape is black. Effectively tracing the shapes from a near black reference with black lines can be hard to see, so the white rectangle makes this process a lot easier.

Create a New Layer below the "Skin Shading" layer folder and rename this "T-Shirt." I'm going to use the same color we used for the t-shirts base layer shape (C=80, M=70, Y=65, K=80), but with the Blending Mode set to Color Dodge and Opacity to 15%.





Step 17

Select All of the shapes you've just created for the t-shirt (Command + A) and then Group them (Command + G).

Go into the "Bases" layer folder and Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the base layer for the t-shirt. Then drag and drop the duplicated shape in front of the group you've just created.

Select both the group and the duplicate shape, then create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).



Step 18

Create a transparent radial gradient with the color used for the t-shirt (C=80, M=70, Y=65, K=80). Use this to add further highlights to the t-shirt. Set these shapes to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 10%.

When done, Group them (Command + G), then drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 19

Duplicate the t-shirt base layer again and drag and drop it into the Clipping Mask Group. Apply the transparent radial gradient and invert it. Using the Gradient Tool (G) position the gradient source and resize it so the gradient slightly overlaps the bottom left corner. Set the Blending Mode to Multiply.



Step 20

Create the Width Profile 1 brush from this tutorial. This is going to be used for detailing on the t-shirt and the hair later on.

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw lines for the hem of the t-shirt on the shoulders and around the neck. Set the stroke weight to 2pt and the stroke color to C=80, M=70, Y=65, K=80 (the color of the t-shirt base). Then change the Blending Mode to Screen and Opacity to 50%.

Once done, Group the strokes (Command + G) and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask Group.



Step 21

Create a New Layer and rename it "Lips." When I'm doing a vector portrait, typically the skin is rendered to look much lighter than the reference I'm using. This is not necessarily an issue when it comes to females, as in contrast their lips can be as bold and bright as I desire. However when rendering a male, you might want to modify the color you're working with for the lips to avoid them looking as if they are wearing lipstick. This being said, you don't want to illustrate the lips so they look pale and lifeless. Men do have pink hues in their lips.

Using the dark pink transparent radial gradient (C=35, M=80, Y=45, K=10) and draw shapes to add depth to the lips. Set these shapes to Blending Mode Color Burn and Opacity 15%. Once done, Group the shapes (Command + G).



Step 22

Using the brown transparent radial gradient (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45) set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 10%, draw shapes over the lips to darken the corners and the overall appearance of the lips. This will help take away some of the pink. Then Group these shapes together (Command + G).



Step 23

Using the dark pink transparent radial gradient (C=35, M=80, Y=45, K=10), draw two shapes for the top and bottom lips. This is where the light will be catching the lips. Set these shapes to Blending Mode Color Dodge and Opacity 40%.



Step 24

Create a New Layer and rename it "Eyes." Throughout this part of the tutorial, whatever I do to one eye the same will be done to the other.

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw two shapes for the eyeball and the whole of the eye. Use a light blue/off white color for this (C=10, M=0, Y=0, K=0) and change the Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 35%. It's good to remember that eyeballs are never pure white.

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw your iris and then duplicate it for the other eye so it's the exact same size. As Paul's eyes are a blue/gray I'm using a similar shade (C=75, M=55, Y=40, K=15). Using the Pathfinder > Minus Front option, trim the top and bottom of the circles as shown below.

Then Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the modified circles and using the Free Transform Tool (E), decrease the size of the duplicated shape. Then change the Opacity of both modified circles to 60%.



Step 25

Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the smaller modified circle. Create an inverted transparent radial gradient using the blue color. Use this to add a shadow effect towards the top of the eye and set it to Blending Mode Multiply at Opacity 70%.

Duplicate the circle again and invert the gradient again so the source is at 100% opacity. Position the source towards the bottom of the shape and set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity to 70%.



Step 26

I'm going to use the blue/gray shade to do the next elements of the eyes (C=75, M=55, Y=40, K=15). Firstly to add further, more defined shadow at the top and an outline to the iris, add two shapes using the Pen Tool (P). Set these shapes to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 40%.

Then using the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the "Width Profile 1" brush, add "V" shapes with the point towards the center of the eye. Set the Stroke Weight to 2pt and the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity 50%. I've Grouped these strokes (Command + G) to make it easier to find shapes in the "Eyes" layer folder.

Finally, using the Ellipse Tool (L) add a circle for the pupil. Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) and then resize it with the Free Transform Tool (E). Set the circles to Blending Mode Multiply.



Step 27

I'm going to add color into the eyes. The first part is the corner of the eyes. This is typically a pink/red tone. To do this in a subtle way, it's always good to apply a gradient.

Using the dark pink transparent radial gradient used for the lips (C=35, M=80, Y=45, K=10) draw a shape at the corner of the eye which overlaps into the white. Change the Blending Mode to Color Burn and Opacity to 25%.

Eyes balls aren't flat, so to add some depth apply a gradient. With the off black color inverted gradient used for the t-shirt shading (C=80, M=70, Y=65, K=80), draw a shape around the whole eye and set the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 70%.



Step 28

Unless you're illustrating a man who likes to wear eyeliner or has jet black hair and very pale skin, you want to draw more skin neutral shapes around the eyes.

First thing would be to add a lighter shape around the eyes to use as a base and to also to highlight the bottom of the eye. I'm using the skin base color for this (C=10, M=20, Y=20, K=0) set to Opacity 50%.

Then using the dark skin tone color (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45) to define the lash line and corner of the eyes. Set these shapes to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity at 10%.



Step 29

To give the eyes more life, I'm doing to add some highlights to it.

Create a transparent radial gradient with the off white/light blue color used for the eyeballs (C=10, M=0, Y=0, K=0). Then draw shapes on either side of the iris and use the Ellipse Tool (L) to add some spot highlights in the corner of the eye. Set these shapes to Blending Mode Color Dodge and Opacity at 80%.

Then using the same gradient, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw two circles. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to shift the gradient towards the top to act like a reflection on the pupil and iris. Select both of the circles and Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V) them for the other eye. This will ensure the light reflection is the same in both eyes. Set these to Opacity at 70%.



Step 30

Going back to the topic of assuming women are wearing makeup, their eyelashes will appear darker, longer and more curved. In comparison, a man's eyelashes won't be as prominent. Based on this, you'll need to still draw them on your portrait, however in a subtle manner.

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the "Width Profile 1" brush, use the dark skin tone color as the stroke color (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45), draw the eyelashes in. Set these to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 40%. I've Grouped these strokes (Command + G) to make it easier to alter, should I need to, later on.



Step 31

Create a New Layer and rename it "Hair."

Hide all the layer folders with vector work in and use the reference image as a guide for the hairstyle of the portrait. Towards the top of the reference the hair style has been chopped off, so I've had to estimate where the hair would go.

I'm using the Pen Tool (P) to draw this shape with a brown fill color (C=55, M=60, Y=65, K=40).



Step 32

Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the "Width Profile 1" brush with a 2pt Stroke Weight. Use the same color as the hair base layer. Draw strokes around the hair for the eyebrows and the more condensed areas of beard, this is typically on the edges of the face. Change the Opacity to 50%.

Once you've drawn these, Group them (Command + G).



Step 33

I'm going to use the same settings apart from changing the Opacity to 20% to draw in the rest of the beard and facial hair, as well as adding more strokes to soften the edges of the eyebrows. Again, Group the strokes once completed (Command + G).



Step 34

Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the hair base layer and drag it to the top of the layer folder. Fill it with the off black transparent radial gradient used for the t-shirt and set the Blending Mode to Multiply.



Step 35

Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the "Width Profile 1" brush with a 2pt Stroke Weight. Use the same color as the "hair base" layer. Draw these strokes as a guide to the sections of the hair. Set the Blending Mode to Screen and Opacity to 50%.

Once you've drawn these, Group them (Command + G).



Step 36

Use the same settings but change the Stroke Weight to 1pt and the Blending Mode to Screen and Opacity to 70%. Use the guides you've drawn to add the finer strokes. This will give the hair more detailing and a slight shine to it.

Then Group (Command + G) the strokes when complete.



Step 37

Keep the same settings and change the Stroke Weight to 10pt and the Blending Mode to Color Burn and Opacity to 15%. I'm going to almost paint these strokes towards the roots of the sections of the hair. Also layer it over the sides. In theory the tips of the hair will be lighter to the rest of the hair. As the hair on top is longer, it's been exposed to sunlight longer, therefore will be lighter than the sides.

Group the strokes when complete (Command + G).



Step 38

Now change the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 10% with the same settings. Like with Step 37, I'm going to darken the facial hair and the eyebrows, and using the Paintbrush Tool (B) in a painting action. Double over some of the strokes to give it a darker shade.

Then Group (Command + G) the strokes when complete.



Step 39

This step is for those with the distinguishing details... gray hairs. Now Paul doesn't have any gray hairs in his hair or beard, but strangely enough he has some in his eyebrows. So using a gray shade (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=30) with the "Width Profile 1" brush with a Stroke Weight of 1pt, add strokes in the desired areas. I've also added some strokes in the beard to add little highlights. Set these to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity at 30%.

Group these strokes when complete (Command + G).



Step 40

Create a New Layer and rename it "Moles."

Paul has a lot of moles and freckles on his face... some more bold than others. So using the transparent radial gradient used for the part of the skin shading (C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45), draw a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L).

Use the Free Transform Tool (E) to modify the shape and angle slightly. Then Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F), and reposition the circle. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply for both of the shapes. Vary the Opacity for how dark the freckles or moles are. In this portrait they range between 10% and 30%.



Step 41

Create a New Layer and rename it "Lines."

To add a more cartoon look to it, I'm going to add some lines to define parts of the portrait. With the Stroke color of C=50, M=70, Y=60, K=45, Stroke Weight of 2pt and the "Width Profile 1" brush, use the Pen Tool (P) to draw lines in the below areas. Set the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 20%.



Step 42

Go into the "BG" layer folder and select the white rectangle. I'm going to change this to a color that brings out the blue eyes (C=10, M=0, Y=0, K=0) and then change the Opacity to 100%.



Step 43

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a circle with the fill color of a blue/gray (C=75, M=55, Y=40, K=15).

Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag and use the below settings. Set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and the Opacity to 35%.



Step 44

Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the light blue rectangle in the background. Fill it with a blue/gray inverted transparent radial gradient (C=75, M=55, Y=40, K=15).

Use the Gradient Tool (G) to change the position of the gradient so it acts like a vignette effect in the background. Set the Blending Mode to Multiply.



Step 45

Finally, use the Artboard Tool (Shift + O) to set the artboard size.



Conclusion

Portraits are a lot of fun to create, it's been a passion of mine for nearly a decade. I've always preferred to vector female portraits as it feels more organic to me to create them. However, when it comes to vectoring a male, there are many things to consider to avoid making your portrait feminine looking. Keep these tips in mind. Why not try to create your own male portrait?


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