Create a Tattoo Style, Grunge, Day of Dead Girl Poster in Illustrator


In this tutorial I will show you how to create a tattoo styled sexy Day of the Dead girl in Adobe Illustrator. You will learn how to use your own photo as a source for a vector illustration. We will start with sketching and continue drawing using a Calligraphic Brush, Pen Tool and even Type Tool. I will show you how create high contrasts with stylish shadows and highlights. And than we will finalize our illustration as a grunge poster with cool typography.

1. Prepare Your Document

Step 1

Create a new document (File > New) using the settings shown below.


Step 2

Got a photo of beautiful lady in your life? Put it in Illustrator with File > Place or just drag it in the document. I'm a lucky man and for this illustration I am using a photo of my lovely wife.


Step 3

Lets make the layer with the photo a Template by double-clicking on the Layer. Now its locked and transparent. It'll be easier to work with it.


Step 4

OK, now let's create a Calligraphic Brush. Go to the Brushes panel and click the New Brush button. Use the settings shown below.


Now we're ready to start sketching.

2. Sketch and Drawing

Step 1

Create New Layer above the template. Take your graphic tablet pen and choose the Calligraphic Brush we just created. Let's make a few lines around the photo. Don't worry about it looking bad at this point. Our main goal is to understand what we have to add to create a good composition.


Just look at your sketch and try to understand what is missing. I added some hair curls. Changed the shoulder position. Made her breasts a bit more pronounced and finally placed some cloth at the bottom.


Step 2

Alright, continue adding details. If you want to make some details stronger just duplicate the Calligraphic Brush in the Brushes panel and change brush size settings from 1pt to 2 or 3pt.


Lets create Day of the Dead styled make-up. Draw patterns around eyes. Stitched lips help create this look. Place some twirls instead of eyebrows. Also put some patterns on the cheeks and chin. Traditionally there is a black area on a nose, but I decided it'll be too much.


Step 3

Roses are one of the many Day of the Dead symbols. Of course we have to add some flowers to our composition. I actually already created some roses earlier and have decided to recycle them for this project. I placed them there on a New Layer above. Add a few leaves and that's it. Now we have got a well balanced composition of a sexy hand-drawn dead lady with roses.


3. Add Shadows and Highlights

Step 1

I am not happy with the pure black. Let's select all of your black by going to Select > Same > Stroke Color and change it with settings shown below.


Step 2

Let's have fun with shadows! First choose a Calligraphic Brush with a big diameter (about 3 pt) and fill the hairs areas. Just draw. And don't worry about spaces, this will add to the hand-drawn style we're aiming for.


Step 3

Fill the eyes the same way. Also I decided to make the lips dark too. Left thin contrast lines to keep their form. Don't forget to add some shadow under the flower.


Step 4

Keep drawing. Add shadow to the neck area. Going down to breast draw the shadows on the hands and on the leaves under the flowers.


To make your shadows more impressive add sharp lines here and there. It's a cool way to get a tattoo styled effect.


Just repeat your shadows forms on the portrait using a Calligraphic Brush.


Step 5

OK, now it's highlight time! Create a New Layer above. Let's create highlights on the hair first. One important thing; draw in the direction of hair growth.


Try to feel where the highlights go. With these white lines we're giving the portrait more contrast and therefore it will be more pleasing to the eye.


Step 6

When you're done with adding highlights on the hair add white lines to the eyes and lips.


It's always hard to make eyes expressive. I decided to draw a few simple lines for the eyelashes. I also added to the lips. Be careful to not go over board as you'll lose the contrast.

4. Add Colors

Our Day of the Dead lady looks good already, but I want to give her some colors. Let's go!

Step 1

Select all using Control-A. Copy with Control-C. Than create a New Layer and place it below all the layers. Click on the eye icon of this Layer holding Alt to disable all the layers above by one click. Press Control-F to paste.

Step 2

Now Expand all you just pasted by going to Object > Expand Appearance. Now we've got not Brushes but just expanded to vector filled objects. So Unite all in the Pathfinder panel by clicking on the first left icon, holding Alt, press the Expand button.


Keep it selected and right-click, choose Release Compound Path. Ungroup all by using Control-Shift-G


Unite all the shapes via the Pathfinder panel. Finally we have got one solid vector object. Fill it with #A8A69E.


Step 3

Make the other layers visible. Lock them by clicking on the lock icon of the current layer holding Alt. Add colors to the flowers (#D67878) and leaves (#75A887). I was using just the Pen Tool (P) to create the color filled shapes.


Step 4

Let's add further shadows. Set your Fill Color #A8A69E and create shapes with the Pen Tool (P). Try to make your shadows smooth and sharp. Add shadows to the face. More on the neck, also on the shoulders and breast.


Continue and add some sharp lines with the Calligraphic Brush to make your shadows more stylized and to continue the style used in the darker line art.


Step 5

Finally we need extra highlights. Go to your layer with highlights, unlock it and add some white shapes here and there. Use the Pen Tool (P) and Calligraphic Brush for this.


5. Add a Grunge Background and Typography

To finalize this illustration I want it to be something like a retro styled grunge poster.

Step 1

Create a New Layer below all the others. Set the Fill Color #A8A69E (similar with shadows colors) and create a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M) with the dimensions of 520 x 735. I've included some traced textures to my illustrations background. These are good to keep a hold of for this very use.


Step 2

I am using the color of background with Multiply Color Mode and varied levels of Opacity.


Step 3

OK, now let's create some text on a New Layer created above the background layer. Select the Type Tool (T) and type your own phrase. Let's use a classic font. I am using "Aparajita". But you can apply your own. I'm going to distort the font.


Step 4

Apply the Arc effect by going to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower with settings shown below.


Outline the text with Control-Shift-O and expand the Arc effect by going to Object > Expand Appearance

Step 5

Customize it. Add some triangle elements to get vintage look.


I added some highlights on top of the letters and decorative red lines to make my typography more stylized. I love the final result.


Put the text somewhere behind the lady's head.


I also added some little details: more text, a simple frame and extra dirt above. That's it!

Congratulations! You're Done

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and found some new useful skills. I love to create illustrations like this. They can be used for all sorts of projects. I've even found a way to include it on my phone.