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Create Character Driven Book Cover Art Using Illustrator and Photoshop - Part 1

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In this two part tutorial on creating the "Let's Go To Monster School!" book cover, I'll show you a complete process from initial sketch to the final artwork, using an Illustrator to Photoshop integrated workflow. In Part 1 we will employ Illustrator to trace our hand drawn sketch, lay down the shapes and define the basic colors.

In Part 2, available on Psdtuts+, we'll take the vector drawing into Photoshop, where we will refine the shading, add some textures and complete the book cover with the appropriate typography. Let's get started with Part 1.


Final Image Previews for Part 1 and Part 2

Below is the final image we will be working towards. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS4
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: 3 hours

This illustration is a cover art for a fictitious novel called "Let's Go To Monster School!". It depicts a fun monster professor teaching insane science in a dingy classroom. Our goal for this first part is to create the basic image (Part 1). In part 2 we'll create the finished artwork (Part 2).


Step 1

Every illustration I create starts with a sketch. I fiddled around for a few days drawing monsters until I found what I was looking for: a nice asymmetrical green monster, the perfect choice to be our professor (1a). Far from being decent, this quick sketch is nonetheless a good basis for our vector drawing.

Create a new document in Illustrator and place the sketch on the artboard. You should know how to use the Pen Tool for this tutorial so I won't give instructions on how to create each shape, they're easy enough to figure out from the screenshots.

Zoom in on the eye and create the iris with a circle filled with an orange-yellow radial gradient. Make sure the lighter shade is at the bottom of the circle. In Illustrator CS4 you can use the on-screen gizmo to manipulate the gradient (1b). Go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and refer to image 1c for the settings.


Step 2

Add the pupil (2a) and the highlight (2b) using, respectively, a black and a white circle. Create the eyeball with a bigger white circle (2c) and fill it with a light yellow radial gradient (2d).


Step 3

Draw the bottom eyelid with a simple path, filling it with a yellow to green radial gradient (3a). Use the gizmo to make the gradient elliptical (3b). Create the top eyelid in a similar way. Be sure to place it above all the objects (3c). Since the eye is round, you have to keep the lighter shade of each gradient at the center of the objects.


Step 4

Duplicate the eyeball and place the copy above all objects (4a). Now select the top eyelid too and hit Command + 7 to create a clipping mask: now the eyelid is cropped to the eyeball (4b). We will use this technique throughout the tutorial so refer to this step as needed.


Step 5

Let's add a shadow inside the eyeball. Duplicate the bottom eyelid, make the copy dark yellow and move it up a bit (5a). Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter an appropriate value (5b). Depending on the size of your artboard you might have to change the value. Now the shadow is blurred. Let's make it a bit transparent by lowering its Opacity to about 75% (5c). Now we only have to crop it to the eyeball with a clipping mask (see previous step) (5d).


Step 6

Draw the monster's head. Its shape is basically an upside down teardrop. Fill it with the same gradient you applied to the eyelids, using the gizmo to correctly position the colors. Make sure the head becomes lighter towards the center and its edges are green (6a). Draw the mouth and fill it with a two-tone red gradient. You want to make the inside lighter, again (6b). Let's take a look at our head so far: the colors are in place and the gradients hint at its roundness (6c).


Step 7

Let's have fun creating the teeth now. The only rule here is: the more crooked and irregular the better. I kept them fairly simple here, making sure to vary their orientation and size to avoid repetition. Also try to avoid even spacing and keep objects from lining up (7a). You can group them together once you're done and use a clipping mask to crop them to the mouth's perimeter. Notice they're not white anymore. No respectable monster has white teeth! (7b, 7c).


Step 8

Our professor doesn't have smooth skin. Big warts dot his upper body. Create the warts with modified ellipses, giving them a light green color. Change their mode to Overlay and reduce their Opacity to somewhere between 50% and 70% (8a) until they're clearly but not overly visible (8b).


Step 9

Draw a light green fin behind the head (9a) and give it an Inner Glow to make it lighter at the center. Use the settings in image 9b. Reduce the Opacity to 70% and create a copy, placing it behind the original and rotating it a bit (9c).


Step 10

Continue adding features to the monster. Draw the pale yellow horn in the upper right corner of the head (10a) and give it a light brown Inner Glow to enhance its roundness (10b). Remember to keep all the objects on individual layers. This is crucial as they'll need to be on separate layers when we move into Photoshop later on.


Step 11

Let's dress our monster professor with a traditional lab coat. First of all draw the lapels. Try to overlap the head and keep the lines a bit wavy: irregular lines look more natural (11a). For now keep a medium gray stroke so you can see the individual elements. Also draw the left (11b) and right (11c) sides of the lab coat. Finally add a pocket in the bottom left corner (11d)


Step 12

Draw the left sleeve. Make sure it starts right at the shoulder and the cuff covers the pocket (12a). Now draw the monster's right hand, placing it beneath both the sleeve and the pocket (12b). Fill it with the same gradient as the rest of the skin.


Step 13

For the right sleeve we have to draw two elements, the sleeve itself (13a) and its inside, visible under the monster's left hand (13b). Make sure you snap the paths together where they meet to avoid creating gaps.


Step 14

The monster's left hand is made of two parts: the palm (14a) and the "fingers" (14b). Make sure the gradients match where the two objects overlap, but don't worry too much about color inconsistencies right now. We'll smooth them out later in Photoshop. Of course this hand must be placed inside the sleeve.


Step 15

Let's work on the feet. Draw the monster's left foot using a single path (15a). Notice the following: the leg is quite skinny (it's funny that way), there are big gaps between the toes and their tips are round, like a frog's. Next draw the webbing between the toes using a darker green shape (15b). The other foot is merely a copy of the first one, mirrored (15c). Underneath everything else create the pointed tail and make sure it gets lighter towards the tip, using our two base colors (15d).


Step 16

The professor holds a stick in his left hand. Create it with a simple rounded rectangle or an outlined stroke, just make sure the proportions and sizes are correct (16a). Fill it with a yellow linear gradient (16b). Place it behind the fingers and rotate it about 15 degrees clockwise (16c). Our monster is almost complete (16d).


Step 17

Let's add some detail to the fins. Draw a dark green ellipse (17a). Select the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and click once on the leftmost and rightmost points to turn them into corners (17b). Now scale down the ellipse vertically and place it on the front fin (17c). Make a copy and place it at the bottom of the fin (17d). Now create a blend between them, using five steps (17e, 17f). You might want to adjust the blend, scale the elements, or change their position until you're satisfied.


Step 18

To finish the character we need to add three buttons to the lab coat. Take a look at image 18a. There are three elements:

  1. The outer circle, white with a gray stroke.
  2. The second circle, smaller and gray.
  3. The four black holes.

Group these objects together and place three copies along the seam of the coat (18b).


Step 19

The character is finished, let's compose the illustration now. Place the monster at the bottom left of the artboard (19a). Now draw the wooden baseboard (19b), the floor (19c) and the two walls (19d). Fill both walls and the floor with light gradients, making them darker at the corner where they meet and lighter towards the viewer.


Step 20

The final element is the blackboard. It's a simple shape filled with a dark gray gradient. Align it properly with the perspective (20a). Now our basic illustration is finished (20b).


Step 21

Before exporting to Photoshop, we need to clear the strokes from every element of the lab coat (21a). Also make sure that each element sits on its own layer. Export to PSD only supports a depth of two or three layers, in my experience it's quite inconsistent, at least on Windows.

Anyway you can now go to File > Export and from the dialog choose the PSD format. A window will pop up with the export options. Make sure you choose the correct color space (RGB for the screen, CMYK for print) and set the resolution to High (300 dpi) so you have lots of pixels to work with in Photoshop. Also check the Write Layers and Anti-alias options (to smooth the jagged edges) (21b).


Conclusion

So that's it for Part 1. We have traced our sketch, laid down the shapes and defined the basic colors. We are ready for Part 2, where we'll take this rather plain-looking drawing into Photoshop and we'll refine the shading, add some textures, insert additional details, and complete the book cover with appropriate typography. Stay tuned!

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