In this tutorial we'll be exploring the frosty outdoors in hopes of catching up to the elusive Centaur Girl. Step by step, we will construct not only her surroundings, but her endlessly curly hair. Using a very minimal color palette, we'll encourage our berry picking magical creature to emerge from the screen within a few short hours.
The beginning stages for me are always pencil. Though I love vector dearly, I still stay true to my traditional roots as well. For this sketch I've used a typical 0.7 leaded pencil and have scanned her into the computer using a dpi of 300. Before using the sketch, it was taken into Adobe Photoshop and the levels were changed in order to darken the lines and define the final shapes for easier vectoring.
After saving the sketch as a JPEG or PNG it is brought into Adobe Illustrator. This particular file was prepared at 8.5 x 11 to start off. If need be, you can check your preferences by heading to the top of the bar and clicking on Document Setup > Edit Artboards or using the hotkeys Alt + Ctrl + P, where you can either manually pull the dashed lines around your Artboard to the size you require, or input the size at the top of the bar.
In this step, I've started working on the base skin tones using only my Pen Tool (P) and Curves are accomplished by holding down the Alt key as points are created to form each path. I've used only two gradients, white: R=255, G=255, B=255 and light blue: R=167, G=188, B=193 to keep things less complicated. This is a linear gradient with a solid opacity throughout. I've also begun to label my layers. If this was a more complex project, it would become even more necessary to label my layers, not only for myself, but also in the event that I may have to share it down the road with printers or the like. My advice would be to make this a continual practice until it becomes second nature.
At this point, we will start laying in facial features. We will start with her eyes. The white of the eye is made with a foggy off white: R=237, G=238, B=239. Eye liner/lashes are added around the eye in a dark sea green/blue: R=28, G=53, B=52. The next application is the pupil color. We're using a Linear Gradient with three colors, a dark violet: R=16, G=0, B=69, a grey lilac: R=113, G=104, B=145, and white: R=255, G=255, B=255. Shadows are made with a two color Linear Gradient with both sides in the antique blue: R=147, G=170, B=169. The Opacity is lowered on one side to 0%.
The shading of her facial features are done in a slate grey: R=99, G=99, B=99 with an Opacity ranging between 5% and 21% depending on the area.
In this step, we are making her lips. We're giving her a slight pout, and a slightly mute blush to her lips. We're not trying to over power our composition so the colors are cool hues. The lip color is a two tone gradient of raspberry blush red: R=185, G=16, B=0 and baby pink: R=255, G=211, B=216. Follow the lines of the sketch to make your lips. The shading is a mixture of dark raspberry blush red: R=138, G=28, B=18 and baby pink: R=255, G=211, B=216. A slight glow is applied with a Radial Gradient with both sides colored white: R=255, G=255, B=255. Take the farthest side on my gradient and turn down the Opacity to zero.
The next step is to add blush. The colors are made with a two tone Radial Gradient of blush pink: R=255, G=132, B=115 and baby pink: R=255, G=211, B=216. The baby pink color is on the outer edge and the Opacity is lowered to 0%. Using our Ellipse Tool (L) we can make our Centaur Girl's cheeks rosy from the cold. The Opacity has been set to 44% on this layer.
Over this we can now make a new layer of a two tone Radial Gradient with both sides white: R=255, G=255, B=255. The outer part's Opacity has been lowered to 0%. This gives her an icy blush.
After laying my shadows, I've started laying my highlights down. I've found that for a playfully voluptuous look, either use my Pen Tool (P) or use the Eclipse Tool (L) to make my rounded shapes. By dropping in a Radial Gradient with both sides colored white: R=255, G=255, B=255, I can take the farthest side on my gradient and turn down the Opacity to zero. The transparency has been turned down slightly to 78% on this layer to help blend the body color and highlight color. This gives her skin a satin like finish.
The next step is to make her flowing hair. Using your Pen Tool (P) make freehanded curls that follow the sketch. Hair needs a mind of it's own sometimes and it can make your project more natural and unique when there's a nice untamed truss of curls flowing over the shoulders.
Use the two tone Gradient of white: R=255, G=255, B=255 and light blue: R=167, G=188, B=193 to make them soft and snowy.
In order to see our hair detail clearly, I've made an additional layer with a darker solid layer. This layer will be deleted once we are finished applying the hair.
Our Centaur Girl's lovely locks are made from multiple brush lines. In order to make your own brush use the Rounded Rectangle tool in your Tool bar. There will be two points at either end, to pull these use your Direct Selection Tool (A) to make your ends pointier. From here, go into your brush panel and click the New Brush button in the bottom right corner. A new window will appear, and you should choose the Art Brush option. Another new window will appear and in the Colorization box, scroll down in the Method drop box until you have the Tints and Shades option highlighted. From here, you can click okay, and your new brush is ready for application.
Now that we have a Brush made, we can use it for her hair. Click the Paintbrush Tool (B) and change the line weight of 0.15pts. Start from the scalp and follow the sketch to make your strands.
The next step is the application of our skin shadows which are made from a two color Linear Gradient with both sides in the antique blue: R=147, G=170, B=169. The Opacity is lowered on one side to 0%.
The belly is made from the same color, but a Radial Gradient is used instead of the Linear. The highlights are formed from another Radial Gradient with both sides white: R=255, G=255, B=255. The outer edge's Opacity is lowered to 0% and adds a rounded texture to our image.
Duplicate our layer, and go up to click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to access the Blur option at a rate of 2.1px. Our hair is just a bit too bright at this point. Even though I like the ethereal look of it, we can no longer see the hair strands we've worked so hard to make. Lower the Opacity to 46% for a better balance.
To make a shadow beneath the hair line, make a new layer of this hair and recolor it black: R=0, G=0, B=0. Complete your steps to make this a Gaussian Blur, again with a rate of 2.1px. The only difference is that we will lower the Opacity to 35%.
In this step, we are changing our preferences by heading to the top of the bar and clicking on Document Setup > Edit Artboards or using the hotkeys Alt + Ctrl + P. Manually pull the dashed lines down on your Artboard to 850px, or input the size at the top of the bar.
I've decided to lengthen the legs, so to do this I can use my Direct Selection Tool (A) by holding it down and selecting just below the knee. From here, drag down these selected points to your desired length.
Her antlers are made from two Gradient colors, cool dark grey: R=58, G=58, B=58 and white: R=255, G=255, B=255. After making the initial shape, use your Pen Tool (P) and add stroke lines with a 1pt weight in any color in order to make grooves in her antlers. Select all of these lines and click Object > Expand Appearance to make these lines fill. We can now take the same Gradient and fill the grooves in. Duplicate the main antler shape to lay over this, and click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to access the Blur option at a rate of 1.8px and an Opacity of 46%.
Make an additional antler set and click Object > Transform > Reflect. Keep the Horizontal option which is defaulted and click OK. Position the antler to offset the first.
During this next step, we are adding our details. The white tuft is made with a two tone Gradient of white: R=255, G=255, B=255 and light blue: R=167, G=188, B=193
The skin shadows are made from a two color Linear Gradient with both sides in the antique blue: R=147, G=170, B=169. The Opacity is lowered on one side to 0%.
The shadows are made from a pure black: R=0, G=0, B=0. Click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to access the Blur option at a rate of 2.6px and an Opacity of 36%.
Our Centaur Girl needs a background, so we can start by making a new layer entitled "Background." Make a rectangle that spans the size of your entire composition and use the Gradient color of white: R=255, G=255, B=255 and light blue: R=167, G=188, B=193.
Make a new layer entitled "Trees". We will use the exact color choice previously used to make the background. Make your branches and trunks very simple. These trees don't necessarily need a lot of detail to confirm that they are trees. It's the shape and position of them that leads us to believe they are part of our winter scene and fade into the background giving us more depth.
To make our trees look like Birch wood, we duplicate our branch layers and with our Erase Tool or Shift + E, shave off strips to give the illusion of birch bark. The color variation is only a shift of the two gradient shades.
Another one of my favorite pieces to make on this project would have to be the blackberries. By using the Ellipse Tool (L) to make small circles, I can make rows of circles between four and three per layer to make the shape. The colors are made from a Radial Gradient with two colors. I have made three color variations. The first is a red version with cranberry red: R=217, G=43, B=38 and deep violet: R=25, G=0, B=46, the second is a pale violet version with a pale lilac: R=106, G=90, B=119 and deep violet: R=25, G=0, B=46, and the dark version with a midnight violet: R=73, G=53, B=89 and deep violet: R=25, G=0, B=46. The leaves are made from two Radial Gradients as well. We're using a pure black: R=0, G=0, B=0 and a leaf green: R=102, G=107, B=58.
Once we are finished with our berry, we can make a duplicate layer and click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to get to our blur panel. We will be using a 1.5px radius with an Opacity of 48%.
Our bushes are now ready to be formed. We've taken our berry clusters and have flipped them in various ways, as well as changed some of the sizes to show variation.
After forming enough clusters, we can Group or Ctrl + G them, and make a duplicate layer. Use this time to turn your clusters in various ways to give your berry bush a full and lush look. Not all of your leaves need to be as detailed, so a few of your groupings can be combined by clicking Window > Pathfinder > Unite or Shift + Ctrl + F9. Add your layers of leaves accordingly. If you have a few too many spaces, you can use your Ellipse Tool (L) to make an oval to cover up bald spots you're not pleased with.
Once our bushes have been formed, we can now give the illusion of frost and fog hitting the bushes. To do this, we can make a duplicate layer of our leaves and use our Unite Mode which can be found by clicking Window > Pathfinder > Unite or Shift + Ctrl + F9 to make a mask over it. We are using our Linear Gradient Tool with white: R=255, G=255, B=255 on both ends. The only difference is that one end's Opacity has been set to 0%. A stroke weight of white at 1pt. Our bushes will pop with a more frosty appeal.
In this step we are giving our Centaur Girl a few branches to hide behind. She's a modest creature, therefore she requires coverage. Our base branch color is made from two Gradients, cool dark grey: R=58, G=58, B=58 and white: R=255, G=255, B=255. Again, we duplicate our branch layer and with our Erase Tool or Shift + E, shave off strips to give the illusion of birch bark. The color variation is only a shift of the two gradient shades.
Snow has been added to the branches with two color Gradients, pale blue: R=207, G=213, B=214 and white: R=255, G=255, B=255.
Every Centaur needs bag for her berries, so in this step we'll be supplying her with one. The basic shape of the bag is made from a two color Linear Gradient made of a grape violet: R=28, G=0, B=46 and a lilac: R=197, G=190, B=202. In order to make the silvery tones, we've taken multiple hues from our two tones as well as white: R=255, G=255, B=255 and have interchanged the spaces several times in order to get the gradient you see before you. This particular item will not be seen as clearly due to the foliage, but it will still show through due to it's bold and intense coloring.
In this step we will add just a little more whimsy to our piece by adding beads. Use the "Branch" layer for this part. Go to Window > Brush Libraries > Arrows> Pattern Arrows to bring up this particular window and set it to the side. You'll be using this soon enough.
From this point you will use your Pen Tool (P) and create Curves which are accomplished by holding down the Alt key starting at a line weight of 1pt and starting from one point on the branch, drape your lines accordingly. I encourage you to have fun with it. Is she a bit messy with her antlers tangled in the beads, or is she more concerned with neat ornaments placed just so. This is your Centaur, so make her your own.
Once you have all of your lines made with your single stroke of white: R=255, G=255, B=255, you'll need to select all of them by pressing Shift + Alt as you click on each. With all of your layers highlighted, go back to your Pattern Arrows window and choose the Arrow Brush Floral 3 option. This will be the pretty heart like drop arrows a little lower on the scroll bar.
After you have these, you will now group these and make a duplicate layer. From here you will go up to your menu bar and click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose a radius of 2.5 px. This will give us an ethereal glow to our jewelry accents.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing our Centaur Girl emerge from paper to vector. She's particularly good at camouflage, so this rare sighting simply had to be documented. Hopefully we'll see even more mythical creatures throughout the new year that will give us ample opportunities to create bright and creative vectors to wow and amaze.