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How to Create a Conceptual Portrait Using the Scribble Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a vector illustration with a sketchy style in Adobe Illustrator. A few techniques will be discussed to achieve the results, including Gradient, Roughen and Scribble. So let's begin...



1. Place the Sketch in Adobe Illustrator

I am using a scanned sketch as the starting point. This sketch is inspired by my hometown with a nickname Mountain City in middle China. You will find in the composition, mountains, rivers, bamboo, chili pepper, fish, flower and beautiful girl. First File > Place the sketch on the Artboard and scale the sketch to fit nicely within the artboard with the Free Transform Tool (E). Then set the Opacity of the sketch to 80%, Blending Mode Multiply and Lock the layer. Create New Layers beneath the sketch layer for tracing.


2. Trace the Outline of the Sketch

I start by tracing the outline with the Pen Tool (P). Set Fill to white and use a black 1pt Stroke Weight. Keep the Illustrator file organized by Grouping the layers (CTRL + G) and label them accordingly, eg. lips, eyes, body. Use Ellipse Tool (L) to draw the pupils.


3. Create a Custom Art Brush

I use a custom brush for the eyelashes. Draw a triangle shape as shown with black fill and add it to the Brush panel as a New Art Brush. Under Art Brush Options, set Colorization Method to Tints. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a few curved lines as eyelashes and apply the brush we just created. Adjust the weight of the stroke to get the result you want.


4. Add Details to the Line Art

Now the basic tracing is done. We will start adding details to the line art. To achieve an ink pen style, we will first add extra lines with different weights within the shapes we traced. These lines will be thinner than the 1pt Stroke Weight outline. We will also use black Fill to create some shading.


5. Add Base Colors to Your Line Art

Apply solid colors to the shapes we created using Fill. This step sets the tone of the color scheme we will be using for the art. It also helps to generate colors for shades and highlights.


6. Use the Appearance Panel to Add Multiple Gradients

We will add shading to the skin by using Gradients. We will add multiple gradients to the same shape. Open the Appearance panel, add New Fill. We will add a gradient for overall shading and we will also add blush on her cheeks. Apply the same to her body and shoulders. Using multiple fill layers keeps editing easier.


7. Add Detailing to the Skin

Add darker shade of the skin color to her nose and both sides of her face. Add darker shade on her neck right below her chin. Add Radial Gradient behind the eye sockets. I prefer to set the fill Blending Mode to Darken for skin shading.


8. Add Detailing to the Eyes

Open the Appearance panel and add multiple gradients for the eyes. Add a fun purple blue gradient as eye shadow. Add highlights to her pupils and on the skin next to the corners of her eyes.


9. Add Detailing to the Lips

Apply transparent gradient for shading the lips. Add highlights and some more defined shading on the lips using darker red.


10. Add Gradients to the Clothing

Open the Appearance panel and add multiple layers of transparent gradient to the clothes. Apply multiple color gradients coming from different directions. The multicolor transparent gradients will blend into each other like watercolor. Add gradient to the fish necklace and the flowers also.


11. Add a Gradient to Her Hair & the Mountains on Top

Repeat the previous step on the hair and the mountain on top. Create shapes of strands for hair and as rivers run through the mountain. Experiment with multicolor transparent gradients to create a watercolor result that you like.


12. Add the Scribble Effect to Create Texture & Style

Now we have an image with a watercolor and ink pen style. To push the sketchy look further, We will apply Scribble and Rough effects to her bamboo leaf bangs and earrings. Draw a square with black fill and 0.25pt black stroke. Select the new fill in the Appearance panel and go Effect > Stylize > Scribble. Here is my setting in the Scribble Options dialog.


13. Add Roughen to the Stroke to Enhance the Scribble Effect

Select the stroke fill in the Appearance panel and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. Roughen gives the stroke a distressed and irregular look. Use the setting in the Roughen Option dialog.


14. Create A New Graphic Style

Now we have a sketchy looking square, we will make the setting into a new Graphic Style, so it can be easily applied to where we want it. Select the layer with the square we just applied Scribble and Roughen to, open the Graphic Style panel and click the New Graphic Style Button.


15. Apply the Graphic Style to the Illustration

Duplicate the bamboo leaves we want to distress, select the duplicates and click the icon for the new Graphic Style. Now we have some super sketchy bamboo leaves. I am also going to apply Roughen to the bamboo earrings.


16. Add a Simple Background

Lastly, we will add a simple background that goes with the watercolor style.


Congratulations, You're Now Done!

I hope you enjoyed this sketchy style tutorial. You can apply one or all the techniques discussed here to create your own, adding more or less for the result you desire.

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