It's Time for a Change
If you happen to have a pen tablet, but it's been laying on the bottom of a drawer, then get it set for this tutorial. We'll learn how to trace a sharp outline using the Paintbrush Tool and how to bring our illustration to life by applying basic shading and lighting.
The first step is quite easy. Grab a piece of a paper and a pencil and get those creative juices flowing, in order to create your own illustration. If you're out of ideas or just don't have time for that, you can use mine.
Up next, start a new 850 px by 1250 px document and place the sketch image on a new layer. Using File > Place, position it in the center, locking the layer. This will come in handy when we trace the outline of our illustration.
Before we actually jump intro tracing, we'll first create a custom brush. Open the Brush panel (F5) and create a new Calligraphic Brush with the following settings:
Create a new layer and name it "Outline." Select the Paintbrush Tool (B) and using #417B79, begin tracing the first character. At this point you can play around with different stroke thicknesses. I've used a thicker stroke for the outline and a thiner one for the inner details. Try to cover as much as possible with a single stroke. Don't worry if the first time you miss the outline, you can always get it back on track with the help of the Warp Tool (Shift + R).
If you double-click it's icon, a settings window will pop up. I usually leave it to it's default settings, but the parameters we're interested in are: Width, Height, Detail and Simplify. I'll give you a quick overview of each one, so that you can adjust them to fit your workflow. Width and Height are pretty much straightforward, while Detail increases or decreases the number of anchor points of a brush stroke.
I find that less Detail is better. And finally, Simplify will get rid of multiple anchor points and leave your stroke nice and tidy. Another method is stroke redrawing, instead of continuously Undo. With the selection still active, and the Paintbrush selected, go over the already drawn stroke and remodel it properly. This feature is great because you can always come back and modify the stroke.
Keeping in mind the previous step, keep building the character. You can always adjust the anchor points of the strokes using the Direct Selection Tool (A) if you find that easier. Simply click on an anchor point and drag it to its desired position. You can also adjust the curve of your stroke by tweaking its arms.
Ellipses can easily be created with the Ellipse Tool (L). Just click and drag to create the correct ellipse, applying the brush settings to it if necessary, and play around with different stroke weights so that it matches the rest of the outline. You can even change the brush type, and select a flat one.
As you continue drawing, you'll find that some strokes will be intersecting. So that we don't complicate with stroke and filling arrangements, we will simply erase the overlapping strokes. To do so, we need to grab the Path Eraser Tool, which you can access if you click and hold the Pencil Tool icon. You need to select the path that you want to erase, and always starting from one end, work your way to the intersection point.
Now let's get down to the details. Draw the basic eye shape and inside add an ellipse. Draw the eyebrow from a single, continuous stroke and then, add details with a thinner stroke weight around the body.
It's coming together now. Create the character's hands from two separate strokes each. At the top, close them with a small line and finally, start adding some fingers. Draw the main stroke, adding irregular lines for his fingertips. Repeat this process until you finish all the fingers.
Good job! Our first character is complete. The rest of the illustration is just as simple. This stage is the most time consuming, but as you go on, the easier you'll find it. The final outline in any illustration is the one that stands out the most.
Colors only complement the outline. Having a clean, crisp outline will definitely improve your work. Remember not to rush it and have fun with it! Let's continue drawing our next element. From now on, the steps just keep repeating themselves.
Each spiral of the spring is made from two strokes. Remember, not to worry if the first stroke you draw isn't perfect. Adjust it using the methods described in the previous steps. The rest of this element is quite easy to draw as it's made of basic cylinders. After finishing the main outline, start adding details.
The radiator is made out of several ellipses and vertical strokes. You shouldn't have any problem drawing it. Next we'll create the battery on top of which all the parts sit and try to reach the question mark. It's boxy shape can be constructed in two ways: either you draw the lines by hand and straighten them, or simply use the Line Tool (\). Again, try drawing the lightning element as a closed shape.
Composition is another important factor to consider in an illustration. I've tried to create a mountain type of composition, that offers a nice read across. At the bottom are a lot of parts, scrambled around, trying to make their way up. Let's go ahead and start drawing the other parts. There is no actual order on how to draw them. Start with the one that you like, and think it's more relaxing to create.
The cogwheels can be created with the Ellipse Tool (L). You can modify their appearance with the Free Transform Tool. This tool has three attributes, but only one sets it apart from the others. When you place you cursor on one of the corners of the bounding box, it becomes a diagonal double-sided arrow.
If you were to click and drag this arrow, you would re-size the bounding box, but no distortion would actually take place. When a selection is highlighted, the cursor becomes a rotational arrow when the cursor is outside of the bounding box.
By dragging this semi-circular arrow, you will rotate the object, but yet again no distortion would occur. The only way to take advantage of this tool's power is to click a corner of the bounding box, and while holding, click the Command key, which will allow you to distort the selection.
When everything is set, hide the "sketch" layer, select the whole thing (Command + A), then go to Object > Expand Appearance. This will help us fill the parts, no matter how complicated they are.
Select all the elements (Command + A), go to Live Paint Bucket (K), and choose #93D2E2 as the fill color. Start by painting the major parts, gradually making you way to the smaller details.
Create a new layer and name it "Type." Drag it beneath the Outline Layer. You can make guidelines to help you construct the type. Hit Command + R for the rulers and drag two horizontal guides, framing the type.
You could also add a third construction guide, for those taller letters. Next, with a standard 0.3pt Round Brush, start tracing the type. If you double-click the Paintbrush Tool icon, a settings dialogue will pop up. I've kept Fidelity at 10 pixels and Smoothness at 25%.
Once more, after you begin tracing the stroke, you'll find that it will not precisely follow the sketch. This can easily be correct. Use the guidelines above, especially Step 4, to redraw them and tweak the line until it perfectly matches the sketch.
Once all the type is complete, select it and insert a 3px weight stroke. With the text still selected go to Object > Expand Appearance. Select none for the fill color and #417B79 to stroke color. You will see two outlines. The original thin one that we've created earlier and the new thicker one. With the Direct Selection Tool (A), click on the original stroke and hit Delete.
There are a lot of intersecting strokes at this moment. The twisted cord always has two overlapping zones. In order to get a proper cable effect we need to consider one important thing. The type is made from a single long piece, so it needs to bend, in order to create the type. Picture a real piece of cord in front of you and try to shape it in the form of a letter.
You'll notice that a few levels will appear, and the one closer to us will mask the others. With the type highlighted, select the Path Eraser Tool, and as in the previous step start clearing the line. Where there is a continuous stroke that needs to be separated, click and drag the eraser to the middle of the stroke to split it, and then simply erase it to the desired length.
Keep erasing the strokes, until the anchor point intersects the respective line so that there is no excess. If you accidentally erase too much, hit Command + Z or Edit > Undo and give it another shot. If there are some areas that don't look right, press A and drag the anchor point (or it's arms) in order to correct those artifacts. These flaws may occur especially at longer curves or arches.
It took a lot of time to get here, but we're almost done. Repeat the guidelines mentioned above and modify the custom lettering accordingly. When you finish, select each text at a time, and fill it with #93D2E2 using the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K).
There is only one thing left before highlighting. We want our lights and shadows to be on top of the filled parts, yet underneath the stroke lines. We can leave it live, but it's much easier and faster to draw, without the worry of perfectly aligning the shapes with the outline. Select everything in the "Outline" layer, go to Object > Expand. Deselect by clicking anywhere in the canvas.
Next we want to separate the fill from the outline. To do so, create a new layer, name it "Fill" and place it beneath the "Outline." With the Selection Tool (V), start picking the filled parts, while pressing and holding Shift. Select just a few filled areas and hit Command + X to cut them, click to select the "Fill" layer and finally press Command + F to paste in place. Repeat this process until the two elements are on separate layers.
Create a new layer, "Background." With the Rectangle Tool (R) insert a rectangle, which is the size of the canvas. With the tool selected you can also click anywhere and enter 850 px by 1250 px and hit OK. This layer should be placed on top of the "Sketch" layer, which now can be hidden.
Now that we have all of our elements created, we can jump in and add some shading and highlighting. Create a new layer, name it "Highlights" and place it between "Outline" and "Fill."
Select the Pencil Tool (N), and with a light color (#E4F4F7), begin drawing the zones where the light will hit. For an instant result, double-click the Pencil Tool and check Fill New Pencil Strokes. I usually don't use a stroke fill when working with this tool, but it's up to you to decide if that matches your working style. Remember, the main light source is the question mark. There will be some secondary lights reflecting, but we'll take care of them later.
Continue adding more highlights. If the shape isn't satisfying, redraw it or adjust it with the Warp Tool.
The more effort and time you put into details, the better and crisp the overall illustration will look. After you've finished adding the highlights, move on to the shadows. Create a new layer, "Shadows," and place it on top of the "Highlights" layer. Using the same pencil method, start blocking some shading. Yet again, bare in mind that the main light source is the question mark at the top.
Add details, like thin drop shadows from the wires at the bottom, some arched shadows for the cogwheels, shade the fins of the radiator, etc.
Next, let's create the yellow secondary lighting. Create a new layer, name it "Yellow Highlights," on top of the "Highlights" layer. With the Pencil Tool (N), using #E5DC38 as the color, create a shape that fills the piston's eye, the light bulb, the potion bottle, the small gauge indicator at the bottom, as well as the battery's eyes. These fills will act as our light sources, bouncing the yellow light on the other parts. With the Pencil still selected, create new details around the illustration.
Next, let's make that light reflect on the ground as well. This creates a nice texture and bounds the bottom part together. We will use a custom brush for this step.
On any layer, draw a thin ellipse shape and fill it with black. Next, open the Brushes and create a New Art Brush. In the Options window, select the direction by clicking on the arrow that points right, and then click OK. Make a new layer "Ground," and place it under "Outline." With the new brush, create little strokes and place them around the bottom.
The illustration is nearly finished. The last thing we need to add are the halftones, the question mark and the back stripes. For this, start up Photoshop and create a new A4 sized document at 300 DPI. Create a new layer, and with the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) create a circle by holding Shift, in the middle of the canvas.
Fill the selection with a black and white radial gradient, using the Gradient Tool (G). You should drag the gradient from the center of the circle to it's margin, and not beyond it. Once done, go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. In the settings window, set the Max. Radius to 15-20, and 0 for all channels. Our first halftone is complete!
Create a smaller halftone using the techniques mentioned above. This will be used around the light bulb and the battery's eyes to make them pop out. Save the file as a high quality jpg.
Back in Illustrator, open the halftone jpg in a new tab. Select the image, go to Object > Live Trace > Make and Expand. Depending on Illustrator's version, you might get a warning message, that tracing might proceed slowly with such a large image. Don't worry, just hit OK. It might take awhile until the trace is complete so, have a little patience.
After the expanding is done, right-click and select Ungroup. Deselect the whole halftone and reselect the white space left around it, and hit Delete. Drag the halftone onto a new layer ("Halftone" placed under "Outline") in the illustration tab and drop. You will see some small artifacts near the center. Press Y for the Magic Wand Tool, select the small white spaces and delete them. Apply the same method to the other halftone.
Scale and duplicate the smaller halftones, then place them in position. Cut and paste them into place (Command + X, Command + F) on a new layer, named "Yellow Halftones," placed right under the "Halftones" layer. Delete the inner dots and fill the remaining halftone with #E4DB38. Repeat this operation for the other halftones. Select the larger one at the top and fill it with #E3F3F6.
Create a new layer and name it "Question Mark." Hide all the other layers, except the "Sketch." with a standard round brush, trace the question mark. Using the same method described in Steps 16-21, add some weight to the question mark. Fill it with a lighter color (#F5FBFE) to make it stand out. On the same layer, start drawing a highlight to give it more depth.
Lastly, we'll make the two lighter stripes in the back. Create a new layer "Stripes" and place in on top of the "Background" layer. With the Pencil Tool (N) and #B0E0E5 create a rectangular shape with a curved top. Duplicate it, flip it vertically, and position it next to the other.
Good job! We're finally done. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and I'm looking forward to seeing your creations!