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Vectoring Short Hair in a Negative Space Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Back in 2005, I created a vexel of Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) which took advantage of negative space. Recently, I've been wanting to duplicate this style, however this time in vector.

In this tutorial, I'll use a stock image as a reference and create an illustration which uses the same concept, this time in Adobe Illustrator. While this is an advanced tutorial, I won't be going into too many details with regards to skin shading. You can have a look at this process more in depth via my Glitter Portrait Tutorial. I will however be going over skin areas which have shaven hair/facial hair as this can often be a hard area to render. So let's begin!


1. Plan the Composition

Step 1

It's always good to plan the final composition using basic shapes. The benefits with using vector for this is that you can play with different colors and positioning/ratios. Furthermore, if the shapes you create are clean, they will be good enough to use as your base shapes.

So I begin by drawing out the base shapes with the Pen Tool (P) and then organizing them in the Layers panel.

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Step 2

I change the basic shapes a white fill and black stroke. This helps to make sure you have the shapes arranged in the right order. Later on, you can create a new layer for each of the shapes and rename them according to the base shape contained within. This makes it easier to organize your shading. With any "complex" vector illustration, organization of your layers is always an important task.

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Step 3

I don't want to stick with the original colors of the stock image, I prefer pink over purple any day (this is why I have pink hair!), so I'm going for a pink/black combination for the composition.

As we're playing with negative space, you have a more concentrated view of what your focal points are. As the majority of this composition will be negative space, you need to consider what your audience will be looking at. Faces are always picked up upon first and from then, the tie creates a path for the eyes to travel from. While the suit and background may not have as much detailing, make sure that the key focal points are as polished as possible to ensure they create a comfortable viewing for your audience. These will be your first impressions... if they aren't rendered well, then chances are your audience will judge your composition based on these and not wish to go further.

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2. Render the Skin

Step 1

I'm not going into too much depth to do with the skin shading, however I will give you some great tips on rendering skin when there is shaven hair or facial hair.

The process is the same as the process for my previous portrait tutorial, however you need to consider whether you can see the skin under the hair or not. With shaven hair and most facial hair, you'd see the skin underneath, so you'd need your skin shading to reflect this. You can see the shine on the top of the head in the stock image, so your skin shading shapes need to accommodate this.

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 2

However the length of the facial hair is so dense around the edges of the face, you'd not be able to see the skin underneath. Consider treating the facial hair as part of the skin in terms of shadows, not highlights. These areas will require more shadow than the rest of the face.

At the same time, the lines around the facial hair regions don't need to be as smooth, so you could free hand these with the Pencil Tool (N) if you prefer.

Negative Space Tutorial

This will leave you with the darkened edges as shown below.

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 3

With the darker skin colors, you can add more textured shapes to create a base for the facial hair.

Negative Space Tutorial

This will create the perfect, uneven base for drawing facial hair later on.

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 4

Build up the shading and highlights as you would with any portrait. For the shaven head, consider drawing a couple of shapes for the area of the hair to help give you a base to draw from. Use jagged lines to create texture and this will create a more natural look to your render.

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3. Add Deep Shadows

Step 1

There are many areas which will require deep shadows. Shadows cast for the sunglasses and nose for instance. Use the same process for creating the shadows for these areas, as well as the same colors and Blending Modes to ensure the shadow is consistent. You don't want the shadows to look different from each other, otherwise it make distract the viewers focal point.

When adding shading, never use a black as this will desaturate the colors underneath and may look unnatural. I've opted for a dark brown for this set to Blending Mode Multiply.

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Step 2

I've used the exact same colors and settings to create the shadows for the face. I've created a Blend (Control + Alt + B) with two duplicates of the skin base, with one of the duplicates enlarged. I've then set it to 20 Specified Steps to give a smooth blend.

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 3

I've then duplicated all the bases and used Pathfinder > Unite to create one large shape. Then placed the shadow blend within to create a Clipping Mask (Control + 8).

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 4

I've used a similar Blend for the shadow for the collar on the tie.

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4. Create Textured Shading For the Shirt and Tie

Step 1

I've used gradients to shade the majority of the shirt and tie. However with each element, I've added a default Illustrator texture. For the shirt I've used the "Burlap" texture set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 5%.

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Step 2

As previous, I've used a duplicate of the tie to create a Blend to create the shadow of the tie. Keep in mind the direction of the light source to make sure the shadow is on the correct side of the tie.

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Step 3

Further shadows are added to the collar as a shadow would be cast on the tie itself from the collar.

Negative Space Tutorial

Step 4

The tie uses several gradients and the "Messotint Irregular" default pattern. I'm going to duplicate this look in the background to bring balance to the composition. However for now I go to Object > Transform > Scale and reduce the scale of the pattern to 30% so it is much more subtle.

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Step 5

Using the Pencil Tool (N) I draw shapes to create the shading of the tie. Towards the bottom of the tie, it is tucked into the suit. This creates an interesting fold distortion to the material which I've replicated in my shading. For the shading, I've used the same dark brown color as the shading from the shin and collar.

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Step 6

I've then contained all the shading within a Clipping Mask.

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Step 7

I want to add a more embossed pattern to the tie with the same Mezzotint texture. In order to achieve this, I'm going to edit the original pattern and recolor the strokes within to a yellow-orange. I've then increased the Stroke Weight to 2pt.

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Step 8

Then when I've filled the shape with the original pattern and the modified pattern, I've moved the pattern -1px Vertically. This offset will create the emboss effect.

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Step 9

I then add more refined shading to the knot of the tie as well as a highlight to the side. The white shirt will bounce some of the light onto the curved knot of the tie and this should be reflected in the shading.

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Step 10

I finish off the shading by using a Blend as previous to match the shadows cast else where.

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5. Add the Short Hair and Facial Hair

Step 1

Before I start rendering the hair, I'm going to finish off rendering the face. This includes adding a pink hue to the lips and deepening the shadow for the nose. I've also built up more shading below and in the corners of the mouth. Remember, although men aren't the usual lipstick wearers, it doesn't mean their lips aren't pink.

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Step 2

Using the Pencil Tool (N), I begin building up the darkest shading areas. Mainly focusing on the hair and facial hair areas. Remember to create those textured lines for the hair line and facial hair regions.

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Step 3

I'm going to use my Width Profile Brush (Width Profile 1) to create the hair. I'll be using the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw the strokes with a low Opacity of 30% and Blending Mode Multiply. If you're using a graphics tablet, you'll find this process a lot quicker and more organic. Use your reference image as a guide to the direction of the hair and then draw in the hair accordingly. Don't be afraid to overlap hairs, this will add to the density and shading of those specific areas.

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Step 4

Remember to draw around the general shape of the head and hair line. From there, build upon the hair with the same length of strokes traveling inwards. Make sure you cover the whole edge of the skin base with the strokes of hair.

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Step 5

As we're looking on top of the head, you'll theoretically be looking directly upon the strands of hair. If the head is shaven, the hair will appear to be much thinner... this is why you're able to see the shine in the scalp. So first focus on drawing the "longer" lengths around the scalp first.

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Step 6

In the center of the scalp, draw short dashes, almost dot-like strokes as if you're looking down upon the head.

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Step 7

Then in sections, draw strands which are gradually longer to give the impression of depth.

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Step 8

Continue this process until you've covered the scalp with hair.

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Step 9

I have then doubled the Stroke Weight and built up strokes around the base, the denser facial hair areas and eyebrows to give a better impression of depth.

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Step 10

As you would with long hair, you need to show that hair can cast shadow (we've done this by including in our textured skin shading) but also it can be highlighted and have shine. Although with shorter hair, it's not as obvious. I've drawn over some of the areas of hair which isn't in shadow with the same color but this time set to Blending Mode Color Dodge.

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6. Create the Sunglasses

Step 1

In an article I wrote last month on the Seven Vector Sins, I discussed how sloppy curves can bring down the quality of an image. This is very true of minimalist vector art, but it can also be applied to more detailed vector art. When you're rendering a surface which is rigid and should have smooth edges, you should be creating them with basic shapes to ensure the curves aren't sloppy.

Here is an example of where this rule would apply, the sunglasses. Although perspective will mean both lenses are not duplicate shapes, they are still rigid shapes which will require smooth curves. So I'm starting off by drawing a Rounded Rectangle for each lens.

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Step 2

Then with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and Convert selected anchor points to smooth, I've modified the shapes to follow the curves of the sunglasses. I've minimalism any additional, unnecessary points which would create awkward corners. Each corner has two points, one at the beginning and one at the end of the corner.

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Step 3

Duplicate the shapes for the sunglasses and with the Free Transform Tool (E) modify the size and ratio accordingly to fit the lens. I've used Pathfinder > Unite to combine the shapes for the bridge and sides of the glasses which I've drawn with the Pen Tool (P).

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Step 4

With the lenses, I've filled them with a similar gradient which is used in the background and then used a white to transparent linear gradient along the bottom. I've decided not to add shading into the frame of the sunglasses as I want it to be part of the negative space style of the portrait. As it's such a small detail, it shouldn't distract from the detailing held else where.

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Step 5

Using duplicates of the lenses and frame, I've removed points to be left with lines for the top and bottom of the lenses. I've added a highlight and applied my Width Profile 1 brush. It's a subtle detailing but helps define the lenses.

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Step 6

I've balanced out the shading on the face by adding deeper shadows to match the shading through out the illustration. I've focused on adding more depth to the shadows that the sunglasses have cast.

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7. Finishing Touches

Step 1

I'm going to finish off the composition with some simple additions. The first is adding a shadow which has been cast from the model onto the background. Duplicate all your base layers and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine them into one shape. Fill with the dark brown used for the shadows throughout and then use a blend Art Brush around the edge to create a blurred edge.

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Step 2

I've filled the background with the magenta to black radial gradient and then added the Mezzotint patterns to create an embossed effect similar to the tie. This helps balance out the effect we want to create and connects these two entities perfectly.

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Step 3

As the shirt needs a little more detailing, I've added a dashed line around the collar. You can do this via the Stroke panel in the Dashed Line section.

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Looking Smart!

I hope you've enjoyed this advanced tutorial and that it can help you plan your own negative space illustration. Mixing simple elements with more detailed areas can help give balance to a portrait and make it stand out.

Negative Space Tutorial