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Draw a Woodcut-Inspired Typographic Illustration in Photoshop

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This post is part of a series called Mastering Text Effects.
Add Fantastic Color to 3D Text - Part II
How to Create a Richly Ornate Typographic Illustration

A popular method of drawing screen-printable illustrations is one inspired by woodcut illustration. While this method is usually made of black-only printing, we're going to create a four-color line-art typographic treatment.

Whether or not you're a seasoned illustrator, this tutorial will teach you a systematic method of drawing rich and convincing line-art graphics from scratch. Let's get started!


Step 1

The first thing to do is calibrate your document and brush settings. I'm working on a very large A2 poster format, but scaling down to an A3 works well too. At one point, we're going to vectorize the whole thing through Illustrator's line trace feature, so anything above A3 poster format will work. However if you don't have Illustrator and decide to create the whole thing in Photoshop, think about the final size before you begin. Since we're drawing everything from scratch and won't need high resolution images, the sky's the limit. Or, CPU power rather. Then create a brush, using the settings found below.

Also, let me state the obvious by telling you that you're going to need a tablet. This is simple tablet work though; a most basic tablet with simple pen pressure options will suffice.



Step 2

We're going to sketch out the letters from the word matter firstly. The shape, weight and rotation is something you'll likely change in time, so make sure to create each letter on a separate layer.



Step 3

Since the word will be later textured with leaves, it's good to keep the shape simple. Fluid, but simple where possible. I created the 'a' as an ellipse, then linked it to the rest of the word.



Step 4

While keeping track of the curvature of the word, sketch out the rest.



Step 5

Create the top 'a' as the bracket of the first letter 't'.



Step 6

Then link the third word to the end. You may find yourself changing these letters as to resemble the crown of a tree.



Step 7

Now on to the trickier, and laborious part. Drawing the leaves is not very complicated, but very time consuming. I've broken it down systematically to make it easier to go through. I recommend doing it this way, as it will help create a uniform final result. The last thing you want is to create multiple patterns across the foliage.

Start by lining out the leaves on a separate layer with white and a 25 px brush (if working on an A2 format).



Step 8

From now on, every action you take should be on a separate layer. My final file has about 300 layers, which is actually not that many for this type of work. Better safe than sorry.

Keep the brush size, make a different layer and contour the whole section with a black outline.



Step 9

We're now going to fill the leaves with color. Rather than doing this plainly, we're going to add a little dynamic lighting. To see how to imagine the casting of light and shadows, see the following step. Firstly though, let me explain how to execute a smooth gradient over the leaves.


Creating a smooth transition from dark to light is a matter of using these three types of leaves. While you try to keep a smooth transition overall, throw in a few random instances in there to make it more realistic.


To create the dark leaf, use these three steps. First, draw the leaf icon, then round the top off, and draw the medium line on the bottom. Thirdly, change the foreground color to white and draw to strokes over the specified area (fig. 2). Your final result should be like fig. 3.



Step 10

Use this technique to dynamically fill in the first letter. Imagine your light source as in the top right corner, and create the three types of leaves as in the image below.




Step 11

Repeat this technique of drawing the leaf lines, outlines and fills over the next few letters.



Step 12

Carry out the technique over the remaining letters.



Step 13

Since the right side is more exposed to the source of light, I tried to keep it generally lighter.



Step 14

Your final result should look something similar to this image.



Step 15

The next step is to draw the rest of the tree. Start with the branches. Try to avoid making them flat by making some go over, through and behind the text. I've highlighted some with cyan for easier spotting.





Step 16

We can now get onto the rest of the words. Start to trace the word 'life'.



Step 17

Try and keep the letters simple, but remember you can always edit them by keeping everything on a separate layer.



Step 18

Finish off this word by expanding the 'e' into the end of the tree.



Step 19

If lowered enough, the ampersand can be read in between the words 'life' and 'death'. Draw it similarly.



Step 20

Transition the bottom of the ampersand into a letter 'd'.



Step 21

Start to trace the mid section of the word 'death' while keeping track of the curvature once again.



Step 22

Finish off the word by drawing the final letters.



Step 23

It's time to get started on the bark texture. This is a tricky thing, and zooming in and out while drawing is highly recommended. Don't let yourself get carried away by drawing lines uselessly. It's easy to get carried away and lose visual consistency over all the letters.

The easiest way to begin is to map out your highlights with a 50 px line.



Step 24

To start the bark texture, create a few scatter black lines across the weight highlight. Keep track of the orientation of the letter at all times (follow the direction of the loops) but add a little variety.




Step 25

After the previous step, you'll have sharp white edges all over. While using white as foreground color, draw over those sharp edges to create a wavy line pattern.



Step 26

From now on, you'll keep alternating between black and white to smooth out any sharp edges, while drawing wavy lines. Press 'd' to reset colors to black and white and 'x' to alternate between the two.



Step 27

Replicate the last few steps over all the white highlighted portions. Remember not to stretch this pattern too far inside the letter.



Step 28

As you get further into the word, draw the highlights first with a 50 px brush, then get on with the details with a 25 px brush.



Step 29

Remember to keep track of the light source at all times, and draw the dot on the 'i'. This will later become an apple.



Step 30

Then for each step, just write some text describing the step and provide an image which is less than 600px wide.



Step 31

The white outlines you draw also create depth. For instance, you can decide which part of a letters comes on top, or behind a letter.



Step 32

Finish off this part with the final letters. Add broken branches on the ends and as a bracket for the 't'.



Step 33

By now, your image should look like something like this.



Step 34

Apply this technique to the tree. Since the tree has the actual form of the tree, the texture looks more real.



Step 35

Next, we need to add more detail to the texture. We do that by not only adding more thin, short lines (circled), but also by shrinking the brush size to 10-15 px). Sharpen most of the ends of the existing black and white lines.



Step 36

Create new, sharper lines, but also modify the existing ones whose ends are too round.



Step 37

Repeat this process on the rest of the letters and tree.



Step 38

Your final result should look something like this.



Step 39

This next part is optional, but recommended. A fast way to clean up the illustration is to Live Trace it in Illustrator. Copy a merger version of your file (Command + Option + C) and paste it a new Illustrator file. The document settings really don't matter.



Step 40

Go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options. Use the following settings, or accommodate them to your own illustration.



Step 41

Once the image has finished Live Tracing, Expand it (Object > Expand).



Step 42

Grab the Direct Selection Tool (A - white arrow) and deselect everything. Click on a white portion, then select the rest of the white shapes in the illustration (Select > Same > Fill Color).



Step 43

Delete everything white, grab the arrow tool (V) and click on the remaining object. Copy it.



Step 44

Paste the image into a new A2 poster (or whatever format you want). I recommend keeping it a smart object.



Step 45

Since the object has only black outlines, coloring it is as simple as drawing underneath. For each letter, create a new blank layer underneath the outline smart object layer.

Drawing the foliage is simple in theory, but demands a random, yet uniform pattern. Grab a brush and start the Green leaves with this color: #2bb778.



Step 46

Repeat this pattern over the entire foliage lettering, and the apple.



Step 49

The next two colors of the foliage are bright (#ffd600) and mustard (#b58e55) yellow. Be sure to leave white leaves as well.

Use the same mustard shade of yellow as mid tones for the branches. I've placed them above the outlines in the first image just to show their location.




Step 50

Lastly, change the outline color by double-clicking on the layer. Add a Color Overlay effect and choose this color: #483135.



Final Image

That's it! By following this tutorial, you should be done in about 7 hours, or less if you’re more experienced. If you've never done this before, this can take tens of hours. If you're passionate about getting into line-art, I certainly hope this tutorial makes a good starting point, or at least convinces you that it's an attainable skill. Despite my own insecurities, trials and tribulations, I can assure you it is. Now go make something awesome.


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