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Create a 100% Vector, Painterly Illustration

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In this tutorial we will use Adobe Illustrator to create a dynamic painterly textured illustration. This technique can be done using a mouse; however, a tablet will give you an extra level of control. We'll cover the complete vector painting process from sketch to final illustration.

Step 1

Create an initial sketch for the artwork, I drew this in pencil and scanned it. This is a really important stage to get the balance and poses correct before the time consuming rendering stage.

Step 2

Make a new Illustrator document, with an artboard size for this illustration at 500 x 530mm. Copy (Command + C, Command + V) or Place (File > Place) the sketch into the document. In the Appearance panel, set the Opacity of the sketch to around 50%. Make a new layer for each character with identifying names, place them below the sketch layer and begin filling in the line work.

Use the Brush Tool (Command + B) to brush in the line work. I use a Wacom tablet, so I can make width varied lines that depend on pen pressure. This is not necessary, if you are using a mouse just set up a few brushes, thicker for outlines and thinner for details.

In the Brush Panel click the drop-down menu and select New Brush, choose Calligraphic Brush, set the shape and size of the Brush tip and variation if you are using a tablet. I used three brushes: 15pt, 7pt and 3pt.

You can also use the Warp Tool (Shift + R) to push around the lines if they don't look quite right.

Step 3

Now to set up the base color fill. Select a figure and then copy it. Make a new layer called Fill and then Paste in Back (Command + B). With the lines selected, use the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) to roughly fill areas with a base color. Once complete you will have to Expand the Live Paint group and then ungroup (Command + Shift G) the shapes so they can be individually edited. Make a new fill layer and repeat the process for the other character.

Step 4

Now to create some background lighting, make a Background layer, and fill the Artboard with a rectangle, using the Gradient tool (G) to fill the shape with a Radial gradient running from the light color to black.

Copy the rectangle (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). Now modify the gradient fill: change the light to a new color, hold Option and drag the swatch to duplicate, pull the black swatch away from the gradient line to delete it.

Move the duplicate color to the other side of the gradient and set the swatch Opacity to 0%, click and drag the Gradient Tool in the rectangle to place the new gradient.

Step 5

The grounded character has a glowing ball of power. To create it we'll first add a lighting reference for this on a new layer. Use the Ellipse Tool (L), then in the Appearance Panel add a Feather Effect (Effects > Stylize > Feather) of around 25mm, change its blending mode to Screen and set its Opacity to 80%.

From the "Grounded Fill" and "Lines" layers select the back arm, cut (Command + X), make a new layer under the glowing ball. Name it something like "Arm-Behind" and Paste in Back (Command + B).

Step 6

Working on one character for now, select the armor shapes from the fill layer, then go to menu Select > Same > Fill Color and copy the shapes. Make a new layer "Midtone", select the layer and Paste in Front (Command + F). Now use the Pathfinder panel to Unify the shapes, set Fill to none.

Use the Direct Selection Tool to select the shapes, from the bottom of the Tool Panel and select Draw Inside. Use the Brush Tool with a lighter color to roughly draw in the areas where light hits the figure.

Step 7

Once you have roughed in the areas, add a Feather Effect to your brush in the appearance panel, and brush around the shapes to soften and add texture. This way some areas can be hard and others faded, use the mid color to extend and the dark color to cut into the shapes.

Use the same technique in Step 6 to select the mechanical areas of the figure from the Fill layer, paste to the Midtone layer and add the highlight color, keep the mechanical midtones hard edged.

Step 8

Make a new layer under the Midtone layer called "Dark", using the same technique as above to create masking areas and brush in shading. The midtones should be ringed with shadow Because the robot's skin is metallic. Use a brush with a Feather Effect applied when brushing dark areas into the mechanical parts.

Step 9

Select the Fill layer, use the Gradient Tool to apply gradients to the base shapes using the shaded areas and light sources as reference. Use both Linear and Radial Gradients depending on the shape of the body part.

Step 10

Make a new layer named "Bright". Select the Fill layer and follow the technique from Step 6 to copy the masking areas to the "Bright" layer. Use an almost white color with a 15pt brush set on 20% Opacity for the bright textural areas, then a 3pt brush at 75% Opacity for the highlights. Use the same technique for the mechanical areas.

Step 11

Move to a blank area and create a pattern to use on the armor for this shape. I used the Blob Brush (Shift + B) and the Warp Tool (Shift + R). Once happy with the shape, I used the Pathfinder to Unite into a single shape, copied the shape once (hold Option + Shift and drag), then duplicate the transformation (Command + D).

Step 12

Once you're happy with the pattern its time to make it into a pattern brush. At first the pattern must run horizontally, so rotate 90 degrees if necessary.

With your pattern selected, go to the Brush Panel menu select New Brush. I have scaled my pattern down and am using Approximate Path option with 0% space. This will keep the pattern the same size and fit it to the brush path. Experiment with the settings to see what works best with the pattern you create.

Step 13

From the Fill layer select armor areas to apply the pattern to, make a new "Texture" layer under the Highlights layer, and paste the shapes in Front (Command + F). Use the Brush Tool with your new pattern brush selected and use the Draw Inside option in the tool bar. In the appearance panel set the brush mode to Overlay at 70%. Brush over areas that you want to apply the pattern to.

Step 14

Repeat these techniques to color the other robot. I have kept this one more simple, since he is the secondary character and has less lighting.

Step 15

Select all the shapes in the Fill layer, copy, and make a new layer above all the others called Overlay. Paste the shapes in front. Use the Pathfinder to combine the shapes and fill with a gradient based on the color of the lighting. In the Appearance Panel set the shape to Overly at 75% Opacity. Repeat the process for the flying robot and choose the appropriate coloring for the gradient.

Step 16

Make a new layer for the lighting effects and texture overlays named "Overlay".

To get some really varied texture I made some of my own custom Illustrator brushes by creating some black and white textures in Photoshop, opening them in Illustrator, and using Live Trace. Ungroup the resulting shape and select a texture shape. Now in the Brush Panel menu, select New Brush > Scatter Brush, experiment with the brush settings to get a fantastic variety of textural effects.

For more tips on this process check out this great tut by Iaroslav Lazunov: Create a Magical Vector Landscape Using Illustrator.

Step 17

Working in the "Overlay" layer build up the power orb using a combination of brushes from the Brush panel menu, Open Bush menu > Artistic > Chalk Charcoal Pencil and Ink Brush Submenus, try out both the Artistic and the Scatter brushes. In the Appearance Panel, set the Opacity to 70%, and set the Blending mode to Screen or Soft Light. Select the elements and Group (Command + G) once happy with the result.

Step 18

Now the front hand is obscured by the power orb, to fix this copy the hand elements from the "Fill" and "Outline" layers, paste in front (Command + F) on the "Overlay" layer, and use the Pathfinder panel to combine the shapes. Shift-select the Orb group and the hand.

In the Transparency Panel menu select Make Opacity Mask. If necessary, you can edit the mask object in isolation by Option-clicking the mask icon. To move back into the artboard select the blank swatch in the Transparency panel.

Step 19

Still working in the "Overlay" layer, make a circle for the reflected light flares. Now set the fill to a radial gradient using the same bright color for both ends of the gradient, start with color 100% Opacity, and end color at 0% Opacity. Copy and place the flare on any reflective points you like.

Sample colors from the flying character and use the Brush Tool set to a rough calligraphic tip. In the Appearance panel set the blending to Soft Light and the Opacity to 65%. Draw in lines to give the character a sense of being blasted backwards.

Step 20

Select the "Background" layer. Now use the same brushes to outline the characters and give a more textured action look to the picture. Set the brushes on Multiply at 30% Opacity in the Appearance panel.


There we have it, a painted textural image that is 100% vector. This technique is great for spot illustration, and being vector this means it remains editable for easy picking and changing of color. And it's infinitely scalable!

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