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Create a Haunting, Dia De Los Muertos Illustration Using Adobe Illustrator

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This post is part of a series called Halloween and Day of the Dead Vector Design.
Quick Tip: Create a Bat Scatter Brush in Adobe Illustrator
How to Make a Quick Kawaii Candy Corn Pattern for Halloween

In this tutorial, we'll go through the step by step process of creating your very own "Lady of the Dead" just in time for November. Hopefully the process will fill your heads with fantastically spooky ideas with a touch of tradition. This happens to be one of my favorite festive occasions to illustrate, and I'm so happy that I get to share my latest with all of you. Happy Vectoring Everyone!


1. Set Up Your Document

Step 1

Our first step will be to bring in our drawing. I used my scanner at 300dpi to catch as much of the detail as possible.

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Step 2

We'll be working with a clean line quality from Photoshop and now we can begin to work. I'm working in Adobe Illustrator at a size of 8.5 x 11 inches to insure that my art partner won't have any complications with printing the finished pieces.

When I'm ready to start my layers, I'll label my first layer as "Sketch" and lock the layer to make sure that I won't accidentally move or delete the sketch.

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2. Create the Skin and Bones

Step 1

After making a new layer and titling it "Girl", we can start to lay in the larger areas of color on her body. I'll spend several minutes picking out the perfect combination, and sometimes this process will result in me making several of these circles with varying shades.

For another example of this type of project, you can refer back to one of my previous tutorials: Create A Rockabilly Zombie Girl with Illustrator CS5

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Step 2

In this step, we've taken our Pen Tool (P) and proceed to follow the shape of her body, holding down the Shift-Alt keys to execute our curves. I can go ahead and leave her left hand with closed fingers, since we'll be adding shading to our "now" mitten hand.

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Step 3

We can start to lay out her skeleton tattoos over her skin. To give it more dimension, I'm laying in a two toned color with a Opacity of 0% on the black side.

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Step 4

Now that the bones have been applied, we can put in our shading. The Gradient Tool (G) comes in handy to adjust your shading.

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Step 5

Some of the layers of shading we're using are a bit sharper than we need them to be. A quick fix for this will be using our Feather effect. It gives our illustration a softer feel, especially around areas such as rounded shoulders.

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Step 6

Some of our areas will not be as visible once we're finished, but I like to give them as much attention since they'll participially show as well. The Ellipse Tool (L) is one of my best friends, especially paired with a Radial Gradient. It's a great tool when creating make-up, and an extra plumpness and roundness to skin.

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Step 7

I'm still taking advantage of my Radial Gradient, but I'm also using it with my Pen Tool (P) to contour and highlight various areas on her skin.

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By the time we're done, we'll have a fairly toned body ready to play dress up.

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3. Create Dramatic Clothing

Step 1

As with the skin, we'll layout the largest area of color first. I love using Gradients as a way to give art more depth, not that I didn't have my frustrations when I first started out with the program. It's all about patience, hard headed patience.

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Step 2

With the dress ready to be decorated, we can add a skeleton to the back of her gown. It may look a little off right now, but once we add a few more details, it'll all come together.

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Step 3

Next, we'll make a series of circles. Once we have a fair number of them scattered around, we'll highlight them and go to Symbols > New Symbol.

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Step 4

By making our sparkles into a working Symbol, we've cut down on our potential file size. Having these as individual pieces would have made our file significantly bigger. For another example of how to make a glittery effect, try out the new Create a Sparkling, Glitter Portrait from Stock in Adobe Illustrator or How to Create a Vector Glitter Text Art Effect.

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Step 5

In order to put the sparkles on our corset, we'll Group enough of them together and make a duplicate of the corset shape. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7) to hide the excess sparkles.

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Step 6

Using a black color, we'll overlay our fur/bird feather trim onto our gown.

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Step 7

To give it a little more depth, we'll duplicate our fur/feather shape but include a Radial Gradient. Adjust it to show more black than blue.

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Step 8

The top layer with our gradient will look better with a soft Feather effect, which you'll find by going to Effect > Stylize > Feather. As you can see, it's a subtle effect with just a faint hint of our neon day glow blue.

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Step 9

We'll add small feathers over this, the black comes out nicely and it'll enhance the other details we'll be adding.

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Step 10

Next we'll add larger feathers. Since we plan to make an entire mass of them, it seems like a good idea to make duplicates by using the Symbol Sprayer Tool again.

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Step 11

We've added quite a few feathers at this point, and now we'll be able to enhance the corset by clearing it from her arm. If you'll remember from the sketch, we intended this to be a sleeveless corset.

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Step 12

How do you cut through a symbol? Well I've often asked myself this question, and found a nifty answer to cut down some of our headache. Group your corset and upper feathers together. Create a shape with your Pen Tool (P) and make a Clipping Mask (Control-7) to hide the excess material.

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Step 13

Next, we'll add a bird skull to the back of her gown. It'll bring out the macabre in her dress.

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Step 14

The original coloring seemed to bright for the piece, so I toned down the red by replacing it with an electric purple instead.

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Step 15

In this step, we've adjusted our gradient so that our brightest color, the electric purple is now our highlight color. We can begin to lay in the basic shapes. Once we have them to our satisfaction, we can use our Feather effect to soften the folds.

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Step 16

The bustle of our skirt follows a similar process we've used for the other sparkles on the gown. After making your Group of sparkles and a duplicate of your original shape, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7) to hide the excess sparkles.

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4. Add the Facial Features and Make-Up

Step 1

Moving on, we can lock our last layer and create a new one. I like to separate pieces such as the head, body, and hair since they seem to have the most layers. It makes it easier to edit, if the need ever arises.

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Step 2

Now that we're in our new "Head" layer, we can start to draw in the features. Eyes are one of my favorite features, so I usually start there.

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Step 3

Next, we'll add the make up. I've duplicated my head shape, and while using a Radial Gradient I'll start to apply the pancake makeup to her skin.

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Step 4

I'm still using a Radial Gradient to create my eyeshadow, but I'll use only two toned combinations around the face.

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Step 5

To make our spiderweb paint, we can take a stroke line and follow the lines of our drawing. Once we have our lines the way we want them, we can click on Object > Expand and untick the Fill box.

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Step 6

In our next step, we'll add a little color to our flower petal pattern surrounding the eyes. Another stroke is applied to make the eyes really pop.

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Step 7

The end result has a lot of personality. We'll add a few lines to the mouth area to give the feeling of skeletal teeth, and add a little jewelry to finish off the look.

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Step 8

Our character has now received her jewels, and as an added bonus, we'll duplicate her eye shape to give her a mysterious glow. A bewitching girl deserves drop dead gorgeous eyes.

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Step 9

While working on this project, I started to rethink certain parts and how I could change them to make them better. I love creating full, bee stung lips and with a simple edit using our Pen Tool can create the development we're looking for.

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5. Render the Vector Hair

Step 1

After finishing up the face, we can create a new layer called "Girl Hair". We'll be following the sketch loosely, but it serves its purpose as a guide.

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Step 2

Start with the larger blocks of color and work your smaller and more refined lines in to create her hair.

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Step 3

Once we have a full body of hair to work with, top it off with a little reflection, to give it more luster and body.

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6. Create the Flowers

Step 1

Next, we'll apply the flowers. I've been waiting to tackle these from the first stroke hours ago. I love the traditional marigold colors of this holiday. They really make the piece pop with life.

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Step 2

Once we have enough flowers, we can cluster them together and place them underneath our hair layer.

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7. Create the Ravens

Step 1

The next step is to lock the previous layers and create the "Living Raven" layer. By locking you layers, you lower the risk of changing anything you intended to keep the same.

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Step 2

The raven's body is made from a Radial Gradient with two colors. Adjust the Gradient to make the brightest color softer.

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Step 3

Add the shading and highlights to bring your raven out. It's a series of the same colors, only with adjusting gradients.

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Step 4

Once we're finished with the "Living Raven", we can work on our "Dead Raven" layer. Remember to lock your previous layer.

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Step 5

Using a very light sky blue, create your larger areas by following the sketch.

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Step 6

Working off of our guidelines, start to create your smoke around our character. Once we have our smoke, we can duplicate the layer and make a soft blur to create the illusion of misted smoke.

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Step 7

Next, we'll add the bird's features. We'll use a slightly darker tint of blue to establish the beak and feather shadows, but we'll use the same gradient as the bird's body for the highlights. Simply adjust the gradient to bring out the lightest color.

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Step 8

Using our Radial Gradient, we'll add a heart shape made with two gradient tones. We'll put the heart behind our "Dead Raven" since it's transparent and give a nice effect.

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Step 9

Once our raven is finished, we'll Group the shapes and duplicate them. Add a Blur effect to make our bird more ghostly, he'll appreciate it.

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8. Create a Skull

Step 1

We're now at the stage where we can add our skull. Make a new layer and start to layout your basic shapes.

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Step 2

Using the same colors from our bird skull, follow the lines of our sketch to complete the look. This is a very "stylized" skull, so don't be too worried about what contours and lines should realistically go where. It's all for the fun of sketching and rendering. Add more of the marigolds around the skull to complete the arrangement.

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Step 3

When you have a good amount of marigolds made, you can select the ones hanging over her arm and hand and duplicate them. Go to your Pathfinder window and Unite all of these pieces. Change the color to one of your skin shades and place this behind your colored marigolds.

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9. Render the Background

Step 1

In this series of shots, we've made a new layer titled "Background". Lay a solid color over the entire composition, something bright like an electric purple. We'll darken this up with another shape of black. We'll turn this new black shape into a Radial Gradient with black on either side, the central black should have it's Opacity to 0%.

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Step 2

The moon is made of a larger Ellipse (L) shape and a smaller one. Select both, and use Exclude located in your Pathfinder panel to cut out your perfectly shaped moon.

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Step 3

Next, we can add our character to the background. The water is made from a Linear Gradient set behind the black sky Radial Gradient. This causes the water to disappear into the background giving it a murky and mysterious aura.

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Step 4

Create simple shaped trees with varying colors to express depth. You can make several, duplicating and flipping them as you go to save yourself a little time.

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Step 5

Now that we have our trees ready, they may look a little lighter than we'd like. To fix this, we can add another Radial Gradient layer..

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Step 6

From here we can add our ripples to the water. Even with the darkest watery areas, there's still a sense of light and reflection to the area. Our alligators are simple silhouettes, so to bring out our lurking swimmers, another Ellipse circle an be added just underneath them.

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Step 7

Finish up your ripples with varying transparencies with lighter ripples splashing up against the animals and her dress, and darker ones flowing throughout the water.

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10. Add a Lantern

Step 1

During this step, we'll add our lanterns. The frame is pure black and we'll cut out our lantern windows using Trim within our Pathfinder panel. By doing this, we can reuse the black windows and edit the color to make our lantern's paper panes. Follow the line work on our skull pattern and duplicate it for the other side. Once your skull pattern is complete, you can Expand these Stroke lines to change them to Fills.

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Step 2

To add a reflection, duplicate the window shapes and go to Object > Transform > Shear. From here, we'll also add a Feather effect to soften the edges.

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Step 3

We're not quite done creating magic yet. We'll use another Radial Gradient to light up our lantern and breath life into it.

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Step 4

Using the same gradient as our light, add a little highlight to our gown. Top this off with a Feather effect. The original path is far too sharp to look as if it belongs to the picture.

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Step 5

Last but not least, we'll add fog like there's no tomorrow. This is a character of mystery and folklore, so the foggier the better. Select all of your fog paths and apply a Gaussian Blur to set off the look.

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She's Alive! Mwahahahaha!

Hopefully you've found our spooky little lady as much fun to vector as I have. I encourage you to look into more tutorials, especially this month's line up of brand new Halloween inspired tutorials. All of them are sure to scare up a good time for you.

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