In this tutorial I'm going to show you how to create a unique background texture for my slam dunking cat, as well as some great tips along the way to improve your illustration work in Adobe Illustrator.
In order to complete this tutorial, you will need the following image:
1. Create Your Sketch
I first begin sketching my concept. I use the Pencil Tool (N) and use a fine Stroke Weight for this, about 0.001in.
Due to the thickness of the strokes, it shouldn't distract when it is used when adding colors and volume to your render, even when zoomed in.
For convenience, I put the drawing in it's own layer and it will be placed above all my new layers. When the picture is ready, you can delete the sketch.
Group together the line work (Control-G) and then change the Blending Mode to Multiply. This will make it easier to see on top of your rendering.
2. Use a Photograph to Create a Background Texture
Although I want the cat to be the focus of the viewers attention, I'd like to introduce a subtle crowd texture in the background. So after searching for an appropriate image, I've found this great image by Jmrosenfeld on Flickr. I will be Live Tracing this image to help with the texture.
After applying Live Trace, go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options. I've used the settings below to create a low fidelity trace of the photo.
Let's release the image from the Live Trace object by going to Object > Expand. Tick all options available and click on OK.
Using the Magic Wand Tool with the tolerance set to 3 to 10, select colors which are similar to each other. Then in the Pathfinder panel, select Unite. This will not only free some RAM on your computer but will also create a texture of minimalist light and shadow silhouettes, while still keeping a rough edge to your shapes.
Using the Magic Wand Tool again, select areas which contain unnecessary detailing and delete them.
I've then changed the colors for some of the shapes so we're left with minimal colors in the texture.
3. Render Your Illustration
I like to add gradients to my backgrounds and then use the Eraser Tool to remove any parts I don't want from the texture.
I want the center of the texture to be a lot more focused, with it fading out towards the top. This will help create a greater sense of depth. I'll be doing this with Radial Gradients.
To create a more dynamic background, I'm going to use sharp contrasts on the paw and tail in front of the image. In order to bring more focus to this, I'm going to delete any distracting details and use gradients to soften the texture.
I then use a light gradient with Blending Mode Screen to emphasis the back board to create further focus on the cat.
I copied the crowd texture from the layers below. Then I delete some unnecessary parts, put the crowd texture to the front and apply Blending Mode Hard Light. Now the crowd has got more volume and looks more lively.
You don't always have to draw everything from scratch. I'm using a basketball from a previous illustration I've done and added it to this illustration.
Decide where the light is coming from and how this will affect your character. From this begin adding light and shadowed areas to the illustration.
I defined the body parts that are not lit with a medium shadow color. One of the main painting principles is that the light areas should be warm, then the shadows should be expressed through cold colors. And vise versa; if the light is cold, then the colors used for the shadows should be warm.
When coloring, don't be afraid to go beyond the lines of the drawing, paint freely and with expression. Later you can just separate the layer with the cat from the background and the crowd texture and delete everything you don't need with the Eraser Tool.
To make the work with Eraser Tool easier and less time-consuming, just adjust the setting to make it more sensitive to the touch if you're using a graphics tablet.
Mistakes are more obvious from a distance. From time to time, zoom out from your illustration and observe the composition as a whole rather than loads of zoomed in parts.
I found by doing this, my illustration is too bright in contrast and lacking in other colors. So to correct this I go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance. I then adjusted the shades and color saturation.
Now I begin working on the details. To put the paw and the tail forward, I gave them more contrast through the use of gradients. This helps them stand out more. I've used a contrasting blue-green color on the tail and foot to help differ the color in comparison to the colors used in the body.
I'm going to create a brush to use when drawing the contours and when creating clean lines. So go to the Brushes panel and click on New Brush > New Calligraphic Brush. Use the settings below and click on OK.
Continue adding colors to your composition. Be careful when using shades of blue as this will pull a lot of attention due to it's contrast to the other colors in the illustration. When using this contrasting color, opt for gradient fills as these have a much softer edge to them.
When working with a vector which is as complex as this, you should always arrange your layers and keep them organized so you can hide the ones not required when focusing on another. This will help cut down on your file being so heavy to work with.
Focus the detailing on objects which are closer to the viewer, in terms of perspective. Any details in the background will be lost and only clutter the foreground.
Illustrator has a lot of great free brushes within it's libraries. I've used the ink splatter Art and Scatter brushes over the top of this composition to add a subtle grungy texture.
There we have our slam dunk cat! I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and picked up some great tips to improve your own work.