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Create a Steam Punk Inspired Portrait in Illustrator CS6

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Read Time: 13 min
This post is part of a series called Mastering Vector Portraits.
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In today's tutorial I'm going to show you how I've created this Steam Punk inspired portrait of a friend using Illustrator CS6. I'm going to show you the whole process from sketching with the Blob Brush Tool, to drawing the many shapes and then the coloring. You're learn how to follow a professional vector illustration workflow to create this stylized, aged work. So let's jump straight in and have some scalable fun!

Step 1

My steam punk portrait is going to be based on a photograph of a friend of mine. I've simply made it grayscale in Photoshop and then File > Placed it in a New document in Adobe Illustrator, then set up the layers as shown below.

Within the "BG" layer folder is a white fill Rectangle (M) with a 50% Opacity. It's worth noting that I've View > Hide Artboards. When it comes to the sketching, I don't want to feel restricted by any predetermined boundaries.

Step 2

I'm going to use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B) to sketch out my illustration before I draw over it with the Pen Tool (P). However, first I'm going to Double-click on the Blob Brush Tool in the Toolbar to access the tool's options. I'm going to reduce the size to 3pt, set it to be influenced by Pressure from my graphics tablet, and then set the variation to 3pt. Finally, click on Ok.

Now I just sketch different ideas over the portrait. I know I wanted to include dreadlocks and goggles, but I wasn't sure of the rest.

Step 3

So I've organized my layers to have the sketch underneath the white fill Rectangle (M). I locked all my shapes and my sketch concept, which I decided to use for the illustration. Time to get started on the line art.

Step 4

For the line art, unless otherwise stated, I'm going to be using the Pen Tool (P) with an off black shade stroke. The color is irrelevant right now, as it will change at a later stage. I'm starting with some very basic shapes for the face, the headscarf, the neck, the necktie and the sweater. Use Smart Guides (Command + U) to ensure your lines intersect and are flush to each other.

Step 5

I'm going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw the dreadlocks. I'll be using a basic uniform line with Round Caps and a 20pt Stroke Weight. First fill out the back of the hairdo, making sure you get enough dreadlocks in along the top of the head scarf, then add a couple dreadlocks on either side, which will be draped over the shoulders.

After you've drawn your dreadlocks, select all of the strokes and then go to Object > Expand Appearance, and then Object > Expand. Change the fill to white and the stroke to off black to match the rest of your illustration.

Step 6

I'm going to construct the goggles out of duplicated Ellipses (L) with an off black stroke and white fill. After creating the first section of the goggle, I then Grouped it (Command + G). Then I duplicated it and nudged it upwards with my arrow keys. I used Align > Horizontal Align Center to keep it center aligned.

I then put circles created with the Ellipse Tool (L) at every 45 degrees. This is just extra decoration to the goggles.

Step 7

I'm going to place a cross over one of the goggles. So using the Line Segment Tool (\), I drew a cross with 10pt Stroke Weight lines. I then Object > Expanded them and used Pathfinder > Unite to create a cross.

Duplicate one of the circles of the goggle and then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to rescale it to be a tad smaller than the top of the goggle. Then use Pathfinder > Intersect to produce the standalone cross. Give it an off black stroke and a white fill. Once done, Group all the elements for the goggle (Command + G).

Step 8

Use the Free Transform Tool (E) to position the goggle on the head scarf and angle it slightly. Duplicate it and use Object > Transform > Reflect vertically and then hide the cross. Position the duplicated goggle so we now have two on the head scarf.

I'm going to create a strap by drawing a 40pt Stroke Weight line along the head scarf from ear to ear, then apply Profile "Width Profile 1" to give it tapered ends.

Use Object > Expand Appearance and Object > Expand give it a white fill and an off black stroke. You'll notice there may be many unnecessary points to the strap, so use Object > Path > Simplify to reduce the amount of points.

Step 9

I've added the end of the strap to the side of one of the goggles. I used a 40pt Stroke Weight line with Profile "Width Profile 3" to give it a pointed end. After Expanding, I've added a line along the edge of the strap end and the strap along the head scarf to give a bit extra detailing.

I then used the Ellipse Tool (L) to add buckle holes along the strap end, as shown below:

Step 10

Now that I've got the basic shapes drawn, I'll need to add lines to help define creases in the neck scarf. I've added a dashed line along the edge of the scarf with a 5pt dash and 2pt gap.

Eye socket shapes and shapes for the ears. The ears will need a white fill.

Step 11

For the iris and pupils, I've drawn an even circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) and then duplicated it and reduced the size using the Free Transform Tool (E). I then duplicated both circles and moved it over to the other eye, so now we have two circles each for both eyes.

Then I used the Pen Tool (P) to add extra points where the circles intersect with the eye shapes (Smart Guides prove to be very useful here!). I then used the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select points which are unnecessary and deleted them.

Step 12

From time to time, I share works in progress on my Facebook page. When I initially showed the basic line art for this portrait, people requested I make this portrait into a Gasmask Angel. A Gasmask Angel is an ongoing set of characters/theme I've been creating from time to time to try to push myself creatively. Although I'm not going to create one of these characters, I thought I'd take the suggestion and add a gasmask... and they are very easy to create, especially when you already have one of the elements!

First, I'm going to add the mask around the mouth region. I'm going to first draw half of the mask and then duplicate it and Object > Transform > Reflect vertically. After lining them up, I'll use Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape.

I then duplicated the goggle, enlarged it slightly, rotated it and added detailing on the mask and the nozzle. I've added shapes on either side of the face for the straps of the mask. This will help frame the face.

Step 13

I've added shapes either side of the face for the hair and placed them above the face shape but below the head scarf shape. For the eyebrows, I created one shape and then duplicated and reflected it.

Step 14

Now to tidy up the line art before coloring. First, I'm going to use Profiles to taper the ends of the lines for the eyes, nozzle and scarf.

Step 15

I'm going to tidy up the dreadlocks which are overlaying onto the characters sweater.

Duplicate all of the shapes used for the character, apart from the dreadlocks, and use Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape. Then remove the lower portion of the shape using a Rectangle (M) and Pathfinder > Minus Front.

Duplicate this shape several times and use the copies to Pathfinder > Minus Front from the four dreadlocks. These shapes can now go on top of all your other shapes.

Step 16

I'll be the first to admit it, color is not often my strong skill and sometimes you need some assistance in that area. One of my favorite ways of gaining color inspiration is using Kuler by Adobe. So I logged into the site with my Adobe ID and searched on "steam punk". I found a great palette straight away, which you can download from the website once logged in.

Then in the Swatch panel, go into the drill down menu and "Open Swatch Library" and locate your new swatch. Clicking on the folder to the left will add all the colors to your Swatch panel.

Step 17

I'm going to start by Grouping all the line art (Command + G) and then duplicate it. I'm going to give it a sand stroke color (C=26, M=29, Y=72, K=1) and where applicable, a cream fill (C=5, M=6, Y=22, K=0). I'm going to apply the default "Pencil - Thin" art brush to the strokes and then set the entire group to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 60%. I then placed a cream filled Rectangle (M) behind the group.

I duplicated the line art again and then used the following colors from the steam punk inspired swatch. Below shows the combination I went for:

Step 18

I've added some additional colors to our brown steam punk inspired swatch. I've added an off-magenta shade (C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0) and a peacock green shade (C=80, M=10, Y=45, K=0) partly because I love this color combination and partly because just browns in this illustration makes it look a bit dull to me!

Step 19

I'm going to start the process of shading the different areas. Each type of region will need different shading. For an area which has irregular contours - such as skin, goggle straps, gas mask and cloth, you'll need to draw the shading by hand using the Pen Tool (P). As the face is more or less symmetrical, I've drawn one half. Then I duplicated, Object > Transform > Reflected vertically, and then used Pathfinder > Unite.

Step 20

I'm giving each of the shading shapes a dark brown fill (C=51, M=69, Y=86, K=68) and setting them to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 5%. Then I increased the shading by just overlapping the shapes as shown below.

I Grouped up the shading shapes (Command + G). I then duplicated the shape for the face and used this to create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7). This method has been used throughout the illustration.

Step 21

I've continued shading the illustration as shown below:

For the more regular surfaces - say smooth ones such as the goggles, I used a Stroke Aligned Inside method of varied Stroke Weights and Opacities as shown below:

A similar method is used for the dreadlocks. They are very time consuming to shade, as I've used Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove shapes from duplicated shapes of the dreadlocks. However, it is worth it as it gives an irregular texture to them.

Instead of using Stroke Weights to manipulate the area to shade, I used Effect > Path > Offset Path and offset by -1pt, -1.5pt and -2pt. I then Grouped all the elements (Command + G) and then put them into a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 22

The eyebrows and the hair are created in a similar way as each other. I drew a rough zig-zagged line with the Paintbrush Tool (B) using the Charcoal - Feather art brush. I then set it to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 20% and put it within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 23

I decided to alter the original line art color and set it to dark brown (C=51, M=69, Y=86, K=68). This will help prevent the line art from looking so washed out on the neck scarf area.

Step 24

I'm going to add more shading around the eyes. First, add some more on the eyelids to help darken them. I then used the sand shade set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 30% to add a highlight at the bottom of the iris. I then added a reflection using the palest shade (C=5, M=6, Y=23, K=0) set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 80%.

I Grouped these elements together and put them underneath all the other shading (Command + G).

Step 25

I'll be using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B) again, yet this time to add a subtle highlight to parts of the illustration, as well as add texturing. So first I'm going to modify the size from 3pt to 2pt.

Below you can see where I added the highlighting details. I used the palest shade and set them to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 20%.

Step 26

I used the dark brown to do the texturing on the dreadlocks. These are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 10%. They are just random squiggly strokes as you can see from the doodles to the right of the following screenshot:

I then drew further strokes around the face, straps and cloth areas to add shadow and texturing with the same settings.

Step 27

The colors are still looking a little bit bland for me, so I used the Direct Selection Tool (A) while the other elements are locked, to select areas and then change the fill.

Step 28

Duplicate a group of line art and then Object > Expand Appearance and Object > Expand. I then used Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape of the entire character.

I used this shape to then create an outline around the character using Align Stroke to Outside with the dark brow shade and a 2pt Stroke Weight. This is then set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 30%.

Step 29

I'm going to create a quick and simple background. First, I'm going to draw many pale filled Rectangles (M) in the background. However as you see this alters the coloring of our character. This is because none of the shapes used to produce the character are set to Blending Mode Normal with Opacity 100%.

To resolve this I could either use the shape created in Step 28 to be a base underneath the entire character and set this to Blending Mode Normal with Opacity 100%. Or I can use it to Pathfinder > Minus Front from a Rectangle (M) and create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7). I've opted for the latter purely based on it trimming the area beyond the portrait and well, I like Clipping Masks.

I then used the Direct Selection Tool (A) to alter the fill of a few of the background stripes.

Step 30

Finally, I used the Artboard Tool (Shift + O) to define the artboard area.


I altered the color of a couple of the elements, including the goggles but other than that this is my aged looking steam punk portrait.

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