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Creating a Caricature from a Photo Reference

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This tutorial covers how to make a caricature image using a mix of photography and vector illustration. You will learn how to use a photo as reference, how to sketch a comic version of what you see, and how to successfully create a vector portrait with a clever twist.

Before we start I would like say that in this tutorial we're going to use basic tools, nothing fancy or complicated. We will use the pen tool, rectangle, ellipse etc. I would also like to thank my model (and fellow artist) Rosina Fresina, who posed for my photo for free.

Step 1

I always plan my illustrations form the beginning. Since I like to combine cartoons with a realistic atmosphere, I had to take 2 pictures. One with my model Rosina and the other with just the background.

Step 2

Take a good look at the picture and take note of the features that make your model unique.
In this case I think it's the cheeks, hips, hair and the position of the mouth.
Note how the mouth has a certain position, this will be one of the main features of the portrait.

Step 3

In character design, this blue line is called, "The line of Action".
The line of action will help you determine the characters posture. Change the line to be more dynamic and fun by exaggerating it just a bit so the posture is "cartoony".

Step 4

Now that we have the features and a line of action detected we can start drafting the posture and some extra details. Using these points we can create a general silhouette of the body.

Step 5

With our silhouette complete, it's time to start the details.
Start defining the facial expression and the body parts.

Step 6

Now we need to refine our final sketch and add the final details. Render the final features such as, arms, hair and clothing.

Step 7

First of all we need to create a new layer before we start the digital process, so create a new layer and name it "draft" or "sketch" (or whatever you prefer). Place it under your main layer, which I'm going to call "character".
Lock your draft layer so it doesn't get in the way.
Using the Pen Tool (P), you can start creating some vector shapes based on the sketch.

Step 8

Define the rough vectors.
With our shapes digitalized and separated we need to arrange them and define the darkest colors.
Once that is done we will add some extra details, in my case I'll emulate some eyelashes by adding a 3pt stroke to the eye area.
After adding the details, you can delete the sketch, it's not needed anymore.

Step 9

Take a good look at your source source picture to identify the color tones.
I'm using Windows> Swatch Library> Earth Tones, since I think these colors go well with my character. In most of my illustrations I add a strong stroke around the outside, I think it gives the character a powerful composition.
Next I will show you the step by step process of making the stoke.

Step 10

The first thing you need to do is to create an extra layer and call it "stroke", put this new layer under the other layers.

Step 11

Select the entire image, copy it and paste it exactly in front of the original one (Control C, Control F).

Step 12

With the copy still selected go to Windows> Pathfinder and click "Add to Shape Area" then click "Expand".This action will convert the copy into one object.

Step 13

Copy the new object and paste it in place on the "stroke" layer (Control C, Control F).
Lock the "character" layer so it doesn't get in the way later.

Step 14

With your "character" layer locked you can now select the object on the "stroke" layer.
Increase the line weight on the object until it looks balanced. Now that we're finish with the stroke process we can go back to the main "character" layer. Before that be sure to lock the "stroke" layer so it doesn't get in the way later. We won't need this layer anymore, so you can leave it locked.

Step 15

To add shades on our character we will need to follow the basic rules of shading.
Detect the light source on the picture reference, you can then can start drawing some shapes with the Pen Tool (P) to emulate the shaded areas.

Step 16

Next thing to do is to darken the shapes that represent shades. I've used a darker shade of the skin color and reduced the opacity to 30%.

Step 17

With the character finished we can add the final touches to the background.
Like I said before, I have photographic images in the background because I like to mix these two visual elements (cartoon/realistic).
To use a photographic background, you first have to make another layer. Name this layer "background" and place it at the bottom of the other layers. In this new layer, place your photo (File> Place).


That's it, that's how I make my cartoons.
I think most of the work is in the sketch so, never stop sketching!

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