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Creating a Stylized Vector Environment

Read Time: 9 mins

Upgrade your talent by following this high-level tutorial on creating a full environment. You will learn how to use color, shape and composition in unison to create a stylized illustration.


Above is the overall illustration we'll work to create. Make no mistake about it, this illustration has a substantial amount of raw skill that's required to complete it, but with the help of Adobe Illustrator, we'll be able to massage and revise the artwork in order to complete our vision.

This is an advanced tutorial and assumes a familiarity with the basic workings of the Pathfinder Palette. In this tutorial you'll learn how to set the stage for creating environments that have many objects that occupy one space, this is an important concept that transcends any full-blown illustration.

Lets get started!

Step 1

First, use the Pen Tool (P) and create the floor and walls. The angles at which the lines fall is arbitrary. As highlighted below, experiment with dragging the points around to see exactly what the basic look of the room will be. The less of an angle the center horizontal line has, the more the appearance of being closer to eye-level is achieved. I'm going for an aerial view so I made the angle very dramatic.

Tip: Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to quickly and easily select the points and drag them up or down. This will eliminate the need to re-draw the shapes.

Step 2

In this step I've indicated with guidelines how the angles all come together. You'll need to think in terms of three dimensional space when you are creating your objects. The arrows are simply a visual representation of how the space extends beyond the area in which we'll be drawing.

Step 3

Use the Pen Tool and draw a diamond shape that precisely matches the angles of the room.

Step 4

Duplicate the shape and move it directly below.

Step 5

Still using the Pen Tool, draw the sides of the box. It's ok that the box is not a perfect cube as doing so would not enable the angles of the box to be perfectly parallel with the room. So, just make sure the box matches the room even though it may not be a perfect cube.

Step 6

The cube will be the foundation of the majority of the elements in the room. Below, observe how no matter how large or small or where the box is placed, it always sits well within the room. The main reason for this is because the angles at which the boxes are drawn match the angles of the room.

Step 7

First we'll create the bed. Keep one copy of the cube off to the side of your illustration as you'll use that for the foundation of many of the objects. Use the Direct Selection Tool to drag the points to the right.

Step 8

The most important concept to keep in mind is that when you're extending the points they need to stay parallel to the walls and floor. Draw guides if you need to.

Step 9

Drag the highlighted points to the left.

Step 10

Once the basic position of the bed is in place you can now begin to distort the points slightly.

Step 11

To make the bedposts, paste another cube and distort it in much the same way as we did for the bed.

Step 12

The bedposts are tall so we make the cube skinny instead of wide.

Step 13

Again, once the basic shape of the bedposts is established you can then roughen the look by adjusting individual points.

Step 14

Using the Ellipse Tool (L) draw a circle for the top of the bedpost.

Step 15

This illustration is all about simple shapes. Use the Pen Tool to draw the pillow.

Step 16

For shapes that are slightly more organic, use the Pencil Tool (N.)

Tip: Double-click the Pencil Tool to bring up the options for it. Adjust the Smoothness to a higher level to create shapes that have fewer points.

Step 17

Use the Pencil Tool and draw over the basic shapes of the bed to create the bedspread.

Step 18

This is what your bed should look like. Observe that I'm using a handful of gray shades while I draw the objects. This allows me to focus on composition and shape rather than be distracted by picking the prefect colors just yet. The main concept to implement is to be consistent with how you apply the shading to each surface. I've made sure to use darker shades on the right.

Step 19

Continue adding other elements using the cube as the starting point.

Step 20

Fill up the space and start paying closer attention to composition as you add in new elements.

Step 21

The windows are a more complex shape but they're made exactly the same way as all the other elements are — with the cube as the starting point.

Step 22

The people in this illustration are not made using the cube. This element will require a more traditional touch to complete. You may choose to use a photo reference to create your people. In any event, the Pen Tool works well for objects that are curved.

Step 23

Draw in the rest of the body and be sure to keep the details to a minimum so that the person matches the style and complexity of the other objects drawn using the cube.

Step 24

Use various values when drawing the people too so you don't have to focus on selecting colors just yet.

Step 25

Drawing the mouse is easy, just use the Pen Tool to create the body.

Step 26

Certain elements can be made with almost no effort at all. The tail is simply a line draw with an Artistic Ink object applied. To access this panel go to Window > Brush Libraries > Artistic > Artistic_Ink.

Step 27

Draw the whiskers using the Artistic Inks too.

Step 28

As you may notice, this person was created using many more straight lines than the other person. This person is a little more blocky but that's ok. He matches the style of the illustration well this way.

Step 29

I've drawn the body of the cat using the Pencil Tool. After some experimentation you'll be able to determine (or at least have a preference) when it comes to drawing certain objects with the Pen or Pencil Tool.

Step 30

The cat's tail is easily created by drawing a line and giving it a thick stroke with a Round Cap.

Step 31

The Pencil Tool was used for the paws and legs.

Step 32

Once you have your main elements drawn this is the time to position them and create a balanced illustration. You don't have to have every element illustrated but I find it easier to determine what the illustration is missing earlier rather than later.

Step 33

Throughout the illustration I'm using very subtle gradients to suggest depth and shading. The left wall uses a linear gradient while the right wall and floor uses a tenuous radial gradient.

Step 34

Even though we'll add more dramatic shadows to the elements later, the gradients help indicate where the light source is coming from. In this illustration the light source is coming from the upper left and the middle of the room. So, I've made sure the right side of the persons shirt is a little darker than the left side.

Step 35

The books don't need any gradients at all.

Step 36

To easily select a darker shade of the same color use the Flyout menu and switch your palette to HSB. After that you'll be able to select a darker yellow.

Step 37

The armoire has darker shading on the left because it sits at the left edge of the composition. This is a subtle way to frame in the composition.

Step 38

To create the texture on the bedspread draw ovals using the Ellipse Tool.

Step 39

Set the oval to Multiply in the Transparency Palette so it blends well with the color behind it.

Step 40

Use the Pen Tool to draw the areas that wrap around the edge.

Step 41

If you have shapes that are overlapping use the Unite feature in the Pathfinder Palette.

Step 42

Use the Divide feature for shapes that extend beyond the edge of the bedspread.

Tip: I find it easier to make a copy off to the side of the items that need to be divided. I then place the resulting shape back on top of the illustration. This technique allows me to keep the original shapes in tact.

Step 43

Below, the oval is a new shape on top of the bedspread, it's not a shape cut into the original bedspread. If at some point I decide to remove that particular oval it would be simple to do and would not disrupt the original bedspread that was drawn. This is the advantage of using the Divide feature of the Pathfinder on a copy of the shapes and not the original.

Step 44

The bat was drawn using an oval and the Pen Tool.

Step 45

Use the Pencil Tool to draw wood texture on the bat.

Step 46

The shrubs are also drawn using the Pencil Tool. Stylistically I've decided to add a solid line that represents another set of shrubs with no fill.

Step 47

At this point in your illustration all the shapes should have a basic and subtle fill or gradient. I find it particularly helpful to use the Color Balance tool to tweak the colors. One of the most unifying elements of the illustration is how the colors work with one another. If some colors are much stronger than others it throws off the balance of the illustration. To remedy this I adjust the colors until I'm fully satisfied with them. To edit the colors first select the objects that need to be edited then go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance. In the first image below you'll notice that I experimented with the color of the walls and floor.

Step 48

Now, we'll start adding the more dramatic shadows. Use the Pencil Tool and draw a natural looking shape below the person.

Step 49

In the Transparency Palette set the shadow to Multiply and the Opacity to about 30%.

Step 50

Depending upon your preference, you may choose to simply use a gradient that fades to transparent—as shown on the shadow on the shirt. Whichever method you use to create shadows is up to you. Experiment with different techniques to see what you like most.

Step 51

Continue adding the other shadows to the rest of the person.

Step 52

Add shadows to the other smaller objects too.

Step 53

Remember to set your shadows to Multiply so they blend well when you have multiple overlapping shadows. This also creates some interesting effects!

Step 54

The pillow has some subtle shadows that you may not notice upon first glance.


Now, your illustration is complete! I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and I encourage you to create your own environment. Take your time and be patient with yourself and you're sure to create something like never before!

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