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Creating a Wild Hair, Pin-up Inspired Portrait

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Read Time: 12 mins
This post is part of a series called Mastering Vector Portraits.
Create a Beautiful Retro Futurism Portrait
Create a Psychedelic, Funky Line Art Portrait

I simply adore 1950s glamour and fashion, specifically the Bettie Paige, pin-up era. Today I'm going to create a pin-up inspired portrait with an over the top wild hair design. The hair will use an interesting twist to my usual process of hair design, which can help reduce your production time by a considerable amount, while adding an attractive element to your work!

Final Image Preview

You can find the source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin. A preview of the final image is below.

Step 1

I'm going to be using a stock image from Shutterstock. I was browsing the site for pin-up inspired photography to find the perfect look. I was excited when I came across this image. Sometimes I have a general idea of what I wish to achieve (in this case a pin-up inspired piece) and then the actual stock image can inspire further elements. In this case I imagined the below mock up I did in Photoshop.

Step 2

Now to start a New Document in Adobe Illustrator and set up my initial layers as shown below. In the "BG" layer, there is a white fill Rectangle (M) with an Opacity of 50%.

Once set up, I'm going to draw my initial base shape for the skin (C=0, M=15, Y=25, K=5) using the Pen Tool (P). Notice how the shape is drawn past the hairline because when I come to drawing the hair, you will see some of the scalp showing.

Step 3

I'm going to start with the skin shading in a similar method I do with previous tutorials. The first step is to duplicate the base shape and then remove from it using Pathfinder > Minus Front shapes that are the lighter areas of the skin. This is so you're left with only the shadow and darker areas. These shapes will have a fill color of C=0, M=25, Y=30, K=10, Blending Mode Multiply, and Opacity 5%.

Step 4

As the Opacity for darker areas increases, the smaller the shapes you create to represent the shading. Here are the additional shadow shapes around the skin with the same fill color, however with Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 10%.

Step 5

Continuing the same process, I've added some shapes with a slight pink hue (C=0, M=26, Y=20, K=4) set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 20% to add some additional tones to the skin.

These shapes have a bit more of a brown hue to them (C=6, M=33, Y=38, K=29) and are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 15%.

Step 6

Group up all the shapes created (Command + G) and then duplicate the original base shape. Use this to then create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 7

Now to add highlights to the skin using a transparent radial gradient with a light skin tone shade (C=0, M=9, Y=15, K=3). These shapes will be set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 30%.

Then using a darker transparent radial gradient (C=6, M=33, Y=38, K=29), add smooth shadows on the skin set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 60%. Group up all these shapes when done (Command + G) and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask group.

Step 8

As skin is not all one tone, I'm going to add rose hues around the elbows, shoulders and cheek bones with magenta (C=0, M=100, Y=0, K=0) transparent radial gradients. These will be set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 50%. Once done, Group them up (Command + G) and put them in the Clipping Mask group.

Step 9

I've drawn a shape around the lips area and created shadows and highlights using transparent radial gradients. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to place and shape the gradients as required.

Step 10

To increase the contrast in shading and add further definition to the lips and nose, I've added some brown shapes (C=40, M=70, Y=100, K=50). These will be set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 15%.

Step 11

Just as shadow was added, I've added some highlights with the highlighting transparent radial gradient used previously. This is set to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 50%.

Step 12

I've created the below Graphic Style in the Appearance panel with reds and white to produce a shiny gradient look for the nails. Then for each of the shapes of the nails, I've modified the orientation of the gradients using the Gradient Tool (G).

Step 13

Now to begin work on the eyes. Using the highlighting skin tone (C=0, M=9, Y=15, K=3), I've drawn shapes with the Pen Tool (P) for the entire eye and then just the eyeball. These are then set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 50%.

I think I'll add hues of pink around the waterline and corner of the eye with a rose skin tone (C=11, M=46, Y=37, K=9) set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 30%.

Step 14

For the eyes, I've duplicated the shape for the eyeball and used it to create a Clipping Mask for the eye, which was created with the Ellipse Tool (L).

Step 15

I've created the iris and pupil using a single shape thanks to the Appearance panel. By using Offset Path for the edge of the eyes and setting it to a minus figure, you can contract the circle within the overall eye shape. For instance, the pupil shapes were -2.5pt and -2pt.

I've then used the Zig Zag effect set to "Relative" and duplicated with two sets of different options to produce this star burst effect.

Step 16

I've used a dark brown (C=50, M=70, Y=80, K=70) fill to add shapes around the eye and overlapping onto the eyeball to create a topline effect on the eyelid and a shadow on the eyeball. These shapes are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 10%.

Step 17

I'm going to work on the eyelashes now. Part of the pin-up look was the exaggerated lashes and graphic topline to the eyes. Now the top line has been vectored, I'm going to push in some thick lashes. I'm going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the "Width Profile 1" brush created from this tutorial.

It will have a 0.25pt Stroke Weight, a dark brown stroke color (the same as the top line), and is set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 50%. Repeat this for the lower lashes, except the Opacity will be at 20%.

Then add some highlights to the lashes underneath them set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 60%.

Step 18

Now we'll add some highlights to the eyes. First to add a reflect with the highlighting skin tone radial gradient set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 100%.

Then using the same light skin tone, draw lines for the inside of the eye and the waterline, set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 50%.

Step 19

For the eyebrows, I'm going to use the Width Profile 1 brush with a dark brown stroke color (C=50, M=80, Y=80, K=70) with a 0.5pt Stroke Weight. The strokes will be set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 35%.

Now add highlights to the eyebrows with the same brush settings, however with a light brown stroke color (C=25, M=40, Y=65, K=0), and set to Blending Mode Lighten with Opacity 25%.

Step 20

I'm going to add some additional highlights to the skin. I'll use the highlighting skin gradient, with the corner of the eyes set to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 100%. The brow bone shapes should be set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 60%.

Step 21

For the top, I'm going to create an overall shape for it and then an additional shape above the skin shapes that overlaps and therefore hide parts of the bust. Give these a white fill. Then duplicate the original skin layer shape and move it below all the skin shading.

Step 22

Group the skin base shape and a duplicate of the top (Command + G), then give it a black fill. Now apply to the strokes the "Blend Brush 1," which can be found via this tutorial with the below Stroke panel settings. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply with Opacity 15%. Move the group slightly to the right and downwards using the arrow keys on your keyboard.

This will create a 100% vector drop shadow effect.

Step 23

Time to start on our crazy, wild hair design, and it all starts with the hair line. Using the "Width Profile 1" brush, use the original reference image to help guide you with the direction of the hair line. I've used the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw these strokes, as I find the process fairly organic when I use it with my graphics tablet.

Once you've drawn your guides for the hair line, you can then go a bit more freestyle with the remainder of the strokes. Make sure all the strokes touch each other, as it will be easier for the next steps.

Step 24

Select All (Command + A) of your strokes and then Object > Expand them to shapes. Use the Pathfinder > Unite option to create one large shape, however you'll find that maybe there are some loose shapes. Delete any unnecessary shapes and keep the ones that actually define the hair line.

Then with the Pen Tool (P), use the hair line as the bottom edge of the overall shape for the hair. When done, use Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape.

Step 25

The hair bases themselves will be in two shapes. One on top of the skin shading, which will contain the hair line and the other that I tend to use for the other side of the forehead, where the hair line is hidden, and also around the ear.

Step 26

For the hair itself, I'm going to create an art brush for the initial shapes and then build upon it. So to start I'm going to use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a vertical line and then apply the Width Profile 4 brush to it.

From that, I'll make the Stroke Weight 60pt, and then apply the Width Profile 1 to it to give a tear drop shaped line that is tapered at each end.

Now to add some additional strokes to this, which have the same Appearance, yet the Stroke Weight is 40pt. You could continue to add further detailing by adding strokes the have different Blending Modes and Opacities. These could produce some great shading effects, however I'm going to keep all mine a black stroke color.

Step 27

Once done, Group up all your lines and rotate them 90 degrees (Command + G). Create a New Art Brush via the Brush panel and opt for the Colorization Method as Tints. I've reduced the Width of my brush to 20%, but it really depends on the scale of your own illustration.

Step 28

The strokes for the hair are going to be done with our new brush and with the Paintbrush Tool (B). I've set the Stroke Weight to 3pt. The strokes start in the middle of the illustration and work outwards. This applies first to the ones below the skin shading.

And now some on top, as well as laying on the arm and shoulder, to connect it more with the model.

I now used a dark brown then previously used (C=50, M=70, Y=80, K=90).

Step 29

Now with the "Width Profile 4" brush and the darker brown shade, I've added additional strokes of hair around the portrait. This step is vital to prevent the hair design from looking like a brush has created the whole design. We want to prevent this, so if you go overboard with these strokes, don't worry about it!

Step 30

You could leave the hair like this and it would be fine looking like a dark silhouette, in fact it would match the theme that the top has created with framing the detailed skin... but this being me and loving to do more detailed hair, I'll show you how to go even more overboard with the hair and add some shading detail.

Using the "Width Profile 1" brush, I'm going to draw strokes all over the hair to add further depth and shine to the hair. The first are with a light brown (C=25, M=25, Y=40, K=0), 2pt stroke, set to Blending Mode Color Dodge with Opacity 5%.

The same settings this time, but less hairs drawn than before and with an Opacity of 10%.

And the last ones is colored with a different shade of brown (C=25, M=40, Y=65, K=0), 2pt, and set to Blending Mode Color Dodge with Opacity 30%.

Step 31

While working on the hair, I noticed I need a little bit more work on the hair line. So I added some additional strokes around the hair line with the darker brown and just moved them underneath the base strokes for the hair.

Step 32

Select All (Command + A) of the Art Brush strokes and the "Width Profile 4" strokes, which are used as the base, then duplicate them. Now Object > Expand them and use Pathfinder > Unite to create one path.

As this is a complex shape, you won't be able to create a drop shadow with the previous method, and we'll need to use a method using the Appearance panel and strokes. This is still 100% vector as well! Once you've done it, nudge it to the right and down, like you did with the previous shapes.

Apply the same Graphic Style to a skin base duplicate to add a drop shadow on the hand.


I've finished the image off with several overlapping transparent radial gradients for moles on the cheek, neck and arm for a personal touch.

So now you know how to create a crazy, complex hair design using an Art Brush... a lot easier than you thought?

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