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Draw the Cowardly Lion From the Wizard of Oz in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called The Wizard of Oz.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the most popular fairy-tale novels for children, which is also loved by millions of adults for its fantastic, magical atmosphere. In this tutorial we’ll be creating a colorful portrait of Cowardly Lion, using a stock photo to create a realistic, outlined look. We’ll be adding some grungy and lighting effects, creating a stylish thematic poster with the Cowardly Lion. Let’s start!

1. Create Line Art From a Stock Photo

Step 1

For our tutorial, we’ll be using this photo of a lion from Pixabay.com. There's also a great collection of lion photos on PhotoDune, if you'd like to create a variation on the tutorial.

File > Place the photo in your Adobe Illustrator document and position it so that the lion’s head is in the center of your Artboard. I’ve set the Artboard size to 700 x 800 px. You can change the Artboard size anytime with the help of the Artboard Tool (Shift-O).

Double-click the layer containing the lion photo in the Layers panel and check the Dim Images to box, turning our reference image into a semi-transparent template.

Create a New Layer on top of the sketch layer for the outline.

place the stock photo on  the artboard

Step 2

Let’s start from the eye of the lion. We’ll be using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B). You can actually use the Paintbrush Tool (B) as it is more versatile and easy to edit, because it allows you to draw separate paths and then adjust each path, using the Direct Selection Tool (A). However, the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) is closer to real-life drawing, as if you were using a marker. The drawback of this tool is that you’re drawing with shapes, which are harder to edit. However, they look more natural, so it’s up to you to decide which tool to pick.

You can see the settings of my Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) in the screenshot below. I’m using a digital tablet, so I enable the Pressure feature next to the Size slider.

We start outlining the eye, changing the width of the lines by varying the pressure. Press harder on your tablet to get a thicker line and use a very light pressure to get a thin line. You can also change the size of the brush, using the [ and ] keys.

start drawing the eye with the blob brush tool

Step 3

Add more details, adding small, thin strokes around the eye for the fur. Follow the direction of the lion’s hair by looking at the photo.

Add more details around the eye

Step 4

Move to the nose and mouth of our lion. Note that we’re outlining only the left part of the face, because later we’ll make a mirrored copy, creating a symmetrical portrait.

Don’t worry if the lines overlap at this step, because we'll fix that as well.

Move to the nose and mouth of our lion

Step 5

Use curved strokes to add a bearded part under the mouth.

Use curved strokes to add a bearded part under the mouth

Step 6

Let’s move to the ears of our lion. The ear's outline looks more rough and wavy, so let’s change the Fidelity of our Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B), moving the slider closer to Accurate on the left side. Now we can make even more natural strokes with minor details.

change the Fidelity of our Blob Brush Tool for the ear

Step 7

Draw out the lion’s mane around the face (only from the left side of the head). Then select all the created lines, Group (Control-G) them and double-click the Reflect Tool (O) to open the Reflect options window. Flip the image over the Vertical Axis and use the Copy button to create the right side of the lion’s head.

Use the reference photo to place the outlined copy in the proper position, moving the right eye to the same place as in the photo. You will notice that some other parts (the mouth and nose) may overlap with the left half of the outlined image, but don’t worry about that.

reflect the left side over the vertical axis

Step 8

Select the copy of the outlines on the right side and double-click it to Isolate Selected Group. Select the nose lines and move them to the right, placing the nose in the proper position. Do the same for the mouth and the beard.

move the overlapping parts

Step 9

Adjust the position of the mane on the right side of the image. Redraw some parts of the mane in order to make the image more versatile and not completely symmetrical.

redraw the mane

Step 10

Let’s rotate the lion’s brows upside-down to make him look more cowardly. In order to increase this effect, let’s also add a small arched line at the outer edges of the eyes.

make the lion cowardly

Step 11

Use the Guides to locate the center of the lion’s face and to position the elements symmetrically. Press Control-R to show the Rulers. Click on the left side Ruler and drag the Guide to your Artboard, placing it in the middle of the lion’s face. Add minor details to the nose, defining its center.

use the Guides for symmetry

Step 12

If you zoom in, you may find some of the lines overlap. Let’s see how we can get rid of the unwanted pieces outside the lines. Select two overlapping lines and take the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M). Hover the mouse cursor over the unwanted piece and click it while holding Alt to delete it.

edit the overlapping lines

Step 13

Use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) to delete the unneeded anchor points and the Direct Selection Tool (A) to move the points around, making the shapes fit each other.

make the lines fit each other

2. Color the Created Outlines

Let’s enliven our image by adding colors! Firstly, we will build a basic color scheme with flat colors, creating the overall look of our lion. Then we’ll add more accents and use gradients for shadows and overtones, making the image more realistic.

Step 1

Create a New Layer under the outline layer. Place the reference image of the lion next to the Artboard and use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the basic light-beige color from the photo.

Take the Pencil Tool (N) and start filling the upper part of the mane with color. You don’t need to make the hair line repeat exactly the same form as the outlines that we’ve created previously. Just make the shapes fit each other. Move along the edge of the mane, adding colored spots, but leaving the center of the lion's face blank for now.

You can see the settings of my Pencil Tool (N) in the screenshot below.

use the pencil tool to color the mane

Step 2

When you've made enough beige shapes around the face, select them and Unite in the Pathfinder panel, creating a merged shape with an empty space in the center.

unite the hair shapes in pathfinder

Step 3

Draw a light-beige shape for the center of the face and Send it to Back (Control-Shift-[), placing it beneath the mane. Pick a light-brown color from the reference photo and add darker accents to the portrait, drawing brown hair shapes along the cheekbones, on the forehead and on the ears.

color the face and the ears adding accents

Step 4

Move to the bottom part of the face, filling the inner part of the nose and mouth with dark-brown color and placing lighter greyish-pink shapes on top, adding depth to the elements.

color the nose and mouth

Step 5

Now let’s enliven the eyes! We’re still using the Pencil Tool (N) here. Create a dark-brown base in the shape of an eye. Add a thin, light-grey, wavy shape along the lower eyelid, making it look moist. 

Draw a circle for the iris. And let’s make it more true to life by applying a radial gradient with a bright-orange center and a light-yellow edge.

We can also add depth to the eye by placing a semi-transparent shadow under the upper eyelid. Draw a slightly arched shape at the top part of the eye and fill it with a vertical linear gradient from dark brown on top to white at the bottom. Switch to Multiply Blending Mode in the Transparency panel, thus making the white part of the gradient transparent and turning the shape into a subtle shadow.

color the eyes with gradients and add a shadow

Step 6

Finish up with the eye by adding a few glossy highlights, filling them with horizontal linear gradients from light yellow to black. Switch to Screen Blending Mode to turn the black parts transparent, making the eyes vivid and shiny.

add highlights in screen blending mode

Step 7

Let’s make the portrait more three-dimensional and textured by adding highlights around the eyes and nose of our lion. Make the edges of the highlights rough, depicting separate hairs of the fur, and use the same yellow-black linear gradients and Screen Blending Mode to make the shapes semi-transparent.

Let's add more depth to the portrait by changing the flat base colors of the mane to subtle gradients of the same shades, making the bottom part of the head darker than the top part.

add more highlights and apply gradients

Step 8

Let’s make the colors more vivid by increasing the saturation. Make the colors of the mane and the central part of the face brighter by making them more yellowish. And add more orange tints to the ears and around the cheekbones.

I’ve decided to delete the black outlines of the mane along the edges of the portrait, thus adding more air to the image and making it less “noisy”.

Lets make the colors more vivid and bright by increasing the saturation

Step 9

Let’s adjust the outlines a bit more, making them fit the color palette of our lion. Select the black outlines that we have on the top layer. Unite the selected outlines in the Pathfinder and right-click to open a context menu. Choose Make Compound Path (or press Control-8), combining all the separate pieces of the outlines into one single object.

Finally, apply a linear gradient to the outlines from dark-purple in the center to dark-orange at the edge.

unite and recolor the outlines

This is how our lion looks at this step.

This is how our lion looks at this step

Step 10

Let’s make the lion look proud and stately by adding volume to his mane, making it bigger and furrier. Grab the Pencil Tool (N) and draw another hairy shape around the head. Send it to Back (Control-Shift-[), placing it beneath the head, and fill it with bright radial gradient from yellow in the center to deep-orange at the edge, making it darker than the basic color of the mane and thus emphasizing the face.

add another hair shape for the mane

Step 11

And draw another layer of hair beneath the previous one, making the mane more detailed. Fill it with lighter radial gradient to separate the hair shapes from each other, adding dimension to our image.

draw another layer of hair beneath the previous one

3. Work on the Background and Add Details

Let’s form a simple background and add some intricate details to our portrait, turning it into a poster dedicated to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Step 1

First of all, make a New Layer and use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make a rectangle the same size as our Artboard (in our case it is 700 x 800 px). Fill the shape with radial gradient from light-beige in the center to darker-beige at the edges, thus creating the effect of a subtle vignette.

add a background with radial gradient

Step 2

Let’s add some details, which are closely connected to the Wizard of Oz story. Remember the Courage Medal that the Cowardly Lion received from the Wizard of Oz? 

We won’t be depicting the medal itself; however, it will help us to get inspired and to use some of its elements for our poster, such as the red stripes and the blue ribbon.

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a narrow vertical stripe the height of our Artboard. Hold Alt-Shift and drag the stripe to the right, creating a copy. Press Control-D several times, creating more copies.

Finally, select all the stripes and Group (Control-G) them. Apply a radial gradient to our group of stripes, from bright-red in the center to dark-red at the edges, making the stripes look shiny and smooth.

add red stripes to the background

Step 3

Copy the bottom hair shape of the lion’s mane and Paste it in Back (Control-C > Control-B). Make the copy a bit larger and switch its color to a radial gradient from dark-red in the center to white at the edges. Apply Multiply Blending Mode, turning the shape into a subtle shadow in order to make the head stand out against the background.

add radial shadow beneath the head

This is how the overall composition looks at this step.

This is how the overall composition looks at this step

Step 4

Now let’s add some spots and splatter to our poster, creating a grungy, retro effect. There are two ways to do it. The first and easier way is using the built-in Adobe Illustrator artistic brushes, which you can find in the Brushes Library of your Brushes panel (click the Brushes Libraries Menu icon and go to Artistic > Artistic_Ink or Artistic_Watercolor).

You can check out Part 3, Step 2 and onwards of the Design a CD Cover in Low-Polygonal Grungy Style in Adobe Illustrator tutorial to see how to apply such brushes to your image, creating the desired effect.

The second way is more time-consuming, but at the same time, it is much more creative and interesting. So if you want to put more spirit into your image, let’s work with a traditional medium a bit.

Use ink, watercolors, gouache or whatever you like to create splashes and splatter on paper. I use black ink and a common brush to make a lot of small, textured spots by making the ink drip on the paper from the tip of the brush. You can also use a toothbrush to get a nice splatter effect.

Scan your image or use your phone to make a photo, but make sure that you have enough light, so that the background is more or less clean, without any shadow. 

Open your image in Adobe Photoshop and press Control-L to open the Levels options window (or go to Image > Adjustments > Levels). And from here, let’s try to give our image as much contrast as possible by pulling the left black slider to the right, making the dark parts of the image darker. And pull the right white slider to the left, lightening the white areas even more.

scan your image and edit in photoshop

That’s how it looks now: we have solid black spots on a pure-white background.

contrast image in photoshop

Step 5

Save your image as JPEG and File > Place it in Adobe Illustrator. Now we have the Image Trace function available in the top control panel.

Select the High Fidelity Photo preset from the drop-down Image Trace list and then, after the image is traced, click the Image Trace Panel button, which appeared in the control panel on top.

Here, in the Image Trace option panel, move the Paths and Corners sliders to 100% to get as much detail as possible. As for the Colors slider, let's set the colors value to 1, because we have only one color: black. Set the Noise value to 1 px as well.

Leave all other settings as default and Expand the image from the top control panel, turning the traced result into vector shapes.

trace the splatter in adobe illustrator

Step 6

Create a New Layer between layers, containing the background and the lion’s head. And start adding the grungy spots that we’ve just created.

add grungy spots to the background

Step 7

Fill some of the spots with linear gradients from orange to white and from red to white, and switch to Multiply Blending Mode, making the spots semi-transparent. 

Fill other shapes with dark-burgundy color, applying Screen mode, thus creating light, faded spots above the background.

apply Screen and Multiply Blending Mode to the spots

Step 8

Create another New Layer, this time placing it on top of the lion’s head. Add more splashes above the face and around the head, filling the shapes with semi-transparent gradients in Multiply mode. 

Place two round spots above the eyes of the lion and fill them with radial gradients from white in the center to orange at the edges. Apply Multiply Blending Mode, making the centers of the spots transparent.

add more grunge spots on top of the lion

Step 9

Now let’s render a bright ribbon in the bottom of our poster. Start by making a narrow stripe with the help of the Rectangle Tool (M) and fill it with horizontal linear gradient from dark-lilac at the edges to vivid-blue in the center. 

Take the Pen Tool (P) and form a small dark triangle at the bottom left part of the ribbon. The Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) are really helpful at this step, when you need to position the objects one to another and to make them fit each other.

Add a smaller rectangle beneath the shapes, forming a fold of the ribbon.

form the ribbon from a narrow rectangle

Step 10

Select both the small triangle and the fold, and use the Reflect Tool (O) to flip the elements over the Vertical Axis. Press the Copy button and move the created copy to the opposite side of the ribbon.

reflect the folding making a copy

Step 11

Now let’s add a title to our ribbon. Use an intricate font with serifs, for example Trajan Pro 3 or a free font Playfair Display, and type COURAGE. Object > Expand Appearance, turning the text into a set of separate vector letters.

And let’s make the letters golden by applying a complex vertical linear gradient, made of six colors, from dark-brown at the edges to light-yellow and orange in the middle.

Make the title more three-dimensional by going to Object > Path > Offset Path and applying a 2 px Offset value. Fill the created shape with a vertical linear gradient from beige at the edges to light-yellow (almost white) in the center.

apply golden gradient to the letters

Step 12

Place the title above the ribbon and add another Offset shape with 2 px Offset value. Fill the shape with dark-blue color and switch to Multiply Blending Mode, creating a shadow beneath the letters and making them stand out more against the ribbon.

Let’s make our ribbon slightly bent. Select both the ribbon and the title and Group (Control-G) them. Go to Effect > Warp > Arc. Move the slider to the left, setting the Horizontal Bend value to -20%, making the ribbon arched.

apply arc effect to the ribbon

Step 13

Object > Expand the ribbon and place it in the bottom part of our poster, making the composition look complete. Add a subtle shadow beneath the ribbon in the same way as we did for the lion’s head, by placing the copy of the ribbon beneath the basic shape, filling it with red-white linear gradient and switching it to Multiply Blending Mode.

add the ribbon to the poster

Brave as a Blizzard

Great job! We’ve finished our Cowardly Lion’s portrait, and so he gained his courage!

I hope you’ve got inspired while following this tutorial and discovered some new coloring and texturing techniques, which will be helpful for your designs and artwork!

You can go even further and add more shiny details to the poster by placing some colorful decorative sparks here and there. Check out Part 4, Steps 3 and 4 of the tutorial How to Create a Winter Candle Lantern in Adobe Illustrator to find out how to create those glowing sparks and make them more colorful!

Have fun, and stay tuned for more!

Cowardly lion from Wizard of Oz
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