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How to Create a Beautiful Set of Zodiac Portraits in Illustrator - Part One


There isn't a project more fun in my opinion than creating a cohesive set of designs. This enjoyment doubles when it's something an audience can relate to; enter the signs of the zodiac. Regardless of your thoughts about the validity of astrology, the symbolism and graphic interpretations of zodiac signs are a fun topic for an illustrator to handle. I'll be firing up Adobe Illustrator and building cute hair designs for little girl faces in a zodiac theme.

In this tutorial, we'll be looking at creating the face and the stylings for the signs Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Virgo and Leo.

1. Building the Base Head

Step 1

Each face in this set will be (mostly) the same. The skin tones and makeup will vary a bit, but aside from that we're working with the same face for the set. You are always welcome to change it up. I like to think of my tutorials as a jumping off point rather than something you must stick to for a successful design.

Let's form the head! Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a circle with the skin tone of your choice.


Step 2

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw the left half of the face. It's comprised of three points total. I like to start at the left side, curve down to the chin, and up again to the mid-point of the circle drawn previously. This head shape will be rounded, pointy, and cute.


Step 3

Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the shape you just drew and flip it over a vertical axis. Right-click the selected shape and select Transform. Line up the new shape with the right side of the face. You may need to move the left side and resize both shapes to fit properly.


Step 4

Your base head shape is complete! Well, mostly. While this looks like one shape now, it's still comprised of three separate pieces. Let's fix that.


Step 5

Select all three pieces of your head and hit Unite in the Pathfinder panel. Now your character's head is one complete shape (and perfectly symmetrical too).


2. Draw the Eyes: Basic Eye Shape

Step 1

Not all "kawaii" eyes are simple circles or ellipses with some sparkles. These cute little faces need more expressive eyes, in my opinion. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw an arc for the right eye. I'm using a dark, warm brown for the eyelid and lashes. This shape starts at the left side, arcs up and curves around to the right.


Step 2

To complete the top shape, arc back over to the left and follow your original three points. Your goal is to create a tapered strip for the top lid and lashes. The bottom lid/lashes are much thinner and less dramatic of a curve than the top.


Step 3

Draw a shape that overlaps both of the top and bottom lid/lash shapes. Apply a linear gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) to this shape. Your colors will go from brown to white to brown. Place the new eye shape beneath the lash and lid shapes in the Layers panel.


Step 4

The next shape will be a shadow cast by the eyelid and lashes. I've drawn a more dramatic curve than those drawn before and applied a linear gradient going from dark brown to the same brown at 0% Opacity. Set the angle so the fully opaque brown is at the top of the shape and adjust the gradient and overall transparency of the shape so it's more subtle than what's shown here.


Step 5

The secondary shadow shape I've made here was drawn quickly and is not a gradient like the other one. Reduce the Opacity to 30-40%.


Step 6

Place the shadow shapes beneath the lid/lash shapes. Draw a circle that overlaps both top and bottom of the eye.


Step 7

Set the fill color to dark brown. This will serve as a base for the iris. Your basic eye is done. Now to add details!


3. Draw the Eyes: Details

Step 1

Draw a another, smaller circle to go in the middle of the dark brown circle drawn previously.


Step 2

Add an ellipse to the top of the iris. Using the Eyedropper Tool (I) grab the gradient used on the shadow piece done over the white of the eye previously. Adjust as you see fit.


Step 3

Add a smaller dark brown circle for the pupil of the eye. Select all of your iris shapes, Group (Control-G) together, and set them above the white of the eye in the Layers panel.


Step 4

Select the entire eye and Group the shapes together. Copy and Paste this new eye. We're not going to waste time in this kawaii tutorial drawing another whole eye (mostly because the face is very symmetrical).


Step 5

Flip the new eye over a vertical axis, align the two eyes, and send it to the left side of the face. Make whatever adjustments you need to so the irises aren't making your character cross-eyed (unless that's how you'd like your character to look).


Step 6

In order to add some eye shadow, use the same gradient from the shadows on the eyes. This new shape extends beyond the top of the eye (think about it as being up to the brow bone). Much like adding a smoky eye when applying makeup, I like to concentrate the darker color of the gradient in the outer corner and bring it inward.


Step 7

For the eyebrows, I've drawn a series of circles and arranged them in an arc going from the center of the face to the outside edge. Neither side of the brows on this face extend beyond the eyes already drawn.

Let's talk highlights. You've got a few options. A glassy gradient shown below, little stars or hearts, or some simple circles. You can go more complex than any of these, but we've already drawn a pretty complex eye for something that is of the "kawaii" genre. Kawaii has a tendency to be pretty simple. The exception is usually big-eyed characters with eyes so cute and watery that you're going to have to call your mom and have a cry out of the extreme emotions you feel. They're just that intense. It feels great. In the end, I chose hearts.


4. Create the Cheeks and Nose

Step 1

Rosy cheeks are absolutely required for a face so cute. Like the smoky eye shadow, I like to concentrate the color in the top corner. In this case, the hair will cover the top edge of the blush shape, so it'll look less stark and more like a sweet, gradual brush of color. Not all pink, red, or orange tones work for each skin color. A variety of them will be used in this tutorial, as well as simply making the cheeks highlighted.


Step 2

Let's start the nose. For this set of characters, a wide, large, or heavily detailed nose will overwhelm the face. We're at a point in the head where it's tapering down an awful lot. Most kawaii characters don't have noses. It's due to the human appearance of these cuties that I'm including it at all.

Start with a small teardrop shape. This is the left nostril. Repeat on the other side.


Step 3

There isn't much else to add aside from a large teardrop shape for the body of the nose. This will be the same blush gradient as the cheeks. Reduce the Opacity of the shape so its more subtle.


Step 4

For the sides of the nostrils, two thin curved shapes (seen below) were drawn with the Pen Tool (P). They're fully opaque fill colors without gradients. Not adjust the nostril shapes and nostril sides as you see fit. The angle of each drastically affects the type of nose your character has.


5. Draw the Mouth

Step 1

The corner of the mouth starts just like the nose: with a teardrop shape. This one is thicker, though, than the others.


Step 2

A word about the top and bottom lips. I'm not sure how to describe the shapes aside from curvy, lumpy, and thick. they're kind of pouty too. The bottom lip is thicker than the top lip (usually true of most humans), and this mouth has a smoother upper lip (no Cupid's bow, or pronounced philtrum causing an indent in the top lip).


Step 3

The inside of the mouth is a shape that connects the two teardrop corner shapes and extends between the top and bottom lip.


Step 4

To shade the mouth I used the Pencil Tool (N) that follows the curves of the bottom lip. It accentuates them so the shadow wraps around the edges of the mouth.


Step 5

Select the bottom lip and the new shadow shape. Using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M), select the portions of the shadow shape that do not intersect with the bottom lip. Deselect everything and delete the pieces of shadow that extend beyond the bottom lip.


Step 6

Now the bottom lip has a shadow that conforms perfectly to the lip shape.


Step 7

A similar shadow was added to the top lip. for the bottom lip's highlight, create a wiggly curved shape with the same gradient as the nose and cheeks. Adjust the gradient's angle and opacity as you see fit.


Step 8

Your character's cute little face is ready to go. Group it all together and let's start on some hair for our first sign, Aries.


6. Aries: Basic Hair Shape

Step 1

Aries is The Ram. The hairstyle I think suits her best is one that mimics giant ram horns. I've chosen a honey blonde color, but really, it can be any color you want.

Starting with the bangs, use the Pen Tool (P) to create a high curve going from the top of the head to near the right eyebrow and back around.


Step 2

The two side shapes curve away from the center bang and down to points on the sides of the face.


Step 3

The ram horns are a bit like Princess Leia's buns. They arc up, over, and around to the outside edge of the picture frame. note that they are sort of flat on one side, like cinnamon buns.


Step 4

This bottom bit of like the end of the curly horn. unlike a ram, though, it's not at the top. Imagine that her hair is long, has been wound up and looped around to form the bulk of the bun, and this is the little curly end, not tucked into the rest of the hairdo.


Step 5

Now they we've got one side of the hair formed, it's time to adjust the facial features so they look good with it. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) adjust the anchor points so the blush shape is hidden beneath the hair and aligned to the curve of the face.


Step 6

Copy and Paste the hair bun and tail to the other side of the head.


7. Aries: Detail the Hair

Step 1

I've started with some shadows on the hair. Cast shadows, shapes that show pieces of the hair curving under other portions of it, etc. Each linear gradient will go from a darker tone of the honey blonde back to the blonde itself. This shape defines the curve and shadow of the left side of the bangs.


Step 2

Continue adding shadow shapes around the hair where you see fit. Adjust the angle of the gradient and the opacity of each shape so the shadows aren't too stark against the main hair construct.


Step 3

Once you've added enough shadow pieces it's time to focus on lines for the hair. Using the same dark brown from the facial features, set the fill to a stroke with rounded caps and corners and a 0.75pt Stroke Weight. Watch out for making too many lines in the hair as it will overwhelm the design.

I started with one line going from the top of the head to the mid-point of the middle bang shape. From there, I'll outline the main bang shapes with a thicker Stroke Weigh and add lines inside each hair shape that accentuate the curves of each piece.


Step 4

Quick example of the thicker lines for the outside edges of each hair piece.


Step 5

Using a line with a 0.5pt Stroke Weight, I also added an outline to some of the shadow shapes to mimic a core shadow and better define the curve of each piece of hair.


Step 6

To spare you the tedium of adding lines to each section of hair, here's the finished product. Eight lines are on each bun/tail, and the bang pieces only have a couple lines each.


Step 7

Group your Aries shapes together, Copy and Paste it, and apply dark brown as the fill color.


Step 8

Unite the new grouped shape in Pathfinder, hit Make Compound Shape and then Expand.


Step 9

Align the dark brown shape with the Aries head and apply a stroke with round corners and caps and a weight of 4pt or higher.


8. Aries: Finish the Design

Step 1

Some extra tidbits to add to Aries. Firstly, circles in a lighter yellow for highlights in the hair.


Step 2

Additionally, light peach circles as shiny hotspots on the cheeks, nose, and mouth.


Step 3

With the Pencil Tool I drew a lumpy shape that will serve as a shadow cast by the hair onto the face.


Step 4

Quick shot of the Color Picker (double-click your fill color) while I'm choosing the shadow color.


Step 5

Once you choose a darker tone for your shadow, apply it and your base skin color as a gradient with the skin color in lower opacity (this allows the gradient to be more gradual).


Step 6

Place this shape below the hair and facial feature layers. Adjust gradient color if it's not enough of a contrast.


Step 7

Conversely, you can also just add a gradient to the base head shape. It's entirely your call, depending on if you want a cast shadow or a more gradual shadow for the face.


9. Taurus: Add the Ears

Step 1

Once you're satisfied with your Aries design, it's time to move on to Taurus, The Bull. Copy and Paste the base head from Aries.


Step 2

Unlike Aries, Taurus's hair will not cover her ears, so it's high time we added them. Using the Pen Tool, draw a wide "C" curve on the side of the face. The ears occupy the space between the eyes and nose.


Step 3

Complete your ear shape, add a shadow inside to define the curves in the ear, and set both shape behind the grouped head. Repeat for the other side and make sure your ears are aligned with one another.


10. Taurus: Create the Hair

Step 1

I decided Taurus needed bright purple hair. The top pieces shown here are comprised of five separate shapes. The bangs are side swept and each pigtail is pointed upwards and arched towards the center like little bull horns.

It should be said now that the rest of this tutorial assumes you've followed along for Aries, as most of the techniques are rehashed and reused to transform our cutie face base into someone new. Let's press on!


Step 2

Once you get a short, sassy hair style you dig for your Taurus (the key is the horn-like shape no either side. After that, it's up to you), work on adding shadow pieces and gradient shapes. The Color Picker is showing the dark purple I used for those pieces.


Step 3

The sides of the hair extend down behind the ears. For those side bits, set them behind the grouped head pieces and apply a gradient going from dark purple to the bright purple of the rest of the hair.


Step 4

Trace around the edges of the hair that are over the face with a 1pt Stroke Weight in dark brown. You'll notice the eyes and skin color changed. Select each shape you want to change the color of, and alter it in the Color panel. My Taurus has tan skin and honey-colored eyes.


Step 5

Repeat the process of adding thick and thin lines to the hair in the same vein of the Aries hair process. For highlights on this character, gradient shapes are going to be used instead. Drawn with the Pen Tool, the highlight shape follows the contour of the bangs and curves inwards on either side. The gradient applied to the shape goes from a light lavender to the same bright purple as the rest of the hair. Place the highlight color below the hair lines and alter its opacity and gradient angle as you see fit.


Step 6

Additional highlights were added to each side of the hair and a thick outline was added to the whole head to finish it off.


Step 7

Here's a close up of the changes made to the lips and skin colors as well as a shadow added under the mouth.


11. Gemini: The Twins

Step 1

I've gone back to the skin tone used for Aries for this one, but changed the eyes to a bright lime green. For the hair, I've drawn a side-swept bang partially covering the right eye in a sweet mint color.


Step 2

The goal here is to give Gemini a cute, floppy side pony-tail. Continue adding shapes to create the bangs, sides of the hair, and ponytail on one side. The shape highlighted on the right side wasn't ultimately chosen but shows you the curves I intend to make in the next step.


Step 3

A sort of comma-like shape makes a cute little ponytail. I like to start at the bottom of the shape, curve around the right side, over to the left, connect with the starting anchor point, and manipulate the handles of the point on the left side.


Step 4

For the shadows on the hair I'm using a leaf-green as the darker color and accentuating the bottom edges of the hair.


Step 5

This hair is going to be pretty simple. Just some cute little shapes showing the angle of the hair, going from left to right.


Step 6

This has become a routine now. Base hair, shadows, and then lines to accentuate the shadows and strands of hair. The line strokes that outline the hair around the face are 1pt weight and the ones on the hair itself vary from 0.50pt to 0.75pt.


Step 7

Complete the first half of Gemini by finishing the lines on the hair and Grouping the head pieces together. Then Copy and Paste the head, Unite the shape in Pathfinder, apply a Stroke Weight of 4pt or more, and align behind the head.


Step 8

Copy and Paste the whole head and flip it over a vertical axis. Select individual shapes with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and change the color of the character's eyes, hair, and shadows on the hair.


Step 9

Place both of the characters side by side and Group them together. now your twins are complete.


12. Cancer: The Crab

Step 1

Our next sign has another change in skin tone. Check out those changes below. the skin is a light mocha and the cheeks, nose, and mouth are dark, warm, orange tones. I changed the eyes to a bright blue, but will ultimately choose lavender.


Step 2

To go with the orange undertones of the facial features, I chose a burnt orange color for the hair. The bangs are made up of a couple pointy parts, starting with this one. It has three or four anchor points, and much like the other hair pieces drawn previously, starts with the bottom point, curving up and around.


Step 3

The next piece covers part of the side of the face and flips outward.


Step 4

The left side of the hair curves around and points to the right side, just like the piece from the previous step.


Step 5

The ponytail is meant to be like a crab's claw. I find it best to start with one of the end points and curve around to form the crescent-like shape. Set it behind the head in the Layers panel.


Step 6

I added six shadow pieces. Each linear gradient goes from brown to burnt orange, with the Opacity lowered to about 60%.


Step 7

This is where we change one of the faces. It's incredibly easy to change this open eye into a winking one. Start with a dark brown shape meant to mimic the inverse curve of the lash/lid shape constructed previously. I've drawn it over the current eye so I could get the placement just right.


Step 8

Then, delete everything from the eye except for the shadow, and eyebrow. Add another shadow shape to help define the eyelid.


Step 9

Let's work on the lines in the hair. Starting with a 1pt weight stroked line, trace the portion of hair that intersects with the face.


Step 10

Outline any part of the hair that should be defined: wisps of hair hanging on the right side, the bangs swept across the forehead, etc. you want the lines drawn in the hair to let the viewer follow the shape of the hair.


Step 11

Check out the lines drawn on the claw-like ponytail. I drew five, each of which has a 0.75pt Stroke Weight to them, but you could simply draw three. Place them beneath the head and above the ponytail shape in the Layers panel.


Step 12

An optional feature are trailing circles around the hair as little graphic highlights. Play with the opacity of each, or as a group. Finish off the design with a thick outline around the head.


13. Virgo: The Maiden

Step 1

Once again, the next character, Virgo, will have darker skin than those before her. Start with an eye color change and testing out a darker brown that you like for the skin tone. The shadow beneath the mouth, mouth colors, blush on the cheeks, and nose colors all need to be changed as well.


Step 2

The cheeks and nose are tan to brown linear gradients this time around. I wanted to tone down her make-up because Virgo's overall look, in this case, is very soft.


Step 3

For her hair, I chose a light periwinkle. She's got cute, full bangs. What you see below is all one shape. In order to make the bangs seem less like a huge chunk of hair I created some separations in it.


Step 4

The sides of the hair are wavy and moderately long in comparison with the other hairstyles drawn today. A linear gradient has been applied going from a darker version of the periwinkle used for the bulk of the hair. Wispy, pointy sides were added next to the bangs as well.


Step 5

The wavy sides were mirrored into the right side of the face along with two circles creating buns added to the back of the head (a bit like Sailor Moon). For other shadow pieces, the separations in the bangs are accentuated by pointed, curved strips with the same gradient from the wavy sides of the hair.


Step 6

I've outlined the bangs and added some lines to them. The strokes vary in weight from 0.5pt to 1pt and are all the same dark brown from the character's facial features.


Step 7

For more detail on the buns, eight curved, stroked lines were drawn that follow the curve of the circular bun itself. Like the bun and shadow shape on it, they'll be Grouped together and placed behind the forelocks and head.


Step 8

Using the Pencil Tool (N) make some wiggly lines for the details on the side hair bits. When you're satisfied with the style and look of your wavy, wiggly lines, place them over the side hair bits in the Layers panel.


Step 9

Finish up additional details, if necessary, add a final outline to the entire character and your Virgo is ready to go!


14. Leo: The Lion

Step 1

For Leo, I decided to go with light skin again and puffy curly blonde hair reminiscent of a lion's mane. I changed the eye color to a sweet red wine color and drew a lumpy cloud-like shape for the top of her bangs with the Pencil Tool.


Step 2

Much like all of the other signs, Leo has bits of hair on the side of the face to hide the top corner of blush shapes on the face. These sides are very curly and again drawn quickly with the Pencil Tool. If it helps with your control in forming shapes to draw it out with the Pen Tool (P), then by all means do so.


Step 3

Each layer of Leo's mane is a darker, more golden yellow. The third layer (in the back) is comprised of the highlighted shape simply Copied, Pasted, and rotated around her head to form a large fluffy hairdo.


Step 4

The fourth layer is comprised of cloud-like shapes. One was drawn with the Pencil Tool and placed around the head. Adjust the layer order in the Layers panel.


Step 5

In the event you don't dig the side bits of hair, here's a shot of two versions of Leo's impressively huge mane.


15. Leo: Detail the Hair

Step 1

Group (Control-G) together each layer of hair: bangs, middle bits, last bits. Three grouped layers in total. Copy and Paste the first layer, Unite its components in Pathfinder, set the fill and stroke color to dark brown, and the Stroke Weight to 1pt. Repeat for the other two layers. Align each behind their originating hair layer.


Step 2

Quick shot of the three hair layers now subtly outlined.


Step 3

This character's hair is detailed entirely with stroked line bits rather than gradient shapes creating shadows and definition within the hair. It is your option, however, to add whatever details you see fit. In order to create a better definition in the hair, I've added thicker lines between some of the changes in shape and color in the bangs (as seen below).


Step 4

Squiggly lines mimicking curls were drawn on each portion of hair.


Step 5

For the second layer of golden curls, slightly curved lines were drawn to suggest tighter curls.


Step 6

The last layer of hair goes back to squiggly lines again.


Step 7

Light yellow circles were added with the Ellipse Tool (L) to the bangs as graphic highlights.


Step 8

Group (Control-G) together your Leo character and add a thick outline to finish off the design.


Hold Up, There are More to Come!

Whoa-oh! We're half way there! Six signs down and six to go. Have we drawn your sign yet? Have you kept to the tutorial style, or made this set your own? I hope you tune in for the second part where we complete the sign designs and add in some cute little backgrounds.

For further info about skin tone palettes in vector, check out my Quick Lesson on Using Different Skin Tones in Portrait Illustration.

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