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How to Create a Colorful Stylized Portrait in Adobe Illustrator

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Read Time: 7 min

This tutorial focuses on creating a vibrant, poppy portrait in Adobe Illustrator. Using bright colors, transparent gradients, and a sense of whimsy, you'll be constructing facial features and candy hair in no time.

Step 1

Get your sketch ready.
Either fire up Photoshop or some other drawing program, or scan in some pencils. Your sketch can inform you of anything from a simple idea to your full color profile.

Step 2

Using the Pen Tool (P), either trace the contour of the face you've drawn, or build it anew with a simple circle and some angled lines to create the jaw.

Technically, if you want to create a full head, that circle should be much higher up. This face will be edited a bit as we go along.

Here's how my Layers panel currently looks, with my two shapes for the head and a solid filled Rectangle (M) as the background.

Step 3

Ears, neck, hair, and simple background elements. Your focus is to color block the main components in your composition. It's in this stage that you find balance in your piece or making any changes to the contour of the shapes.

Group like shapes together for easier layer management (Ctrl + G).

Step 4

One major component of bright, colorful artwork is deciding if you're using black or not. In this case, all darker colors are purples, pinks, and reds.

Start the eyes by outlining their basic shape with the Pen Tool (P).

Create a second shape inside of your newly drawn eye cavity. This will be key in creating the perfect outline of the eye.

Select both shapes and hit Exclude in the Pathfinder panel (first option from the right).

Fill in the rest of the eye (shape for the white of the eye, rounded shape for the iris, etc).

Step 5

Trace the mouth with a light pink. For such a cute pout, you can trace half of the mouth space, Copy and Paste, and flip it horizontally. In order to easily flip your shape, left click to select, right click for options. Hover over Transform and choose Reflect. Choose Vertical axis.

Use the Pathfinder tool to Unite both shapes once properly aligned (first option from the left).

For now, draw a simple shape with the Pen Tool (P) for the inside of the mouth (make it purple), and add a circle of lighter and transparent pink over top for the bubble.

Step 6

Create a shape for the shadow under the nose (or at the end) with the Pen (P) or Pencil Tool (N). Select the Gradient panel for this shape. You'll want it to go from the main skin color to a darker shade (-90 degrees if you're following this example). Reduce the transparency to your liking. You'll follow the same steps to create gradient shapes for shading/rendering in this piece.

Create a shape that follows the contour of the top plane of the nose. Choose your gradient colors based on the main skin tone and something lighter (in this case it's a bit creamier in tone).

Step 7

For the nostrils, the two shapes are the same (Copy and Paste, flipped over a vertical axis), but with a radial gradient. The transparency on the gradient colors themselves are reduced heavily so the change from the base color to the highlight color happens gradually.
You can push the nose further with more transparent gradient shapes, allowing it to pop out from the face.

Group your nose shapes when done (Ctrl + G).

Step 8

Select the white of the eyes.

Make it a linear gradient going from a dark purple-gray to white and back to the dark purple-gray again. Move the gradient tabs to your liking so the shadows of the whites of the eyes are closer to the edges, but have a smooth transition to the bright center. Create some shapes of a dark purple (lower the Opacity) for shadows within the eye cavity.

Arrange these shadows under the eye outline, but above the eye white, iris, and pink eye bits.

Step 9

In case you like your eyes to pop with cutesy color, this step is right up your alley. I used a dark purple for the pupil and outlined it with a light lavender circle (no color fill, Stroke Weight set to 0.5pt).

To add more interest to the eye, I added some more transparent gradients around the iris and created a pink flower shape to go between the purple iris and the shadow shapes.

For the highlight, I used a light yellow gradient to pink, both with varying transparencies.

If applicable to your face shape, you can Copy and Paste the eye details and such to the other eye. Or draw them anew for a more dynamic image.

Step 10

Start with a shape that begins beneath the hair and ends slightly below the eyes.

This will be a gradient similar to those on the nose, going from the base skin color to a darker skin tone (in this case, it has pink and brown tones).

Step 11

For the sides of the face, Copy, Paste, and Align the base face shape with itself. Then create a shape similar to the one shown: something that defines the bottom of the chin, sides of the cheeks, and temples. The linear gradient will go from shadow color to transparent base color back to shadow. Adjust as you see fit.

Step 12

Select the duplicate face base and the shadow shape, open Pathfinder and hit the third button from the left to delete the extra pieces of the shape.

You will now have a shadow shape that fits the face perfectly. Place above the base face shape in your Layers panel.

Step 12

Add whatever other shadows you feel fit your piece. In this case, one under the hair that mimics the contour lets the candy-colored hair pop off the face.

Eyelids and forehead were also tended to in order to make the face less flat.

Step 13

Even though the bubblegum will overshadow the mouth, I still find it important to take time to render it properly.
The top lip is darker than the bottom.

The inside of the mouth has depth. Transparent shapes work well to define the shadows between the upper and lower lips. Define shadows, cracks, and highlights on the mouth in the same manner the eyes and nose were rendered. Stick to reds, pinks, and creamy yellows.

Step 14

The eyebrows were changed to a darker purple. The eyes got a bit of liner as well (see the purple below the lashes). Same goes for the nostrils. also rendered slightly were the ears. Note that detail shapes on the eyes and nose are shades of dark pink versus the purple being used for the eyes or dark, dark shadows.

Step 15

The key to hair is to think of it in sections versus in strands. In this case, we have two pigtails, bangs, and two sections over the head. Starting with the right section over the head I chose a redder version of the bubblegum pink to define the part in the hair and the space around the puffy bangs.

I'll also use this color to define the contour of the bangs. They'll mimic cotton candy, clouds, or wads of gum.

Continue this process through out.

Step 16

We've got some rounded pigtail shapes to shade.

Much like the lips, the hair has some shiny bits which are transparent gradients that go pink to creamy yellow.

Using a darker gradient, define their edges along with overlapping hair shapes.

Step 17

Dark mauve serves as a good color to define the hair part as well as the edge of the bangs from the face.

Step 18

This whole time I've had the bubble shape set as invisible. Make it visible once more, Copy and Paste the shape twice.

See the picture for how to align the shapes over the base bubble so we can have a perfectly fitting shadow.

Follow the same steps from rendering the face.

Set this new shape as a darker, transparent gradient.

Step 19

Follow the same steps as those from outlining the eye cavity (smaller shape inside larger shape, Pathfinder to delete so only an outline is left).

Use a light peach for this step and reduce the transparency.

Add some light, creamy circles of various transparencies for hot spots on the bubble (make sure you don't obscure the mouth too much).

Step 20

Fill in whatever you need in the background to make the portrait pop forward. In this case, I used a radial gradient (dark blue to light blue), added some clouds, and set a radial gradient of pink to white to purple on the rainbows to give them a ribbon-like effect.


Here's our final portrait. A candy-colored bubblegum girl infused with blindingly bright colors. May all your work be just as bright and happy!

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