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How to Create a Dark Fairy Tale Character in Adobe Illustration

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Read Time: 16 min

Classic fairy tales, like those collected by the Brothers Grimm or written by Charles Peraullt and Hans Christian Andersen are excellent sources for concept art. In this tutorial, we'll be focusing on Beauty and the Beast, a piece originally written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and popularized by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Each version of the story, adapted by numerous authors into a variety of media, has its own additions and subtractions to the original story. Concept art like this gives the artist creative freedom to work with an established character and add their own spin to the tale. Fire up Adobe Illustrator and get ready to design a dark and fantastically detailed design.

1. Create Your Sketch and Palette

Step 1

I sketched out my design in a fun little program called Alchemy. It's a free, open drawing project, and fantastic for quick creative endeavors that can be used as the base for vector pieces, paintings, and more. The sketch establishes the character (big hair, big eyes, giant ball gown) and the frame work of the piece (roses, vines, leaves). Some details, like the cobwebs and the closed eyes, were omitted in the vector version.


Step 2

For the palette, the darkest colors are purples and blues, most reds and yellows are avoided, and the piece will ultimately be very bright, almost neon in tone. The smaller squares show my color theme and the large rectangle is the gradient background I'll be using for the piece.


2. Create the Head and Eyes

Step 1

The head is very simple and where I like to begin. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a circle (hold Shift to keep it uniform). Then, using the Pen Tool (P), draw one half of the jaw. I started it at the left side, bring the next anchor point down with a sharp curve to the bottom of the jaw (forming part of the chin), and back up to the midpoint of the circle. Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the left side of the jaw, and using the Reflect Tool (O) (double-click in the tool bar to get the options panel), flip it over a vertical axis. Align to the other side of the face and Unite the three shapes in Pathfinder.


Step 2

Let's begin the eye. I'm starting with the left eye by drawing a circle with the Ellipse Tool and using it as a guide for the almond shaped eyes. With the Pen Tool curve around the circle so it fits inside the almond shape.


Step 3

Delete the circle once you have a basic eye shape you like. With the Pencil Tool (N), draw little winged eyelash shapes similar to those seen in the .GIF below. when satisfied with your lashes (these can also be drawing with the Pen Tool), Unite the two shapes in Pathfinder.


Step 4

Copy, Paste, and Reflect the eye over a vertical axis and Align them so they're on either side of the face. Let's get to the eye detail now.


3. Create the Eye Details

Step 1

I like to start with dramatic eyelashes and makeup. Draw a winged shape going from the inner corner of the eye and extending past the outer corner. Using the Gradient Tool (G), apply a linear gradient that goes from teal to dark purple.


Step 2

Use the same gradient from the step above for the eye's iris. For this character's massive pupil, the gradient goes from a transparent to opaque dark purple. Adjust the Opacity of gradient colors in the Gradient panel.


Step 3

Since I'm using a tablet, I find it easiest to draw a heart with the Pencil Tool or the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B).


Step 4

Copy and Paste the heart from the eye and change the fill color from white to dark purple. Do this twice and resize the second one so its smaller. Space them out so they're a decent distance apart(compare with the eye, since these hearts will make up the eyebrow). Select both hearts and, using the Blend Tool (W), select them again. You can choose how many steps you want between the two, though I chose Smooth Color in the Blend Tool's options panel. Expand and Ungroup your hearts so you can move them in place for the eyebrow. Group (Control-G) them together



Step 5

Additional details include highlight circles in the eyes, dark purple circles for extra eyelash details, a light purple gradient for the eye's inner corner, and additional eyelash and eyelid gradient shapes. Once your eye is detailed to your liking, Group together the eye shapes and Copy, Paste, and Reflect for the other eye.


4. Create the Facial Features

Step 1

The nose is comprised of six pieces and three shapes. The nostrils are two dark purple teardrops. The highlight and shadows are two hearts (with gradients going from the skin color to either the shadow or the highlight color). The side of the nostrils are like two parenthesis shapes on either side of the little teardrops. All six of the pieces were drawn with the Pen Tool.


Step 2

The mouth is comprised of two shapes mirrored over a vertical axis. I started with the line between the lips, a curvy shape that's rounded at the outer corners and comes to a point in the middle. The lips themselves are like two halves of a very rounded heart.


Step 3

For the blush, use the Pen Tool to draw a shape covering most of the cheek, below the eye group, with a linear gradient going from pink to the skin color.


Step 4

Draw highlight shapes (same gradient from the nose) on the sides of the mouth (under the corners) and on the chin (with the highlight color starting at the top). The shadow shapes, each with the darker color starting at the top of the gradient, should be drawn below the nose and the mouth. The head has had a gradient applied to it as well so some depth to the face is shown. I also drew a lighter pink shape on the lower lip so it sticks out more.


5. Add Basic Hair Shapes

Step 1

Group together your face so it's nice and organized in your Layers panel. For the hair, I've chosen a very bright violet and started drawing it in sections, sweeping to the right side, with the Pen Tool. It has six pieces total and covers the forehead most completely while retaining some notion of being separate shapes. Group the bangs together.



Step 2

For the bulk of the hair, I want Beauty to have a lot of volume and dreamy curls. Using the Pencil Tool, I've drawn curled shapes, layered on one another. The pieces closer to the front are a flat color and the pieces behind have a gradient fill applied to them. The gradient goes from bright violet to a darker violet. The goal is to not let each section of hair blend into the next. Each side will have five sections on each side. I've decided to draw each on both sides, instead of mirroring them, so her hair is a little more dynamic.


6. Draw the Shirt

Step 1

For the shirt, I've started with the puffy shoulder of the left sleeve. I drew the scalloped shape with the Pen Tool, adding the bicep and a slanted rectangle shape for the forearm.


Step 2

Initially, the shirt was going to have a cut-out heart in it. I scrapped the idea, but it was created to represent the love story of the fairy tale. In the end it was distracting within an already busy design. that said, this piece is drawn in two halves because of the scalloped neckline. Place it beneath the sleeve shapes. Copy, Paste and Reflect the left half and align for the right. Draw a ruffled shape beneath the shirt in white for the undershirt. Group together the shirt shapes and place them above the hair.


7. Create the Hands

Step 1

The first part of the hands begin with the left one. It's three shapes, each with a linear gradient applied as the fill and represent the side of the hand and pinky, the ring finger, and the middle finger.


Step 2

Group together these shapes, Copy, Paste and Reflect over a vertical axis. Draw additional pointed finger-like shapes (they look like pointy cocktail carrots to me) and place them behind the hand shapes for the thumb and rest of the hand. Group together your hand shapes.


8. Render the Shirt

Step 1

For the shirt, I like to accentuate folds, shadows, and the idea that Beauty is likely wearing something silky and shiny. Draw a shadow shape, with a gradient going from dark purple to transparent pink, that has spiky fold shapes at the elbow. Select the shirt and the shadow shape. Use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) and select the portion of the shadow shape that does not intersect with the shirt shapes. Deselect and delete this non-intersecting shape. Use this method to make perfectly fitting shadows and highlights in this tutorial.


Step 2

The highlights are a light pink to transparent bright pink gradient. Each concentrates the lighter color on the outer edge. For the center of the shirt, I felt an extra collar would be a perfect detail. I've drawn a loopy wing shape on either side and applied a transparent purple gradient. further detail was accomplished with the Pencil Tool, adding a scalloped pink shape to either side. Place these four shapes, after Grouping them, beneath the sleeves but on top of the shirt shape in the Layers panel.


9. Render the Hair

Step 1

In rendering the hair with gradient shadow shapes, I want to further accentuate the sections of hair by lining their edges and adding additional separations within each section. The darker color in the gradient is gathered towards to bottom of the bangs and fades back into the bulk of the hair. Use the Shape Builder Tool to get perfectly intersecting shapes.


Step 2

For the bulk of the hair, shadow shapes drawn carefully with the Pen Tool line the edges of the curls as well as add additional curl shapes that highlight the sections of hair without deviating from the contour of the original curling shape.


Step 3

continue adding curling and twisting gradient shapes to each section of hair until every section has two or three gradient shapes each.


10. Add Highlights and Final Hair Details

Step 1

The highlights I've drawn are just curved shapes that become concave in the center of each side, with a light violet gradient to transparent violet. You can detail the hair more than this, but I like the shiny doll look for this piece.


Step 2

I've added an additional shadow by Copying and Pasting the base bangs shape, Uniting it in Pathfinder, applying a dark purple fill color, reducing the Opacity in the Transparency panel to 50%, and place it beneath the hair, slightly to the right.


Step 3

A final view of the face, hair, and shirt, each fully rendered. Let's move on to the voluminous skirt!


11. Create the Full Skirt

Step 1

The inspiration for the skirt design comes from a scalloped seashell. Starting at the waistline, draw a large arching shape to the left and bring it around to the middle with scallops that are progressively larger. after four scallops, bring the shape straight up in the middle and unite it with the original anchor point. Copy, Paste and Reflect the left half of the skirt to complete the shape. Unite each half in Pathfinder once you've got them aligned and haven't got any space between the two.


Step 2

To accentuate the pleats of the skirt, follow the contour of each scallop with a gradient shape that concentrates a darker color at the bottom. In the left side of this image, I'm using the Shape Builder Tool to delete the non-intersecting portion of the soon-to-be-gradient shape. Play with the transparency of each shape and overlap them so the skirt looks more like a seashell.


Step 3

For the center of the skirt, draw a circle with the Ellipse Tool. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), bring the top anchor point up so it covers most of the skirt shape. Apply the same gradient from the other pleat shapes and delete non-intersecting parts of this new shape with the Shape Builder Tool.


Step 4

Although I love teal, purple seemed a better choice for this design. Perhaps if this fairy tale was "The Little Mermaid" it'd have been more apt for the design. Group together the skirt shapes and place beneath the rest of the character in the Layers panel.


Step 5

I really enjoy how some ball gowns have giant poofs of fabric on either side of skirts. You can either draw these with the Pen Tool, or manipulate the anchor points of an Ellipse. They're both transparent gradient shapes, using the same gradient from the highlights on the shirt with an overall reduction in Opacity to 30%, or so, in the Transparency panel. Play with adding shadow shapes and additional highlights before Grouping the poofs together and placing them beneath the hair, hands, and shirt, but above the skirt.


Step 6

It's at this point that our Beauty is complete and we can move on to the ornate frame behind her.


12. Create the Leaves

Step 1

The leaf shapes I've drawn, with the Pen Tool are wing-like. They arc over to the left and kick up before scalloping down back to the origin point on the right. Use a 2pt Stroke Weight for the leaf itself and a 1pt stroke for the veins.


Step 2

Continue drawing wing-like leaf shapes of various sizes and gather them at the bottom of left side of the picture plane.


13. Draw the Roses

Step 1

There are several styles of roses you could draw for this frame. The general idea to keep with them is that their petals are heavily layered and as them bloom the outer petals spread out further and further.

  1. Draw a curved, cup-like shape for the bottom of the rose's blossom.
  2. The outer petals meet, barely touching, if tall all, in the middle.
  3. Work on the outer contour towards the top of the rose.
  4. Start building inner petals. Note how many of these fold a bit at their edges for that tell-tale rose shape.
  5. I find squiggles work best for the center of the rose. The layered petals get pretty detailed towards the middle, but tend to be so very small, that a few squiggles indicates what's going on just fine.
  6. Group together the rose line work. For the main outline, trace the contour of the rose and set the fill to none and the stroke to 2 or 3pt weight.

Step 2

Draw slight curving lines extending upward for the sides of the frame in thick and thinner stroked lines. Add the rose from Step 1 to the top of one of these lines. Draw additional roses, in various stages of bloom, with rounded or pointed petals, and with and without leaves.


Step 3

Follow the steps from Step 1 to draw another rose. This one has pointier leaves (in full bloom and on its way out). Apply a bright red for the fill color. Use the line work as an indicator of where the shadow gradients, which go from transparent to opaque dark purple, should be. Reduce their overall transparency and layer them up. Add additional highlight shapes to the edge of petals as well as circles with the Ellipse Tool for hot spots in the highlights.


Step 4

Add an additional stroked outline behind the rose, in a bright lime green, as well as Copy, Paste, Resize, and Rotate roses around the frame. Change the fill color of the main design for some variation (reds, pinks, and fuchsias work well here). Group together the entire frame design and Copy, Paste, and Reflect it over a vertical axis for the right side of the frame.


Step 5

Align the two frame pieces with one another and make sure they fit comfortable in the square picture plane.


14. Refine the Frame Details

Step 1

Copy and Paste the white frame pieces. In the event that you Expanded your stroke shapes so they'd retain the stroke width you drew them with when resizing, Unite your expanded shapes in Pathfinder and you'll have to use the Direct Selection Tool, to select the inside portion of each shape and delete it, allowing for the shapes to fill in completely. Some portions will require redrawing if they were not joined shapes. If you did not Expand your frame strokes, you can simply Unite them in Pathfinder, set the stroke to non, the fill to white, and make adjustments from there.

Set the fill to the linear gradient seen below: teal to purple to dark purple to purple to teal.


Step 2

Reduce the Opacity of the gradient frame in the Transparency panel and set it behind the white frame and rendered roses.


Step 3

I find this additional frame/background detail to be easiest to draw with the Pencil Tool. See below for this curvy plant-like shape drawn with a tablet. If you're using a mouse, the Pen Tool is easier to manipulate for this step.


Step 4

Draw a couple of these plant-like shapes. To create cut-outs in them, draw curved teardrops in the leaf portion. Unite the teardrop shapes in Pathfinder and select both the white and the gradient shapes with the Selection Tool (V). Hit Exclude in Pathfinder to get clean cut-outs. Repeat as you see fit. Reduce the Opacity of these shapes and set them behind the figure in the Layers panel (see final image for placement).


Step 5

For a final touch to the white frame bits, use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to draw an eight-point sparkle shape. Draw a bunch of these and scatter them around the frame.


Congratulations, You're Now Done!

Change the background gradient from linear to radial, if you wish, to accentuate the glow of bright, neon colors against deep, dark purples. With that, you're done! Beauty is blooming like a rose, ready to fall head over heels for her Beast. Some say she's a victim of Stockholm syndrome. Other say it's a thrilling love story. I say the original version of the story is far more interesting than any of the popular adaptations and implore you to check it out, if you can find it, for the sake of inspiring you to illustrate some dark, classic fairy tales.

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