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How to Create a Fabulous Professor X Pin-Up in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called X-Men Week.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Comic book covers are basically pin-up illustrations. It's incredibly common for artists to tackle X-Men characters as a range of pin-ups, but one of my favorites is often ignored or not as fabulous as I think he should be.

Join me as we illustrate a fun pin-up design with Professor X in the starring role, all within Adobe Illustrator CC! We'll be using a couple of stock images and textured vector brushes courtesy of purchases I made from Envato Market. Open up Adobe Illustrator and let's get to it.

1. Prepare Your Illustration

Step 1

Let's start with a couple of stock images from Envato Market. This is entirely optional, as you may be more comfortable with fleshing out a character and pose from scratch. 

I chose an elderly man in a wheelchair and a businessman in a swivel chair as references for the pose, chair, and clothing. When combining reference images, it's important to try to get as similar an angle as possible. You can sketch over an image or next to it, again depending on what you're more comfortable doing for your design.

Choose your stock references for your project
Images featured are Elderly Man in Wheelchair and Executive in Swivel Chair from Envato Market.

Step 2

Using the top half of the businessman as a reference for Professor X's torso, I sketched out my design with the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) on a layer above my reference images. Alternatively, you may want to sketch your design out onto paper or in another drawing program.

Keep your sketch loose and try to figure out your figure's pose. Use references as needed.

Sketch your design out for your illustration

Step 3

In order to tighten up my sketch, I Grouped (Control-G) portions of my illustration and proceeded to draw on top with a darker color. Repeat this process as needed until you have the sketch or clean-line drawing you'll need to create your final artwork. You can also download the image below in the download link on the right side of this tutorial.

Tighten up your sketch to prepare for the next step

2. Define Flat Colors

Step 1

On a New Layer, trace sections of your sketch with the Pen Tool (P). This section focuses on defining blocks of color: skin, clothes, the chair, etc. Draw the head and neck, and section the hand into several parts, making sure to organize objects in the Layers panel.

I've also added a stroke onto each object. Since I'm covering up my sketch layer, this is to help you figure out what shapes you're looking at (and what their boundaries are) while working up the full image.

Trace your sketch with filled in objects

Step 2

Continue drawing each section of your image. Below I've separated the arm and suit into multiple sections. This allows me to see which parts overlap each other (such as fingers or the forearm) as well as help define the final shapes I'll be using.

Keep tracing and layering objects within your design

Step 3

Initially I'd chosen Professor X's classic green suit. Since I grew up with the animated series from the early 90s, it's the suit and bright colors I like drawing the most. Pastels, however, are much more up my alley, so whatever color scheme you choose, make it your own, and have fun with it!

Work up the design in sections: jackets, lapels, arms, shirt components underneath, legs, and so on. This is also a good time to figure out how fitted or loose the suit is and how much of it will show while he's in his chair.

Define the body clothing and color palette

Step 4

Since the chair hides some of the suit and the suit hides some of the chair, I found it easiest to Hide the other flat color objects in the Layers panel in order to block out the basic chair shapes.

When working up the line art and details later, you can look more closely at your chair reference (if this is something you're using). Any time you're working on a portion of the design that may be hard to see on the sketch, such as the blanket, suit details, or chair details, feel free to Hide and Unhide components in order to trace or draw them more effectively.

Work up the chair line art and hide or unhide components as needed

Step 5

Below you'll see the fully color-blocked version of my design. Figuring out the placement of objects early on will help you when you're rendering your illustration later. Each object is outlined with a darker hue of its fill color, with the stroke's Cap and Corner set to Rounded in the Stroke panel.

It's sort of like working on a painting: you could focus on one area and render it fully, but you'll work more effectively at creating a harmonious design if you work on it in stages throughout.

Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) an instance of this color-block group and set it aside for later. We'll be adding an outline to the final product, and it's easier to save this now instead of deleting all of the details to be added during the rendering sections later.

Block in the color and shape of each object before moving on ahead

3. Render the Face and Hands

Step 1

In order to make this section easier to complete, I've moved my sketch layer above my color block layer, selected it, and set its Blending Mode to Multiply in the Transparency panel. This allows me to see my object boundaries while still being able to see my sketch details.

Set the sketch layer to multiply and place it above the color block layer

Step 2

Let's work on the face a bit. For my purposes, the face has the most detail of the entire piece. Using the Shape Builder Tool, draw over your original sketch. I've set the brush size at 1-2 pt with Pressure enabled (since I'm using a graphic tablet). You can also trace your sketch with the Pen Tool (P) or the Pencil Tool (N) if you wish.

Focus on the eyebrows (these are incredibly important on Professor X), eyes, nose, and mouth. Speed up your process by drawing one half of the face, Grouping it together, and Reflecting a copy of it over a Vertical Axis. If that's too symmetrical for you, you can, of course, draw both sides.

Since this is a pin-up illustration, I've given Professor X full lips, high cheekbones, and a hint of eyelashes.

Trace your face with a drawing tool

Step 3

Adjust the placement of the facial features as needed (I moved the nose and mouth up). Using a dark peach tone, define the cheekbones and top lip as well as the structure of the nose itself.

Further define the face

Step 4

Using the drawing tool of your choice (I opted for the Pencil Tool), draw shadow shapes in dark peach around the professor's head.

  1. You want to define his chin, cheekbones, and temples. Draw in shadow shapes under the mouth, nose, eyebrows, and on the sides of the nose as well. Group these shadow shapes together.
  2. Copy and Paste the basic head and ear objects.
Start drawing shadow shapes on the head

Step 5

Continuing on from the last step, Unite the head and ear objects in the Pathfinder panel. Align this shape on top of the original head. Make sure it's above your shadow shape group. Create a Clipping Mask and make sure the base head object's stroke is set to Outside in the Stroke panel.

Clip the shadow group to the head object

Step 6

Let's finish up this section with the hand and some highlights on the face.

I've layered my hand pieces so that there are three fingers and two sections for the hand (of course, there are five digits in total). Three of the objects that are closest to the viewer are peach while the other two are dark peach.

  1. Draw shadow shapes on each of the peach objects.
  2. You can Make a Clipping Mask or simply draw the shapes precisely so they fit within the object boundaries.
  3. Use an even darker peach color for the shadow of the palm of the hand and on the pointer finger near his eyebrow.
  4. Let's add some light and even lighter peach (or cream) objects for the highlights. I've added highlight shapes on the chin, lower lip, cheeks, forehead, nose, and a couple of parts of the hand.
  5. Feel free to render the skin as much as you want. Repeat the process on the other visible hand.
Render the hand and highlight the face

4. Render the Clothing

Step 1

Textured brushes can add a lot to an illustration. I purchased a large set of textured vector brushes from Envato Market. You are welcome to check out the same set, or create your own.

Don't be afraid to alter the brushes you use so that they work with the scale of your document. In the case of these Scatter Brushes, they were too large overall. Double-click a brush in the Brushes panel and adjust its Options to your liking. I adjusted the Scale, Spacing, and Rotation of the brushes I used.

Choose and adjust textured brushes as needed
Brushes featured are the Vector Brush Set from Envato Market.

Step 2

With a textured scatter brush and the Paintbrush Tool (P), draw a few strokes of dark teal and light aqua over the arm of your figure. Group these elements together. Copy and Paste an instance of the suit jacket arm and Align it over the brushstrokes with the original object. 

Make a Clipping Mask so the shadow and highlight shapes stay within the boundaries of the arm shape. Use this technique throughout the rest of your illustration.

Draw a couple shadow and highlight strokes and clip them to your object

Step 3

Let's take a look at how my suit's rendering process is going:

  1. I've used a light blue to add some shadow shapes to the shirt cuff.
  2. Solid shadow and highlight shapes are on the lapels of the jacket. These are also Clipped to the lapel object.
  3. Consider not only cast shadows, but also how your fabric may move. For the purposes of this tutorial we're not getting too involved in rendering, but some fabric folds will do quite nicely all the same.
  4. Consider a simple striped pattern on the pocket square or something geometric.
  5. Note the difference in Scatter Brush textures. The highlight shapes on this arm are like cross-hatched lines while the shadows are more like dry brush strokes.
  6. Finally, check out the cast shadows and highlights on the second hand. It's simplified quite a bit here. If you want to put more detail into the hand, go right ahead!
Breaking down the rendering process

Step 4

Let's move on to the legs. As with the arms of the suit, I've clipped shadow strokes and highlight strokes to each pant leg. I've also shown some dimension in the pant cuff with a dark teal rectangle. Keep your objects and their associated Clip Groups organized by Grouping together like objects in the Layers panel.

Render the pant legs

Step 5

The professor's shoes are a lovely lilac. I used a darker lilac for the initial shadows. I want to define each plane of the shoe. For some additional depth, I added a few shadows of even darker lilac on top of the first to show where the shoes bend a bit.

Clip the shadow groups to their respective shoe shapes. Make sure you're making a copy of your original object for each Clipping Mask or else you'll find your shoe or pant leg is suddenly missing, having become a clipping path.

Alternatively, you may want to create a textured pattern on the shoes to show a difference in material from the other objects.

Add shadows to the shoes

Step 6

For the socks, I drew dark pink shadow shapes that define the cast shadows onto the ankles from the pant legs. Then, I drew a couple of stripes to match the stripes on the pocket square.

Add details and shadows to the socks

Step 7

I created the blanket's pattern and shadow shapes in a few steps:

Use dark pink objects (these were drawn with the Pencil Tool) to define some of the folds in the fabric.

Then, overlay those fold shapes with shadow shapes that help show how the blanket curves into the legs and is flat against the professor's lap.

Next, draw horizontal and vertical stripes. Make sure they follow the contour of the blanket a bit. Set their Blending Mode to Overlay or Multiply in the Transparency panel.

Group all of the shadow and pattern objects together and Create a Clipping Mask, much as we've done with most of the other objects within this design.

Add shadow and pattern shapes to the blanket

Step 8

I repeated the same steps from the arms into the torso of the suit jacket and added the same shadow colors from the shoes onto the tie. Group together similar objects and make sure you don't change the order of your object sections (such as accidentally moving parts of the wheelchair above the body) while organizing your Layers panel.

Completed figure

5. Render the Chair

Step 1

The process of rendering the chair is fairly similar to the body: creating shadow and highlight shapes and making clipping masks. I'll be using yellows and oranges to render the chair into a glorious gold.

Draw orange shadows to show the cylindrical shape of the bar that holds the wheel in place. Play with texture on the wheel itself. For this I drew little square and triangle shapes with the Pencil Tool.

Render the chair with orange shapes

Step 2

  1. Don't forget the bar that connects to the foot rest. How shiny or detailed you render the chair is up to you. I've opted to keep things fairly simple.
  2. I've added a darker shadow on the wheel to help show the angle as well as the curvature of the shape.
  3. Maroons and reds make up the highlights of the wheels themselves. Since the wheels are already a dark color, there's no need to add shadow shapes to them. Layer highlight colors and make sure they curve in their centers rather than cut straight across the wheel. It is a rounded object after all.
Render the wheels

Step 3

As you render the outside of the seat of the chair, consider where you've basically established your light source (in front of the figure). Also consider where the professor's arm and the chair's wheel cast a shadow.

Consider wavy shapes to show how shiny the chair is unless you're going for a different textured look. Textured scatter brushes would do well in making a brushed metal effect on the chair, or you can render it so it's shiny and chrome-like.

I've chosen to repeat the mottled pattern created on the chair's wheel. Simply draw squares, circles, triangles, and additional wiggly shapes, Group them together, and Clip them to the chair base object in the same way we've made Clipping Masks previously in this tutorial.

Render the chair itself

Step 4

Render the inside of the chair as well. Repeat similar shapes and textures that you used on the other side. I like to layer objects that have been set to Multiply in the Transparency panel to add a bit of color variation.

Render the inside of the chair

6. Add Details

Step 1

Using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) with the brush set to 1 pt, I've drawn over sections of my design to add details such as stitching and fold lines. Match the color of the detail line work to your object's outline color.

Add details to the shoes and pants

Step 2

The suit coat got quite a bit of detailing. Define the lapels a bit more with a thin line or stitching details. Alternatively, you can draw a stroked path with the Pen Tool and set the stroke to a Dashed line in the Stroke panel.

Draw buttons on the suit and folds into the elbows and waist of the jacket itself. Group everything together.

Add additional details on the suit jacket

Step 3

Retrieve your copied instance of the color-blocked professor. Unite the objects in the Pathfinder panel. Copy and Paste two of these behind the Professor X group. The top copy will be filled with white with a white stroke set to 4-10 pt (the stroke width depends on how thick an outline you'd like). The bottom copy will be set to dark brown with its Blending Mode set to Multiply and Opacity set to 70-50%. Offset it slightly behind the other groups and objects.

Add an outline and shadow behind the professor

Step 4

In my final illustration, I've created a series of sparkles around the professor's gorgeous bald head. In order to do so, I've manipulated circles and made a simple scatter brush.

Draw a small circle with the Ellipse Tool (L). Apply a Pucker effect to it (Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat) of 50-80%. Repeat with a small collection of circles in varying sizes and Pucker effects.

Expand your group under Object. With your sparkles selected, create a New Brush from the Brushes panel options. Choose Scatter Brush and check out the attributes I assigned to one of mine below:

  • Size: Pressure 28% 85%
  • Spacing: Fixed 63%
  • Scatter: Random -55% 74%
  • Rotation: Random -136° 165°
  • Rotation relative to: Path

These settings are arbitrary. I played around with them until I got a brush that I liked. Feel free to make multiple brushes like this. Play with size and scatter variations, sparkle styles, and even colors! Hit OK when you're done, and you'll find your new brush in the Brushes panel ready to use.

Create a custom sparkle brush

Step 5

Brush on some sparkles around the professor's head. Play with their color, size, rotation, and transparency to really make him glisten.

Add sparkles around the professors head

7. Create a Background

Step 1

On a layer beneath the professor, draw a fun wiggly shape. You can manipulate a polygon or simply draw something out with the Pencil Tool. Place this shape behind the professor's head.

Draw a wiggly shape behind the professors head

Step 2

Select your wiggly shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path to offset it by 25 px or so. Repeat a couple more times to create larger and larger shapes. Then, change to 405075100 px and more to let the shapes radiate outward. Set every other object's fill color to hot pink and all others to white to create a striping effect. Group these objects together.

Offset each shape to create radiating wavy lines

Step 3

I created a copy of my radiating shapes, set the fill color to null, the stroke to bright blue at 5 pt weight, and applied an Outer Glow (Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow) with the following attributes:

  • Mode: Screen
  • Color: Light Blue
  • Opacity: 75%
  • Blur: 0.1 in

This step is entirely optional and works even better if you create a dark background behind the professor.

Apply an outer glow effect to the wiggly lines

Great Job, You're Done!

Fantastic work, you've made it to the end! Add some additional sparkles around the professor's chair to complete your design, or create alternate mutant power effects with glowing lines and other effects. 

Most important of all, share your Professor X pin-up illustration in the comment section below, and don't forget to check out the other X-Men themed tutorials we've cooked up for you here at Envato Tuts+!

The final image
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