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Design

How to Create a Fear of the Dark Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Phobia Week!.
How to Create a Vintage Rusted Metal Sign in Adobe Photoshop
How to Draw a Spider, Step by Step
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Darkness is probably one of our oldest fears, since it has haunted our imagination starting with the dawn of time, bending and twisting reality in such ways that it has been permanently inserted in our genetic memory as a phobia known as nyctophobia.

Today, we're going to do a little reality distortion ourselves and create a spooky illustration using some of the most basic geometric shapes and tools that one can find within Adobe Illustrator.

You can discover more types of phobias by heading over to GraphicRiver, where you'll find a great selection of vector illustrated fears.

That being said, make sure you have plenty of light sources surrounding you so that we can jump straight into action!

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Since I’m hoping you already have Illustrator up and running in the background, bring it up and let’s set up a New Document (File > New or Control-N) for our project using the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 720 px
  • Height: 1080 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up a Custom Grid

Even though today we’re not working on icons, we’ll still want to create the illustration using a pixel-perfect workflow, by setting up a nice little grid so that we can have full control over our shapes.

Step 1

Go to the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and adjust the following settings:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
setting up a custom grid

Quick tip: you can learn more about grids by reading this in-depth piece on How Illustrator’s Grid System Works.

Step 2

Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu (that’s if you're using an older version of Illustrator).

Now, if you’re new to the whole “pixel-perfect workflow”, I strongly recommend you go through my How to Create Pixel-Perfect Artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills in no time.

3. How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up our project file, it would be a good idea to structure our document using a few layers, since this way we can maintain a steady workflow by focusing on one section of the illustration at a time.

That being said, bring up the Layers panel, and create a total of three layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: background
  • layer 2: window
  • layer 3: window projection
setting up the layers

Quick tip: I’ve colored all of my layers using the same green value, since it’s the easiest one to view when used to highlight your selected shapes (whether they're closed or open paths).

4. How to Create the Background

We’re going to kick off the project by quickly creating the background, so make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the first one), and then lock all the other ones so that we can get started.

Step 1

Create a 720 x 1080 px rectangle, which we will color using #3F3330 and then center align to the underlying Artboard using the Align panel.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations background

Step 2

Lock the current layer, and then move on up to the next one (that would be the second one) where we’ll start working on our next composing section.

locking the illustrations background layer

5. How to Create the Window Section

Once we’ve finished working on the background, we can shift our focus over to the window, which we will create in the following moments.

Step 1

Start working on the frame, by creating a 184 x 292 px rectangle, which we will color using #70463E, and then center align to the underlying Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 214 px from its top edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations window frame

Step 2

Create the window section using a smaller 160 x 280 px rectangle, which we will color using #FF8D60 and then center align to the previous shape’s bottom edge. Once you have the two shapes in place, select and then group them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations window section

Step 3

Create the moon using an 80 x 80 px circle (#FFFFFF), which we will position onto the window section, at a distance of 14 px from its left edge and 40 px from its top one.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations moon

Step 4

Give the moon a spooky atmosphere by adding a couple of 4 px tall rectangles (#FF8D60), which we will adjust pushing their bottom inner facing anchor points to the top by 3 px (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > -3 px). Position the resulting shapes as seen in the reference image, selecting and grouping them and the moon together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the spooky lines to the illustrations moon

Step 5

Start working on the frame’s inner section by creating the vertical grid using a 4 x 280 px rectangle (#3F3330), which we will center align to the smaller window section.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the window frames vertical grid

Step 6

Add the upper horizontal grid using a 160 x 4 px rectangle (#3F3330), which we will center align to the underlying window section, positioning it at a distance of 96 px from its top edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the windows upper horizontal grid

Step 7

Start working on the horizontal grid’s outer rounded segments by creating two sets of two 16 x 16 px circles (#3F3330), which we will position as seen in the reference image.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the horizontal grids outer rounded segments

Step 8

Adjust each pair of circles by selecting and removing their inner facing two anchor points, uniting the resulting paths into a single larger shape using the Control-J keyboard shortcut twice.

adjusting the shape of the horizontal grids outer rounded segments

Step 9

Create the inner rounded segments using two sets of two 8 x 8 px circles (#3F3330), which we will position as seen in the reference image.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the horizontal grids inner rounded segments

Step 10

Open up each of the four circles by removing their outer facing anchor points, uniting the resulting paths into a single larger shape by pressing Control-J four times. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the horizontal grid’s composing shapes together, before moving on to the next step.

adjusting the shape of the horizontal grids inner rounded segments

Step 11

Create the bottom horizontal grid using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will position below at a distance of 64 px. Once you’re done, select and group all of the window’s composing sections using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the windows bottom horizontal grid

Step 12

Start working on the window’s sill by creating the subtle highlight using a 216 x 2 px rectangle, which we will color using #FF8D60 and then position underneath the shapes that we’ve just grouped.

creating and positioning the main shape for the highlighted section of the windows sill

Step 13

Create the current section’s main body using a 216 x 14 px rectangle (#70463E), which we will position below the previously created shape.

creating and positioning the main shape for the body of the windows sill

Step 14

Following almost the same process used for the moon’s atmospheric lines, add a couple of side insertions to the sill’s main body. Take your time, and once you’re done select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes together.

adding the side insertions to the window frames sill

Step 15

Start working on the window’s lintel by creating its bottom section using a 232 x 4 px rectangle (#70463E), which we will position above the frame’s top edge, at a distance of 8 px.

creating and positioning the main shape for the bottom section of the windows lintel

Step 16

Create the upper section of the lintel using a 240 x 8 px rectangle (#70463E), which we will position above the previously created shape, at a distance of just 4 px.

creating and positioning the main shape for the upper section of the windows lintel

Step 17

Finish off the current section by adding the two side insertions (#3F3330). Take your time and once you're done select and group (Control-G) all of the lintel’s composing shapes together, doing the same for the entire window afterwards.

adding the side insertions to the upper section of the windows lintel

Step 18

Start working on the left cover door by creating its hinges using two 4 x 10 px rectangles (#3F3330) which we will align to the frame’s left edge, positioning them at a distance of 24 px from its top and bottom ones.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the windows left door hinges

Step 19

With the hinges in place, start working on the actual cover by creating a 4 x 292 px rectangle (#70463E), followed by seven smaller 4 x 276 ones (#70463E). Horizontally distance the shapes at 4 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them at a distance of 4 px from the window frame’s left side.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the windows left cover door

Step 20

Create the handle using a 4 x 28 px rectangle (#70463E) to the right side of which we will add two 8 x 4 px rectangles (#70463E). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together and then position them at a distance of 4 px from the left cover as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the cover door’s composing shapes together before moving on to the next step.

adding the handle to the windows left cover door

Step 21

Create the right cover door, using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position onto the opposite side of the window frame.

adding the right cover door to the windows frame

Step 22

For this next step, I’m going to let you get a little creative, since you’ll have to draw the two spooky tree branches with the help of the Pen Tool (P) using #3F3330 as your main Fill color. Take your time, and use the reference images as your main guide, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all your resulting shapes before moving on to the next step.

drawing the illustrations two tree branches

Step 23

Start working on the little teddy bear, by creating its main body using a 36 x 36 px circle, which we will color using #3F3330 and then position onto the sill, at a distance of 36 px from the window’s left edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the teddy bears body

Step 24

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by selecting its top anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then pushing it to the outside by 4 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > -4 px).

adjusting the shape of the teddy bears main body

Step 25

Start working on the toy’s left leg, by creating a 16 x 20 px ellipse (#3F3330) on top of which we will add a smaller 8 x 12 px one (#70463E). Group (Control-G) the shapes together, and then rotate them at a 45º angle (right click > Transform > Rotate > 45º), positioning them onto the larger body’s left side as seen in the reference image.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the teddy bears left leg

Step 26

Create the right leg using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position on the opposite side of the bear’s larger body.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the teddy bears right leg

Step 27

Start working on the left paw by creating its bottom section using an 8 x 8 px circle (#3F3330), which we will position onto the leg, at a distance of 32 px from the window’s left edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the lower section of the teddy bears left paw

Step 28

Add the paw’s upper section using a 10 x 10 px square (#3F3330) which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its top-left corner to 10 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Once you’re done, position the resulting shape onto the circle’s upper half, selecting and grouping both of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating and positioning the main shape for the upper section of the teddy bears left paw

Step 29

Add the right paw using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position on the opposite side of the bear’s body.

adding the teddy bears right paw

Step 30

Create the toy’s head using a 28 x 24 px ellipse, which we will color using #3F3330 and then position onto the larger body, at a distance of 34 px from its bottom edge.

adding the teddy bears head

Step 31

Finish off the bear by adding its ears using two 12 x 12 px circles (#3F3330), which we will position 8 px from one another horizontally, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the toy’s composing shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the teddy bears ears

Step 32

Add the first segments of the projected legs using two 4 x 14 px rectangles (#3F3330), which we will position 16 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them on the window’s sill.

adding the first segments of the projected monsters legs

Step 33

Create the lower visible section of the wall using a 160 x 48 px rectangle, which we will color using #70463E and then position below the sill, at a distance of just 24 px.

creating and positioning the main shape for the visible section of the illustrations wall

Step 34

Finish off the current section of the illustration by adding the second segments of the projected legs using two 6 x 48 px rectangles (#3F3330). Adjust the segments by individually selecting and pushing their top outer anchor points to the inside by 2 px (right click > Transform > Move > + / - 2 px depending on which side you start with). Horizontally space the resulting shapes 16 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them onto the visible section of the wall.

adding the second pair of segments of the projected monsters legs

6. How to Create the Window Projection Section

Assuming you’ve locked the previous layer, move on up to the third and last one, where we’re going to work on the lower half of the illustration, where all the dark magic happens.

Step 1

Create the projected window using a 232 x 280 px rectangle, which we will color using #EA764E and then position below the visible wall section, at a distance of 16 px from its bottom edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations projected window

Step 2

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created, by individually selecting and pushing its top anchor points to the inside by a distance of 36 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Horizontal > + / - 36 px depending on which side you start with).

adjusting the shape of the illustrations projected window

Step 3

Create the vertical grid using a 4 x 280 px rectangle, which we will color using #3F3330, and then center align to the shape that we’ve just adjusted.

creating and positioning the main shape for the projected window frames vertical grid

Step 4

Add the horizontal grids using a copy (Control-C) of the ones from the previous section, which we will paste onto the current layer (Control-F). Position the copies onto the projected window, making sure to adjust their length as seen in the reference image.

adding the horizontal grids to the illustrations projected window

Step 5

Create the projected tree branches using a copy (Control-C) of the ones that we’ve previously made, which we will paste onto the current layer (Control-F) and then adjust by horizontally reflecting them (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal). Position the resulting shapes onto the right side of the projected window, as seen in the reference image.

adding the tree branches to the illustrations projected window

Step 6

Finish off the current section and with it the illustration itself, by drawing the scary shadow monster using #3F3330 as your Fill color. Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the projected window’s composing shapes together before saving the project.

finishing off the illustration

All Lights On!

Phew, now that was a scary one! I hope you've managed to keep up with each and every step, and maybe, just maybe, to break free of your fears for a little while during the process.

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