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How to Create a Line Art Based Symmetrical Portrait in Adobe Illustrator

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Read Time: 9 min
This post is part of a series called Mastering Vector Portraits.
How to Create a Simple Vector Avatar from a Stock Image

In today's tutorial I'm going to show you how to create a line art based symmetrical portrait in Adobe Illustrator. I'll be using various ways of creating line art as well as some handy tips along the way to create your own mirrored graphic. So let's begin!

Step 1

I've started a New document and File > Placed a stock image onto the canvas. I got this stock image via an Envato Bundle last year and thought it would be great for this project. Use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a line down the center of the stock image. I've set up my Layers panel as shown below, with the "BG" layer filled with a white fill Rectangle (M) set to 50% Opacity.

Step 2

I'll only be drawing the right side of the stock image as I'll be mirroring what I've drawn later on. Starting with the Pen Tool (P), I draw the outline of the eye.

Then using the Width Tool (Shift + W), I've reduced the weight of the stroke around the inner corner of the eye and then increased it along the top line and lower eyelid.

Step 3

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the eyelid and then in the Stroke panel, apply the Profile, Width Profile 1 to the stroke.

I've added additional strokes with Profiles for along the waterline and the corner of the eye.

Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw an even circle for the pupil and then duplicate it and resize it with the Free Transform Tool (E) to create the iris. Apply a 1pt Stroke Weight for both circles.

Step 5

Duplicate the overall shape for the eye and then with the iris circle use the Transform panel option Intersect.

Duplicate the waterline strokes and use Pathfinder > Divide to cut into the bottom of the iris and then delete the left over shape at the bottom. Then change the pupil from a black stroke to just a black fill.

Step 6

Duplicate the pupil twice and resize one to the size of the eye. Give them both a black stroke and null fill and then create a Blend (Ctrl + Alt + B). Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options to change the Spacing to Specified Steps and the value 4.

Then go to Object > Expand to release the Blend to strokes and set the Stroke Weight to 1.5pt.

Step 7

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select one quarter of the circles. Don't select the points, just the line connecting.

Then delete this section. Apply the Profile Width Profile 1 and then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to rotate the strokes. This will create a tapered shading effect on the iris.

Step 8

Duplicate the iris shape and then use this to create a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7) with the iris shading strokes.

Step 9

With the Pen Tool (P), draw strokes for the beginning, middle and end of the eye lashes and apply a Profile to them. Draw an additional line along the lash line (shown in pink) to where the eyelashes are to be placed.

Then select the three lashes and create a Blend (Ctrl + Alt + B). I've altered the Spacing to Specified Steps and the value to 20. You'll notice that the eyelashes are not in a curve at this point. We'll rectify this now.

Select the Blend and the pink curved line you drew previously and go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine. This will alter the path/direction your eyelashes will be and will create a nice curve. Duplicate this process for the lower lashes.

Step 10

I'm going to create two Blends for the eyebrows. I want a jagged edge to show on the top and bottom of the eyebrow, but I want it to be of solid color. So I've created a Blend in both directions and then given them a 2pt Stroke Weight with the Profile, Width Profile 1.

Step 11

After drawing the nostrils and lips in a similar method as the eye shape, I'm going to try out mirroring our design. I've organized the elements of the face into layers within a layer in the Layers panel. Select the "Face" layer which controls all the elements within...

And go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform. I want to Reflect X in the Options panel, Transform Objects and create 1 Copy. In addition, I want it to reflect on the left center side of the illustration. Click on OK once done.

The Transform effect will only influence the layer "Face" and will therefore mirror everything contained within. As you add elements into this layer, they will be automatically mirrored. You can check you've done this correctly by selecting the layer and going into the Appearance panel. It should be shown as below.

Step 12

I'm now going to draw the outline of the face and contours. The overall outline will have a black 2pt Stroke Weight and a white fill and the finer lines are black with a 0.1pt Stroke Weight.

I've then added similar lines for the ear. Remembering you only need to draw one side as the other is automatically generated.

Step 13

Using the Replace Spine method of creating a Blend, I'm going to create the hairline. I've used strokes which have the tapered end (Width Profile 4) and created one Blend for the top and one for the side. You may have to play around with the strokes to find the best fit for your design.

Step 14

I'm going to create a line Blend style hair brush for the hair detailing. First draw a white fill Rectangle (M) and then using the Pen Tool (P), add points to the vertical sides in the center.

Select both central points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then Convert selected anchor point to smooth.

Step 15

With the Line Segment Tool (\), draw a vertical black stroke on either side. Add points in the center and convert those central points to smooth also.

Apply the Width Profile 1 to either side and create a Blend with the options below (Ctrl + Alt + B).

Step 16

With the Direct Selection Tool (A) select the top points of both the white fill rectangle and blend, then in the Align panel, select Horizontal Align Center. Repeat this for the bottom points. Then Group the blend and the rectangle (Ctrl + G) and while still selected go to Object > Transform > Rotate. Rotate the group by 90 degrees.

Step 17

Drag and drop the group into the Brushes panel to create a New Art Brush and use the settings below.

Step 18

Using the brush with the Paintbrush Tool (B), I've then added strokes around the side of the hair. I've left the central strokes bare. I've created a new layer which is not contained within the mirroring layers to add these separately.

Step 19

I've decided to add headphones to the illustration by using basic shapes. A mixture of Rounded Rectangles and Ellipses (L).

Step 20

I've created a cushioned effect on the rim of the headphone by selecting the rounded rectangle and going to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen and using the settings below.

Step 21

Select the shape for the dome of the headphones and apply two strokes via the Appearance panel. Give it a black fill and then a 4pt black stroke. With the top stroke, apply a 2pt stroke with Width Profile 1. This will create a pseudo tapered shine to the dome.

I've then finished off the dome by adding some tapered strokes with Width Profile 4 of varying Stroke Weights and a white stroke color to add further shines.

Step 22

Working on the mouth, I've added teeth and the tongue with the Pen Tool (P).

I've then added a fine stroke Blend for the lower lip.

I've then filled the inner mouth with a black filled shape. You'll notice on the preview there is a fine white line down the center. Don't worry about this. You can double check you're doing OK by going to File > Save for Web and viewing your design there to find out how it would look as a JPG/PNG etc...

Step 23

I've added further detailing to the hair by adding some black strokes with Width Profile 4.

Step 24

I've added shading on the face and contours by using fine lined Blends with Stroke Weights of 0.1pt. This will help make the face look less flat. It can be a little fiddly, but play around with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and your Blends to ensure you've got the right positioning and right flow of lines for your illustration.

Step 25

I've added detailing to the headphone cushion (within a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7)) and along the plastic frame of the headphones.

Step 26

When I went to view my design in Save for Web, I noticed my hair brushes made the hair a little too dark for my taste. Below is the design shown via Save for Web...

So I've went back to the original Group I had to create the hair brush and modified the Stroke Weights and created New Brushes until I've been happy with the outcome.

Step 27

I'm going to add a Blend background to the portrait. This wont be contained within the mirrored group but below it. I've drawn an Ellipse with a black stroke and then duplicated it. Resize it with the Free Transform Tool (E) and then create a Blend with the Options below.

I've then changed the inner circles Stroke Weight to 8pt and the outer to 1pt to create the below effect.

Step 28

Finally, I'm going to add shapes above the "Face" mirrored layer for a light reflection in the eye and a star shape mole.


There are many ways to create stylized line art and using Blends is definitely one of the more fun and challenging routes. With a little trial and error in some cases, you can create slick designs and add depth without adding any color!

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