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How to Create a Quirky Line Art Portrait in Adobe Illustrator

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Read Time: 8 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

I know so many illustrators who practice their craft on their own face. Whilst I've tried in the past to vector myself, I can't stand to stare at my own face for a couple of hours. I started with my own face, vectoring it from a selfie I took at an "extreme" angle (think MySpace emo) but then pulling a face. The whole point was to not look like myself, so that then I would be able to focus on the craft rather than the person. This is where the awkward selfie project came to life.

Awkward Selfies SeriesAwkward Selfies SeriesAwkward Selfies Series

For the past couple of months, I've been vectoring my friends in similar poses. The style I've used is pretty similar to one of my popular tutorials, how to create a dramatic portrait with chunky line art. I thought I'd show you how to use this style with some added processes and help answer some common questions I get for line art projects, such as conveying texture and facial hair.

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How to Pick Your Worst Selfie

Thank you to Andrew Blackman for stepping up and volunteering his face for this tutorial. If you'd like to follow along with this tutorial, you can download his photo from this page as the attachment. If not, you can use your own photo.

Using Your Own Photo

If you want to use a selfie of yourself, or of a friend, think ugly. Think awkward. Think challenge. You don't want to use a boring image as you've probably approached a portrait many times from a boring straight-on or profile angle. 

The whole point of this project is to vector an awkward angle, something you don't see every day with portrait illustration. Therefore it is very forgiving with any mistakes you make. So angle that camera high, low, at arm's length or uber close, and take a selfie!

1. How to Set Up Your Document

Step 1

It would be too easy to place your selfie onto your artboard and vector straight from there. However, working out your composition from the start will help you know the direction you're going in and may cut down on your workflow by cutting out vectoring any unnecessary details.

You can do this by creating a frame. I do this by removing a Rectangle (M) from another using Pathfinder > Minus Front.

Create a FrameCreate a FrameCreate a Frame

Step 2

Then use File > Place and locate your selfie and then position it behind the frame. You can use this to find the right crop and composition of your selfie.

Remember you can resize and rotate your portrait using the Free Transform Tool (E). You can also use the frame to hide parts of the face you want to avoid...

I'm sorry Andrew, I don't like vectoring ears, so I'm only vectoring one of them.

Find your compositionFind your compositionFind your composition

Step 3

I then set up my Layers panel to have a layer for a 50% Opacity white filled rectangle over Andrew's face and a layer to add my line art.

Setting up my layersSetting up my layersSetting up my layers

2. How to Start Your Line Art

Step 1

Using the Pen Tool (P), I'm going to begin creating shapes to create the line art. I'm not using stroked lines for this part of the portrait. For the large portions of line art, I'm going to create less uniform filled shapes to create a more organic look.

Adding Line ArtAdding Line ArtAdding Line Art

Step 2

When creating connecting lines, make sure that they overlap when they connect to adjacent lines. This prevents any gaps appearing.

Overlapping linesOverlapping linesOverlapping lines

Step 3

I continue to vector in the larger line forms to create the majority of the face and clothing.

Adding the majority of the linesAdding the majority of the linesAdding the majority of the lines

3. How to Create Line Art for the Eyes

Step 1

For the eye, I create a shape for the eyeball and inner eye as one shape. I then Duplicate it and hide it. Then create a shape which covers the overall shape of the eye, including the lash line.

I remove the smaller shape from the larger shape using Pathfinder > Minus Front. This creates the overall shape of the eye but also gives you a hidden shape which I'll use later on for a clipping mask.

Create the eye shapeCreate the eye shapeCreate the eye shape

Step 2

Now to create the detailing in the iris. To create a line effect, similar to the previous tutorial but more uniform, I'm going to put together a series of triangles lined up on a stroked line. The line is set to Stroke Weight 1 pt. I've put the triangles along the line at equal distances apart. 

Creating a brush Creating a brush Creating a brush

Step 3

I then use this shape to create a New Pattern Brush. Depending on the way you've created these shapes, you may need to go back into this window to alter the settings. In this case, I needed to tick the Flip Across option. Click on OK once you're done.

Create a Pattern BrushCreate a Pattern BrushCreate a Pattern Brush

Step 4

Time to create multiple circles. Create the original with the Ellipse Tool (L) and duplicate it. Hide the original as you'll need that later on to add colour to the eyes, should you decide to. Then you'll have a duplicate to add a thick 3 pt Stroke Weight line around the eye. 

One will be for the Eye Detail brush. However, due to how pattern brushes are created (they are centralised on the stroke), you'll need to use the Free Transform Tool (E) to reduce the size of the circle so it aligns with the outside of the largest circle.

Then create circles for the pupil and light reflections.

Eye detailsEye detailsEye details

Step 5

Group together the shapes for the iris and pupil (Control-G). Duplicate this group for the other eye.

Then unhide the shape for the eyeball and use it to create a Clipping Mask (Control-7). Repeat this for the other eye.

Both eyesBoth eyesBoth eyes

4. How to Create Hair and Detail With Brushes

Step 1

Finer details in the portrait, including the hair, are going to be created using art brushes. So first I'm going to create two Art Brushes. The first is a squashed circle with tapered ends. 

Tapered BrushTapered BrushTapered Brush

Step 2

The next art brush is created from a triangle.

Triangle BrushTriangle BrushTriangle Brush

Step 3

The Triangle Brush is used to create the ribbing effect along the collar of Andrew's jumper.

If your portrait is looking too simple, small detailing effects like this can help you create a more polished illustration.

Create the collarCreate the collarCreate the collar

Step 4

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the tapered art brush, I add strokes for the eyebrows. I use the photo underneath to help dictate the direction of the hairs so they look tidy.

Adding the eyebrowsAdding the eyebrowsAdding the eyebrows

Step 5

With the Triangle Tapered Brush, I add folds and lines inside the collar and shirt to create more texture. 

Inside the collarInside the collarInside the collar

Step 6

I create a New Layer underneath my line art and draw a white filled shape along the hair line. This is to hide strokes that I draw underneath that shape to create a clean hair line.

You can see the difference this white shape makes below in cleaning up my lines. As the majority of this portrait will be line art with no further shades, I can keep it as white. If you're going to use multiple colors, you can expand the strokes for the hair and then trim the overlapping area.

Adding the hairAdding the hairAdding the hair

5. How to Create Line Art for Facial Hair

Step 1

As the facial hair falls and adds texture to the line around the jaw line, I'm going to need to alter this to give the impression of facial hair. If I were to draw lines on top of this, it would still show a smooth line underneath and wouldn't look cohesive. 

First I'll split the line in two by using the Knife Tool. I cut the line where the facial hair starts to distort any clean lines of the face. You can see in the image below, this is around the bottom of the ear.

Using the Knife ToolUsing the Knife ToolUsing the Knife Tool

Step 2

To add texture to this line, I select it and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. I then create further lines around the chin and nose due to the wonderful pose Andrew is in, to create the same defined yet textured line.

Create a textured lineCreate a textured lineCreate a textured line

Step 3

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the tapered brush, I then go on down the face. I build up the strokes slowly, being sure to pay attention to the direction of the facial hair. This is much easier to do when the facial hair is longer.

Tip: if the facial hair is stubble, you can often get away with using a pattern fill rather than drawing each stroke.

Adding textureAdding textureAdding texture

Continue adding lines, especially in the more dense areas around the neck and chin. 

Adding facial hairAdding facial hairAdding facial hair

6. How to Add the Finishing Touches

Step 1

Using the tapered brush, I add some finishing touches to the eyes. This includes further lines to the skin and eyelashes. 

Adding eyelashesAdding eyelashesAdding eyelashes

Step 2

To add further texture to the tongue and to add subtle shading, use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to create dots around the edge of the tongue.

Adding texture to the tongueAdding texture to the tongueAdding texture to the tongue

Awesome Work, You're Done!

I always finish my portraits off with a couple of moles on the skin. I've also added a splash of color, giving Andrew pale blue eyes.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and picked up some tips to improve your own creations. If you've got any questions or want to show off what you've created using this tutorial, please do so in the comments!

The finished portraitThe finished portraitThe finished portrait

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