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How to Create a Rock Girl with "Beautiful Strokes" in Adobe Illustrator CS5

Read Time: 23 mins

Using Illustrator CS5, you will learn how to create this Rock Girl and Guitar with funky line art and bold colors. You will work with a stock image and the new stroke settings in CS5 to illustrate a stylised vector portrait. Along the way you will lean some great tips and tricks on how to strike the perfect balance between form and detail.

Thank you to Marcus Ranum for granting permission for the stock reference to be used in this tutorial. The stock reference features the model the-hoax.

You will need to be competent with the following:

  • Basic Illustrator terminology and functions
  • Adjust shape transparencies and be aware of Blending Options.
  • How to use the pen tool – unless otherwise stated, this will be used for the majority of the line art.
  • Saving your work periodically

Step 1

To make the darker shapes easier to destinguish in the photo, I highly suggest you modify the curves in Adobe Photoshop. You do this by opening the stock image in Adobe Photoshop, go to Image > Adjustments > Curves.

On the stock image we will be using, the boots are too dark to see the details, so I've adjusted Curves as shown in the example image. Other photo editing programs have an option like this, so you don't necessarily need Photoshop to adjust the image. Once this is done, save it at about 33% of the original size.

Step 2

Create a New portrait document for print and then place your reference image in the middle of the canvas. With the Free Transform Tool (E), hold Shift + Alt and grab a corner of the reference image and re-scale it to the art board. Name this layer as "Reference" by double clicking on "Layer 1" and replacing the text, then clicking on Ok. Lock the layer.

Create New Layer, rename the layer from "Layer 2" to "BG" and place a white filled rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M) and reduce the opacity of it to 30%. Lock the layer. The reason why I do this is that it's a quick way of dimming the reference image when you're tracing the shapes. You can just hide and unhide the "BG" layer to dim the "Reference" layer a lot quicker. Create a New Layer; rename the layer "Lineart". You should now be left with a layer set-up like the one in the example image.

Now the line art fun begins!

Throughout the line art stage, the fill color will be set to null/no color and the stroke color will be set to black (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=100). Leave the Stroke settings on default unless otherwise stated:

Step 3

We're going to start with the basic outline of the girl and guitar. So we're not drawing specific details within the area, only the outside of the subject. I recommend starting towards the top so you can begin the outline of the hair as shown below.

As you can see, I haven't used the exact outline of the refrence. I wanted to make the hair look a bit messier by adding chunkier fly away pieces. Continue to draw around the subject. Try to avoid drawing fine details such as hair strands, fingernail tips and as below, uneccisary accessories. The reason to leave out details is that although they can look pretty on the model, with an outline around the object the detail can appear chunky and not so flattering in line art. Keep an eye out for these sorts of details.

However on some finer details, such as the straps on the boots, try to slightly exaggerate them. This will make the boots stand out and give the illustration one of its many focal points. With any focal points, if theres any elements which are unnecessarily overlapping them, remove this element completely. In the case of the boots, we won't be drawing the guitar strap as shown below.

When it comes to drawing around the edges of the guitar, don't draw the amp lead, as this will be added as a separate element at the end. Once you've drawn the outside lines, set the Stroke Weight to "2". I've hidden the "Reference" layer, the following image is what you should be left with.

Step 4

There is a gap between her side and the arm on the right of the reference image. Draw around this area then select the layer below and the gap shape. Using Pathfinder, Minus Front to subtract the shape from the larger area as shown below.You now have your complete basic outline. Lock this path for now.

Step 5

We're now going to section off each of the main areas of the illustration. To start with, we're going to create a New Sublayer and name it "Sections". Set the Stroke Weight to "1.5". When you're tracing the areas, make sure the lines are touching each other to ensure there are no gaps.

We'll be following a similar principal to Step 3 and avoid the fine details while exaggerating some features to make them more of a focal point. It can be scary trying to distinguish which areas need lines, so use these simple rules.

  • Where clothing meets skin or one item of clothing meets another, draw your line. Note in the example I have tried to give the clothing a bit more of a punk look by adding a tear into the hem of the top.

  • If there is a change in hair color, Don't draw it, see the hair as one area. Although the eyes and lips are separate sections on the face, they are delicate features. Avoid drawing them with such a heavy line. We'll look at this later in the tut.

  • With regards to drawing more complex elements, view the element from a distance. Which areas would you be able to draw without needing to see it up close? In this case, you would see the pick guard and you would see the bridge and the output jack, but you wouldn't be able to make out the detailing in the pickups or the volume and tone controls.

  • If you have a lot of details/lines within an area, consider simplifying it by removing elements. In this case I have removed the bracelet on the wrist on the right of the reference. If you have 2 areas of skin which are layered on top of each other, then drawn a line dividing this area. This can be seen with the forearm on top of the biceps below.

  • Using the same principals as above, looking at the hands. If the thumb is on top of the main area of the hand, then draw the line defining it. However, if fingers are overlapping... due to them being more delicate in appearance to the thumb, leave those for the next line art stage.

  • When looking at the stock reference, some elements might be deceiving. The specific area I'm talking about here is the thigh/hem of the tights area. Due to the direction of the hem, it gives a deceiving line to where the two thighs meet. This is where you need to imagine one thigh on top of the other. Where would the overlap would be? Below is where I think.

Now that you've drawn the sections, you should have something similar to the image below. Lock this layer and move onto the next section of line art.

Step 6

We're now going to define the delicate areas of the illustration. For example the pick guards on the guitar, the straps on the boots. First thing to do is to create a New Sublayer and rename it "Delicate Lines". Set the Stroke Weight to "1". Let's start with the straps and buckles on the boots. Keeping with the same principal, exaggerate some features and exclude the unnecessary, I have drawn the actual clasp of the buckle but not all the details. You get the impression of the buckle from what is drawn, as shown below.

Looking at the complete boot, you can see that there's artistic license to place certain elements. This can be shown with the buckle at point A in the screenshot below. Because it looks better placed in the exaggerated line art we drew, I've shifted it more towards the tongue of the boot.

At place B on the screenshot above; due to not being able to see all the details we want for the tongue, I've estimated where the tongue meets on the shin. At place C you can see more so that I havn't drawn the laces. This is because it is a finer detail which we're going to draw at a later step. With the hands, you want to draw in the fingers but not the finger nails. Believe it or not there is another set of thinner stroke weights to be applied in that area. As there are a lot of lines going on with the fingers, the buckle detailing on the bracelet has been excluded to avoid it looking cluttered.

Let's look at the face and hair as shown below. I've increased the opacity of the "BG" layer so you can see the lines for this screenshot.

I've now defined where the red and black hair will be. I have outlined the eyes and used the Ellipse Tool (L) with a fill of black and null stroke for the pupil. I've also defined the eyelid. You'll also notice the image now has an ear. The reason why it's been done with a less heavy line – compared to the likes of step 3 and 5 – is because it is a delicate feature. You can see a pattern forming with stroke weight and elements of the body now.

I have also drawn the nose and defined the lips.

A few tips to do with the face if you're going to use this method on other stock images:

  • Try to avoid using lines on the top lip. The top lip is usually thinner than the bottom and doesn't have any shadow cast above it. So to keep your lips looking delicate, especially for more feminine illustrations, avoid drawing on a top lip.
  • If the mouth is open and you want to avoid drawing the teeth (which some people may find hardest to draw in past experience), apply a heavier stroke width to this line.
  • As feminine lips appear more delicate, try drawing a line under the bottom lip which doesn't connect to the line in the middle of the mouth.
  • To make a feminine face, only draw the bottom of the nose (if shadow is cast there) and the nostrils. If the face is more masculine, draw a line showing the edge of the bridge of the nose.

There are several areas on the skin where it creases or has indents. One of them is where the armpit is, another the naval. Just draw a little line to show these. If you were doing an illustration of a more masculine figure, they may benefit from some lines showing muscle sculpture. Below is a screen shot of the naval and also the detailing I'm putting into the belt. I wanted to create a rock/studded effect. These are very easy to achieve. A fine lined squar with a lighter lined X in the middle. Lock this layer and we'll progress to adding more detail to the guitar.

Step 7

Create a New Sublayer and name it "Guitar Details". You will be using the same Stroke Weight as before which is "1". There are some details which we can draw free hand with the Pen Tool (P) as with the rest of this tutorial which is shown below.

I want to make the volume and tone controls and the pickups clean looking. You can achieve this by using the Ellipse Tool (L). Using the Ellipse Tool (L) and holding Shift + Alt, draw a circle which is the side of the top of the knob.

Copy (Control + C) and Paste Behind (Control + B). Using the Free Transform Tool (E); resize and shape the circle to form the bottom of the knob.

Select both of the circles you have created and Group them (Control + G). Then Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) twice and place the newly copied knobs into place.

Next, hold click on the Rectangle Tool (M) to access the Rounded Rectangle Tool. Use this to roughly draw the shape for one of the pickups. You will notice that it won't be as aligned to the element on the guitar, so using the Free Transform Tool (E), gently rotate it to align with one. Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) this element twice and using the Free Transform Tool (E), move and rotate the other two pickups in the correct place.

We're going to add some finer details which requires a smaller Stroke Weight. Adjust your Stroke Weight to "0.75". We're first going to add some dimension to the guitar body and headstock. Use the image below as refrence.

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), hold Shift + Alt and draw a small circle for one of the tuning bolts on the headstock. Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) and move these 5 times to make sure you have the same size for each one as shown below.

Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) the same circle used for the tuning bolts for the fret markers on the neck. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw in single lines for the frets as shown below:

Adjust your Stroke Weight to "0.5" as we're going to add even more detailing to the guitar.

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), hold Shift + Alt and draw a small circle on the pickup. Copy (Controll + C) and Paste (Controll + V) and move these 5 times and move them into place. Select all 6 circles on the pickup and Group them up using Control + G. Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) twice and move them into place on the other pickups. You should be left with an image simmilar to the one below.Lock this layer and move onto the next step.

The full guitar should look simmilar to this one.

Step 8

We have now finished the main construction of the line art. What we need to do is modify the Profile of the Strokes thanks to a new addition to the Stroke options in Adobe Illustrator CS5. The three we are specifically interested in are starred below.

When you pause your cursor over them, they will reveal the names "Width Profile 1", "Width Profile 2" and "Width Profile 4". The button next to the Profile is called "Flip Along" and what it does is change the direction of the Profile on the Stroke. Any line we have drawn which is not collected at both sides to another line, will need a Profile applied to them. Unlock your three sublayers and use your Selection Tool (V) to select a stray lines and then stroll down the Profile list and apply a profile.

Here are some rules for the stray lines:

  • If the line is not connected to another line on either side and is a smooth curve, apply "Width Profile 1". A good example of this would be the bottom lip and eyelids as shown below.

  • If the line is not connected to another line on either side and is not a smooth curve, apply "Width profile 2". A good example of this would be the nose, around the eyes and where the lips meet as shown below.

  • If the line is connected to a line on one end and is not on the other, apply "Width Profile 4". The widest end will need to be at the connecting line with the narrow end at the other. A good example of where this would be is the hands and the skin crease at the arm pit as shown below.

Your finished line art should look simmilar to the example below.

Step 9

We're now going to be using Live Paint Bucket (K) to add color to our illustration. However, the first thing we need to do is to turn our lines into shapes. The reason for this is that we have applied Profiles to our Strokes and when you use Live Paint, it will take this away.

Unlock all objects and layers within the "Lineart" layer. Select All (Control + A) and Copy (Control + C) the lines. Lock and Hide the "Lineart" layer. Create New Layer and rename "Layer 7" to "Color". Paste in front (Control + F) your lines into here. Your lines should still be selected and you should have something simmilar to the image below in your Layer palette.

We will now Expand these lines by going to Object > Expand Appearance. This will convert the Profile applied Strokes into lines. However we want to take this a step further and go to Object > Expand. You will get a pop up box the same as the one below, click OK.

We can now start using the Live Paint Bucket (K).

We're going to use the colors in the Swatch palette to fill in the areas. Feel free to use which ever colors you please however for the sake of this tutorial I'll be using the Basic CMYK palette. The only exception will be for the skin tone. The colored illustration is shown below.

The following is a mixing guide for the colours I've used.

  • Pink > C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0: hair, studded belt leather, pickup, output jack, tights
  • Blue > C=85, M=50, Y=0, K=0: hair, belt, top of the volume and tone control knobs
  • White > C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=0: eye whites, pick guard, bottom of the volume and tone control knobs
  • Skin > C=0, M=15, Y=15, K=0: all skin areas (this color is not in your swatch, you will need to add it)
  • Light grey > C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=20: guitar body, studs on the belt, bridge detailing, fret marks, pick up detailing, tuning pegs, tuning bolts, buckles on shoes
  • Grey > C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40: bridge, sides of the guitar body
  • Mid grey > C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=80: outside of platform and straps on boots, inside the input jack
  • Dark grey > C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90: clothing, boots, under platform of boots
  • Light brown > C=25, M=40, Y=65, K=0: guitar neck, bracelet
  • Brown > C=35, M=60, Y=80, K=25: iris, headstock and side of headstock, bracelet detail

You will notice on the screen shot the black lines aren't completely crisp. If you Save For Web & Devices, you will see the crisp lines, so don't worry.

Step 10

We now need to Expand and Ungroup the Live Paint Group which has been automatically created. We do this by Selecting the group in "Color". Go to Object > Expand, click OK with the settings as below

Go to Object > Ungroup. Do this 4 times to ensure all you see in your "Color" layer are paths. Using the Selection Tool (V), Deselect and then Select one of the black shapes used for the line art. Go to Select > Same > Fill Color and press delete on your keyboard. You should be left with just the colors of your illustration. Keep in mind, due to copying your lines, all your lines should be in the "Lineart" layer. You should havean image simmilar to the one below visible.

Now Select All (Control + A) and Copy (Control + C) and then lock "Color". Create New Layer and name it "Gradients". Paste in front (Control + F) and this should duplicate all your colored shapes. In your Basic CMYK Swatch palette you should have a black to transparent gradient called "Fade To Black". Click on this and go into the Gradient window. We want to change the type of this to a Radial gradient and then Reverse Gradient. You should have the below settings from this

Drag and drop this gradient into your Swatch for ease of use. We're going to create a second gradient using this as a template. Drag and drop the brown we used for the headstock (C=35, M=60, Y=80, K=25) where the black pointers are on the template. You should have the below gradient.

Drag and drop this gradient into you Swatch for ease of use. Using the Selection Tool (V), select one area of skin. Then go to Select > Same > Fill Color. Apply the pink to transparent radial gradient you created. Go into the Transparency window and change the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 20%. Go to Object > Lock > Selection.

Now Select All (Control + A) and apply the black to transparent radial gradient. Go into the Transparency window and change the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 20%. Now Lock the whole layer. Make the "Lineart" layer visible and drag it up the Layer palette until it is the top layer.

You shuld have a simmilar image to the one below.

Step 11

Create a New Layer in between "Gradients" and "Lineart" and call it "Details". Hide the "Gradients" and "Color" layers and zoom into the face.

Using the pink we used for the hair (C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0) for a fill color, draw around the lips. Reduce the Opacity to 50%. Using the same pink, draw the top lip only and reduce the Opacity to 50%. Using the dark grey we used on the boots (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90) for the fill color, draw around the eyes – underneath and on top. Reduce the Opacity to 50% and set the Blending Mode to Multiply. Using the same dark grey, draw on top of the eye lip only. Continuing with the grey, draw in the eyebrows. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), hold Shift + Alt and draw a small circle on the upper lip to be a beauty spot. Select All (Control + A) the shapes and lock them (Control + 2).

Step 12

We're now going to add the first stage of detailing to the hair. Create New Sublayer and rename it from "Layer 10" to "Hair". Using the grey we used for the bridge (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40) as the stroke color and the fill color set to null/no color, starting at the roots of the hair and drawing outwards. Now apply the stroke Profile "Width Profile 1". Change the Blending Mode to Multiply. Control + 2 to lock the strokes.

Using the same color, we're going to draw some highlights in the bangs/fringe at the front. Now apply the stroke Profile "Width Profile 1". Change the Blending Mode to Overlap and reduce the Screen to 50%.

Lock the "Hair" sublayer.

Step 13

Create a New Sublayer and call it "Belt". Using black which we used on the line art as the stroke color and null for the fill, set Stroke Weight to "0.5" and do the X's on the studded belt as below.

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), hold Shift + Alt and draw circles with the black outline on the blue belt. The Stroke Weight should still be "0.5". Once you've placed the circles, select hold Control and click select them. Set the Blending Mode to Multiply. Lock the "Belt" sublayer.

Step 14

Create New Sublayer and name it "Top". Using the black which we've just used as the stroke color and null for the fill, set the Stroke Weight to "0.5" and draw a line along the hem for the collar and around the arm. Then draw a line along the chest. Select All (Control + A) and apply the stroke Profile to "Width Profile 1". Set the Blending Mode to Multiply.

Lock the "Top" sublayer.

Step 15

Create New Sublayer and name it "Hands". Using the blue which we used on the belt (C=85, M=50, Y=0, K=0) for the fill and black for the stroke color on Stroke Weight "0.5" we're going to draw the finger nails. On this illustration, it would only be the thumb on one hand and a finger on the other. Using the same Stroke color and weight, change the fill color to grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40) draw on a ring. Set the fill color as null, we want to draw a line to show the knuckles on the hand on the left. Set the Stroke Weight to "0.5". As this line is not a straight curve, we will set the Profile to "Width Profile 2".

Lock the sublayer.

Step 16

Create a New Sublayer and name it "Laces". Using the black as the stroke color and null for the fill, we're going to draw on the laces for the boots. Using the settings below, you should draw the laces in the following places.

Lock the sublayer.

Step 17

Create a New Layer on top of the "Lineart" layer name it "Guitar". With the blue fill color and a black stroke color and "1" Stroke Weight, draw the output jack. With the dark grey color (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90) as the stroke color, a null fill and Stroke Weight "4" we're going to draw the cabling. This is where you can be a little creative. Maybe write your initials in the cabling or a shape, or just pick a curvy line. In this example, I'm going to draw a little heart lying on the floor. Draw this shape underneath the shape you drew for the output jack. You should have the below now:

We're now going to draw the strings on the guitar. Set the stroke color to black and with a null fill. There are six strings, starting from the left to right it goes from thickest to thinnest. This can be reflected in the Stroke Weight. So from left to right I have set the Stroke Weights to "1.5", "1", "1", "0.75", "0.5" and "0.25". After you have drawn them, select them and change the Blending Mode to Multiply.

Lock the layer.

Step 18

Create New Layer above the "BG" layer and name it "Shadow". Select the black to transparent radial gradient and Reverse Gradient. Drag the Gradient Slider as shown below.

Drag it into the Swatch palette for ease of use. Use it for the fill color and null on the stroke color. Using the Ellipse Tool (L) draw underneath each one of the boots. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to reshape the gradients as shown below.

Change the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 50%. Lock the layer.


All you need now is a background. I've made a simple gradient background, but feel free to take this image further by drawing your own detailed background. To make a background like the one in the example below, go into the "BG" layer, unlock and select the shape. Fill it with the black to transparent radial gradient with the transparency in the centre. Leave the Opacity at 30%. Below is the final Rock Girl!

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