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How to Paint Psychedelically in Illustrator

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Read Time: 4 min

In this tutorial, we'll be using illustrator to create psychedelic reptile art. I'll show you my process for using overlapping vector shapes to create a painterly style illustration. You can view more of this style of artwork on my portfolio site. Let's get started on this tutorial!

You can find the Source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

Step 1

Even when creating vector art, you’re drawing is the basic guide for your final illustration. Spend a fair amount of time getting your drawing perfect before you scan it into the computer.

Step 1A

Once your drawing is scanned in, start by using the Pencil tool or Pen tool (whichever you prefer), and trace the basic shapes of your drawing. Use transparency to see what your drawing looks like while your tracing.

Step 1B

Each element of your drawing is important, so pay attention to little details such as the under belly of the snake. The Pen tool is useful for this area of the illustration.

Step 2

Once you have the basic elements of your drawing finished, experiment with colors and add a basic color for your background.

Step 3

With the Pencil tool or Pen tool, add some tonal values in the head of the snake. Once you have a shape you're happy with, scale back the Opacity to around 20%.

Step 3A

Spend a little time shading the head. You can achieve shading by drawing tones and adjust the opacity. If you have ever had a painting class, shade the same way in illustrator, as if you were painting on a canvas. Add darker tones with a higher opacity near the edges of the head and light tones near the middle.

Step 4

Now spend more time drawing in the spots of the snakes. Have fun by loosely drawing spots throughout the snake. Since these spots are still part of the drawing, they can be done on the same layer as the overall snake drawing.

Step 5

Double-clicking the Pencil tool will bring up options for controlling the tool more accurately. Experiment with these setting until you're happy with the results. Now create a new layer and start adding more color to the snake by adding some yellow tones around the basic red tones added before. Add color around each shape, which will help move the color around adding life to the piece.

Step 5A

Continue this process throughout the snake.

Step 5B

Once you're finished adding the yellow your layer will look somewhat like this figure below.

Step 6

To help blend the two tones, select a color that will help soften up the hard edge between the two colors. I choice an another orange color. Draw an abstract shape, which will overlap the yellow and red. Then change the Opacity to about 55%. This will soften the edges.

Step 6A

Once your finished, your layer should look like this figure below.

Step 7

Create a new layer and label it "shadows." Instead of using a black, pick a color like purple. Next, draw shades around the edges of the snake with the Pen tool. After drawing them, change the Opacity to 10% or 15%. Draw many of these swoosh shapes around the edges of the snake. This will help add depth to the illustration.

Step 7C

Once your finished, your layer should look like this figure below.

Step 8

Now that the snake is almost complete, lets play around with adding some texture to the background. Draw a few basic objects in the background. Then, select the Twirl tool, then twirl the objects which you drew until your happy with the results.

Step 9

Now for the finishing touches. Add some finishing highlights to the snake by drawing a few swoosh shapes with the Pen tool. Next from the Effects Options, click on the Blur section, and select Gaussian Blur. Only add a few points to add just slight burr to the edges.


Now look over your finished illustration and add any additional highlights or shadows you mite need. Our finished illustration is shown below.

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