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Use Basic Shapes to Create a Complex Catrina Poster in Illustrator

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Read Time: 9 mins

In this tutorial, we are going to create a Catrina poster illustration in Adobe Illustrator, by using mainly geometric shapes like the rectangle, circle, polygon, etc. We will also be using the Pathfinder panel, the Outline Stroke option, Offset Path and the Zig Zag effect, all this while using only three colors. So let's get started.

1. Set Up Your Document and Sketch

Step 1

Create a New document size 600 x 1000px and create three new layers in the following order:

  • "Draw": In this layer we are going to draw our Catrina and skulls.
  • "Background Draw": Here we are going to draw the background of the illustration.
  • "Sketch": This is where we are going to create our sketch.
  • "Color Background": This is where the background color will be.

Step 2

Here is the color palette I've choose for this design:

  • #FFFFFF: This color is for the skulls, background and details.
  • #FF5D19: This color is for Catrina's dress and the flowers.
  • #624D4D: This color is for the background base color and details.

Step 3

First draw a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M) in your "Color Background" layer and then Lock the layer. In your "Sketch" layer, start by using the white color with the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) and draw your sketch. I personally don't do my sketches so clean, I just try to focus more on the shapes I'm going to use and the composition, so here it's just pure sketching fun.


Step 4

Now with the orange and grey color, add more detail to the sketch. As for the composition, you can see that it's three planes; one with the skull face on the front, then Catrina and the flowers, and finally the background with a Mariachi, a church, some buildings and the moon.

Now let's get started in our "Draw" layer to draw our skulls from front to back.


Step 5

Change the Opacity of your "Sketch" to 20% and let's start drawing.


2. Draw the Skull Face

Step 1

First lock the "Color Background" and "Sketch" layer and then in the "Draw" layer we are going to draw the skulls. Although only half of the skull face is visible, I'm going to draw the full thing.

Step 2

Start by drawing a rectangle with the Rounded Rectangle Tool. Then duplicate the shape by using Copy (Control-C) and Paste in Front (Control-F).

With the Eraser Tool (Shift-E), drag-Alt to create a straight eraser line (apply it like the blue square below).

Add another Rounded Rectangle.

Add some triangles with the Polygon Tool (same as the rounded rectangle, by pressing the Up and Down Arrow Keys you can add more sides or less sides).

Step 3

To make the shape of the eye you need to drag the eye shape and by pressing Alt, duplicate it like in the image below.

Then duplicate the base shape by using Copy (Control-C) and Paste in Front (Control-F).

Select both and apply Intersect in the Pathfinder panel. 

Use the Eraser Tool to then remove sections of the shape, as shown below.

Step 4

To draw the nose and the mustache you can draw a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L). With the Scissors Tool (C) cut the circle in two places (shown in the first skull in white circles).

Apply to that line the Width Tool (Shift-W) by click-dragging to add the weight you need. The same process goes for the nose cavity. Draw a line and apply the Width Tool (Shift-W). 

Finally apply Outline Stroke to those lines to convert them to paths (Object > Path > Outline Stroke).

Step 5

For the mouth you can start by drawing a Rounded Rectangle.

Apply the Eraser Tool like in the image below.

Then draw another Rounded Rectangle (for the teeth) and duplicate it by pressing Alt-Shift to place them in a straight line. Then to duplicate another in the same direction and distance press Control-D to use the Transform Again command.

Add points to the lines and convert to paths (use Outline Stroke).

Step 6

With the tooth select your shapes and apply Unite in the Pathfinder panel.

Select all the items in the face and duplicate them by copying (remember Copy and Paste in Front). Use the Mirror Tool and reflect the shapes to complete the face.

Press D to put the default black stroke, white fill and with the Eyedropper Tool (I) paint the skull with the white and grey colors.

Finally add details by taking advantage of the shapes you already have.

Step 7

Now we are going to add a stroke to all of our skull. To do that, first duplicate the skull. Ungroup everything (Control-Shift-G) and apply Unite in the Pathfinder panel.

Then apply a large stroke with Rounded Caps and Corners. Then Cut (Control-X) and Paste in Back of the skull.

Finally convert to path the line with Outline Stroke (Object > Path > Outline Stroke).


3. Create Your Catrina

Step 1

Draw a triangle with the Polygon Tool and a Rounded Rectangle to draw the umbrella. Use the Scissor Tool (C) to cut right where the white circles are.

For the arm, it's a stroke with some points added and an Ellipse (L)..

Step 2

To make the dress you can use a Rounded Rectangle and use the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) to make a straight cut from the bottom. The waist is a square.

Use the Unite option in the Pathfinder panel for the arm and Minus Front for the hand. The hand is made with two Rounded Rectangles and a straight erase with the Eraser Tool (Shift-E).

Step 3

The chest is made from a Rounded Rectangle and a modified Rectangle (M). Apply Unite in the Pathfinder panel to finish the shape.

The detail in the dress is made from a stroke and the Zig Zag effect (Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag).

Step 4

To create the right hand use a Rounded Rectangle and cut with the Scissors Tool (C).

To modify the stroke with the Zig Zag effect you will need to apply Object > Expand Appearance. Duplicate the dress shape and apply Intersect in the Pathfinder panel.

Step 5

The basket is made from two Rounded Rectangles. Adjust some of the nodes like in the image.

The hand is a Rounded Rectangle, that has had the finger tips erased.

Step 6

The hat and face are Rounded Rectangles. To add detail like the feather, use a stroke and adjusted with the Width Tool (Shift -W) (remember to keep Rounded Caps and Corners) then convert it to paths. The earring is a triangle. Use Unite in the Pathfinder panel for the shape of the head.

Draw a circle and Intersect to show the bones in the chest.

Step 7

The eye and details in the face are Circles and Rounded Rectangles. They've used a similar process as used for our larger skull in the foreground.

4. Create Some Simple Flowers

Step 1

Draw a Circle and drag a point like in the image below.

Press R to use the Rotate Tool. Click on the bottom center of the figure, and rotate it by pressing Alt-Shift (to duplicate it and make a copy at 45º). Then press Control-D to make more copies and close the flower.

Step 2

Apply Unite in the Pathfinder panel and draw a circle in the center of the flower. Make a Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F) then make the circle smaller.

Step 3

Press D to default the colors, and then paint with the Eyedropper Tool (I). Finally add a stroke like the skull.

Step 4

Now to draw another flower, follow these steps:

  1. Draw a circle like in the image. Press R and Rotate by pressing Alt to make a copy. Add  the circle to add more detail to the flower.
  2. Press D for default colors and paint with the Eyedropper Tool (I) and add the stroke at the end.

5. Detail the Catrina

Step 1

Press D for the default colors and color with the Eyedropper Tool (I) like in the image below.

Step 2

Add detail to the hat and the face. Here we use a little of everything: the Pathfinder panel, Zig Zag effect, geometric shapes, etc...

Step 3

The detail in the chest are Rectangles. I've also added a highlight on the arms using Pathfinder > Minus Front. To make the shadows you need the Offset Path (Object > Path > Offset Path).

Step 4

Remember to add detail by taking advantage of your shapes to create lines and details.

Step 5

To add detail to the basket you can add the flowers we created in a previous step.

Step 6

Now let's draw the flowers behind the Catrina. To do this you can start by drawing some Ellipses (L) and a Rectangle (M) for the base shape.


Step 7

Cut (X) and Paste in Back (Control-B), then apply Unite in the Pathfinder panel. Select the grey color for the fill.


Step 8

Finally, color the stroke orange and add the flowers.


6. Draw a Mariachi Skull

Step 1

Start by drawing the guitar. It's made of three Ellipses (L), a Rectangle (M) and a Rounded Rectangle. It's easier to draw it vertically and after you finish it, adjust the inclination of the drawing.

The head and face are made using the same shapes as the guitar. For the body it's a Rounded Rectangle.

Step 2

Modify the nodes of the body as in the image. The legs are made with Rectangles (M) and the arms are wide Strokes which are converted to paths.

Step 3

The feet are two triangles and the hands are Rounded Rectangles with an erased side.

Then press D to set the default colors for the stroke and fill.

Step 4

Paint your character with the grey and white fills. You can then add decorations by using basic shapes and the Zig Zag effect. I've also modified the legs.

Step 5

Finally, I've added dots and lines to the side of the leg and then added an outline around the whole character.

7. Render the Background

Step 1

Now in the "Background Draw" layer, we start by drawing these shapes as shown below.


Step 2

I've used Outline Stroke on several of the shapes. I've also removed the face detailing in the moon.


Step 3

Using the Eyedropper Tool (I), fill the shapes with white.


Step 4

I've added some smaller details to finish off, including stars, a bird and other elements to give the impression of texture and depth.


Congratulations! You're Finished

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. As you can see, you can use basic shapes to create complex illustrations. Why not try this yourself. Well that's all for now, saludos amigos!

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