Creating a Stylish Line Art Portrait with Illustrator CS5

  • Author: Sharon Milne
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  • In today's tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create an elegant, feminine portrait using primarily line art used in a variety of creative ways.

    Tutorial Details

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    I'll be basing the tutorial on a photograph I took of a friend and then using other stock elements to add further delicate details to an otherwise plain portrait.

    In the tutorial, I'll be using a stock image of a stag head as a reference for the antlers and I'll be using a stock image of a bunch of roses.

    Step 1

    I'm going to manipulate the reference image in Photoshop before I begin the vectoring process. So first open the image in Photoshop and increase the canvas size by 150% by going to Image > Canvas size (Alt + Command + C).

    Step 2

    I'm going to do a very basic sketch of the antlers. I'm going to need the antlers to be as balanced as possible on either side of the head so the first thing I do is draw a line from the center of the face and beyond the forehead. Using this as a guide, I then draw where the bottom of the antlers will be. From this, I then draw in the antlers.

    Step 3

    As I'm planning a nature inspired portrait, I'm going to give the ears a slight point. So using the Lasso Tool (L) with a 7pt feather, I draw around the top of the ear and use the Move Tool (V) to increase the height of the ear.

    If you notice on the screenshot, you can see when drawing around the ear I've included and excluded some contours of the ear. This is because if I stretched them, they may look too distorted and therefore out of place in the final illustration.

    Step 4

    Use the Lasso Tool (L) to now select the whole of the ear and then Copy (Command + C) and Paste it (Command + V) into a New file in Illustrator. Go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh (Alt + Command + M) and set it to 4 rows and 4 columns.

    Move the points around the tip of the ear to produce an elf like ear and then Copy and Paste the ear back into Photoshop. To help line it up in the correct place, reduce the Opacity so you can see the original reference image underneath. I then use the Eraser Tool (E) to remove the excess white.

    Step 5

    With the reference now modified, Save for Web and Devices. Create a New file in Illustrator with the Default CMYK palette.

    Go to File > Place to place your reference image on the canvas. I have rotated the image and rescaled it using the Free Transform Tool (E). Double-click on the layer folder in the Layers palette and rename the folder to "Reference" and then lock the layer.

    Create a New Layer and rename it to "BG." Within this layer draw a white fill Rectangle (M) and set the Opacity to 40%. Then lock the layer. Create a New Layer and rename it to "Line Art."

    Step 6

    There are many ways you can approach creating line art, however I enjoy creating a more organic look where the lines are less uniform. The majority of it is created with the Pen Tool (P) and using the Pathfinder panel.

    To begin, draw the overall shape of the skin area. Then draw a shape within the skin (in red below). Using Pathfinder > Minus Front, remove this shape from the larger shape and you're left with the base of the line art. As you can see the line isn't of the same width and isn't uniform.

    Step 7

    I'm going to draw the lines in a similar way to divide the face/neck/arm. When connecting shapes, use Smart Guides (Command + U) to guide you where the lines of the shapes are so they don't overlap and create a bumpy look to the line art.

    Once you've finished connecting the lines, use Pathfinder > Unite to make them one shape. If you notice below the lines around the lower lobe are a bit too thick in comparison to the rest of the line art.

    You can modify the thickness by using the Direct Selection Tool (V) by selecting the points and altering the curves and placement.

    Step 8

    I'm going to draw further lines, but these are more delicate. Due to the scale of the lines in comparison to the rest of the portrait, I'm doing to use my Width Profile brushes. I'll be using the "Width Profile 1" brush to draw the bottom lip, nose and ears.

    Then use the "Width Profile 4" brush to draw the connecting lines.

    Step 9

    As these lines are strokes, I'm going to Select All (Command + A), and then Object > Expand them to convert them to shapes. Select All (Command + A) of the shapes and the original face base and make them a Compound Path (Command + 8).

    Step 10

    I'm going to begin drawing the antlers and I'll be using a reference image for this.

    Although antlers aren't symmetrical, I'm going to try to make them look as symmetrical as I can. For the base of them, I'm going to draw thick lines with the below Stroke settings.

    Step 11

    Now we'll use the Width Tool (Shift + W) to modify the shape of the lines. First the end point of the antlers will be reduced to about 2pt and then to make only the end of the antlers have a sharp taper, reduce the width to about 17pt part of the way down.

    Repeat this for both of the antlers' main stems.

    The smaller stems on the antlers won't need to have such a gradual taper, so I've just decreased the width on the tips of them.

    Step 12

    Select your lines for the antlers and then Object > Expand them to shapes.

    Step 13

    Use the same process with the face base, draw shapes within the antlers to create the uneven, more organic look. It is a fiddly process; however, it is worth the outcome. Once you've done this, arrange the shapes so the smaller shape is on top of the larger.

    Then using Pathfinder > Minus Front, remove the smaller shape from the larger. Then use Pathfinder > Unite to make them two shapes - one for each antler.

    Step 14

    I'm going to remove the overlapping lines by using Pathfinder > Minus Front.

    Step 15

    Some of the bases at the bottom of the antler stems are too close to the main stems. So I'm going to draw new shapes in and then use Pathfinder > Unite.

    Step 16

    I'm going to draw shapes on the antlers to remove any excess lines. I'm also going to remove some of the lines at the bottom of the stems so they don't look completely independent from the main stems.

    Use Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove them.

    Step 17

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Hair." I'm going to sketch the hair design using the Paintbrush Tool (B). I want the antlers to be almost resting on the hair, so I've sketched a beehive. Then created bangs around the face to frame it.

    Finally, I want to add a pony tail/braid to give a subtle reference to the tail of a deer. It will also emphasize the femininity of the portrait, as a doe (female deer) doesn't actually have antlers!

    Step 18

    I'm going to need a reference for doing the line art of the braid, so I'm going to use the Braid Brush I created in this tutorial. I've use this art brush along a stroke with a Width Profile (accessible via the Strokes palette) applied to it. This influences the shape of a uniform stroke as shown below.

    Then using the Width Tool (Shift + W), I'm going to modify the stroke so the line isn't tapered as much at the ends.


    Step 19

    I'm going to reorganize the layer folders (see screenshot below) and then draw the base layers for the hair.

    Step 20

    I want to add some smooth hair sections coming from the side of her bangs. To do this I'm going to use the Width Profile 1 brush and the Pen Tool (P). This will ensure that I have smooth even lines. I've set it to a Stroke Weight of about 6pt.

    Select the three lines and then Object > Expand them. Use Pathfinder > Unite to combined the shapes.

    Step 21

    The basic process of doing the hair is the same as putting together the face and antlers. Create a large shape and Pathfinder > Minus Front shapes from it to create the line art.

    With the hair the approach is different in the way that you draw strokes (in this case with the Width Profile 6 brush) onto the base and Object > Expand them, then use Pathfinder. However, this last part is later in the tutorial.

    The hair I do in sections, for instance here I am focusing on the bangs of the portrait. I tend to use the Pen Tool (P) so I have the most control over the lines. They're set to a Stroke Weight of 2pt. This is so I can add finer strokes later on for even further detailing. Don't worry if the strokes overlap, as this will only add to the effect.

    If you want to view how the hair has been rendered, simply color your strokes white and then the base shape black to test it.

    Step 22

    Now working on the rest of the hair, I first set the braid brush to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 20%. This is so I can use it as a detailed guide.

    Then I draw the initial strokes, using the same settings as the bangs. I've sectioned off the hair in the red area to give me guidance to where the strokes should be placed. Also note the position of the strokes overlapping the bottom of the antler.

    I won't need to draw strokes behind the antlers. You can see the hair all together below.

    Step 23

    Duplicate the base layers for the hair before you continue. Now I Select All the hair in each of the layer folders (Command + A) and then use Object > Expand, then Pathfinder > Unite, and then create a Compound Path (Command + 8). This makes it easier to then use Pathfinder > Minus Front from the appropriate hair bases.

    I've lowered the Opacity of the face line art and from this you can see this line art is intruding into the area of the hair.

    As I'm wishing to keep this mainly in black and white, I'm going to draw a white shape to cover the area of the ear (blue shape) and then remove a section from the top of the face line art (the pink shape).

    Step 24

    With the duplicated hair base layers, make the fill color white and then the stroke color black. This will help outline the overall look of the hair and contain it within one area.

    Step 25

    With the Live Paint Bucket (K), I'm going to select the antlers and then fill in them with white.

    Step 26

    As the bottom of the antlers are to be covered by the hair, I'm going to put them into a Clipping Mask. So first draw around the antlers and then Group both the antlers together (Command + G). Then select the shape (which is on top) and the group, then create a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

    Step 27

    Now using the Width Profile 1 brush, I'm doing to draw lines along the side and bottom of the antlers. This will help emphasize the divide between the line art of the hair and the line art of the antlers.

    Then using the same brush, add additional strokes around the hair. As much as we wish hair was perfect, there will be bits peaking through the braid and around the hair edges. Once done, I Group these strokes (Command + G).

    Step 28

    Going back to the reference image for the antlers, you can get a good idea of the texture we need to recreate for them. As you can see, the texture fades towards the tips of the stems and this can be replicated in our line art design.

    Think of the stems being made of wood and this would be a similar sort of texture you need to create. Start with an Ellipse (L) or two and then draw lines with a 0.25pt Stroke Weight with the Width Profile 1 brush around the Ellipses.

    Of course, not all of the stems will have this pattern, but it's a good tip on how to start to create the texture. Remember to stop the line around the top of the stems and carry on doing this for each of them until complete.

    Step 29

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Eyes." As previously, draw one large shape and then use Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove the shapes from it.

    Step 30

    For the pupil and iris, I'm going to draw an Ellipse (L) with a 1pt stroke and null fill, then duplicate it and change the stroke to null and fill to black. Use the Free Transform Tool (E) to reduce the scale to create the pupil.

    Then select the largest circle and Object > Expand the stroke to a shape. Then draw a shape over the pupil and use Pathfinder > Intersect to trim the edges. Use Pathfinder > Unite to add the edge of the pupil to the rest of the eye line art.

    Step 31

    I'm going to draw additional lines for the eyelids with the Width Profile 6 brush and then a 0.25pt stroke with the Width Profile 1 brush for the line of the nostril.

    Step 32

    The eyelashes are going to be done with the Width Profile 1 brush and the Paintbrush Tool (B). The top lashes are done with a Stroke Weight of 1pt and the lower with 0.5pt. Start by drawing lashes at the middle and edges and then filling in between. Remember that eyelashes are curved and therefore some will overhang over the lash line.

    Step 33

    Using the same Width Profile 1 brush with the Paintbrush Tool (B), draw 0.5pt short strokes for the eyebrows. I've also added an additional line to the eye to divide the eyeball from the corner of the eye.

    Step 34

    I'm going to add a finer detail into the iris. A quick way of doing this is to duplicate the circle used for the pupil and to apply a dashed line to it. I've done this twice, and both with a 0.5pt Dashed Line with a 0.25pt Stroke Weight.

    Once done, add them to a Clipping Mask (Command + 7) for the pupil so it trims the edges.

    Step 35

    I've created a simple light reflection to the eyes by adding two Ellipses (L) with a 0.25pt black stroke and a white fill. When you've done one, duplicate the shapes and move them across to the other eye. This ensures that it maintains the distance between the circles.

    Step 36

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Lips." Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the Width Profile 1 brush, add additional strokes around the lips and for the creases. The line for the top lip will be set at a Stroke Weight of 0.75pt and the finer lines at 0.25pt.

    Step 37

    I want to enlarge the lips, by selecting all the shapes for the lips, you'll notice that the line for the center of the lips and the bottom are connected to the main face line art. A quick way to resolve this is to use the Lasso Tool (Q) to select the lines and then click Pathfinder > Unite.

    This will remove the Compound Path element of the shape. Then select the lines you wish from the lips and Cut (Command + X) them from the face shape. Paste in Front (Command + F) into the layer folder for the "Lips."

    Then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to resize the lips.

    Step 38

    I'm going to add some roses to the portrait to emphasize the femininity and elegance. When choosing a stock image, I wanted to get several different roses, so it didn't look like I was duplicating the same element over and over again. I feel this would lower the quality of the final piece.

    I created the roses on a separate document and set it up as I did the line art portrait.

    Step 39

    Back to the same process of drawing a large shape around the object and then using Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove shapes from it to leave you with the organic looking lines for the rose.

    However, remember to duplicate the first shape (the largest), as this can be used as the background behind the line art. It makes it easier to recolor and create Clipping Masks.

    Step 40

    I then used the Width Profile 1 brush and the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw finer lines of detailing on the rose. These lines are typically where the petals were creased and folded over.

    I did the line art for five roses in total using exactly the same method.

    Step 41

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Roses." I've decided to place the roses along the bottom of the portrait to balance out the detailing. If we work on the "rule of thirds" there is detailing on top where the antlers are, then the face, then the rose detailing. The eyes comfortably travel down the antlers to the face and along the braid to the roses.

    After much thought, I decided to cover the ear by adding a rose. Although this wasn't my initial idea and I wanted to have elf like ears shown, it does help to bring some reality to the portrait.

    Step 42

    I'm going to add some additional detailing by adding some lines with the Width Profile 1 brush for the dint above the lip and for the neck, these will be set to about 0.5pt.

    Now add finer lines around the hair.

    Step 43

    I'm wanting to add some dashes of color to our otherwise black and white illustration. I'm going to mix the hard lines of the portrait with some watercolor looking strokes, and to achieve this I'm going to create a Bristle Brush.

    In the Brush palette, click New Brush and on the pop up window, select "New Bristle Brush." Below are the settings and the effect it will produce.

    Step 44

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Back Color" and place it below the "Braid" layer folder. Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), I'm going to build up color around the eyes. So first with green, then a green/yellow shade, and then with yellow. Finally, with the brush set to Blending Mode Multiply, I'm going to add darker strokes on the eye lid with a dark green to give it a little more depth.

    To clean the edges, I'm doing to draw on top of the bristle brush strokes some white fill shapes.

    Step 45

    Then with the Paintbrush Tool (B) I'm going to add some light gray/brown strokes to the hair to give depth. These will be within a New Layer above the "Hair Bases," but below the "Eyes." I'm going to rename this to "Hair BB" - BB as in Bristle Brush.

    Step 46

    I'm going to add a splash of color to the background, so first in the "Back Color" layer folder, I'm going to add a white fill shape behind the eye bristle brush strokes, which is in the shape of the face line art. Then reduce the Opacity to 75%. This is so any textures I apply in the background will show slightly through the skin.

    Step 47

    Create a New Layer and rename it "Watercolor BG." This will be above the "BG" layer folder.

    Within the Brush palette use the drill down menu to access Open Brush Library > Artistic > Artist_Watercolor. I've used these brushes with a large Stroke Weight (about 20-30pt) to create this watercolor look in the background.

    The first strokes are pink set to Opacity 30%.

    Now add some blue strokes set to Opacity 20%, with Blending Mode Multiply.

    Step 48

    Create a New Layer above all the other visible layer folders and rename it "Top Overlay." I'm going to apply some patterns on top to create a subtle texture. You can access the patterns by using the drill down menu in the Swatch palette and going to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic_Graphics > Basic Graphic_Textures.

    Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a shape over the canvas. The first pattern I'm going to apply will be "Circles" and this will have a Blending Mode of Screen, with Opacity 50%. The second will be "Burlap" set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 3%.

    Step 49

    Finally, using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B), I'm going to draw a white line as a parting in the hair, and some black dots for moles on the skin.


    I hope you have enjoyed today's Premium tutorial and you can apply these effects and techniques in your illustration projects.