by Sharon Milne


December 31, 2011

How to Create a Zodiac-Themed Portrait in Adobe Illustrator CS5


Hello fellow vector fanatics, my name is Sharon Milne and I sometimes go under the moniker ChewedKandi. I’ve been interested in digital art for over a decade now but it wasn’t until five years ago that I got into vector art. Since then it’s been an addictive and scalable journey with Adobe® Illustrator®.

It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to share with you my process of putting together this Zodiac/Leo the Lion themed vector portrait which I created using Adobe Illustrator CS5.

Leo the Lion

This tutorial is full of helpful hints on using a variety of tools in Illustrator CS5 as well as some of the thought processes behind elements of the portrait. If you’ve any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to help any way I can. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Step 1

For this tutorial, I’ve used a stock image as a reference. This great image comes from Photodune by AndresrPhotos.

First, I like to visualise the concept I have in mind for my vectors, so I tend to either sketch in Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 or Illustrator CS5, depending on how much manipulation I need to do. As I intend to manipulate the stock image, Photoshop is my weapon of choice to start with. I begin by increasing the size of the canvas by choosing Image > Canvas Size (Ctrl + Alt + C) from the main menu, selecting  the bottom middle anchor and increasing both the width and height.

Now I create a new layer  to put my sketch on.  To do this, select Create a New Layer at the bottom of the Layers panel. For the sketch work, select the Brush Tool (B) and a color which stands out against the colors of the stock image, blue in this case.

Step 1

Step 2

Now that I have the basic concept in mind, I’m going to manipulate the stock image. I like to make the eyes and lips bigger, while reducing the nose to make the portrait look more cartoon-like.

First begin enlarging the eyes by using the Lasso tool (L) with a 15px feather. Select an area  around the eye, including the eyebrow. Use the Move tool (V) with “Show Transform Controls” enabled, increase the size of the eye, rotating it slightly to keep the dimensions in scale with the face.

Step 2a

Select and resize each eye individually rather than together so they remain in the same location they were originally.

Step 2b

Step 3

Now we need to select the lips to enlarge them, but we want to make them larger in height than width. However, if we use the Move tool (V) for enlarging the lips, which are at an angle here, it won’t enlarge them evenly, which is what we want.

Select the lips and use the Move tool (V) to rotate them so the parting of the lips is horizontally parallel. To commit to the change, press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac OS), click the Commit button ✔ in the options bar, or double-click inside the transformation marquee. Now when you go back to using the Move tool (V), you can enlarge the lips knowing they will be scaled up in the manner you desire.

Step 3a

When rotating the lips back into the correct place, you can use the Rotate View tool (R) to rotate the canvas and then use the Move tool (V) to rotate the lips back into position. By having the face at the correct angle to you, you can better judge if you’ve put the lips back in the correct angle. To restore the canvas to the original angle, click Reset View in the Control panel.

Step 3b

Step 4

Repeat the same process as Step 3 for the nose and reduce its size.

Step 4

Step 5

At this stage, I now want to add more to my sketch and modify what I already have. The animal lovers reading this would have been the first to point out that one, female lions don’t have big manes of hair/fur and second, they don’t have pointed cat-like ears. While I can try and hide under “creative licence” for the mane since I want to maintain the look of a lion, I can’t with the ears!

Draw a new ear, duplicate it and then use my favorite tool, the Move tool (V) to rotate and flip the ear so we have a pair.

Step 5

Step 6

I’m going to Create a New Layer below the sketch and use the Brush Tool (B) to hide the hair. I don’t like erasing parts of a stock image in case I may need to refer back to it. I’m also going to add in where the parting will be in the hair. This will be my guide, if needed, when I start  rendering the hair in vector paths.

Step 6a

Draw in the front of the mane, which covers the bottom of the ears, and then draw the outline of the entire mane. Again this is just as a guide. we may not have the exact outline, but it helps serve as a reference later.

Step 6b

Step 7

After hiding the blue sketch layer, select File > Save for Web & Devices, and save out the image, ready to bring it over into Illustrator.

Now in Illustrator, create a new document.

From the main menu, select File > New, and in the New Document dialog, select New Document Profile = Print, Number of Artboards = 1, Size = A4. Using this New Document profile will set the document color mode as CMYK and the Raster Effects resolution to 300 dpi.

Next, select File > Place and place your reference image into the center of the canvas. Select the Free Transform tool (V), and holding down the Shift key to maintain the aspect ratio, scale the image to the canvas.

Although there are many ways to prep a file to work from a reference image, I’m a little stuck in my ways and always set up my files like this:

First I place my reference image in its own layer named “Reference.” Then I select the Create New Layer at the bottom of the Layers panel and name the new layer “BG” for “background.” Within this layer I create a rectangle using the Rectangle tool (M), give it a white fill, and, from the Control Panel, set the Opacity to 40%.  Next I create a new layer for my first base shapes…in this case it’s named “Skin.”

Using the Toggle Visibility option in the Layers Palette (the “eyeball”), the “BG” layer dims the stock image when required, and can be recolored should I need a more contrasting color to compare my strokes to the original image.

Step 7

Step 8

Using the Pen tool (P), draw the first shape, which is going to be the skin base layer. We will use this to layer on many shapes of  lesser opacity. Use the shades from the “Skintones” swatch library, which you can find by selecting the Swatches Libraries menu from the bottom of the Swatches panel and selecting Skintones.

These swatches are great, as you have a variety of ethnicities represented by them, and you can mix and match the colors to get different tones in the skin. As much as we want to have flawlessly clear skin, it’s not a reality! I’m using the Color Group “Skintone 1” and  the swatch C=0, M=21, Y=35, K=7. I’m using a mid-toned color as I’ll use the colors either side of this swatch for highlights and shadows.

Step 8

Step 9

To create the initial shading shapes over the base,  first duplicate the shape we drew for the skin base, and then draw shapes over it that should be in a lighter tone. Then, select Window > Pathfinder  and choose Minus Front from the Shape Modes to remove areas of lighter tone from the base layer. The shape that’s left will represent the darker areas of the skin.

If you look at the screenshot on the left  below, you can see the original shape of the skin base faintly in gray and the shapes drawn on top are area that have lighter tones. The second screen shot shows the shapes removed from the base.

Step 9a

Add further shapes in this manner, all with the same skin shading tone as the base. To produce progressively darker shades, from the Control Panel, select the Opacity link, choose Multiply from the Blending Mode menu and set the Opacity to 5%. To learn more about Blending Modes in Illustrator, see this video or check out this help document.

Step 9b

You can see from the screenshot below the modeling effect you gain from using this technique. It’s very faint, but as you build up the shapes by repeating these steps, you’ll see more!

Step 9c

Step 10

The next shapes we create cover similar areas, but since they are more intricate and have more space between them, draw them individually rather than subtracting them from a duplicate of the skin base as above. These shapes are also set to the same settings as Step 9: Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 5%.

Step 10a

Step 10b

Step 11

You may notice that the shapes used to model the skin tones overlap the base shape. To tidy up these shapes, I used a Clipping Mask.

To create this Clipping Mask, select the overlapping shapes and Group them (Ctrl + G), creating a group for the shapes created in Step 9 and Step 10.

Next, duplicate the skin base shape and place it above the new group. Select the duplicate and one of the groups and, from the main menu, select Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Ctrl + 7). In the Layers panel, drag and drop the remaining group into the Clipping Mask layer to tidy up the edges as shown below:

Step 11

Step 12

Now we need to add darker shadows on the skin, again drawing shapes to represent the darker areas, coloring them with a darker skin tone from the palette (C=0, M=24, Y=40, K=13) set to Blending Mode =  Multiply and Opacity = 10%.

Step 12a

Step 12b

Once done, Group the shapes (Ctrl + G) and drag them into the Clipping Mask group. You’ll notice that I’m building up the shapes for the lips in a similar way. this is because the lips really are part of the skin. If you render them separately they may end up looking too independent from the skin and appear as if they are floating on top of the face.

Step 12c

Step 13

Now we need to add highlights to the skin. To give these highlights a smooth appearance I use transparent radial gradients. I’m going to create a gradient with the lightest color in the “Skintone 1” color group (C=0, M=9, Y=15, K=3), going from completely opaque to fully transparent.  These gradients will be set to Blending Move Screen and Opacity 10%.

Once these highlights are completed, Group them (Ctrl + G) and then add them to Clipping Mask group.

Step 13a

Step 13b

Step 14

When it comes to skin shading, it’s like a balancing act… as you add shadows you may need to provide more contrast in your artwork and thus need to add more highlights. As I’ve added the highlights to my art, the shadows need deepening. So I add smaller areas of shadow with the darkest color from the “Skintone 2” color group (C=6, M=33, Y=38, K=29). These shapes are set to Blending Mode =  Multiply and Opacity  = 10%. Once done, Group them (Ctrl + G) and then add them to the Clipping Mask group.

Step 14a

Step 14b

Step 15

Add further highlight shapes with the same transparent radial gradient. This time set to Blending Mode = Screen, Opacity = 20%.

Step 15

Step 16

To provide an overall highlight to the middle of the portrait and and warm the edges, but still allow the shading shapes above to sculpt the features, we will add some overall radial gradients. To do this, duplicate the skin base twice. On the first duplicate add a transparent radial gradient with Blending Mode =  Color Dodge and Opacity = 20%. To the second duplicate add  an inverted transparent radial gradient using the darkest shade from “Skintone 3” set to Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity = 60%.

These du;plicate shapes with their gradients are placed within the Clipping Mask group, set below all the other shapes.

Step 16

Step 17

Next we’ll add a slight rose blush to the cheeks by adding magenta transparent radial gradients within Ellipses (L). These are set to Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity = 10%. Make sure to place them in the Clipping Mask once done.

Step 17

Step 18

When building out the lips, I first like to alter the color of them but also highlight the shapes previously created by working on the skin shading.

Add a shape with a transparent radial gradient (C=15, M=100, Y=90, K=10) within the skin shading Clipping Mask (at the bottom). I’ve used the Appearance Panel to add the same shape but with different Blending Modes.

Step 18

Step 19

Create a New Layer and rename it “Lips.” Use the skin highlight transparent radial gradient to add highlights to the lips.

Create irregular shapes for the highlights with the Pen Tool (P) and set the Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity = 30%. Group these shapes (Ctrl + G) and lock them  (Cmd + 2) to make it easier work on the other highlights.. The next series of small shapes are drawn with the Ellipse Tool (L) and are set to Blending Mode  = Color Dodge and Opacity = 30%.

Step 19

Step 20

To add shadow and depth to the lips, add shapes filled with dark brown found in the default CMYK palette in your Swatches panel (C=50, M=70, Y=80, K=70). These shapes are set to Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity = 15%.

Step 20

Step 21

Using the same dark brown color (C=50, M=70, Y=80, K=70) set to the Stroke attribute, use the Pencil tool  (N) to draw in the creases in the lips. To give mode dimension to these lines, from the Control Panel, open the Stroke Panel and from the Variable Width Profile menu select Width Profile 1. If you’re working with a version of Illustrator  prior to Illustrator CS5, you can use the brushes I created in a tutorial on VectorTuts+ to produce a similar look.

These stokes are set to Blending Mode Color =  Burn and Opacity  = 20%.

Step 21

Step 22

Create  a New Layer and name it “Eyes.” When rendering the eyes, remember one thing… eyeballs are not white! Using the lightest skin tone shade from the Skintones swatch library, add two oval shapes for each eye, set to Blending Mode  = Color Dodge and Opacity  = 30%.

Step 22

Step 23

To give our Leo lion-like eyes, draw two Ellipses (L) for each eye, with the top ellipse slightly smaller than the bottom. Set both shapes to Opacity = 50%.

Step 23a

Duplicate the smaller shape from the eyeball, and  this to create a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7) for each of the irises.

Step 23b

Step 24

To maintain a consistent look to each of the eyes, use the Appearance panel to create a Graphic Style. First mix a variety of brown transparent radial gradients, a yellow radial gradient to add a golden shine.

To create the pupil, select the smaller ellipse, then choose Add New Effect from the bottom of the Appearance Panel. Select Path > Offset Path and enter  -5 for the offset. Repeat this  and enter -6 for the offset.

Step 24a

When done and with the newly created object selected,  from the the Graphic Styles panel choose Add New Graphic Style. This will save the options you have in the Appearance Panel as a new Graphic Style. Now select the other iris ellipse and select your newly created Graphic style to reproduce the look of the first iris.

Step 24b

Step 25

To add some color to the inside and the corner of the eyes, draw triangular shapes and place them at the corner of the eyes Using the darkest red in the default CMYK swatches, color these shapes with an inverted transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity = 50%.

Step 25a

Use solid filled shapes to add detailing to the inside of the eyelid and corner of the eye. Set these shapes to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity = 30%.

Step 25b

Selecting the darkest shade from “Skintone 4” (C=0, M=32, Y=38, K=50), add further details around the eye. Set these shapes to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 15%.

Step 25c

Step 26

Eyeballs aren’t white and they are flat flat surfaces, either.

To show depth, add highlights and shadows on the eyeball using transparent radial gradients. Draw a shape as shown below to create a highlight area, and apply an elliptical gradient. Set the shape to Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity = 100%.

Next, duplicate the largest shape used for the eyeball, and apply a an inverted transparent radial gradient using  the darkest shade from “Skintone 7” (C=30, M=48, Y=50, K=66). Set this shape to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 50%.

Step 26a

Use a slightly lighter shade from the same color group (C=19, M=39, Y=45, K=54), and draw shapes to add further depth to the eyeball and eyelid. These shapes are set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity = 10%.

Step 26b

Step 27

To darken around the eyes, create shapes with the darkest color from the “Skintone 7” palette. These shapes are set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity = 50%. They help to make the eyes more bold and also hide any inconsistent areas of skin shading from earlier!

Step 27

Step 28

Now it’s time to draw in the eyelashes. Select the Pencil tool (N), set the Stroke color to the  darkest color from the “Skintone 7” palette, and draw in lines for the eyelashes From the Variable Width Profiles menu in the Control panel, select Width Profile 5 and apply this profile to the lines you’ve just drawn for the eyelashes. Make sure that the larger end of the Width Profile starts at the eyelid. If you need to change the direction of the Width Profile, from the Stroke panel, chose the Flip Along option at the bottom of the panel.

The top lashes are set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 100% and the lower lashes to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 50%.

As eyelashes have a shine and often catch the light, draw in lines to add a subtle shine on the bottoms of the top lashes. Set these lines to Width Profile 1, Blending Mode = Screen with the same shade.

Step 28

Step 29

The eyelashes  require highlights, so using the Pencil tool (N) draw strokes with the lightest skin tone color, and apply Width Profile 1, making sure that the direction of the Width Profile is thickest at the eyelid. Set these lines to Blending Mode = Color Dodge, Opacity = 50%.

Step 29a

Next with the highlighting transparent radial gradient selected, add a shape to create a catch light in the eyes. The brightest reflections are set to Blending Mode =  Screen and Opacity = 75%. The shapes in the corner of the eyes are set to Screen = 30%.

Step 29b

Step 30

As noted earlier,when adding highlights and shading some areas may need more contrast. Looking at the nose, it could do with some more contrast.

Add shapes, using the mid tone in the “Skintone 8” palette. Set these shape to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 20%. The main shading needed is within the nostrils.

Step 30

Step 31

Next, we need to work on creating the hair. For this, we will create an Art Brush to give a structured look to the hair. The base of the brush will be a modified Width Profile 5 shape.

Using the Line tool (\), draw a vertical line with a Stroke Weight of 10pt and apply Width Profile 5. Then select Object > Expand Appearance and use the Direct Selection Tool (V) to flatten the bottom of the shape by modifying the points in the shape.

Now to add more dimension to the hair at the hair line, use the Pencil tool (N) and  add 2pt lines at the bottom and top of the shape and apply Width Profile 1. Select these new strokes and Expand them. Modify the points so they are fully covering the bottom of the brush shape. Then select all of the shapes and from the Main menu,  choose Pathfinder > Unite.

Step 31

Step 32

To make the shape appear more like hair, add some additional strokes to the shape. These stokes are all set to Width Profile 1.The first strokes are light brown set to Blending Mode = Normal, Opacity = 50% to give an initial texture to the shape. Then add darker brown lines, set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 30%. Finally add lines to highlight with a lighter, grey-brown (to avoid having copper tones) using Blending Mode = Color Dodge and Opacity = 40%. Further shading to the hair will be added later to make these clumps of hair look more unique.

For now, Select All of the shapes and strokes (Ctrl + A) and then Group them (Ctrl + G).

Step 32

Step 33

Now we’ll create the brush. Select the group and, from the Brushes panel, select New Brush at the bottom of the panel. Choose Art Brush from the New Brush types and click OK.

Name the brush “Hair,” and from the Direction options, change the direction of the stroke to Stroke From Beginning to Top, so the first point of the brush will be the base/root of the hair and the last will be the tip. When done, click OK.

Step 33

Step 34

Create  a New Layer and name it “Hair Top.” This layer will be for the hair that sits right on the hairline.

The initial hair sections will be along the hairline, created by using  our new Hair brush. Set the Stroke Weight to 0.75pt so the hair line looks more in proportion. I’ve followed my guide so I know to where I want to place the sections of hair, however I just go with the flow to create the curves and waves in the lines. As long as they are all touching each other and there are no odd gaps in the hair line, you’re doing fine! Once done, Group all the strokes (Ctrl + G).

Step 34

Step 35

Duplicate the group with the hair sections and choose Object > Expand until they are all shapes with a fill. Then use Pathfinder > Unite. Duplicate this shape and create a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7). Use the other shape to add a dark brown transparent radial gradient within set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity = 100%. This is to darken the roots of the hair as the tips of hair are usually bleached slightly by the sun.

Step 35

Step 36

Create a New Layer and name it “Hair Behind,” and make sure it is below the “Lips” layer folder. Repeat Steps 34 and 35, using a Stroke Weight of 1pt for the Hair brush, and begin adding groups of hair.

Step 36a

Step 36b

Step 36c

Step 36d

Step 37

The keen eyed will notice that the hair in the “Hair Behind” layer folder is overlapping onto the skin. So we’re going to tidy this up by using another Clipping Mask. Duplicate the skin shading base and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine it with a shape you draw with the Pen Tool (P) to the hair on the back you don’t want hidden.

Then use Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove this shape from a Rectangle (M).

Step 37a

This shape will be used in our Clipping Mask group as shown below:

Step 37b

Step 38

Create a New Layer below the “Hair Top” layer folder and rename it “Ears.”

Now draw two shapes for each ear, using the same color. Set the shape that represents the inside of the ear  to Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity = 20%.

Step 38a

Then apply the following options in the Appearance panel to both of the larger shapes to help give depth to the ears.

Step 38b

Step 39

Using the mid tone from “Skintone 7,” add strokes to represent fur around the ears, The strokes have Width Profile 1 and are set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity = 50%. Make sure the strokes go beyond the ear bases so it gives a complete fur like effect.

Step 39a

Next draw strokes focused within the ears with a Stroke Weight of 2pts, Blending Mode = Normal and Opacity = 50%.

Step 39b

These next strokes will be all draw over the ear and will help mix in the colors from the edges and inside the ear. These will be a darker shade and set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity = 20%.

Step 39c

Step 40

From  the Brushes panel, create a New Brush and select Bristle Brush from the Brush Type menu. From the Bristle Brush Options dialog, name this brush Ear Texturing and set the Bristle Brush Options as shown in the screenshot below This brush will be used for general texturing throughout the portrait, but for now it’s going to be used for adding color within the inside of the ear.

Step 40a

Using the darkest shade of “Skintone 3, draw a bit of a swirl within the inside of the ears set to Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity = 65%. The good thing about the Bristle Brush is that you can create randomised textured shapes, so when it comes to adding subtle alternations in color to areas of your piece, it can give a more painted/organic look to the work. I prefer to use the Bristle Brush to add texture and this randomised coloring effect, using it more of a supportive tool than a standalone effect.

Step 40b

Step 41

Create a New Bristle Brush, name it Hair Shading and set the Bristle Brush Options as shown in the screenshot below. This brush will be more precise/focused but will still have the randomised texture we’re looking for. Use this Hair Shading brush to create shading on the hair.

Step 41a

Create a New Layer above “Hair Top” and rename it “Hair Detailing.”

Using the Hair Shading brush, draw short zigzagged strokes around the base of the hairline with a dark brown shade to add more depth and texture to the hairline. These strokes will also overlap onto the skin to give a subtle shadow. Set these strokes to Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity = 100%.

Step 41b

Step 42

Now add strokes with the same settings as Step 41 for behind the ears and between the sections of hair. Create a New Layer above the “Hair Behind” layer folder and rename it “Bristle Brush.” This keeps the strokes from overlapping onto the ears.

Step 42

Step 43

Selecting the  “Hair Detailing” layer folder, use Width Profile 1 with a grey brown shade, Blending Mode = Color Dodge and Opacity = 50% to add highlights into the hair. These strokes will be a lot more precise compared to the textured look of the Bristle Brush. These will help make the hair section look more randomised and less like duplicated shapes. Focus these strokes towards the tips of the hair.

Step 43

Step 44

To make the mane look more morphed into the face, we’ll use a subtle make up effect. Startby drawing a shape which covers the forehead up to the bottom of the eyebrows, but not overlapping onto the highlights of the brow bone.

Within this shape, apply a light brown to dark brown transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity = 100%. When using the Gradient Tool (G), make sure the source of the gradient (where it is at 0% Opacity) is between the eyebrows so there is no signs of a shape overlapping this area.

Step 44

Step 45

Duplicate the forehead gradient shape and form the Toolbar, select the option to Draw Inside or use Shift + D to switch modes. You should get a cornered box around the shape as shown below:

Step 45a

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), draw zigzagged strokes with a dark brown, using the Ear Texturing Bristle Brush around the hairline and eyebrows to give a dirty/scruffy effect. These strokes will be set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 20%. If you look in the group that’s been created, with the Draw Inside option you’ve created an automatic Clipping Mask group.

Step 45b

Step 46

Now add the eyebrows to the portrait. This will be with medium brown strokes set to Width Profile 1, Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 5= 0%. Then add highlights to the eyebrows with the same shade with Blending Mode = Color Dodge, Opacity = 50%.

Step 46

Step 47

The hair at the sides of the face and near the neck will be cast in shadow. Also the neck looks rather awkward, so we need to darken this area regardless!  Add dark brown transparent linear gradients to the sides of the hair set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 100%. These will be placed within the Clipping Mask in the “Hair Behind” layer folder.

Step 47

Step 48

Using the same gradient, add gradients behind the hair at the front of the mane to add further depth. For quickness and ease, add them within rectangles draw using the Rectangle Tool (M) and then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to rotate them. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to modify the direction of the gradients and set them to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 100%.

Step 48a

Then place them within the “Hair Behind” Clipping Mask as shown below within a Group (Ctrl + G).

Step 48b

Step 49

Now add some shading to the skin to bring the contrast up a notch. The first shading will be around the neck. Use a dark brown transparent gradient — the same used in the hair — set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 100%.

Once done, place this object within the Clipping Mask for the Skin Shading.

Step 49

Step 50

Select the Clipping Mask shape within the “Skin” layer folder and select the Draw Inside option from the Tool panel  (Shift + D). Using the Pen Tool (P),  draw dark brown shapes (C=50, M=70, Y=80, K=70) around the neck and chest/arms set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity = 20%.

As you’re “drawing inside” the previously created Clipping Mask, your shapes will be automatically added to the Clipping Mask group without the need to drag and drop them in.

Step 50

Step 51

Since there are so many layer folders now, create a New Layer, rename it “Leo” and put all the layer folders for our portrait within this new layer.

Now let’s begin work on the background. Create a New Layer and name it “BG1,” Within this layer, draw a rectangle with the  Rectangle tool  (M) that covers the canvas. Select the Swatches panel, selet  Swatch Libraries > Nature > Foliage Fill and this rectangle with a nice green shade from a palette found from the FOliage 5 color group.

Step 51a

Create a slight vignette effect by duplicating the fill within the Appearance panel and applying an inverted transparent radial gradient set to Color Burn = 80%.

Step 51b

Step 52

Duplicate the rectangle and remove the Appearance of it. Select Draw Inside and use the Ear Texturing Bristle Brush with a 2pt Stroke Weight around the frame of the rectangle with the same green used in the background. These strokes will be set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 40% and will help to add a texture to the background.

Step 52a

Then add some strokes across the canvas with the same brush, changing the Blending Mode = Color Dodge and Opacity = 20%.

Step 52b

Step 53

Create a slight backlit effect by adding dark brown 2pt strokes set to Width Profile 1 around the hair. These will be set to Blending Mode = Color Dodge, Opacity = 50%.

Step 53

Step 54

With Draw Inside still enabled, add some Ellipses (L) with the same brown in a transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode = Color Dodge, Opacity = 30% around the body and parts of the hair.

Step 54

Step 55

To make the Zodiac theme a little more obvious, give our “lion” a tattoo with the symbol of Leo. o reate this combining a curved line with Stroke Weight of 4pt and Rounded Caps with a small circle created using the Ellipse Tool (L). WIth both the line and the circle selected, choose Object > Expand  to expand the strokes and choose Pathfinder > Unite to make them one shape.

Step 55a

Use the Transform panel to Shear the symbol by -20 degrees and the Free Transform Tool (E) to rotate the symbol and place it on the shoulder. With the Ear Texturing Bristle Brush and the Draw Inside option selected, create a rough texture over the symbol with a dark brown set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 100%. Place this Clipping Mask group within the Skin shading Clipping Mask, above the base shape so it benefits from the shading of the skin.

Step 55b

Step 56

With all my portraits, I like to add a mole to the skin for a variety of reasons. Firstly I believe there is such beauty in a person’s “flaws”… moles especially. They are quick and easy to create and can be placed anywhere on the skin. Secondly, did you know the placement of a mole or a beauty spot back in the French Revolution was used as a subtle message to people of a girls intentions or how she’d like to be perceived? Although there isn’t a definite explanation as to what placement meant, I like to make up my own explanations. For this one, as the two Leo’s in my life (my Granddad and my partner) are very clever people and like to look over and look after me, I feel a beauty spot/mole above the eyebrow and on the forehead would be appropriate in this portrait. I’ve placed it above her right eyebrow, as they only want to see me doing the “right” thing in life. Who would have thought such a small element would have so much thought in it!

Create he mole is created drawing two dark brown transparent radial gradients, slightly overlapping, set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity = 70%.

Step 56

Step 57

I was going to leave this portrait as it is, as I like to put the mole on last. However after leaving it for a day or so, I went back to it and decided to modify it so the Zodiac theme was more obvious.

I first placed a Rectangle over the “BG1” area with a blue fill (C=85, M=50, Y=0, K=0) and set it to Blending Mode = Color, Opacity = 100%.

I then added “stars” in the background by using the skin highlighting transparent radial gradient within Ellipses (L) set to Blending Mode = Color Dodge, Opacity = 100%.

Step 57


I hope you’ve enjoyed following this tutorial on creating a zodiac themed portrait from a stock reference. This won’t be the last tutorial you see from me here on the Adobe Illustrator blog, so I look forward to our next encounter. If you’ve any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask.

You can get future previews to my tutorials, articles and more by following me on Facebook and on Twitter

Leo the Lion


  • By John T - 11:01 AM on December 31, 2011  

    Very good tutorial. Rather jealous of Kandi’s epic AI skills!

  • By pica-ae - 11:13 AM on December 31, 2011  

    Awesome tutorial! The hair looks immense!

  • By ianvox - 10:07 PM on December 31, 2011  

    awesome tutorial, sharon… as always 🙂

  • By PaulcellX - 7:37 AM on January 1, 2012  

    Pretty nice tutorial, i am glad to know i can do portraits and such indeed. (:

  • By Kaz-D - 4:42 PM on January 1, 2012  

    This tutorial is incredible Shar! Well done 🙂

  • By prathoven - 6:09 PM on January 1, 2012  

    Nice tut sharon…always appreciate you work and sharing your techniques across the globe…keep up the good work 😀

  • By Thousand - 6:22 PM on January 1, 2012  

    Awsome Tut!! best ever!! Definitely gonna try this.
    Congrats Sharon! 🙂

  • By Iaroslav Lazunov - 9:44 PM on January 1, 2012  

    Oh Yes! Shar, it’s a great tut!

  • By Nuruzzaman Sheikh - 9:24 AM on January 2, 2012  

    hi Sharon,
    Awesome tutorial. I’m trying to follow along with you but I’m facing an issue. And not sure what I should to do now.

    in Step – 2 when I’m trying to enlarge the eye by selecting the eye (with lasso) and setting feather to 15px and enlarging the image then my image is becoming transparent surrounding the selection path. I’m not sure how to solve this.

    Can you help me regarding this issue.
    Best of luck.

    • By Sharon Milne - 10:47 AM on January 2, 2012  

      Hey Nuruzzaman,

      Firstly thank you for the compliment and Happy New Year!

      If you’re getting a transparency around the eye when resizing it could be due to a couple of reasons. The first is you may not be enlarging the eye big enough. If this is the case and you’re happy with the size of the eyes you’ve done you can rectify this by undoing and going back to Step 1, then changing the feather to 5px and try resizing again.

      Another possibility could be the size of canvas you’re working with might be much smaller than what I have done in this tutorial. Again this could be resolved by working with a smaller feather on the lasso tool.

      I hope this helps. Remember that it doesn’t matter if you make any errors on the reference image as it’s just used as a guide. However this may help resolve the transparency issue 🙂

      • By Nuruzzaman Sheikh - 11:24 AM on January 2, 2012  

        Hi Sharon,

        Thank you so much and Happy! Happy New Year!

        Your tip worked 100%. Your first advice solved it, I was not enlarging the eyes big enough. 🙂

        • By Sharon Milne - 11:31 AM on January 2, 2012  

          Great to hear! When you’re finished following the tutorial, I’d love to see your end result – please feel free to share it with us 😀

  • By Eliza Stein - 10:11 AM on January 2, 2012  

    Wow! I always struggle with realistic shading in vector art, so I’m going to try some of these techniques, especially for drawing hair 🙂
    Thank you for this tutorial and the gorgeous portrait!

  • By Naruecha - 6:42 PM on January 2, 2012  

    Very nice,I like it. ^_^

  • By Nice - 5:01 AM on January 3, 2012  


  • By Connie - 11:19 AM on January 3, 2012  

    This was a wonderful tutorial! I love it!

  • By John - 12:17 AM on January 5, 2012  

    It looks amazing, I love it ! I will try to make a similar photo manipulation 🙂

  • By Sathishkumar - 6:38 AM on January 6, 2012  

    There are no words to add a comment on about this art work awesome.

  • By margaretnicholdesign - 8:44 AM on January 6, 2012  

    oh GREAT way to build up skintone and the lips on a portraits. Gonna play around a bit with this technique and see if I can incorporate it into my illustration style. I’ve been needing to add more depth to my portraits.

  • By micahel bayo samson - 1:15 PM on January 7, 2012  

    this is one of the best innovating sites i have ever gonna have to sit tight and enjoy all d fun gonna be a guru someday.

  • By Ecem Ulusoy - 4:18 AM on January 8, 2012  

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • By Ghinan Sosorobot - 1:58 AM on January 9, 2012  

    Thanks for the Tutorial..this is Superb Awesome!!
    i’ll share this tutorial in my Facebook 😀

  • By M. Murat Beğendik - 7:45 AM on January 24, 2012  

    Thanks awesome information love this post

  • By Webmaster Sitesi - 1:55 PM on January 24, 2012  

    Thanks very good… 😀

  • By saunders16 - 6:49 AM on January 29, 2012  

    THIS IS JUST beautiful. thank you so much love it! can’t wait to try it.

  • By Busger - 3:43 PM on February 11, 2012  

    I started doing vectors myself and this is by far the best tutorial I have ever seen. As a beginner i have trouble finding the right path for the highlights shapes. I read other tutorials and there they use cutout of the reference picture to guide you, how to trace the highlight shpaes. But with that methode i don’t get enough detail. So my question: is it experions that you are able to choose the right shapes or is there another secret.

    Thanks again for this wonderful tutorial on Vectors

    • By Sharon Milne - 3:40 AM on February 19, 2012  

      Hey Busger,
      Thank you for the wonderful compliment 🙂
      There isn’t really a trick or anything to recognising where to place the shapes when it comes to working from a photograph. You have to know the shape of the face and which areas need highlighting and shadow, otherwise you effectively end up tracing from a photo.
      All I can suggest is to keep on practising and it will become a lot easier to do 🙂

  • By Mai - 3:33 AM on February 19, 2012  

    salam sharon 🙂 really i’m speechless and have no words for describing this amazing tutorial…..i’m still very stupid in illustrator 🙁 ..but i wanna learn it so bad 🙁
    i have a trouble in dealing with layers ,,,please if u have a courses or pdf books about learning illustrator from A B to Z …give it to me..if u plz 🙂
    and keep the good working 🙂

    • By Sharon Milne - 3:42 AM on February 19, 2012  

      Thank you for your lovely words 🙂
      I’m always producing new tutorials, you can “like” my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with new tutorials I do. In addition, there are two new tutorials coming soon via this very blog on creating another two full projects with Adobe Illustrator… so keep your eyes open!
      You can also “like” the Adobe Illustrator Facebook page, they regularly feature some great tutorials on how you can use AI to produce some great pieces of work.

  • By Mai - 1:23 AM on February 20, 2012  

    Sharon thank you so much for replying me 🙂 u r so kind
    i’m already liked the adobe illustrator Facebook page ,i got ur tutorial from it.. 🙂
    can you give me the link of ur Facebook page …and sure i’ll keep my eyes open with u always i think i’ll be a huge fan for u :)…..
    thanks sharon once more..may ALLAH reward u for ur good deeds 🙂 salam

  • By masume - 11:02 PM on April 22, 2012  


  • By Raiven - 8:36 PM on June 16, 2012  

    Wow! This is cooool. To think I stumbled across this tut looking for a way to make Illustrator brushes! This is so awesome that I’m speechless (and my family thanks you!) .

    I have been interested in vector portraits for a long while but my every attempt left me skulking back to more conventional methods. Now I have hope, and I can’t wait to try out this method. Thank you soo much for sharing.

  • By luxman - 9:09 PM on July 14, 2013  

    Nice Tutorial… awesome !!

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