In this tutorial, we’re going to be creating a monkey character illustration using Adobe Illustrator. You’ll be using basic Shape Tools, the Pen Tool and various other Illustrator techniques to create the illustration. Let’s get started! ;)
Before starting, we need a source to refer to when creating your illustration. You can either use a photograph of a monkey (or any other animal!) or sketch your own and then either scanning your image in or taking a photograph of it. I sketched a monkey and scanned it in at 150dpi; below you can see my result.
Open up Illustrator and create a new document. The size doesn’t really matter as we will be working with vector tools, meaning our outcome will be scalable. I used a Web Document at 600×800 pixels.
Once your document is open, insert your sketch or source photo by going to File > Place and then locating your image file. Once your image has been placed in to your document, select it and click on “Align to Artboard” which should be in your toolbar at the top of Illustrator (as seen below).
Select “Horizontal Align Center” to place your source photo/sketch into the center of the document. This makes it easier to make sure everything is aligned later on.
Double-click on Layer 1 (this is the layer your source photo/sketch should be on) and apply the following settings.
Make a new layer and call it “Main Shapes”. This is the layer we’re going to be creating our shapes on. One of the biggest differences between Illustrator and Photoshop (besides the face that one is pixel-based and the other vector-based) is that you can reselect objects without them having to be on a separate layer, so we’re not actually going to need to create many layers at all!
Select the Ellipse Tool and drag out a shape over the main body of your source photo or sketch. Make sure there is no fill color and that the stroke is set to black with either 1 or 2 pixels. We’ll be using simple shapes like this to create our main shape, and will be filling it in later.
Repeat the step again for the inner ellipse shape of the monkeys main body – make sure you align these shapes to the center.
Repeat the same step again for one of the legs. Rotate the shape and adjust it so it fits nicely on your source. With one shape in place, select it and go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Front. Then go to Object > Reflect > Vertical.
Nudge the reflected shape over to the other side of the monkey using the Cursor-Keys whilst holding the Shift-Key. When the shape is roughly in place, with it still selected, hold the Shift-Key and select the other leg. Go to Object > Group, and then align the grouped objects to the center.
Select the Pen Tool and start to create your monkeys head. As we’re going for a symmetrical look, we’re going to want to our head to be pretty neat and tidy, too. Draw a shape similar to below.
You can probably guess what we’re going to do now! With the shape selected, go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Front. Go to Object > Transform > Reflect > Vertical, and nudge the shape across so it looks like something below…
Select both the shapes and with the Pathfinder Window open (Window > Pathfinder) click on Unite. This basically just merges the two shapes together, making them one. Align the shape to the center.
Select the Ellipse Tool and make a new shape for the “furry” section of the monkeys head.
Using the Direct Selection Tool, drag out some of the Anchor Points to make the shape more suitable.
Using the Pen Tool, create some outlines for the monkeys ears. Once you have created one, just use the Reflect Transform Tool to produce the second pair.
For the time being, we’re going to leave the arms, feet and facial details out and start on them after we add a little bit of base color!
Select the main body, and fill it with a color of your choice. You may find adding your selected color to the swatch palette may come in handy later in the tutorial if you want to reuse the same color on a different shape or in a gradient. When adding the colors, be sure to remove the strokes, if you decide you want a stroke later, it’s easy to reapply!
Carry on applying various colors to different shapes that make up your character. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably keep playing with different colors, so if something suddenly changes color, you’ll know why!
You may find some shapes are above other shapes. If you want them to be beneath (or above) you can easily achieve this by going to Object > Arrange.
Already our illustration is starting to look quite monkey-ish, but there is plenty of work left to do!
Let’s start work on the arms. Hide the layer with all of your shapes on, and with the Pen Tool create a couple of lines that look something like the following…
Fill the shapes with a color (I used the same color as the “furry” bit of the head) and apply a 2px stroke.
Group the two arms together, and place them beneath your head shapes by going to Object > Arrange > Send Backward until the stroke is beneath your main head shape. Make a random shape to fill in the gaps behind the face and arms, and send it to the back of your document. I also applied a few strokes to different shapes to help things stand out a little more.
I’d say our monkey is starting to look pretty awesome!
Before moving on to the feet, lets add some fur to our monkeys head. You can do this using the Brush Tool, using either a mouse or a graphic tablet. I personally will be using a tablet – if you don’t have one, I really would suggest purchasing one for illustration, you can pick a small Wacom tablet up for a very reasonable price now!
Draw some “hair” using your mouse or tablet.
This hair is really going to make a huge difference to our illustration. As the rest of the illustration is almost symmetrical, the hair is going to set the monkeys personality.
Using the same technique, add some larger strokes of hair, and place them beneath the rest of your head shapes.
Repeat the step, this time adding some “scribbles” to the inner part of the face.
Using the Pen Tool, create a pink shape in one of the ears. Apply a 2px stroke to it so it matches the styling of the rest of the ear.
Copy and Paste in Place the new pink shape, and reflect it using the Reflect Transformation Tool and nudge it to the other ear.
Using the Brush Tool, paint in a few lines to make your ears look like ears!
Start adding some gradients to your shape layers to add a little more depth. To open the gradient window, go to Window > Gradient. To apply a gradient, you can simply drag your swatches onto the gradient palette.
Select all of your shapes, and go to Window > Stroke. Select the “Round Cap” and “Round Join” options. This gives all of your strokes a round end and joint, instead of the standard jagged and sharp corners.
Start drawing some facial elements using the Pen Tool and Shape Tools.
Using the same technique we’ve used several times already, copy and paste in place your facial features and reflect them. Center your new shapes so they fit nicely on our monkeys face.
Draw a shape at the top of your monkeys head and fill it with the same color used in the stroke. Fill in the empty gap between your monkeys eyebrows to make it look fuller.
Select all three shapes in your monkeys monobrow and combine them into one by selecting the “Unite” option from the Pathfinder Window. Start adding some color to your monkeys facial features.
Using the Ellipse Tool, drag out some pupils for your monkey whilst holding the shift key to keep them round. Play about with different shapes, strokes and gradients until you have something you like.
Using the same techniques, draw the rest of the features for your monkeys face, and fill them with various colors and gradients.
It’s time to start adding some shadows. Because we’re going for a simple and clean look, we’re going to use basic shapes to add a little bit of shadow or highlight to certain areas. Draw a round shape using the Ellipse Tool over one of the legs and fill it with white.
Lower the opacity of your new shape to 10%, and copy, paste and reflect it so it is identical on the other leg.
With that done, you can use the same technique to add highlights and shadows elsewhere on your characters body.
Use the Pen Tool to draw on some 2px stroked lines to represent fingers on our monkeys hand.
Using the Pen Tool, start creating different shapes for the monkeys toes. Make sure the middle toe is above all others, so it appears as a foot instead of a mess!
Copy your foot and paste it in place, then use the Reflect Transformation Tool to place it on the other side.
Make a selection of all your shapes and go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Place. Go to Effect > Pixelate > Color Halftone and using the standard settings, click OK. With everything still selected, change the layers blending modes to overlay.
Lower the opacity of the layers to 1 – this technique just adds a little bit of shadowing to the monkey, making it a little more visually appealing.
We have now finished our vector illustration of a monkey character! You should be able to scale your character up and down with no problems, and can use him or her in your other vector illustrations or pixel work in Photoshop. Enjoy!
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