As part of my New Year’s goals, I have decided to start a new project. I’ve wanted to try new illustration styles for a few months now and I think that writing down my process and the challenges I face while experimenting with the styles will help me internalize the techniques faster and better.
This is also an opportunity to share these techniques with you, whether you are a fellow illustrator or simply curious to learn more about the process of digital illustrations.
During this project, I will try 5 new illustration styles on 5 of my favourite strong female characters.
**My instructions are for MAC users.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the first illo-style: The Low Poly – Daenerys Targaryen
Step 1: Settings in Illustrator CC
– After opening your image in Illustrator, make sure that the layers are visible.
Window –> check Layers
– Make the grid visible and enable Snap to Point and Snap to Grid
View –> check Show Grid + check Snap to Grid + check Snap to Point
– Make sure that the amount of grid subdivisions is high
Illustrator CC –> Preferences –> Guides & Grid… –> Subdivisions should be at least 8 + make sure the Grids in Black is unchecked
Step 2: Make a New Layer
– Create the layer you will use to draw your Low Poly illustration on top of your image. Give it a distinct name.
– Lock the layer with your image. This way you are making sure that you cannot inadvertently select it or move it.
Step 3: Use the Pen Tool
– Making sure you are on your new layer, select the pen tool.
– Choose a distinct colour for your outline and make sure that there is no fill.
– Increase the stroke weight so that it will be visible but not too thick as to hide the image. I used 3px for a 2560 x 1600 image.
Step 4: Outline Paths
– Start by outlining the main features of the image to make sure that they keep the right shape. For instance, as I started with illustrating Daenerys without her dragon, I first drew a line around Daenerys’s face, eyes, mouth, eyebrows, and jaw line. I could have also outlined the hairline and the nose.
– The number of points you make depends on how detailed you want your Low Poly to be.
– Then, start drawing paths to make triangles, while keeping in mind the colours and shades of the image. Below are examples of the paths I drew of Daenerys’s face and, later on, of her dragon.
– If you followed Step 1, the pen tool should snap to the points on the grid. Make sure that your points connect perfectly to the grid or the colour will not fill properly later.
– Most importantly, make sure that the paths are perfectly connected.
Step 5: Divide Triangles
– Divide your paths into triangles.
Window –> check Pathfinder
– Select all the paths on your Low Poly layer.
Command + A // or // go into your Layers –> click on the circle shape on the right of your Low Poly layer in order to select all your paths
– When every path is highlighted, go into your Pathfinder panel and divide your paths. Now each triangle should be its own separate path.
Step 6: Fill with Colour
– Go into your Layers panel and click on the arrow on the left side of the layer’s name. This should open a drop-down menu of smaller layers, each containing one triangle.
– Select the Eyedropper Tool by either clicking on i or going to the left-side menu and selecting it.
– Go back to your Layer panel and select your first triangle by clicking on the circle shape on the right side of the name. This should highlight the triangle in the layer’s colour.
– With your Eyedropper Tool, click inside the triangle to sample a colour.
– Repeat with all the other triangles.
– Keep in mind that if there are more than one colour to choose from in the same triangle, you can select whichever one you think will best represent the image.
Step 7: Perfect the Imperfections
– When all your triangles have been filled, you might see a few gaps between paths or elements you wish to change. I, personally, had first made Daenerys’s eyes too vague. I went back to erase the triangles in the eyes area and drew smaller, tighter ones in order to get more detailed features.
– If the imperfections are gaps or errors in paths, you can use the Direct Selection Tool (a) to move your point around or simply delete them.
Step 8: Background and Effects
– You may wish to leave your Low Poly illustration as is or add a background and extra effects.
– For Daenerys and her dragon, I wanted to create a magical effect that represents their bond as well as their strength together. I tried different background colours, using full colours and gradients, but in the end, the black made the illustration pop-up more and it looks as though they are looking into a brighter future (which is what Daenerys is trying to create).
– I also played around with moving triangles out from their bodies to add a magical effect. The scene from which the image was taken represents a new beginning for both Daenerys and her dragon. They are “reborn” from the ashes together and are on their way to become a force to be reckoned with. To me, the effect makes it look like a sort of explosion or an implosion. It represents their power to destroy but also to rebuild. It also represents the long journey there are heading towards. The fact that they are missing pieces means that this is just the beginning. They have a long way ahead to get to know each other and learn to respect one another.
– Finally, I added a gradient effect to those triangles that I placed behind them. This makes it easier for the eye to focus on the two figures instead of on the lost triangles. But mostly, I wanted to create a slight “ash” effect without adding a texture. Daenerys is, after all, The Unburned, and she always finds a way to come out of the fire stronger, while everything else around her is burning and dying.