A Letterville Step By Step
Illustration Tutorial
By
Russ McMullin 

The technique I used for an illustration in a recent logo. The logo was posted in the portfolio section.

The customer has several scenes painted on their building, and my boss's wife gave me the idea of incorporating a similar look in the logo. The illustration is loosely based on this:

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Once I put together the initial sketch, which I can't find, I knew I would need some reference material for the illustration. I avoid clipart whenever possible and wanted to make my own.

This is one of the first photos I took, just to get a feel for the pose:

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I had a co-worker pose for me and I used my digital camera to get the image. There are a number of things that make this image nearly worthless for my application.

1. The lighting is diffused and boring - mostly coming from the front. It's difficult to show dimension with straight-on light.

2. The clothing doesn't have much personality, especially when I wanted to have the look of the mural.

3. The pose is awkward and not very dynamic. Not having an actual plane made things difficult.

I asked my friend to bring a collared shirt the next day, and with the addition of a shop apron I ended up with this:

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I coached my friend on the pose, and also pointed a halogen spotlight to give more interesting light. The photo is much more useful. I still hadn't found a plane so I was stuck with the wood block. Yuck.

I used Photoshop's Threshold feature to break the image down into black and white patches:

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The slider changes the ratio of black and white. I printed out the result to help me later in the rendering.

I dug an old jack plane of mine out of storage, and shot a new photo. I was really just interested in the hands at this point:

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The plane wasn't ideal in the first place, and you can barely see it in the photo. I had to make adjustments with the midtone using Levels in Photoshop.

This first image shows the midtone slider at its original position:

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This image shows an improvement by moving the midtone slider to the left. It isn't the kind of plane I wanted to use, but at least I can see the way the hands grip it.

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I made a composite image in Photoshop, where the forearms and hands of the newer photograph are superimposed onto the older one:

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I shouldn't have needed this step, but stuff happens.

Once I was satisfied with the photo, I traced out the main outline and the breakdown of the light and shadow areas:

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I also faked a larger plane. It looks more like a Stanley #7, but hoped to tweak it more later. With hindsight, I should have tried much harder to borrow the type of plane I wanted - a wooden smoothing plane.

After this I scanned the sketch into Photoshop:

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The lines of the sketch needed to be thick enough to see, but they don't need to be black. In illustrator

it's easier to trace a sketch of the lines are gray instead of black. I switched to the pencil tool in Photoshop, chose a medium gray for a color, with Screen as the attribute. With a wide brush I began lightening the lines in my sketch:

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I clicked and held the mouse button as I moved it around for the entire process of lightening. If I do it in multiple steps, I end up with some areas too light.

Once the sketch is lightened, I bring it into Illustrator:

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I will often increase the size of the sketch by 400% or so, to allow for finer adjustments.
 

The rendering begins:

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I am not using any curves here. I want a blocky look so I just use the pen tool and click, click, click.

Some areas of my sketch didn't account for an outline, which becomes more apparent here:

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The dimension of the illustration is created with shapes of color that lay over the background color:

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It's not a bad idea to complete the background early...

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...so it can be colored periodically to show the form:

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Eventually the main outline of the background color expanded, and I ended up defining the edges of the arms and face with large cream-colored shapes:

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I continued to refine the image by simplifying the shapes. I used the point removal tool to accomplish this. Remember the high contrast print I made? It helps in the simplification. I just kept removing any points that didn't seem necessary - especially in the face. I also moved points around until I was satisfied with the expression on the face. I did introduce some curves in the sleeve once the shape was simplified. If it had more time to tweak it, I would add more curves. You may also notice that the outlines

of the face and shirt ended up much thicker than I started with. This allows them to show up better at small sizes, and I also like the bolder look.

Well, that's about it. It's not a perfect process, and there are always things I would do differently. But, this is the basic approach I take.

 

Russ McMullin
Midway, UT

Email
Russ

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