For this portrait, I wanted to create an avatar for myself that could be used across my various social media sites for a consistent and recognizable look. While the original image is definitely not the best picture I have of myself, I often like to start my digital illustrations with low quality photographs or really rough sketches. I have found that working from “bad” pictures encourages creativity and frees me to move away from the original image.
When working from photographs I typically start by manipulating the image in Photoshop. I am not trying for a hyper realistic look, my tastes run more towards the strange and unusual. For this portrait I adjusted the levels to increase the brightness of the photo, used the liquify tool to increase the size of my eyes, then roughly erased and painted my shoulders and neck to get the general look I was going for.
After placing my Photoshop sketch into illustrator, I begin by blocking out the largest shapes using the Pen and pencil tools. I add depth by using radial gradients for shading.
I continue to define the shapes of my face by blocking out larger shapes where possible and adjusting the opacity to allow the colors from lower layers to show through. I spent a lot of time experimenting with the hair, from a short spiky purple hair cut to the longer brown hair pictured here. Ultimately, I choose to go with a style that more closely resembles how my hair actually looks.
While working, I often hide layers to refer back to my sketch. I continue to add more details and shading, paying close attention to the eyes and where the light falls. Almost all the shapes are filled with gradients, many of which move from 100% opacity at the center to 0% opacity at the edges.
At this point I start adding highlights, on the tip of the nose and lips for example. I fixed some of the problem areas by drawing very low opacity shapes over the darker areas. For smaller details and more free flowing shapes I prefer to use the pencil tool. I also felt that the hair was looking a little flat so I added some highlights, taking creative license with the color (my hair being more brown than blonde). Once I am satisfied with the hair and facial features I start working on the background. For this portrait I used a light to dark grey gradient to create the mood and then added some opaque vertical bars for texture. I wanted to keep the background simple so the focus would be on the portrait itself.