How to Add Depth and Details in Adobe Illustrator

2D illustration is awesome – it can be both simple and complicated at the same time. Usually creatives aim for the simplistic approach but at a certain point many of us ask the same question – is my illustration finished? I'm going will give you few simple tips which can help making your illustrated objects look better.

1. Create a sketch

Create a simple sketch of 3 objects. Because it’s Halloween season I went for a skull, a jack-o'-lantern and a ghost. Try to make them simple, with fewer corners if possible. When you're done, lock it (Ctrl+2). If you do the sketch on a piece of paper, scan it and then import and lock the sketch.

2. Create a color palette

We'll create a 4 color limited palette. In the spirit of Halloween, we'll choose few warm colors. I've gone for beige (#ffe1b3), orange (#f7931e), red (#d6212a) and dark blue (#00001d). The warm colors will go nice next to one another and the dark blue is a great choice for the outline.

3. Trace the sketch

For tracing, we'll mostly use the Pen Tool (P). The beginners might need some time to get used to it but it’s worth the wait because once you it skillfully, you can create amazing art.

Step 1

We’ll start with the first object – the skull. First start tracing the bigger round shapes and then go for the more complicated parts, such as the teeth.

Step 2

Carry on tracing the smaller parts of the object, such as the eyes and the nose. Color the head in beige (#ffe1b3) and the eyes and nose in dark blue (#00001d). We're done for now with this object and we can move to the next one.

Step 3

The following object to be traced is the jack-o'-lantern. Follow the round shapes of the head and then trace the stem and the facial features.

Step 4

Once you trace the sketch, delete it and add the recognizable ribs over the pumpkin. Color the pumpkin orange (#f7931e), the stem beige (#ffe1b3) and the facial features dark blue (#00001d). Also, color the ribs in a slightly lighter orange color than the pumpkin. Once you're done coloring, group (Ctrl+G) all of the traced objects.

Step 5

The last of the three objects we're tracing is the ghost. This object has a simple body and few facial features such as eyes, nose and mouth.

Step 6

Once you're done tracing, remove the sketch and color the ghost in beige (#ffe1b3). Color the nose and mouth in dark blue ( #00001d). Choose a slightly lighter color for the eyes. Group (Ctrl+G) all of the traced objects.

Now take a moment to observe the traced objects. Add a red background so you can get a bigger contrast. The objects seem great and they are ready for further use but let’s try to add more details to them and compare this stage of the illustration with the updated one we’re about to create.

4. Add details and outline

Step 1

We'll add some shadows to the object. In this case, we'll need to imagine where the light source will be. If it’s on the upper left side we will place the shadows on the opposite, lower right side. So using the Pen Tool (P) create outlined shapes over the shaded parts. Copy and paste the head over the outline and select them both. Use the Intersect command from the Pathfinder’s panel (1). You will get the shade perfectly aligned over the head (2). Color the shade in light grey color. Open the Transparency panel (Shift + Control + F10) and choose the Multiply blend mode. Using the Pen Tool (P), create a thin white glow shape over the upper left part head (3). This will enhance the contrast between the light and the dark parts.

Step 2

We’ll need to add a rough outline, in order to separate the whole object from the background. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a line which will roughly follow the shape of the object (2). Once you're done, color the line dark blue (#00001d). We're done with this object and we can resume with detailing the other objects.

Step 3

The next object we’ll be working on is the Jack-o-’lantern. Using the Pen Tool (P), create an outlined object which will cover the lower right part of the lantern. Copy (Control + C) the orange head and paste it in front (Control + F) of the outlined shape. Select them both and use the Intersect command from the Pathfinder’s panel (1). Color the shade in a light grey color. Open the Transparency panel (Shift + Control + F10) and choose the Multiply blend mode (2). After you are done with the shadow, create a light glow shape over the top right part of the lantern. Color it white and drop the opacity to 40% (3).

Step 4

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a line which will roughly follow the shape of the lantern (2). Once you're done, color the line dark blue (#00001d). This outline will give the object  better visibility.

Step 5

Let’s repeat the light-shade steps over the last object too. Using the Pen Tool (P), create an outlined object which will cover the lower right part of the ghost. Copy (Control + C) the ghost’s body and Paste it in front (Control + F) of the outlined shape. Select them both and use the Intersect command from the Pathfinder’s panel (1). Color the shade in light grey color. Open the Transparency panel (Shift + Control + F10) and choose the Multiply blend mode (2). After you're done with the shading, create a light glow shape over the top right part of the ghost and color it white.

Step 6

Let’s add an outline for the last time. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a line which will roughly follow the shape of the ghost (2). This line should be loose, so don’t worry if you make a mistake. Once you are done, color the line dark blue (#00001d).

Let’s take a moment to see our progress. The 3 objects look great and glossy. They are far more appealing to the eye now. As a last update, we can add some details around them, just to give them more personality.

5. Add finishing details

Step 1

Using the Pen Tool (P), create 3 types of simple details. I created a group of 3 stars, a group of 2 thunder bolts and a group of 3 drop shapes. We'll add these details around the illustrated objects we created.

Step 2

Start arranging the details around the objects. Have fun with them; just try to keep the detailing simple so we can maintain the simplistic approach. Congrats, we are done!

Conclusion

Well done, you just created some funky Halloween illustrations. You can easily compare the illustrations before and after adding details to them. They certainly look much better! Using these simple tricks in any other illustration will result in better and higher quality of the work. 

What's your opinion of this tutorial?

Ivan Petrusevski
Ivan Petrusevski
Ivan PetrusevskiTeacher

Ivan Petrusevski (Flim) is a graphic designer and illustrator from Skopje, Macedonia. His work is focused on character design mostly for online gaming, band's merchandise and children's books.

To learn more, visit http://www.flim.mk/

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