Illustration: Minimalist Pop-art Portrait

Beginner level Adobe Illustrator Adobe Illustrator


If we talk about pop art, people like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein automatically come to mind. This tutorial will be about this style and, more precisely, is based on the series of pictures that Andy Warhol painted of Marilyn Monroe. This will be the main source of inspiration for this tutorial.

We'll begin this tutorial bringing the portrait of a famous silent-movie actor to the minimal expression (if you still don't know who, I'll tell you in a while), so that we can make a reinterpretation of him in pop-art style. As I said before, we'll take inspiration from Warhol's pictures of Marilyn, which not only inspired me, but hundreds of other artists. In fact, you should look for some references on Google. I think we're ready to start now, so let's go!


Setting up a new document

First of all, like I do in all my tutorials, we have to decide whether our document will be used for web or for printing. As we're going to work on a vector file, we'll be using Adobe Illustrator, so the resolution won't be a problem. However, it's important that we choose the right color mode. I've decided that this image will be used for web, so we'll need to select the RGB color mode.


As the dimensions of our file will be square, and it'll be a vector file as well, the exact values don't matter as long as the height and the width are the same. A square file will be perfect for us later if we want to share the project on Instagram (don't forget to share it on Tutpad's Projects section too!). Having said this, we're good to go. Let's begin!

Creating a template layer

Even though locking the layer where the image will be would be enough to begin vectorizing the illustration, I'm going to teach you how to create a template layer. This will be useful for you if you ever want to trace over scanned pictures or, like we're going to do in this tutorial, have a visual reference of the character that we're going to "reduce to the minimal expression".

Before we begin, you need to look for a character. It doesn't need to be a famous person. For example, it could be someone from your family, or even your partner, your friend or someone from the supermarket... You may already have guessed it, but I dedicated this project to one of the biggest silent-movie stars, Charlie Chaplin.

First, look for an image that is representative enough and makes it easy for us to work on, so that we can emphasize the most important features of the character. For this project, I've decided to work with this image. You can download it here.


After this brief introduction, let's create our template without further ado!

Step 1

Go to the File menu and click on Place... We can also just drag the image from the folder and drop it onto the artboard. I don't recommend this because the "Place..." method will save us some steps in turning this image into a template.


Step 2

It's important that, after you select the image, you check the Link and Template boxes. Checking the "Link" box will embed the image in the document. This way, you'll avoid some issues related to linking later. Checking the "Template" box will save you from turning the layer where the image is in a template layer, thus avoiding creating extra layers.


Step 3

You'll see that a new layer has appeared at the bottom, called Template. It's easily recognizable; instead of the usual "eye" icon that indicates whether the layer is locked or not, you'll see a rectangle. Unlock it and change its scale and position to whatever it's more comfortable for you.


Before proceeding, I'm going to take the time to teach you how to turn it into a template layer. Just double-click on the layer. A new window will appear, where you must check the Template box. From that window you can also adjust the oppacity if you need it. So, in short, this template layer will act as a tracing paper.


Let's move on!

Vectorizing the character

With the image selected, we just need to grab the Pen Tool (P) and begin vectorizing those areas we think that are the most representative for our character, Charlie Chaplin. For this design, I'll be focusing on the hair, the mustache and, of course, the derby (or bowler hat).

You need to know what the Anchor Points and the Handles are. Vector graphics are made of anchor points, that determine the shape of a path; this can be straight if it doesn't have handles, or curved if it has handles (thus, handles manage the direction and the shape of a curve).

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and vectorize the hat carefully. To see how the vectorization looks like, I applied to the path a color that gives a big enough contrast with the background. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect. We just need the hat to be slightly implied. If you're having problems using the Pen Tool (P), you can take a look at this course by my fellow tutorCarlota, in which you'll learn everything needed to master this tool and many others that Adobe Illustrator has to offer.


If you notice that the image becomes pixelated when zooming in, don't worry. It will be only good for templating. If the shapes don't look perfect, don't worry either. You just need to have the shapes implied enough.


Remember that if you need to fix any handles before proceeding, you can move them freely by dragging while holding Alt. You can even delete a handle by clicking on the anchor point while holding Alt.


When you're done, if you see any pointed edges and you can't find the handles, you can easily generate a curve with the Direct Selection Tool (A). Grab this tool, click on the anchor point and, then click on "Convert selected points to smooth". You'll find this option on the upper part of the screen. 


After that, just polish some details if you need so, adjusting the anchor points and the handles.

Step 2

Do the same with the hair and the mustache.


Step 3

Now, turn the paths into fill shapes using the shortcut Shift + X.


Select the hair shape and send it to the back. You might have not noticed it for now, but, as we have drawn it after the hat, it's placed in front. So, to send it to the back, right-click on it → Arrange → Send to Back.


Step 4

Let's do the eyebrows now. We'll create them with just some paths. Grab again the Pen Tool (P) and draw the first eyebrow. Don't worry about the length of the path (but don't forget to select a color for the stroke and leave the fill empty).


The result feels lacking. What do you think? In any case, I had this planned. Grab the Selection Tool (V), go to the options in the upper part of the screen and increase the width to 10 pt. Then, drop the list of variable-width profiles and select the Width Profile 1.


Step 5

Repeat the same process with the second eyebrow.


Step 6

We're done vectorizing. It was easy, wasn't it? To be honest, as soon as you get used to the Pen Tool, these kind of exercises become very easy. Now, to better see the results, hide the template layer so that the vector paths are revealed. I'll also change the color of the hair. 


Coloring Chaplin

You can color Chaplin however you want, experimenting with the colors as you please. However, as the purpose of this tutorial is to create something akin to pop art, it would be nice if we had a color palette that suits this style, right? If you wish, you can create your own palette, but I'll share mine with you, ready to be installed and used. Let's continue!

Step 1

If you decided that you want to create your own color palette, you can skip this step. But, still, it's good to know how to load a color palette, so pay attention :)

To load a color palette, go to the Swatches panel, drop the menu to see the different options and go to Open Swatch Library → Other Library…

Remember that the color libraries for Illustrator are .ase files. If you want to load the color palette used on another document, you can also load a normal Illustrator file (.ai). The one attached to this tutorial is an .ase file.


We're ready to start coloring.

Step 2

Select all the parts of the design and group them by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + G or right-clicking → Group.


Step 3

Let's make the background. Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on the artboard. A window will pop up, where you can enter the width and height of the rectangle you want to create. In this case, 800x800 px.


After creating the square, send it to the back like we did before with Chaplin's hair.


Step 4

Now, let's go to the Align panel. If you don't have it open or you closed it earlier, don't worry. You can open it anytime by going to Window → Align or by pressing Shift + F7.


Now that we have the Align panel open, drop the menu to see the options. To make all of them appear, click on Show Options.


Drop the "Align To" menu and select Align to Selection so that all the elements are aligned to the selection instead of being aligned to the artboard.


Center the design to the square we created before for the background. This way, after selecting the square and all of the other shapes, they will be aligned to the center of the square.


Step 5

Move the design and the background to the upper-left corner of the artboard by selecting both of them and dragging them there. If you want to be more precise, do the following: Group the design and the background, set the "Align To" option to "Align to Artboard" and, from the Align panel, click on Align Left and Align Up.


Step 6

Duplicate the design three times to fill up the artboard. To duplicate, select the design and the background with the Selection Tool (V) and drag them both while holding Alt. If you also want that the elements move in a straight path on the horizontal or the vertical axis, hold the Shift key too.


You should have something like the following image. After that, all that's left is coloring the designs, using the color palette I shared with you or using your own palette.


Step 7

Apply the colors following a reasonable pattern and trying to achieve some harmony between the elements of the image. 

To color this image, for example, I used the same colors in the first and fourth design, and the same ones in the second and third design, but swapping the order of the colors.


You can try other patterns or other color palettes, but don't forget that you must try to achieve some harmony. Also, share your result with us by uploading it to the Project sections here at Tutpad.

It's a wrap!

Did you see how easy it is to create pop art portraits? Share your project with everybody and decorate your social media with it. And your home too! Why not? I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial as much as I have. As always, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Don't hesitate to ask me any questions you may have in the Comments section. See you next time! :)


What do you think of this tutorial?


Learning is awesome. And that's something we know for sure here at Tutpad. In this new tutorial, you'll learn how to create a vector minimalist pop-art portrait of one of the greatest silent-movie stars of all time. Even though that actor didn't say the following quote, just "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever". Shall we begin learning?

Tut Details

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