In this tutorial I will show you how to create a tombstone illustration with a pen tablet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a pen tablet, you can follow the alternative steps included in the tutorial. It’s a fun tutorial with techniques you can apply to other illustrations and logos. Moreover, you can customize your tombstone to say whatever you want.
Below is the final image we will be working towards.
- Program: Adobe Illustrator CS5 (You should be good to go if you have CS4. If you have a version below that you won’t have access to the Blob Brush, so use the alternate methods).
- Difficulty: Intermediate
- Topics Covered: Pen Tablet, Blob Brush, Live Paint Bucket
- Estimated Completion Time: 1-1.5 hours
First, create a sketch of a tombstone. You can create this with pencil and paper, Photoshop, or which ever technique you prefer. For inspiration, I looked around on Flickr for old tombstone images and at different blackletter fonts. I love the Blaktur font from House Industries, so I used that as inspiration.
After you have the sketch saved on your computer, create a new document in Illustrator. In the new document go File > Place, find you sketch on your computer, and place it. With the Selection tool (V), scale and move the sketch until you are satisfied with the placement. From the Layers panel, double-click on the layer name, and rename it to “Template” or something similar. This will help keeping all our layers easy to use and quick to navigate (really it doesn’t matter too much in this tutorial, but is good to practice).
Create a new layer from the Layers panel and rename it “Outline”. This is were we are going to trace the sketch. It also helps to lock the “Template” layer so you don’t accidentally draw on that layer.
Since we are using a pen tablet, we first need to setup out Blob Brush (Shift + B) to properly use the pen tablet’s pressure sensitivity. To do this, double-click on the Blob Brush in the Tools panel. When the Blob Brush Tool Options opens, change the Fidelity to 1, the Size to 5 pt, choose Pressure from the Size drop–down menu, and change the Size Variation to 5 pt. If you don’t have CS4 and up or a pen tablet, wait a couple steps for some alternative methods to tracing the sketch.
When I trace the sketch, I start with only tracing half of it. Later I reflect my trace making it quicker to trace and giving the illustration a better composition. To help aid in only drawing half of the sketch, drag out a vertical guide dividing the sketch. Now that or template is set, the Blob Brush set, and a vertical guide is set, we can start tracing the sketch with the Blob Brush. When tracing with the Blob Brush, utilize the pressure sensitivity of the pen tablet by varying your pressure. Start by just tracing the most dominate lines in one half of the illustration. A little later, we will fill it in with some detail.
Alternate Methods for Tracing
Some of you might not have a pen tablet or CS4/CS5 to use the Blob Brush. There are a couple different ways to create the same type of line quality without either.
Using the Width Tool
If you are on CS5 and don’t have a pen tablet. You can trace the sketch with the Pen tool (P), Pencil tool, or Brush tool, and use the Width tool to adjust certain sections of the paths to create a hand-drawn feel. With the Width tool (Shift + W) click on a path and drag out Width Handles.
Pen Tool or Custom Art Brush
If you don’t have CS4 or a pen tablet, you can just trace the whole thing with the Pen tool (P), but it can take a while. Alternately, you can create a custom Art Brush or use some of the Art Brushes that come with Illustrator. To make a Art Brush, create a shape that has some of the characteristic of a hand drawn path (tapered edges and thickness variance), drag the artwork into the Brush panel, and save as a new Art Brush. Apply the new your traced paths.
Once you found the method for tracing that works best for you, continue tracing the most prominent parts of the illustration, we will add the detail in the following steps.
Select all the outline artwork, Copy (Command +C), and Paste in Front (Command + F). With the copy still selected, go Object > Transform > Reflect, select Vertical from the Reflect dialog, and move the copy to the other side of the vertical guide.
Now I make adjust to some of the elements that I don’t want to be uniformly reflected, for example, the skull. You edit objects if you want or just keep it the way it is.
Now we can start adding all the grimy details and textures. Like before, use the Blob Brush (or alternative method and fill up the illustration. I also use the Eraser tool (Shift + E) to erase certain part of the outline creating broken pieces of the tombstone or to touch Blob Brush mistakes. To set the Eraser tool to utilize pressure sensitivity, double-click on the Eraser tool in the Tools panel, and in the Eraser Tool Options dialog, change the Diameter to 5 pt, select Pressure form the Diameter drop-down menu and, change the Diameter variation to 5 pt. At this point you can toggle the visibility on and off for the “Template” layer. Sometimes it can be distracting once you get to a certain point in the illustration.
Now you should be pretty much done with the tracing. Next, we add some shades of grey or color to the illustration. The quickest and most consistent way to this is with The Live Paint Bucket (K). Select all the artwork, choose the Live Paint Bucket form the Tools panel, and click within empty white spaces in the illustration to fill with the select paint bucket color. You can cycle through your swatches with the arrow keys. Fill up all the shapes with colors.
Once you have filled all the shapes, select the artwork and go Object > Expand to expand the Live Paint. Next Go Object > Ungroup a couple of times. With the Magic Wand tool (Y) Select all the colors shapes, Cut them (Command +X), create a new layer called “Color”, place the layer under the “Outline” layer, and Paste in Front (COmmand + F). Now we can make changes to the color shapes without affecting the outline shapes.
The color looks pretty good, but we can add some more depth by creating shadows and highlights with the Blob Brush and different shades of color. Create these highlight and shadow elements in the new “Color” layer.
Now is the time to add any extra features that were not in you sketch. For example, I added some grass at the bottom of the tombstone with the Blob Brush.
In this step we are going to customize the tombstone to say whatever we want. With the Text tool (T) type out some text in a font of your choosing. I used La Portenia for the script font and Klavika Bold / Regular Condensed for the other text.
That’s it! Have fun customizing your tombstone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Putnam (Rype) runs Vectips.com, a site dedicated to Illustrator tips, tricks, and tutorials. In addition, he run the small design studio Rype Arts, he’s a contributing author and artist to the Adobe Illustrator WOW! CS4 and CS5 books, and writes for many vector and Illustrator related blogs. You can find him on Twitter @Vectips and @RypeArts.