Creating great vector artwork requires two core fundamentals: a well-thought-out idea, and a well-crafted design. Many people have good ideas, but fall short when they try to execute those ideas in vector form. The opposite is true as well: You can have impeccable vector artwork, but based on a weak concept. A well-defined, systematic creative process will help to ensure that your work consistently achieves both characteristics.
Let me share with you a recent illustrative design project that shows how the right creative process can help you to reach the goal of well-executed vector art every time.
Step 1: Start with a Drawing
A client approached me about creating some stickers. They had a piñata idea in mind, but didn't know what specific themes or style to use. I helped define the visual direction by doing a digital thumbnail sketch on my iPad (see Figure 1) and emailing it to them. They loved the idea of a candy skull and the festive colorful approach.
Figure 1 I like to use Adobe Ideas to draw out simple roughs like this and experiment in color. Then I can easily email a PDF from my app to a client.
Whether you start out drawing in analog or digital (iPad, Wacom, etc.), the point is to start drawing. Drawing facilitates precise vector artwork and helps you develop your ideas and refine the form and shape of what you need to create before you jump on a computer and attempt to create it.
Step 2: Refine Your Sketch
My thumbnail sketch captured the essence of my idea but didn't clarify my form enough to build from the sketch accurately. So I drew out my candy skull more precisely. Then I scanned in my refined pencil sketch (see Figure 2), so I could build my vector shapes on top of it in Adobe Illustrator.
Figure 2 A refined drawing establishes exactly what shapes will make up your final design and assist in your vector building efforts.
Step 3: Build Your Basic Vector Shapes
When I begin building my base vector shapes, I focus solely on the forms in my design, making sure that my vector shapes are created precisely and elegantly, as shown in Figure 3. Because I've already drawn my design, most of the creative "heavy lifting" in terms of what it will look like is already established. I cannot reinforce this point enough: Drawing improves digital. My refined drawing in this case guides my vector building.
Figure 3 I like to use pure magenta for my base line color because it has good contrast. Of course, you can use what ever colored stroke you want.
Step 4: Define Your Color Palette
Once I have the base vector shapes established, I focus on the color palette. I fill the shapes with flat colors in order to work out the balance in my composition and harmonize my design. In this phase, I might try several different approaches. On this particular design, I started with a yellow background (see Figure 4) but ended up going with a purple background instead (see Figure 5). I ultimately chose the purple hue because I felt it contrasted better with the candy skull artwork.
Figure 4 Art-directing yourself as you work on any project is just as important as creating the artwork itself.
Figure 5 When I color a design like this, I try to balance the distribution of color, so no one color dominates or distracts the design.
Step 5: Add Dimension with Details
With my flat colors established, the final step is adding detailing such as highlights and shadows. I kept the style simplistic for this project, yet I still wanted to add some dimension to the motif, so I built subtle shadows and highlights to reinforce the shapes and make the design more visually engaging, as Figure 6 shows.
Figure 6 Notice the subtle use of an inner glow effect on the skull shape. This adds a nice touch of volume to the final art.
Creating precise, well-crafted vector artwork isn't an impossible task. It just takes a determined mind and the willingness to learn new methodology in approaching how you create your vector artwork.
My book Vector Basic Training: A Systematic Creative Process for Building Precision Vector Artwork, Second Edition thoroughly documents a systematic creative process that will enable you to create the same type of impactful artwork for your projects, helping you to establish skills you can leverage for a lifetime of creative work. Purchasers of the book also get access to over seven hours of HD video containing additional insights and demonstrating the methods and approaches covered in the book. It's a no-brainer creative resource.