An intermediate guide to create Naive and Craft Styled Vexel Illustrations. It’s a great style to use on illustrations to make them appear pseudo-realistic and a lot more artistic than if they were just vector.
Another Example, Cell shaded.
Step 1: Concept & Planning
It’s good practice to start by doing a rough sketch whether in illustrator or hand-drawn then scanned in. For the quick way, use illustrator and the brush tool set on a normal, round looking brush. I like the Brush in illustrator as it smoothes out anything you draw in it.
Feel free to write on the sketch your notes like the Lighting direction, flow, etc. as it is only a draft.
For mine, I opted to create a scene in my RPG in a world known as “Everleryn”. This world is abundant with strange yet beautiful nature – this is so that it will appear creative, which is one of the most important things. After all, in my opinion there isn’t much point to make an image like this if the elements are not creative and appear ordinary.
Note that you Do need some artistic skill for this, as this is the main part of planning your composition. I advise you to research design and art principles like Rule of Thirds, good composition and artistic hierarchy, etc. if you do not know it already.
I used the rule of thirds so that the elements that are important are in the rule of third’s lines. Visual hierarchy to achieve a sense of scale, depth and variety.
If you are aiming for a naive look like I am, try doing some research on naive art and get some good inspiration before you start. In fact, any style you do it’s always good to check out what some other people have done unless you are really creative already.
It’s optional to roughly colour it with the Brush tool on a new layer. If you do though, it’ll give you a better feel of composition and you can adjust it accordingly better than if it were just outlines.
Step 2: Pen Tool
Let’s face it, this is the hardest part. And if you aren’t too familiar with the Pen tool, I strongly recommend you to check out some tutorials on the web for it, as it will require a whole other tutorial to explain it properly. If you are decent with it, here’s your chance to get even better!
What you will need to do is:
1. Set your draft layers opacity low, I would say anything between 25% to 50%, and lock the layers (select the layer and press CTRL/CMD + 2).
2. Gradually add new layers and pen tool your outlines in your draft. For mine I set it to no stroke and filled it to the according colour present in the draft.
3. It’s paramount for this tutorial to make sure that you sort the layers well. Put similar elements in the same layer – whether they are similar by colour or object, and name the layers accordingly.
4. Try to keep your lines smooth, as less anchor points as possible.
This is the finished result of part one, I will explain how to go about doing the other elements such as the clouds in the next step.
Step 3: Adding Stylized Elements: Clouds
For the clouds, I used the Spiral Tool, which is underneath the Type tool. When you are using the Spiral tool, you may hold ALT to make variations in your spiral.
I made the stroke of the spiral white, stroked it with a normal round brush and filled with it a blue colour. Then I simply duplicated it four times and put them in nice positions. It will most likely have a few gaps in the fill after you are done with it. Simply pen tool the gap and fill it with the same blue, and then group all of the elements of the clouds together by selecting them and pressing CTRL/CMD+G.
Step 4: Waves and Bubbles
For the waves, first you will need to create a brush like this:
Start by pen tooling:
Close your path so it becomes this, and make sure that it is set on no stroke and black fill:
Select the shape you just created, and press CTRL/CMD+C then CTRL/CMD+F; so that you will have a duplicate of the shape in the exact same spot. Now right click on the shape using the arrow tool and select the reflect option. After you reflected it, make sure you have Smart Guides on (CTRL/CMD+U) then move the reflected shape so that you will have a half oval.
Repeat for the bottom as well and you should have something like this:
Open the pathfinder window (Window -> Pathfinder) and press the Add icon (and followed by Expand if you are using below CS4 version of illustrator).
Open your brush window (Window -> Brushes) and drag your combined shape into the brushes palette. Use these settings:
Okay nice, now you have a trailing brush that you can easily change colour with. To make the waves, simply use the Spiral tool just like how you did the clouds but this time instead of using a normal brush, use this one and change your stroke colour to the colour of your choice.
For the bubbles, simply make an Circular shape with the Eclipse tool, fill it with a blue colour, then click the Gradient Mesh tool which should be above the Gradient tool. Point to a place you want to highlight in the bubble and click, then change the colour of that anchor you just clicked on into white and Voila!
Just don’t forget you can duplicate the bubbles by holding ALT while using the arrow tool and dragging the bubbles around to duplicate them. You can try resizing them and rotating them to a nice flow.
Step 5: Gradients & Patterns
Gradients will provide your image with more depth and variety. Normal Gradients are a simpler alternative to the Gradient Mesh tool, it’s just a matter of preference. If you don’t like gradients you can cell shade it instead like you see in my alternative Result at the top.
Select the layer you wish to add gradients to, then select the Gradient tool, select a gradient and drag a line according to the lighting direction (or if below CS4, open up the Gradient window and configure to your taste).
I created a pattern just for the brownish elements. I used the trailing brush we created earlier with a small stroke to make some funky highlights on the darker brown square fill. Simply drag the whole thing into your Swatches palette and you should have a nice pattern that can be applied to fills to make them look more stylized.
Lastly, note the interesting droplets you see on the tree and the girl’s clothing. This further emphasizes the stylization and can be created in the same way with the Pen tool. Use the same method of duplication as the bubbles, and try adding a gradient over the whole group this time.
You can leave it like this if you like a vector look. Have fun and I hope you have enjoyed the tutorial.
After Photoshop. Simply drag your illustrator layers onto PS, add drop shadow and textures on multiply and clipping mask them to achieve this effect.
Founder of Anothera.net, has been using design programs for 8+ years. What had started as a hobby, design and art had became a real passion and a way of life. Achieved the Graphic Design Advanced Diploma qualification.