Working losely from photos

In this tutorial, we’re going to draw an old-fashioned typewriter loosely based on a reference photograph. We’re not going to be tracing the photo directly, only using it to help us figure out how to shade and place our object.
Tip: There are a lot of individual elements in this file, from dozens of small numbered buttons to wood textures and metal plates. It’s important that you work with as many layers as you need and that you take the time to label them correctly: It’s very easy to accidentally move a shape in front of another by accident.
Here’s our reference photo. As you can see, it’s pretty nasty! It was taken with a cheap point and shoot camera, with direct flash. The typewriter is a mess, covered in scratches and dust, and the angle we’ve shot from has distorted the shape of the typewriter. Thankfully, we’re going to be changing this up a lot as we create our vector, correcting the distortion and tidying everything up. That’s a great thing about working from a photo: The photo certainly doesn’t have to be perfect ;)
r01
First off, let’s draw the base. We’re working with dual monitors, so we have our AI document open on one monitor and our reference photo open on the other monitor, so we can quickly look back and forth as we work. You, however, may prefer to import the photo right into your Illustrator document (File > Place). It’s up to you.
Since the angle of the photo is so terrible, we’re going to change it a lot as we draw in AI. We’ll start with the Rounded Rectangle Tool, which is under the ‘Shapes’ button in your toolbar:
r02
Now, using the ‘Transform’ palette, we’re going to skew the shape. Twiddle around with your values, in the end we used 50 degrees to get an angle we liked.
r03
We’ll now rotate our shape 90 degrees using the ‘Rotate’ field:
r04
Why did we use the Transform palette on a default shape, rather than physically drawing the shapes? Well, when you use the default shapes, the points and curves are always perfectly symmetrical. Had we tried to draw this shape by hand, odds are at least one curve would be off slightly. If we had to go back in and edit the shape with the wonky curve it’d be tricky!
Now we’re going to duplicate the shape and move it off to the side. With the Select Arrow, click on the shape and while holding down ‘Option’, drag off to the side while still holding down the mouse button. This will copy your shape. We’ll move it to one side and move it behind our first shape by clicking Command-[ on Mac or Control-[ on a PC:
r05
These shapes will make up the sides of our register. Now, using the Direct Select (white) arrow, select the points on the bottom and left side of our second shape and delete them:
r06
Using the pen tool, hover over one of the open shapes and click to restart the path. Draw a rough line under the first shape and then close the path (hover the pen tool as you’re drawing over the first point and a little ‘O’ will appear next to the cursor, this indicates you’re about to close your shape). Your lines don’t have to be precise since they’ll be covered by the other shape:
r07
You’ll need to zoom in on the top left to make sure your new shape’s top left point aligns with the corner of our register. You may also need to adjust the corner on the top right to make sure the curve looks all right.
We’ll use the direct select arrow on the bottom left corner of the shape that’ll make up the front side of the register. We’re going to hold down ‘shift’ while using our keyboard’s down arrow key to move that whole corner down, because right now our register is on a pretty wonky angle. We also decided our register was getting too tall, so we used the Direct Select arrow to select all the shapes on the bottom and move them up a bit:
r08
Again, don’t worry about how weird those shapes at the bottom are looking. We’re going to cover them up so no one will see!
We’ll draw a border along the bottom, like a bevelled piece of wood, to give a nice trim. Now we’ll fill these shapes with a subtle brown gradient, and add a bit of detail to the side of the register (we copied our front side shape and downsized it so it looks like inlaid wood). After a few more tweaks to make sure the perspective is looking right, and some cleanup on our shapes we’ve got something like this:
r09
r10
Now, our reference photo shows the surface of the register is laquered black. We think this is a little blah and boring: Why not add some texture with a bit of wood grain?
Using our paintbrush tool and a pressure sensitive tablet, we’ve quickly drawn some lines of varying weights. These don’t look much like wood on their own, but they’ll be good enough considering this is going to be a very subtle effect:
r11
You can also use a calligraphic brush to get a variable stroke like this if you want, or you can draw the wood grain by hand (or even autotrace a reference photo if need be).
Once you’ve got your lines drawn, select them all and go to ‘Object > Expand’ to convert them from strokes into editable shapes. Then select them all and use Pathfinder’s ‘Merge’ function to combine everything, which makes it easier to move them around.
Make a copy of your line shapes (always make copies of shapes just in case you need to go back to them later!), then place them over one of your register’s shapes. Copy the register shape (Command-C on Mac or Control-C on a PC), paste it in front of itself (Command-F on Mac or Control-F on PC), and select the copied shape along with your wood line texture. Use the Pathfinder’s ‘Intersect’ button to trim down your wood shape:
r12
Repeat this with the other side of the register and you’ll end up with this:
r13
You’ll notice that in the above examples, we’ve colored our wood texture in a slightly lighter colored gradient than our base shapes. To do this, select the wood grain and hit ‘I’ on your keyboard. This brings up your ‘eyedropper’ tool. Click on the register shape to copy the color fill then bring up your Gradient palette. Double click on one of the color swatches and it’ll bring up a separate swatch window where you can adjust the tints on your colors: Reduce both color swatches by 10% to make the gradient slightly lighter than the register’s base.
r14
Now we’ll draw a simple price screen using the Rectangle shape tool and our pen tool. Our screen has metal sides with a darker colored middle. We’ll shade these with subtle gradients as well:
r15
We’ll add a metal plate to the top of the register. This is where the keys will go. We’ll start with the Rounded Corner rectangle tool and draw one shape, then fiddle with our Skew button in the Transform palette until we’ve matched the angle of the register:
r16
You may need to manually tweak the corners and curves in order to get them matching. Now we’ll copy this shape, paste it behind itself, and offset it by a couple of points. Color this new shape a darker gray to make it look 3D:
r17
Do this one more time, but this time make the shape dark brown. This simulates a drop shadow cast by the plate onto the top of the register.
Something is still missing. Let’s add some texture, like the source photo has. Draw some squiggly shapes over the main shape, merge them, then copy-paste the main shape on top of itself. With the copy selected, select the squiggly and use Pathfinder’s ‘Intersect’ tool to trim the squigglies. We’ll color our squigglies a slightly darker gradient than the main shape:
r18
Now to draw a button. Looking at the source photo, we can see the buttons are slightly rounded, and that the plastic is also molded on the underside of the button. Let’s start with the top row of red buttons that don’t have any text on them.
Drawing these buttons is very easy: Using your ‘Ellipse’ tool under the Shapes button in your toolbar, draw several circular shapes. We’ll use different shading on these to create an illusion of depth:
r19
For the base, we’ll draw a rectangle. Then, using our Pen tool, we’ll over over the bottom corners while holding down ‘Option’. This brings up our ‘Convert Anchor Point’ Pen Tool. Click and drag away from these points while still holding down ‘Option’ to create a curved bottom.
r20?
We’ll copy this shape, paste it in front of itself, them move it up so it looks like a shadow cast by the red plastic. A couple more circles at the bottom makes up the base of our button:
r21
We’ll copy this shape 10 times and line them up along the top of our register. To make sure the buttons are an equal distance apart, we’ll use Pathfinders ‘Distribute Horizontal’ function with all of our buttons selected:
r22
For the buttons that are on top of our metal plate, we’ll go back and take a look at our reference photo. These buttons don’t have a nice round base like the top buttons do, so we’ll need to make some quick changes. Copy one of the buttons from the top of the register and paste it on a new layer. We’ll delete the circles at the base of the button, and instead of a curved-bottom rectangle we’ll use sharper edges to look more squared off:
r23
We’ll add some numbers to our new button, then duplicate them and use the Pathfinder’s ‘Distribute’ function to space them equally in a row. Once you have a row of numbered buttons it’s easy to copy and paste them to create more rows. Since the numbers all stay the same, all you’ll need to do is change up the colors.
We’re not going to precisely match the source photo, but we will keep the same color scheme (black, red and white). Here’s what we’ve got so far:
r24
Now to draw the knobs on the left. Copy a button and paste it onto a new layer. These knobs will be much larger than our buttons so select the shapes and hold down ‘Shift’ while you hover your pen tool over a corner of the bounding box. Click and drag while still holding ‘Shift’ until your button is a good size (holding down ‘Shift’ ensures the proportions of your shapes all size evenly without skewing vertically or horizontally).
For the bottom portion of the knob, we’ll draw a rectangle then use our Direct Select arrow to select the bottom two points. Click your keyboard’s arrow keys to move them to the right until the angle matches the plate:
r25
We’ll draw some half circles to resembled the curved shapes from our reference photo. Now we’ll copy this, duplicate it, and move it above our red knob. We’ll recolor our second knob black just for some visual contrast:
r26
The last thing left to do is create some shading underneath our buttons. Draw a dark gray circle and duplicate it so that it aligns underneath each button to finish off your illustration. And you’re done!
r27

In this tutorial, we’re going to draw an old-fashioned typewriter loosely based on a reference photograph. We’re not going to be tracing the photo directly, only using it to help us figure out how to shade and place our objects.

Tip: There are a lot of individual elements in this file, from dozens of small numbered buttons to wood textures and metal plates. It’s important that you work with as many layers as you need and that you take the time to label them correctly: It’s very easy to accidentally move a shape in front of another by accident. I should know: This file was rejected when I first submitted it to iStock because I’d been a little hasty in merging my layers, leaving a layer of shading on top of the object that was supposed to cast the shadow!

Our Reference Photo

Here’s our reference photo. As you can see, it’s pretty nasty! It was taken with a cheap point and shoot camera, with direct flash. The typewriter is a mess, covered in scratches and dust, and the angle we’ve shot from has distorted the shape of the typewriter. Thankfully, we’re going to be changing this up a lot as we create our vector, correcting the distortion and tidying everything up. That’s a great thing about working from a photo: The photo certainly doesn’t have to be perfect ;)

register-01

Drawing our Base Shapes

First off, let’s draw the base. We’re working with dual monitors, so we have our AI document open on one monitor and our reference photo open on the other monitor, so we can quickly look back and forth as we work. You, however, may prefer to import the photo right into your Illustrator document (File > Place). It’s up to you.

Since the angle of the photo is so terrible, we’re going to change it a lot as we draw in AI. We’ll start with the Rounded Rectangle Tool, which is under the ‘Shapes’ button in your toolbar:

register-02

Now, using the ‘Transform’ palette, we’re going to skew the shape. Twiddle around with your values, in the end we used 50 degrees to get an angle we liked.

register-03

We’ll now rotate our shape 90 degrees using the ‘Rotate’ field:

register-04

Why did we use the Transform palette on a default shape, rather than physically drawing the shapes? Well, when you use the default shapes, the points and curves are always perfectly symmetrical. Had we tried to draw this shape by hand, odds are at least one curve would be off slightly. If we had to go back in and edit the shape with the wonky curve it’d be tricky!

Now we’re going to duplicate the shape and move it off to the side. With the Select Arrow, click on the shape and while holding down ‘Option’, drag off to the side while still holding down the mouse button. This will copy your shape. We’ll move it to one side and move it behind our first shape by clicking Command-[ on Mac or Control-[ on a PC:

register-05

These shapes will make up the sides of our register. Now, using the Direct Select (white) arrow, select the points on the bottom and left side of our second shape and delete them:

register-06

Using the pen tool, hover over one of the open shapes and click to restart the path. Draw a rough line under the first shape and then close the path (hover the pen tool as you’re drawing over the first point and a little ‘O’ will appear next to the cursor, this indicates you’re about to close your shape). Your lines don’t have to be precise since they’ll be covered by the other shape:

register-07

You’ll need to zoom in on the top left to make sure your new shape’s top left point aligns with the corner of our register. You may also need to adjust the corner on the top right to make sure the curve looks all right.

We’ll use the direct select arrow on the bottom left corner of the shape that’ll make up the front side of the register. We’re going to hold down ‘shift’ while using our keyboard’s down arrow key to move that whole corner down, because right now our register is on a pretty wonky angle. We also decided our register was getting too tall, so we used the Direct Select arrow to select all the shapes on the bottom and move them up a bit:

register-08

Again, don’t worry about how weird those shapes at the bottom are looking. We’re going to cover them up so no one will see!

We’ll draw a border along the bottom, like a bevelled piece of wood, to give a nice trim. Now we’ll fill these shapes with a subtle brown gradient, and add a bit of detail to the side of the register (we copied our front side shape and downsized it so it looks like inlaid wood). After a few more tweaks to make sure the perspective is looking right, and some cleanup on our shapes we’ve got something like this:

register-10

You’ll notice in the outline view below that we’ve straightened out the curved shapes under the border in our example. You don’t have to do this, but we wanted our outline view to be nice and tidy. Even if you don’t straighten out your curved corners, no one will ever see it!

register-09

Adding a Wood Grain Effect

Now, our reference photo shows the surface of the register is laquered black. We think this is a little blah and boring: Why not add some texture with a bit of wood grain?

Using our paintbrush tool and a pressure sensitive tablet, we’ve quickly drawn some lines of varying weights. These don’t look much like wood on their own, but they’ll be good enough considering this is going to be a very subtle effect:

register-11

You can also use a calligraphic brush to get a variable stroke like this if you want, or you can draw the wood grain by hand (or even autotrace a reference photo if need be).

Once you’ve got your lines drawn, select them all and go to ‘Object > Expand’ to convert them from strokes into editable shapes. Then select them all and use Pathfinder’s ‘Merge’ function to combine everything, which makes it easier to move them around.

Make a copy of your line shapes (always make copies of shapes just in case you need to go back to them later!), then place them over one of your register’s shapes. Copy the register shape (Command-C on Mac or Control-C on a PC), paste it in front of itself (Command-F on Mac or Control-F on PC), and select the copied shape along with your wood line texture. Use the Pathfinder’s ‘Intersect’ button to trim down your wood shape:

register-12

Repeat this with the other side of the register and you’ll end up with this:

register-13

There’s no need to add a wood texture to the border along the bottom, as it would take time and likely wouldn’t even be that noticeable.

Editing Gradient Fills

You’ll notice that in the above examples, we’ve colored our wood texture in a slightly lighter colored gradient than our base shapes. To do this, select the wood grain and hit ‘I’ on your keyboard. This brings up your ‘eyedropper’ tool. Click on the register shape to copy the color fill then bring up your Gradient palette. Double click on one of the color swatches and it’ll bring up a separate swatch window where you can adjust the tints on your colors: Reduce both color swatches by 10% to make the gradient slightly lighter than the register’s base.

register-14

Drawing a Display Screen

Now we’ll draw a simple display screen using the Rectangle shape tool and our pen tool. Our screen has metal sides with a darker colored middle. We’ll shade these with subtle gradients as well:

register-15

Adding a Metal Plate

We’ll add a metal plate to the top of the register. This is where the keys will go. We’ll start with the Rounded Corner rectangle tool and draw one shape, then fiddle with our Skew button in the Transform palette until we’ve matched the angle of the register:

register-16

You may need to manually tweak the corners and curves in order to get them matching. Now we’ll copy this shape, paste it behind itself, and offset it by a couple of points. Color this new shape a darker gray to make it look 3D:

register-17

Do this one more time, but this time make the shape dark brown. This simulates a drop shadow cast by the plate onto the top of the register.

Something is still missing. Let’s add some texture, like the source photo has. Draw some squiggly shapes over the main shape, merge them, then copy-paste the main shape on top of itself. With the copy selected, select the squiggly and use Pathfinder’s ‘Intersect’ tool to trim the squigglies. We’ll color our squigglies a slightly darker gradient than the main shape:

register-18

Drawing our Buttons

Now to draw a button. Looking at the source photo, we can see the buttons are slightly rounded, and that the plastic is also molded on the underside of the button. Let’s start with the top row of red buttons that don’t have any text on them.

Drawing these buttons is very easy: Using your ‘Ellipse’ tool under the Shapes button in your toolbar, draw several circular shapes. We’ll use different shading on these to create an illusion of depth:

register-19

For the base, we’ll draw a rectangle. Then, using our Pen tool, we’ll over over the bottom corners while holding down ‘Option’. This brings up our ‘Convert Anchor Point’ Pen Tool. Click and drag away from these points while still holding down ‘Option’ to create a curved bottom.

register-20

We’ll copy this shape, paste it in front of itself, them move it up so it looks like a shadow cast by the red plastic. A couple more circles at the bottom makes up the base of our button:

register-21

We’ll copy this shape 10 times and line them up along the top of our register. To make sure the buttons are an equal distance apart, we’ll use Pathfinders ‘Distribute Horizontal’ function with all of our buttons selected. Here’s how it looks (with our register’s display screen layer turned off so you can see the buttons more clearly):

register-22

Creating a Different Button Style

For the buttons that are on top of our metal plate, we’ll go back and take a look at our reference photo. These buttons don’t have a nice round base like the top buttons do, so we’ll need to make some quick changes. Copy one of the buttons from the top of the register and paste it on a new layer. We’ll delete the circles at the base of the button, and instead of a curved-bottom rectangle we’ll use sharper edges to look more squared off:

register-23

We’ll add some numbers to our new button, then duplicate them and use the Pathfinder’s ‘Distribute’ function to space them equally in a row. Once you have a row of numbered buttons it’s easy to copy and paste them to create more rows. Since the numbers all stay the same, all you’ll need to do is change up the colors.

We’re not going to precisely match the source photo, but we will keep the same color scheme (black, red and white). Here’s what we’ve got so far:

register-24

Now to draw the knobs on the left. Copy a button and paste it onto a new layer. These knobs will be much larger than our buttons so select the shapes and hold down ‘Shift’ while you hover your pen tool over a corner of the bounding box. Click and drag while still holding ‘Shift’ until your button is a good size (holding down ‘Shift’ ensures the proportions of your shapes all size evenly without skewing vertically or horizontally).

For the bottom portion of the knob, we’ll draw a rectangle then use our Direct Select arrow to select the bottom two points. Click your keyboard’s arrow keys to move them to the right until the angle matches the plate:

register-25

We’ll draw some half circles to resembled the curved shapes from our reference photo. Now we’ll copy this, duplicate it, and move it above our red knob. We’ll recolor our second knob black just for some visual contrast:

register-26

The last thing left to do is create some shading underneath our buttons. Draw a dark gray circle and duplicate it so that it aligns underneath each button to finish off your illustration. And you’re done!

register-27

> Purchase this file on iStockphoto

© 2009 Jennifer Borton

3 thoughts on “Working losely from photos

  1. Yami says:

    Wow, awesome. Thank you very much.

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