Many works that look complicated are really made from simple elements. In this tutorial, Russian artist Alexandra Zutto shows how to build up complex, beautiful images by patiently layering and building up small, straightforward segments, always varying them to prevent monotony.
For this piece, which Zutto created for the Blood Sweat Vector exhibition in Berlin, she says: “I tried to reproduce the tundra’s atmosphere, with its pale sun and soft lighting. It required looking closely at a lot of references to understand how I can achieve these kinds of effects.”
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to build up many elements to create a vector image with real depth and richness. Zutto explains: “I spend most of the time picking out colours that match each other to form harmonic colour composition. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth the effort.”
Step 1 - I recommend making sketches first to help you get the composition right: it’s easier to draw nice shapes on paper than make them in software from scratch. Scan in your picture. You can adjust brightness and contrast in Photoshop and outline it with a thin, hard brush to make lines crisp if they aren’t. Import it to Illustrator in an empty layer and lock it (Cmd/Ctrl + 2). I usually set the sketch to 30% transparency.
Step 2 - Let’s start with the owl, as it’s the main figure that defines the composition. Create a new layer and start drawing an eye. With the Ellipse tool (L) create a circle, making sure there’s no stroke. Create a radial gradient using several shades. Adjust the colours and position of the sliders using the Gradient tool (G) and Gradient toolbar. Refer to close-up photos of animals to understand how lighting goes through the eye