Working under the moniker of Hydro74, Orlando-based designer Joshua Smith is as happy creating type treatments and illustrations for world-famous brands as designing his own T-shirts as the Brass Tack label ( His works have featured on everything from magazine covers to snowboards and trainers. He also sells his typefaces.

“I personally strive to learn something new from every project or try out some techniques that I’ve only used a couple of times before and want to perfect,” he says.

Joshua Smith, aka maverick illustrator Hydro74, has a style that’s instantly recognisable  – combining the thick, clean lines of graffiti with the iconography of tattoos and the symmetry and patterns of vector art. Here he takes you through how he created his latest work, based around his regular motifs of skulls  and swirls mixed with this spring/summer’s illustration icon, the owl.

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As you follow this tutorial, you’ll discover lots of tricks to help you create better art and work faster in Illustrator. You’ll learn how to improve your skills with line art, shading using flat fills and colour techniques for limited palettes (to keep printing costs down). 

Joshua says that as his techniques are more about drawing vector shapes using the Pen tools than brush strokes, you’ll get better results from a mouse than a graphics tablet.

Time to complete 

4 hours


Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop CS3 or later

Project Files

Click here to download this tutorial's project files

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