Jonny Wan’s distinctive, fresh illustrations manage to seem both mechanical and handmade: their characters are composed of intricate, symmetrical vector shapes so that they seem almost clockwork, yet the finishes he applies remind us of woodcuts.


“Every object can be broken down into a combination of various shapes,” explains Wan. “The great thing about working with shapes is that the experimental possibilities are infinite.”

In this tutorial you’ll learn how to combine, merge, and manipulate ships in Illustrator to create an intricate illustration based on a Russian doll.

If you’d prefer to concentrate on the texturing and colouring aspects of the tutorial, you can find the vector file on the cover CD and in the Zip file attached opposite. This is to be used for this tutorial only.



Step 1
Start researching the subject matter, paying particular attention to the little details associated with the theme. Look for commonalities in the images that you gather – in this case I’ve noticed a lot of pattern-like repetition of shapes. Also the characters is simple and takes on a symmetrical form.



Step 2
Open up a new document (Cmd/Ctrl + N) in Illustrator and set your document to the relevant size and colour mode for your planned output – so CMYK for print, or RGB for screen. Set your stroke and fill to default (D) to begin tracing over your sketch transforming its shapes to vectors.



Step 3
Now name your layer ‘doll’ and begin to draw out the overall outline of the doll. Use the Custom Shape tool to draw out the foundation shapes and apply the merge option found within the Pathfinder tool (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + F9) to combine various shapes together.



Step 4
Establish the key elements of the illustration, such as the facial features, arms and so on. Don’t worry about the intricate details – you’ll focus on these later on. For now look closely at the key features and make sure that the aesthetic of the shapes you’re using is in keeping with your initial sketches.