Life & Style tutorial: Abstract art

Create amazing type-based elements in Illustrator and rough them up in Photoshop, with brilliant techniques from Mike Harrison.

This tutorial is part of our guide to the world's best type tutorials. See the rest here.

This tutorial is about experimenting with typography and textures to create something original and creative.

We’ll be creating abstract letterforms in Illustrator using a simple – yet very useful – technique for layering lots of shapes together to form the semi-abstract letters that are the focal point of the piece.

Then comes the fun bit: in Photoshop we’ll be adding more design elements and using a number of different textures to give the piece more depth and a handmade feel.

You’ll learn how to apply and manipulate textures to make them work for you: rather than just slapping one over the top of the whole image, but dissecting and colouring parts to add extra interest and dynamism to the overall image.

Using these techniques you will be able to start experimenting with your own abstract typography and trying out various different colour and texture treatments to create some original artwork.

Aim for originality in your letterforms – try something you haven’t seen before so your image will stand out from the crowd.

Before you begin the tutorial, download the abstract image from stock.xchng,, and the aged film texture from Lost and Taken, These images are both free to download but read the conditions carefully before using the images in commercial work.

Step 1
Start by creating a new A4 document in Illustrator at 300dpi in landscape orientation. Now select the Ellipse tool and use this little party trick: hold down the ‘ key on a PC (or the ~ on a Mac), and click and drag to draw with the Ellipse tool, moving your mouse around. This key command is continuously duplicating the shape as you move your mouse. You can use this technique with any of the shape tools.

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