How to create a vector portrait illustration on the iPad, using Affinity Designer | Chris Rathbone | Skillshare

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How to create a vector portrait illustration on the iPad, using Affinity Designer

teacher avatar Chris Rathbone, Freelance illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

13 Lessons (40m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Importing a reference image

    • 3. Creating line work

    • 4. Inking around our line work

    • 5. Drawing and creating shadows

    • 6. Adding lowlights

    • 7. Applying block colour to our illustration

    • 8. Creating some highlights

    • 9. Glows

    • 10. How to create rim lighting

    • 11. Create a simple background

    • 12. Adding the finishing details to our drawing

    • 13. Experimenting with, and applying colour to your illustration

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About This Class

Create a vector portrait illustration on the iPad, using Affinity Designer!

As a freelance sports illustrator I am regularly commissioned to create illustrations of famous athletes and sports people. In this video, I will break down my illustration process in full - working from a reference photo, and take you through the stages of digital drawing in a way that’s perfect for artists of all levels. 

From importing your reference image, to creating line work, and then adding shading and colour to your illustration, you’ll learn how how to use your iPad to create portraits illustrations like a pro.


  • Importing a reference image
  • creating line work and inking
  • Creating, and adding lighting and shading to your illustration
  • Adding the finer details to your illustration and experimenting with colour for your finished drawing

See how I create a high detail, vector portrait illustration, with plenty of tips, tricks, and real-time troubleshooting along the way. 

Whether you’re an experienced digital artist, a traditional artist looking to work in the digital format, or a hobbyist in search of a new creative outlet, this class will take you on the journey to creating awesome portrait illustrations. Grab your iPad, and get drawing!


This class is suited for illustrators of all levels, especially those who are just starting out on the iPad. To follow along, you’ll need an initial sketch or photo to inspire your illustration, plus your iPad. I use Affinity Designer for this class, but you can use the drawing program of your choice.

Meet Your Teacher

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Chris Rathbone

Freelance illustrator


Hi! I’m Chris Rathbone - a freelance illustrator with a background in Graphic Design and Art Direction. I love the challenge of trying to capture emotion and energy in my illustrations, and I like to use bold colour palettes to further enhance the visual impact of my work.

I work primarily in the sports and automotive industries, and I have created illustrations for a host of clients including Formula 1, the NBA, Red Bull, Puma, ATP, Ferrari, the Boston Celtics, Formula E, W Series, William Hill, 888 Sport, the Tour De France and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I have also created illustrations for leading magazines such as CAR Magazine, Top Gear, Forbes Magazine and Match of the Day, and I have been commissioned by a U.S. publishing house to illustrate a series o... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi there, My name is Chris Rathbone. I'm a freelance illustrator. I've been using Affinity Designer for several years now, and I use it to create an awful lot of my project work. Some of you may have seen my video tutorial I did last year that was created on the desktop version with Affinity Designer, that was 'how to create speed and motion in an illustration'. Today I'm going to be bringing you a new tutorial video. We're going to be creating an illustration purely on the iPad Pro, and we're going to be creating a portrait illustration. So let's get the video and I hope you enjoy it. 2. Importing a reference image: So we're gonna go ahead and set up a new artboard. Now also you can set it to any size that you want depending on the job that you're doing. For this exercise, I'm just going to set up a, A4 print document. So once we set that up, the Odyssey brings up our art board. And today we're gonna be working from a stock image which has been supplied to us by affinity. So on this up and new layer here and call that reference. And this is where we're going to import our image into to work from. So I'm not going to go ahead and import the image. And we're only going to be focusing in on the head and neck of this guy. So I'm going to bring the image and I'm going to rotate it slightly so that the head is straight. And I'm going to create great a clip, a quick clipping mask. So we just have the head to work from. And you can do that very easily by dragging your shape down onto the layer that you want to create a clipping mask off. And it really intuitively create that clipping mask for you. So now we can go ahead and just scale the head up within our art board. Rotate it again ever so slightly just to make sure strike. And we're going to set the opacity of this to about 50 percent, just so that we can see what we're doing when we draw in. 3. Creating line work: So now we've got a reference layer. I'm gonna go ahead and lock that just we don't accidentally draw on that layer and edit it. And I'm going to set up a new layer. And this is going to be our line work layer where we're going to produce our drawing. I'm going to go ahead and rename this layer quickly. So now we have that layer. You'll see that layer is set up above our reference image. So anything we draw onto this layer is going to appear above our reference image. Now, I'm going to start off just by using the shape tool to create a couple of dots for the pupils of the eye. And then the majority of the rest of the drawing is going to be done using the pen tool and the pencil tool. So I've solved this shape here for the pupil. Just going to duplicate that. And by holding your finger on the screen and drag in the shape across, we can quickly duplicate that. But before we do, I don't know if you saw my first video where we spoke about the global colors. So we're going to have a global color, which is going to be this black color that we're gonna use for all of our line work. And we'll come on to global colors a little bit later. But for now we're just saving ourselves a lot of hassle further down the line when we come to change the colors. So now I've got the pupil and I'm happy with that. I'm now going to start using the pen tool and the pencil tool to start drawing my line work. Now for the time being, I'm not going to worry too much about the strokes and brushes because again, we can do that in bulk later on in the illustration. So for now I'm just going to keep it fairly simple. Just a one pixel thick unweighted line, just to construct our illustration. So by putting my finger on the screen as we click and drag, we can duplicate this selection over here to make sure that the pupils in the eyes of the same size on both sides of his face. And I'm really just going to continue drawing around the detail of his face. Now, one of the important things to do here, or one thing that I like to do is you'll notice I'm not going to intentionally join that path up. I'm going to make sure that the line finishes short. Now one of the reasons for doing that is when we start applying our brushstrokes, our line weights later on. It gives a really nice effect to have these sort of, these finished lines if you draw it by hand rather than having the shapes completely filled up. So I'm just gonna go around here continuing around Berlin at some of the lines in the creases of his eyes and around the eyes themself. And now I'm going to draw around the frames of the glasses. Now I mean, obviously we are working from a reference image. You want to try and be as accurate as you can. But it's not the end of the world if your lines don't lie and over the drawing perfectly, don't spend too much time going back and forth was wondering, and y are in the S naught as accurate as it should be exactly once we apply brush strokes to this and our shading, the linework almost kind of gets lost within the illustration is it's very easy to focus too much on the line weight, sorry, on the lines themselves in these early stages where the lines are ultimately the only thing on the page. So just try and follow is as close as you can. And don't get bogged down too much with worrying about it being pinpoint accuracy around the image below. Hi. So here we go. We finished all of our line work. As you can see, the long work itself is pretty basic and not very interesting. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna go ahead and select all the line work. We're going to de-select the two fill colors that we've got for the pupils in your eyes glossy then our strokes, we don't want to apply any effects to those. So now all we've got selected is our line work. Now we can go up here into the stroke, pop out. And one of the cool things in affinity is you can adjust this curve to basically apply a thickness and a line weight to your strokes. I like tapering off at both ends. It creates a really sort of hand-drawn effect, which looks really nice and makes a Lines lot more interesting than just a, a line that has a consistent white all the way through. Now what we're gonna do is we're going to pick some of these lines as well. So at the moment everything is the same weight. So we're gonna pick somebody strokes and we're going to increase the weight of them to add some weighted line to our drawing. January, I tried to focus on lines around the edges of objects. So for example, you can see here around the edge of his hair, around the rim of the glass is round his jaw line and around the edge of his ears as well. So what that does is it puts some weight to our drawing. 4. Inking around our line work: So now we have our line works up. I think that's looking really cool. I'm really happy with how that's coming together. So we're going to do now is we're going to start inking. So I'm going to lock this layer and we're going to set up a new layer above our line work. Now this layer is going to be our inking layer. So I'm going to call it income. And what we're gonna do on this layout is using that same black that we've used for our line work. We're going to start creating some of the heavy inking areas on this illustration. So for example, on stuff around here, around the eyes or see he's got some eyelashes around here. And using again, a combination of the pen tool and the pencil tool. I'm going to go around the eye here and start filling in some of these details that are given B in blocks of color to support and compliment my line work. So we'll go into the eye here as well. At the moment it has just set to a stroke, so we're just going to invert that and turn it into a fill. And again, we're using our global colors here so we can change these colors later stage. And you can see we're starting to add some more depth now to this line works. I'm just going to go ahead and drop this inking layer below my line work. And I'm going to continue around the edges, pulling out some of the heavy details, almost the really dark shadowed areas from the image. So once again, I'm going to go ahead and speed this up is pretty self-explanatory again. So now we've got a long work and our Incan, and I'm really happy with how this is looking. I think we've got some good depth to our illustration. We're gonna go ahead and ditch our reference image now because we don't need that anymore. I'm happy I've got an accurate drawing based on the photo below, so I'm going to lock that layer. 5. Drawing and creating shadows: Now we'll come back to this later. But what I was mentioning with global colors, you'll see this is also up as a global color. So what that enables us to do is we can now edit this color up here and it changes. Every instance of where that color is used for our drawing series is one that benefits that have global colors. Like I said, we'll come to this later on in much more detail once we've got our drawing complete. But it just gives you an idea of how itself. So what we're gonna do now is we're going to start a second global color, which is just going to be a bit lighter, lighter shade of black than our inking layer. And we're going to set a new layer up. And we're going to call this shadows. And we're going to set this layer below our income, below our line works. We're move it to the bottom. And what we're gonna do now is we're gonna pick our own light source. So for this instance, I picked them in light source coming from the top-left corner of this, of this image. So everything that would be below that, a shadow cast on it. So I'm just going to go around and it's not an exact science. This resort comes with experience and just playing around to see what you think is working. But I'm going to stop pulling out some shadowed areas in here. And a generally speaking, where we've got our Incan and our line work, the shadowed areas are going to be below those lines because that's mostly where it's, our shadow is going to be cost. So again, I'm using a combination of the pencil and the pencil tool. One of the things that's really cool and affinity designers, you can switch between those two. You can start drawing a path with the pen tool. And then if you want to go into a more jaggedy and hand-drawn path, you can continue that same path with the pencil tool and then jump back into the pencil. So it's really handy the doing this kind of work. So once again, I'm going to speed up the video here. I think you see what I'm doing. And then we'll have a time-lapse of of all the shadowed areas bond to the illustration. Cervical our shadows completed here. On this layer, I'm going to zoom out so we can have a look. And I think that's looking good. So as you can see, the shadows on the right-hand side of the face are slightly heavier than the shadows on the left-hand side of the face because the left is where our light source is going to be coming from. 6. Adding lowlights: So I think this is looking good and there's a lot more well-to-do. So what we're gonna do now is we're going to set up a nother layer. And we're going to call this one low lights. And this is really going to be an extension of our shadows. Are shadows, quite the tight, close shadows that are the heavy, heavy areas of shading on the image. Low lights is going to be a much larger, softer group of shadows on here. So I'm Miss up a new global color again and again, just go slightly lighter than why my column before seeing is the offeree colors that we've got stop there now. And I'm just going to go around in exactly the same technique as I did for the shadows. I'm going to use the pen and the pencil tool again to create a next, a second layer of shadows. Now when I'm doing these shadows and also when I'm doing the light in which we'll come to in a little while. I try not to have really definitive block shapes because if you imagine this of a person's face has many different contours and levels to it. So you're not going to get solid shapes of shading and of light. So I just try and be a bit jaggedy and a bit rough with this. You can always go in and fine tune some of the lines of some that's not working. Finally, it gives them more and more natural fill rather than working in solid blocks. So as you can see around the eye here, I've got some sharp bits almost kind of because we don't use gradients and the vector work, it's almost creating a softer edge, as you can see in here as we go around, rather than just having it as a solid shape. So it gives more of a natural blend between our colors. So I'm just going to go ahead and speed up the video and we'll see you when the low lights are complete. Hi. Hi. Right. Hi. 7. Applying block colour to our illustration: So what we're gonna do now we've finished our low lights. And what we're gonna do now is we're going to stop a new layer. This is probably our easiest layer that we're going to create today. We're going to call it color. And here we can see our illustration which has got our Incan and our line work. We can see we've got our shadows and we can see we've got our low lice. We're just going to drop this new layer behind this color layer. So it's essentially at the bottom of our illustration at the moment. Now I'm going to go ahead again continuing the theme of the global colors and then it creates a new global color in here. And once again, I'm going to create a just a little bit lighter than now low lights layer. So you have a mid gray. And what we're gonna do now that the color is, is essentially that the flat color for the whole illustrations. What we're gonna do now is again, using the combination of the pen tool and the pencil tool will luck with the labs above it just so that we don't accidentally draw on the wrong layer. And what we're gonna do now is we're just going to draw around our whole image. So we're going to draw around the glass is around here, go down and basically outlined the whole head and neck of the guy. Okay. Hi. 8. Creating some highlights: So now we can see we've got our base color in behind our shadows, in behind our low lights and our inking. And you can see how this illustration is starting to take shape now, it's still looks a little bit flat because of the ongoing highlights or lighting on it. Yeah. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna go ahead and set up a new layer. Now above our shadows and above are low lights but still below my inking layer. And we're going to call this highlights. And essentially using the same process that we did for our shadows and our low lights. Bearing in mind that we still want our light source to become in from the left-hand side. Using a combination of depend on the Pencil tool. Again, we're going to go through and just draw some highlighted areas. So we're gonna get our global colors set up with a slightly lighter shade than we previously used for our base color. And we're going to go around in the same way and just pick out some highlights. So again, the top left-hand side of his forehead here is going to be picked up. If there was an imaginary light source above it. There'll be picked up in the same way that we've got a slight shadow on the right-hand side of his forehead. We're going to create a light source on the left-hand side. So again, I'm trying to avoid just using definitive solid lines so that we get more of a softer blend with our shadows and our highlights. And that the colors transition from one to another, slightly softer rather than being with just a solid edge. So once again, using my global colors, just a slightly lighter shade than the previous shapes. And we can play around with these global colors or the illustration. And again, I'm just going to go ahead and speed up the video so you can see the highlights. Hi. Okay. Okay. 9. Glows: So we finished all of our highlights there. And again, you can see that this is really starting to come to life now add some depth and some an element of 3D to disjoined so it no longer looks flat and static. So in the same way that we had two layers for our shadows. We had our shadows and our low lights. We're going to apply the same approach with our light in. So we've got our highlights. And now what we're going to apply is a layer called glows and this is going to be are really strong. Light him which is going to compliment are really dark shadows that we put on enough first layer. So I once again set up a new global color. And this color is going to be almost white, not quite white. And I'll explain why in a little while, but we want to go pretty light with our color for this one. And in the same way using the same tools and techniques as we've used for our previous layers. We're going to go through just working within our highlights area of the now glows layer. But within this highlighted area of see, all their immediate globes are going to be within the highlights themselves. So we're just gonna pick areas within this area that we really want to put it up to make it pop with a lighter shade. So again, keeping a jaggedy edge so that we get more of a, a transition between those colors while in and just solid shapes which can look a bit flat and boring, just pulling out certain bits. So again, the little bits and the whites of his eye. And again remembering on the right-hand side, although there still will be some highlights, on that side of the face is going to be a lot less than there is on the left-hand side is phase where we have our light source coming from the left. So I'm just going to pick up a few areas in the nose here. And once again, I'll just speed up the video for time purposes. Welcome. Q. Okay. 10. How to create rim lighting: So I finished out glows layer. It's going to move that backup about the highlights layer and lock it so we don't accidentally edit that layer. On the next stage. Now we're pretty much done with our lighting and shadows. What we're gonna do is you can start one final layer, and this is just a quick layer here. And we're going to call this rim lighting. Now, rim lighting is basically, if you imagine this light source in real life, even if the light source was behind him, it would be picking up just the edges of his face and the edges of the ears. Because ultimately, in real life Here's a three-dimensional objects. So there would be some lighting just glancing off the edges of his face and his ears. So what we're gonna do now is we're going to pick up, this is quite a subtle approach without any very much on here, and really it's just trial and error. Once again, we're going to set up a foreign global color. And this one is going to be pure white, which is the reason why we didn't sell previous layer to pure white. We wanted to just a little bit darker. And I'm just going to pull out really just two or three places around the side of his face where light would be catching the edge. So for example, around his jaw line here, around the edge of the year which you just saw me do. I'm a police in the pure white and you can see it just helps to lift him off the page in when and if we come to a background on this image, these rim light in areas that really helped him stand off of the background sounds kinda pull out a couple of bits, mainly around the jaw and around the ears. Six 11. Create a simple background: And one final thing I'm going to do in here is I'm going to create a new layer called background BG for background. And I'm just going to send this to the very bottom of our illustration. Elements gonna do a very, very minimal and simple circle background. And now again, holding your finger on the screen as you're drawing keeps the shape in proportion. I'm just going to position it behind his head. And again, make sure that it is one of our global colors. I'm, I've wondered mid shade here. And we can see is having that circle behind really helps the guy's face and head pop off on the background. 12. Adding the finishing details to our drawing: So what I've shaded in lighten done, we're really onto the finer details now. So I'm gonna go ahead and lock my previous layers. And we're going to set up a new layer. We're just going to be at the top. And this is going to be, we're gonna put all of our fine detail on there. So in accord, this layer detail. And what we're going to be using now is the brush tool and a little bit of the pencil tool. And what we're gonna do is we're going to go around some of the areas where the hair, the eyebrows, the beard. And we're gonna put in some fine line work in there to really help those areas pop and add some 3D to the image. So what we're gonna do here is using the brush editor. I'm going to apply some size variation. And what you can see here if you put it to a low number yet very minimal variation to your Align Stroke. If you put it up to a 100 percent, that means you go from a federally a very, very fine line up to as thick as it can be and back down. Now using the controller, we're going to set that to pressure. So what that means is the hard we press our pencil, the thicker the line is going to be. And now what we're gonna do one is detail layer. The central part here is to make sure that we're still using for every single brushstroke that we do, we need to be making sure that it is one of our global colors. So we'll see we can use the lighter ones for the lighter areas and the dark ones for dark areas obviously. So what we're gonna do now is I'm going to start with the dark areas. So underuse the black from our inking layer. I'm just going to make some adjustments to the brush here to give it a nice even curve. And then using the black from our inking layer, I'm just going to apply some brushstrokes into this area here. You can see it just almost as if you're drawing in individual hairs. Now, these don't have to be too precise. And C, by having the pressure control R on our brush, it means you're naturally going to get some variation in the thickness of these lines as well, which is quite nice and gives it a more of a realistic fill. So I'm gonna start off by using the black line just added in some fine detail in here. Again, you don't have to go to heavier, but you don't have to go too over the top because it really is just extra detail. And I'm going to do something here on the eyebrow as well. Now what I'm gonna do is just use in some of our other colleagues and other shades that we've got built up. I'm just going to apply some more hairs and some detail around here. So using our light color, where we've also got a dark area underneath his chin. It's hard to see the difference between the actual hair on his chin and the shadow that's being cast on his neck. So by using these lighter brushes, you can really just put a couple of brush strokes in there that really helped just contrast the chin and the hair from the neck. And uses some of the lighter brush strokes just in here as well. Which helps transitions out some of those solid areas of color that we've got. So once again, I'm going to speed up the video here. I'm just carried in applying the different colors. Again, a nice contrast. And I'll go in and do the same for the hair on the top of the head as well. Okay. Hi. Now one of the very last things I'm gonna do here is obviously where our model is drawing is wearing glasses. There's also a glass in those frames and the glass is going to be catchier highlights or reflections as well. So I'm just going to very quickly draw a shape in here which kinda looks like it's following the curvature of the glass on each of these lenses. And I'm going to set the opacity to about 50 percent because it's really still in that all of our nice detail that we've drawn, particularly in the eyes to becoming through those glasses and I'll see where it is glass you would be able to see for it naturally anyway. And I think that adds a really nice depth to the illustration. It helps the glass is fill out. They are raised off of his face. Obviously, we want this to feel as free dimensional as possible. 13. Experimenting with, and applying colour to your illustration: Now we're almost done registration on. I'm really happy that I think is looking great. One of the reasons for working in grayscale is you can really build up that depth in the illustration and make sure that the image, it's got the right depth to it. A nice contrast without getting too bogged down with color, which is easy to do if he stopped playing around with color too early on in the jaw and you can find yourself getting really bogged down. So it's nice to build it up in gray sky uses approach for nearly all of my work. And then I come apply around the college at the end now because we saw those global colors that we've mentioned several times. That is video. We can see now as I can start to play around with these colors independently and adjusts the all instances of where that color is used in illustration says is super, super quick and handy approach to have. And also if you're all set and work off the printer and suddenly a client comes back and wants to tweak one or the colors, or there's some issues with a particular color we need set up as a pan tone or whatever the approach may be. It just gives you a lot of flexibility to go through and do this approach and play around with the colors. So I've ended up going with this kind of yellow, orange, and pink palette, which I think is, is really strong. So I've dropped a quick background color in behind our, I'll call it circle as well. And that really brings to the end this tutorial and memory happier. The finished result of in the color looks great. It looks really excited and an energetic with the colors here. And I look forward to seeing your results. Thanks so much for following along and see you soon.