Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Create a Death Goddess inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Use Illustrator’s pressure-sensitive ‘Blob Brush’ to bring a hand-drawn illustration to, er, life.

Want to produce clean and detailed line work but with a hand drawn edge? Not sure whether to use the pen tool in Illustrator or a tablet in Photoshop?

With his stunning tattoo-style designs, digital illustrator and ‘part-time thrasher’ Chris Parks has all the answers and more in this tutorial.

You’ll be introduced to Illustrator’s pressure sensitive ‘Blob Brush’ and you’ll learn some techniques for adding quick colour and detailed depth. You’ll also pick up some good tips on workflow and how to add detail by creating separate graphics and duplicating them to save time without sacrificing quality.


Adobe Illustrator

Time to complete

10-12 hours

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.


To get started, you’ll need a healthy dose of inspiration, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. Death Goddess was inspired by Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, Thai and Tibetan imagery, along with my own style and interpretation.

If you don’t feel like sketching, you can download my original sketch file (sketch.jpg) from the project files.


When you’ve got a good, rough sketch of your idea, scan it in and save it as a grayscale at 300 dpi.

You can adjust the contrast levels of your sketch in Photoshop to make sure it looks clean enough to be used as a reference for the line work.

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In Illustrator, open a new document and set it up as RGB at 16 x 24 inches. Then go to File > Place to insert your sketch image onto your art board.


Once you’ve placed your image, centre it on the art board and scale it up to match the art board.

With the image still selected, change its colour in the colour palette to Red – 110; Green – 205; Blue – 245 so that the image has a cyan colour to it. Lock its layer and click New Layer in the Layers panel.


Next, start inking the image up with your pressure-sensitive tablet. Double click the Blob Brush in the tool panel menu and set it up as shown in the screenshot. Set the colour to black using the colour palette.

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The Blob Brush is an amazing tool that was added back in Illustrator CS4. If you haven’t used it before, I’d recommend playing around with it a bit and practice getting a nice, consistent, thin-to-thick-line. It’s much smoother than Photoshop’s Brush tool and retains a vector-style line quality.


After you are comfortable with the Blob Brush, choose an area to begin attacking.

You can save time by starting with elements you can single out and duplicate, like the fire and flower elements. Don’t worry about sticking to the reference exactly – you can make improvements as you go along.


Move the flower and fire elements off to the side and start outlining the top of the headpiece. You can draw half of it and flip or duplicate it.

I also drew in some areas that are not visible in the original sketch so that I have this full headpiece as an individual element.

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Draw a skull, then scale it to fit and make enough copies to go across the headpiece. Start filling in other details, duplicating where possible.

Give the flower and fire pieces white backgrounds, scale and drop them back into the design as well. I decided to make the flowers bigger and duplicated more of them to make the design bolder.


Next, draw the ear and earring parts and flip/duplicate them. Repeat the process for the hair.

It’s best to hide elements after you’ve drawn them so you can focus more easily on the individual sections you’re working on.


Unhide any of the elements if needed and get to work on the neckpiece.

Again, tackle it one part at a time and add in as much detail as your ADD will let you.

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For the face, start with the outside and work in, duplicating and flipping wherever you can to save time. Have fun with the tribal markings and stray from the original sketch as needed.


When you work on the eyes, nose and mouth, take your time getting it right and as true to life as possible.

It helps if you place photos of human eyes, lips and noses into your art board for reference.


Once all of the black line art is done, it’s time to merge it into one piece.

Select your line art and click Merge in the Pathfinder palette. Then choose Object > Flatten Transparency in the dropdown. Click away to deselect and select any white areas and choose Select > Same > Fill Color. Tap Delete on your keyboard.

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You should be left with just the completed black-filled drawing. Select All and choose the Live Paint Bucket tool. Pick a colour and click away.

Once all the base colours are in, Select All and choose Object > Expand. Select any black shape and got to Select > Same > Fill Color. Cut and paste the black line art onto a new layer.


Create a new layer above the base colour and below the black line art. Make some darker shading colours and add them to your colour palette.

Select the Blob Brush tool and put the finishing touches on your piece by adding shading and depth.