Man-Tsun’s breathtaking character artworks combine the strong designs found in comic and manga art with a fluidity of linework and subtlety of shading that pushes it beyond the boundaries normally associated with that form.
For this tutorial, we asked the artist to produce a piece based around the concept of the artist revealing their creative process as a performance for the viewer.
Here Man-Tsun reveals his techniques to speed up the tracing of sketches in Illustrator, and how to produce sweeping linework. He also details how he adds depth by using gradients to build up shading across both internal areas and linework.
Time to complete
Illustrator, Photoshop CS5
To begin this piece in Photoshop, I used the Brush tool (B) to draw a simple figure of a woman. I then sketched out additional elements such as hair and the sketching hand that represents the viewer very roughly in blue, so I could keep the key figure front-and-centre without it being overwhelmed by these elements.
Once this was completed, I used a thin black brush to create linework based on these additional elements ready for tracing in Illustrator.
Moving over to Illustrator, I imported (File > Place) the sketch and dropped its opacity to 30%. I then created a new layer on top of it and started the tracing work.
The Blob Brush (Shift + B) is my first choice of tool to create the thicker, ‘harder’ key linework with varying widths for a handdrawn feel. However, if I wanted smooth lines, I still had the traditional Pen tool (P) to take care of it.
The tracing process can be very boring and time-consuming. I use the Paintbrush tool (B) to really speed up the tracing process, so I can just draw freehand as if I was using a real artist’s pen on paper – and the results are some really fluid linework.
First though, I had to create a new brush with the right properties. I drew a thin line with tapered ends, dragged it to the Brushes panel, and then selected Air Brush as the new brush type.
When working on eye elements such as the eyebrow and eyelash, it’s critical to have a high level of detail in it. The more it has, the more elegant it looks.
To create these fine details, use the new brush you’ve just created. It’s much faster than the Pen tool.
I used this new brush to trace the rest of the linework, again switching to the Pen tool for any smooth lines I needed.
For the ring on the artist’s hand, I wanted to apply a fish scales pattern on it. If I draw this directly onto the rounded shape of the ring, I would never get it right, so I used the Envelop Distort tool to handle this.
To begin this process, I drew a flat fish scales pattern.
Next, I selected Object > Envelope Distort > Make a Mesh, inputting 2 for both Rows and Columns.
I placed the pattern on top of the ring, and carefully moved the points so that it followed the shape of the ring and appeared to wrap around it. Essentially I’m just treating it like wrapping paper. Once it was in position, I created a clipping mask to constrain it within the ring.
When the line art was completed, it looked very flat. I added in some black shadings to increase the ‘weight’ of the piece – boosting the contrast between black and white in the composition.
Next was the colouring in. Since the concept of this piece is about a girl playing with paints inside a drawing, I used a light skin colour and organic shades for the pens and brushes, then two strong contrasting colours, blue and purple, for her paints and hair.
Across the composition, the contrast was too strong, so I added in different shades of purple to tone it down a bit. I also shaded the skin to add depth.
The drawing now looked like a piece of comic art. This was because of the strong black colour of the linework – especially around the character. It wasn’t my first intention to give this piece such a look, so I replaced the linework I created with the Blob Brush in Step 2 to soften the illustration.
The piece still looked a little flat, so I added gradients for depth and visual interest. I replaced the white background with a gradient from black to dark purple – and applied subtle gradients across each of the coloured areas of paint and hair.
The artist’s hand had disappeared, so I made it blue, using a gradient with a very limited range.
The blue hand at the bottom still looked rather separated from the rest of the composition, so I added in some splashes of blue and black to balance it out.
With all the vector work now done, I copied-and-pasted the entire drawing, and imported it into Photoshop. I then applied a Gaussian blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) of 5 to some random areas, just to give a bit of an illusory touch to it.