Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Texture effects for vector portraits

Charles Williams traces a face using vectors to capture our addiction to the world of microblogging and hashtags


As someone naturally disposed towards consuming pointless information, Charles Williams spends a lot of time on Twitter – more than he probably should, he says. So he put his illustration skills to use in creating a portrait of the habit.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

This tutorial reflects an aesthetic that Charles has been exploring, one that brings psychogeography to portraits by taking an artistic depiction of the ‘soul’ of a place and applying it to those who live there. Here he infuses the virtual geography of Twitter into a portrait based on a photo of (supposedly) a regular tweeter. The effects Charles uses might be thought of as capturing the style and content of the person’s tweets.

This tutorial should help you develop your own ideas of how to use photography and digital skills to produce interesting artwork. “If you want to know more,” says Charles, “drop me a line. On Twitter (@thisismadeup). I will pick it up.”

Time to complete

12 hours


Photoshop CS3 or higher; Illustrator CS3 or higher

Step 1


I came up with a simple idea for this piece in my graph paper sketchbook. It’s basic, but the idea reflects the result I want to achieve.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 2


As a source photo, I used (with permission) a shot by my friend Blanka Biernat ( I chose this image as the subject is looking right and upwards at 45 degrees, which corresponds to a key direction in my sketch.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 3


I upped the contrast and saturation in Photoshop, then converted to indexed colour (Image > Mode > Indexed Colour) to end up with a palette of just nine hues. It can be fiddly to arrive at a limited set of hues you feel happy with, but I find this method gives the best results for this type of work.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 4


Place the image into an A3 portrait Illustrator document, set the opacity to 70%, and lock the layer.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Add a basic smartphone case shape in a new layer. On a new layer above that, turn the grid on (Cmd/Ctrl + “ or View > Show Grid) and select View > Snap to Grid (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + “). Select Preferences > Guides and Grids and set the number of grid subdivisions to 20.

Step 5


Now, using the shapes in the image as a rough guide, start drawing geometric shapes. Use the Pen tool (P) with no fill and a 1pt stroke.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Hold Shift when drawing to ensure you keep to 45-degree angles. By doing so I’ve given the image an isometric feel and have made most of the shapes travel in the same direction, in keeping with the initial sketch.

Start with the main features of the face – eyes, mouth, nose – and focus on the detail. This is what will make the face recognisable as a human visage. When working like this, keep an idea of the overall image in your mind, as well as looking at how the shapes hang together.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 6


Once you are happy with the outline design, start adding colour. Create a new group in your Swatches palette, add the colours used in the source image and fill in the shapes with Illustrator’s Live Paint Bucket tool (K), using the underlying image as a guide to where to apply the colour.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 7


Once you’ve finished adding colour, select all vectors and change the stroke to white, 0.1pt. Copy and paste the design into an A3 300dpi Photoshop document as a Smart Object, and call the resulting layer ‘face’. You’ll be moving between Photoshop and Illustrator a lot, editing the Smart Object.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 8


Above ‘face’, create a layer named ‘shading’ with a Multiply blending mode, and mask it with the ‘face’ layer. Use the Magic Wand (W, with Contiguous selected, 5% Tolerance) to select areas on the ‘face’ layer to shade. The idea is to create the illusion of depth between the shapes.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 9


Now use a soft, large black brush with 15% opacity to carefully brush in areas of shading. It should be subtle – just a few dabs should suffice. Alter the intensity depending on the colour of the shape you are adding to. 

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 10


Once you are happy with the shading, duplicate the ‘face’ layer and place the duplicate above the ‘shading’ layer. Set its blending mode to Soft Light, with 50% opacity. This amps up the hues a little. Apply Filter > Noise > Add Noise to the ‘face’ layer, selecting an Amount of 10% and checking the Monochromatic tickbox.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 11


Now create a group named ‘Colour’ at the top of layer stack. Within it, create several layers set to various blending modes – I’ve used Overlay and Color Dodge. Paint on these layers with a soft brush to add light and shadow to different elements.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 12


It’s time to add some type. As the subject of my portrait is Twitter, I’ve used, well, tweets. I copied my own tweets into a new document, formatted them and then pasted them at a 45-degree angle into various shapes, set to Overlay. Place the type layers in a group called ‘Type’.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Step 13


Continue playing with the colour and overall feel until you’re happy. For the cover of the magazine I modified the design further, replacing the phone with an iPad to reflect this issue’s lead feature.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

About the artist: Charles Williams


Charles is a freelance illustrator based in London. His clients have included Adobe, Google, Nike, VW, ESPN and Uniqlo, and his work has been shown at exhibitions in London and Europe. He likes riding his bike too fast (though he always stops at red lights) and coffee, and dreams of one day owning a dog.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Advertisement. Article continues below