Something I get asked a lot is, "How do you do these portraits?" People seem confused by the idea of digital illustration and assume there's some magical button you push and a computer does it all for you. I wish!!! The process is actually pretty hard, and while I'm going to attempt to share the process today, there's so much that can't translate into a blog post. A thorough explanation would be a ridiculously long post that only a few tech/illustrator geeks might enjoy.
I'm going to use Enid's portrait to attempt to at least sorta share my illustrated portrait making process. Here goes nothing!
First step and most important step is gathering photos that will help me capture a certain sweetness every child possesses. There are loads and loads of bad pictures of Enid, and even though I see her face everyday, I could not do this without some good photos. Honestly, I don't have that many great pics of Enid's sweet face. She's hard to photograph. Always moving and making funny (weird) faces. But the key is finding at least one that shows some of her personality and is clear and straight on. When you take a picture from above or underneath your child, the perspective changes and facial features appear to change, so straight on is always best. It's also good not to get too close or too far away. Took close distorts and makes features look bigger than they actually are. Too far away makes it hard to really see any details that might make the process easier. It's important to remember that in most cases I have never met the child I'm illustrating, so choosing the right pictures to introduce me to your child is key. And, if you don't have any great shots, you can always have a little impromptu photo shoot with your phone, keeping the above guidelines in mind. And one can never send too many photos!
After I have the photos, it's a game of choosing which features are most important, which are necessary, which aren't. I do all of my illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. I've loved Illustrator for a long time so it's sorta my wheelhouse. The process is essentially creating shapes and then tweaking them, moving them around and making them all work together to actually become something. I start with an oval for the face.
Then I use the pen tool to add anchor points and then manipulate the oval until it is more of an accurate facial form.
Next comes the nose. Again, I start with circles. Most kids' noses usually begin with three circles.
Then you add details: nostrils and a shine, sometimes shadow, whatever it takes.
Then come the eyes. If I can't get the eyes right, none of it will be right. Again, a series of shapes and lines using the pen tool. For those who aren't familiar with Illustrator, the pen tool is a b!*$# to learn to use, but once you get the hang of it the possibilities are endless. For those unfamiliar with Illustrator at all, it's essentially drawing with a mouse which also probably tells you nothing.
What is not shown here is the failed attempts or all the changes I made to the lines and shapes to get them to be what they need to be. It's a tedious process for sure.
For instance, the above eyes are too far apart, so I have to adjust placement, size, etc., to get it all to work together to make a face.
Then comes the mouth. It is my personal opinion that the better portraits end up being those where the mouth is closed. Just looks sweeter to me. But there are times when a big toothy grin are necessary and appropriate. All depends on the kid.
After the mouth I add shadows and cheeks. Again, all of this is such an oversimplification of the process that I almost cringe. There's a good bit of trial and error involved. Sometimes not as much. Some faces are easier than others. Then other times I'm wanting to slap myself for ever thinking it was a good idea to start a business that requires creating portraits.
Hair always seems to really bring things together.
Then shirt or dress detail gets added lastly. My favorite thing to put Enid in is vintage dresses, so for her I wanted something classic and traditional. And there you have it! This is how the Little-Biscuits come to life! Or something like this anyway. So, no, it's not just a magical button that generates the portraits. It's actually an art and takes time and practice.
But then you have this sweet little illustration of your sweet little child at a sweet little time in his or her life. Out of all the portraits I've done thus far, this one of Enid is still my favorite. It MIGHT have something to do with the fact that she is MY child ;) Maybe. And it was even sweeter to me once I saw it printed out onto invitations and notecards. It's funny for me to say, but it really did something to me inside. She's so sweet, and I love her.
Enid is actually sending a thank you note today! I now get excited when the opportunity arises and she gets to use her note cards!
Hope this has made some sense to anyone who might be interested!! And if anyone wants more info on Little-Biscuits, check out our website here. I'm off to create more portraits.