Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: Shell City by Matt Huynh

This is a great tutorial describing the illustrative process that Matt Huynh went threw while designing Shell City.

Shell City was commissioned by Adobe and created using
Adobe® Illustrator® CS4 software.

Matt Huynh is a Sydney-based comic creator and illustrator. Huynh’s graphic novels pursue experimental formats and diverse genres. His inky, energetic brushwork has appeared on magazines and prints, to clothing, accessories, health resources, tattoos, lm, performance projections, vinyl toys and dolls. When he’s not at the drawing table, he can be found conducting instructional workshops, public presentations, exhibitions and live art demonstrations. His inspiration for Shell City:
“For me, comics are the clearest means of engaging audiences.
I use the medium to nd surprising ways to connect with
audiences, both on a purely visceral level and to challenge
conceptions of personal and communal identity.”

Shell City
by Matt Huynh

I start with a pencil sketch, using ordinary HB pencils on cartridge paper. Usually, working o a thumbnail would be ne, but here I worked on A3-size paper to capture all the intricate details.

I scan the sketch and place a low-resolution image of it into a new Adobe® Illustrator® software document.  Sometimes I might jiggle the elements about to get the composition right, but since I’ve worked out most of those problems during the sketch stage, I go straight to “inking” up the image.

I rely predominantly on the Blob Brush tool, because it’s very compatible with the way I work with traditional media. It lets me lay down line work quickly and intuitively with my tablet, so that my inks have energy and spontaneity. I’ve chosen to use Calligraphic brushes with maximum pressure sensitivity to allow lots of variation in my line weights.

I also push the delity and smoothness tolerances to a minimum so that it captures all the nuances of my hand’s gestures. I use the Blob Brush tool to draw freely without thinking about joins or shapes or any other kind of organization. It makes it easier for me to navigate around the many disjointed elements later. I just go back and neatly group or join up the lines.

I lay in the base: at colors and shapes. For some areas, like the turtle, I use a very broad brush with the Blob Brush tool to quickly slap down the shapes. For the angular buildings, I use the Pen tool to create harsh edges and geometric shapes.

At this stage, I’m not aiming to nd the right colors or achieve any kind of nish. I’m only concerned with establishing the composition. The weight of solid shapes may throw o the balance or make an image much heavier than you’d expect from looking at just sparse line work.

The spark above the center satellite antenna is a Zig Zag eect applied to a circle shape. It’s very simple, but I like taking an aggressive comic book “ka-pow!” device and draining it of its fervent energy by using restrained, perfect geometry.

I drew a small section of a rope, perhaps three knots long, with the Blob Brush tool and turned it into a Pattern brush to achieve the pattern on the ailing ropes.

I throw in some shadows and esh out the detailed line work in the background. It’s starting to look busy, so I use contrasting colors to dene adjacent elements.

I add some more details to the line work on the buildings.

The horizontal lines of the windows are simply blends. To achieve a greater variation amongst the lines, I use the Eraser tool to randomly erase sections from the lines and dab the lines with the Warp tool.

Having put in all the basic shapes, I notice the composition is tipsy, so I add the giant gear/wheel into the bottom right to balance out the elements.

Once all the shapes are in, I start playing with the color palette. I like to showcase the inherent characteristics of whatever medium or tools I’m using. I like inks that look like inks and would never try to make watercolors look like oils. So in creating digital work, I like to use the perfectly at, solid colors and gradients that only computers can awlessly achieve, rather than attempting to mimic traditional media.

I used Live Trace on some brush strokes and ink splatters, turned them white, played with their transparency and threw them over the peeking skyline to give the very clean illustration some attitude.

By slapping in the line work with the Blob Brush tool, I’ve achieved an energy and boldness that I’m happy with. However, much of the line work is also very rough: the joins are o and there are stray lines ying in uncontrolled directions.

So I zoom in and clean up the line work with the Smooth tool and delete some of the excess anchor points where needed, such as on the imperfect satellite dishes.

I also use the Eraser tool to clean up some lines, especially the uneven edges around the image’s tough, industrial elements.

I return to coloring to clean up the piece and add in details like shadows, highlights and ner areas of color like the toenails. I add in shadows by applying a grayed-out version of the base color or a transparent black using the Multiply blending mode.

Finally, I use the Blob Brush tool for an authentic signature!

  1. Hi there, I enjoy reading through your article post. I like to write a little comment to support you.

  2. Hey, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at

    your blog in Opera, it looks fine but when
    opening in Internet Explorer, it

    has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you
    a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

    • Thanks I’ll take a look, I don’t really put to much effort into backwards compatibility issues w/ old IE browsers. I’m thinking it’s about time for an upgrade to the design as it is so this is just another little push for me. Cheers!