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  How to do pop art portraits

Pop art portraits

In this tutorial I will show you how to create a pop art portrait. These make great gifts because:
  • they are free
  • they look nice
  • they require almost no skill, if you follow this idiot's guide

Have you ever seen the cover for the Best of Blur CD?

Best of Blur CD cover artwork

It was created by an artist called Julian Opie. He has done loads of portraits like this.

I recently created a portrait in the same style. I'm not very artistic, but they turned out fairly well. Now all my family and friends want them.

If you're even slightly talented, yours will turn out better than mine.

A few more examples

Here are a few examples for you, for inspiration.

Portrait of someone called Paul Portrait of someone called Kate
Portrait of someone called Nanna Portrait of someone called Mum

Things you can do with them

  • Give them as framed prints maybe as a his and hers set.
  • Make them into greetings cards
  • Use them as a logo for your website
  • Submit them to the post office to make your own stamps
  • Let me know what you do with yours and Ill add it to this list

How to do a pop art portrait

This guide is for real beginners. If youre an intermediate, you probably just need to look at the pictures. If youre a pro, you dont need me. I bet you could do one in 3D. (In fact, that's a challenge). If youre the artist Julian Opie, erm, hello sir.

1. Buy a photo frame

Ikea do nice cheap photo frames.

2. Choose your graphics software

Your graphics software will need to be capable of vector graphics (that is, line graphics, not pixelly ones). I use Macromedia Fireworks. I reckon Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw would be suitable too. In fact, probably most software would be suitable. (Not Minesweeper or Solitaire though.) Perhaps someone could email me a list of suitable software? I'm losing my air of authority already.

3. Scan in a photo

The photo should be face on. The subject should not be smiling (because I don't know how to do smiles). The photo quality and lighting is not important.

Heres an example, featuring me.

The original photo of Karl

I look like a depressed greasy fast food chef, dont I?

Hang on, is my left eye higher than my right one? It is! Does anyone else have one eye fractionally higher than the other? If so, send me your photos. We can start a club.

4. Import your photo into the software package

This is normally under File>Import. Once the photo is imported, you may wish to resize it. With many graphics packages, holding the Control key will ensure that the photo is not stretched in only one direction. Now is a good time to print the photo, to ensure that its the size for your frame.

5. Learn the features you need

You will need to use the following features of your graphics software. If in doubt, press F1 to view its Help menu.
  • Pen Tool (for drawing the shapes)

  • Group objects and Ungroup Objects so once you've done the ears, for example, you can keep all the bits together. Ill not mention this again, but it makes life easier if you use this feature a lot. Id even group the two eyes together. Once you are nearly finished, it will allow you to easily tweak the line thicknesses and colours of any given feature.

  • Send Backward, Bring Forward, Send to Back and Bring to Front (to make sure the hair is in front of the face, etc).

  • Zoom In and Out

  • Dropper Tool allows you to select colours from the original photo, though they often need to be modified. Ill not mention this again, but the dropper tool may give you a good starting point for any colour you need.

  • Stroke Tool. Stroke means outline. This tool allows you to choose how wide the lines need to be around each of the features. This can be done near the end)

  • Fill Tool

Where possible, learn the keyboard shortcuts for these features, particularly for the group, send forward and zoom-type features. It will save you a lot of time. Keyboard shortcuts are usually written next to the features name in the menu at the top of the screen.

6. Hair

Trace all of the hair using the pen tool. I create shapes by zooming in and making a closely-spaced series of mouse clicks around the object. With many software packages, double-clicking has the effect of closing the loop. Fill the object with the darkest hair colour (that is, not the highlights). Then Send Backward so it becomes hidden behind the photo.

Next, in your mind, decide on areas of hair that are significantly lighter than the base colour (if there are any. With short hair you can usually get away with a single colour). Create a tracing of these highlights. If they occur in several patches, group all the objects together. Then Send Backward.

If, in your mind, some areas of hair are significantly lighter than the previous patches, create a tracing of these. Then group them and Send Backward.

Karl with hair drawn on

I don't have enough hair to have highlights. For examples of highlights, see the pictures near the top of the page.

7. Sending backward and bringing forward

By now you probably get the idea of how the Send Backward feature is useful. You will also notice that at any point you can send the photo backward or forward, as needed.

Now may be a good time to decide on which parts of the face you will put behind which other parts. For example, I always put the ears and neck behind the face. The eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth will always be in front of the face, as will the hair. This can save you time, because you will realize which edges you dont need to worry about because theyll be hidden behind other features.

8. Facial features

Karl with facial features drawn on

Nostrils: Just trace the nostrils, that's all. Dont use a thick stroke.

Mouth: Trace the mouth line. Julian Opie often adds a second line, which represents the shadow under the bottom lip.

Eyes: Create two dots in the exact position of the eyes, with the same diameter as the irises. Youll need to zoom in. I've never added a catchlight (white reflection) to the eyes, but I reckon it might look good. Group them.

Eyebrows: Trace the eyebrows. Copy their colour. Use no outline. Group them.

9. Face and neck

Trace the face. Then trace the neck. Use a black outline. You will need to add two vertical lines for the side of the neck. Put the neck behind the face, with the two vertical lines in between. Group them.

Karl with face drawn on

10. Ears

Trace the ears. Add a black outline. Add a couple of thinner black lines to show some of their contours. When youre done, group all the bits for each ear, then group both ears.

Karl with ears drawn on

See how I havent worried about the inner sides of the ears because they will be covered up by the face? Also, I left the neck lines in this picture, so you can see the way I made them too longer than needed, because they will be hidden by the face.

I cant believe I have posted this picture of myself on the internet.

11. Glasses

Ive never had a subject who wore glasses. However, looking at Graham from Blur, I see that Julian has done a very neat outline of the frames, then added the reflections.

12. Clothes

The clothes are a pleasure to do. They always seem to come out nicely. Unless your subject is wearing black of course. Here's a good example.

Photo of Paul's clothes

Cartoon drawing of Paul's clothes

I've lifted up his neck, for your viewing pleasure, so you can see how I haven't worried about the lower outline because it is going to be hidden behind the clothes.

13. Background colour

Finally, put all the bits together then create a coloured rectangle as a background.

Finished cartoon portrait of Karl

You can spend ages deciding which background colour looks best.

Karl in the same style as the Best of Blur CD cover

That will do nicely.

14. Tweak the line thicknesses and colours

Making small adjustments will be much easier if you have grouped the components of each facial feature.

15. Printing

When you print it, the colours may look a bit different, so you might have to tweak them, especially the flesh tones.

16. Send a copy to me

Dont forget to send me a copy of your masterpiece, which I will add to the gallery.

The Gallery

Please send me your photos. Look here - they are rolling in already...

Disco Daz Here's my first entry - and it's from Disco Daz!

Disco Daz says "Thanks for the tutorial,i had a go at an open mouth .......not too bad!"

Slightly cocky, but he's got a good point. I hope Daz's innovation will spur on some of you others to push back the boundaries.
Dave's girlfriend's Xmas present

"Just thought I'd drop you a line to say thanks for your little tutorial" says Dave,

"My girlfriend's christmas present is sorted now!!

Let's just hope your girlfriend doesn't read this page Dave, otherwise her Christmas is going to be ruined in an instant.


Did you enjoy this article?

...then maybe have a look at my other most excellent site, which contains an incredible trick you can do to impress people: Itchy Squirrel.

Nepotism Corner - featuring Joe Blanks

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