Monday, November 11, 2013

Fashion Dolls in Illustrator

It recently came to my attention (as in, today!) that I've never really written about my Friday dolls.  So today, that's going to be the topic.

If you happen to have Illustrator CS4 or later, you should be able to open any of the Friday doll pdfs in Illustrator and see them essentially the way I create them.  For those of you who don't have Illustrator, the following images should at least give you a glimpse of how I work.

I've discussed Illustrator several times, specifically here, here, here, and here.  These are the techniques I've used to develop the fashion dolls as well as the PaperJanes that I sell on Etsy.

First things first.  Almost everything I create -- traditional media or digital -- starts with a pencil sketch.

This is my original sketch.  I drew this during lunch one day at work.  I've been home with my oldest child for nearly 4 years, so this is obviously an old scribble!  It's just pencil on a large stickie note.  Large stickie note pads like this one make great travel sketchbooks for paper dolls.  The paper is just thin enough to see through fairly well.

At the time I drew this, I was working full-time, pregnant, and had gone back to school in the evenings to study graphic & web design.  I had finished my BA in Art History and after a couple years of working in non-art jobs (and missing art desperately), I decided to go back to school and get a certificate in something moderately useful!  The point of the story is that this is a simple doll that I scribbled out, and I started working on it in Illustrator before & after class so that I could really master Illustrator.

One of my teachers emphasized simplicity and I tried to embrace that with this project.  I wanted to create a doll with as few points as possible, as well as something that could become a flexible, easy to use template.

This image shows every shape and line in my Illustrator file.  There really aren't a ton of points.  Also, shapes that have a dot in the center (like the tabs) started life as a preset shape (ie: circle, rectangle, etc) that is already built in to Illustrator.  I'm a huge fan of working smarter not harder!

Here's a close-up of a head.  Each strand of hair is an expanded brush.  To draw the hair, I used the pen tool to create a line, applied a hair brush that I made (more on that later), then expanded the line.  One thing I like to do is draw all the strands in one thickness, say a 3pt line, then group these.  I duplicate the group, change the thickness to maybe 1pt, and layer it on top of the previous lines.  I expand both groups and fill one set with one highlight color and fill the other group with another highlight color.

I really go for simplicity with these dolls.  Aside from some rare cases, I use as few colors as possible.  Hair, for example, is always a base color with a darker outline and two highlight colors.  Just four colors.  Sometimes I use gradients, but most often it's just solid colors.  Most of the dolls, outfits, and hairstyles are developed like this.

This image is a break down of shapes and colors used on the doll.  The base is one shape with dotted lines to indicate cutting.  Those lines are just a dotted stroke.  Next are the shadow shapes followed by the face and body shapes.  The hair is broken into individual groups, too.

I use a small portion of Illustrator's options really.  I live by the pen tool and convert anchor tool.  I also frequently use the pathfinder tool to ensure perfect fit.  It's easy to add and subtract shapes with the pathfinder.  I recently started using the eraser and pencil tools as well.  And the appearance panel has become my new best friend.  I create complex patterns and textures on my outfits by layering fills in the appearance panel.  Very handy.

So that's a pretty basic rundown of the vector doll template.  I'm including my hair brushes as a zip file for anyone who wants to use those.

Here are the hair brushes as a zipped AI file.  It'll work in CS4 or higher.  I know, it's been a while since I upgraded my program :)

I've been working with this doll template that I don't remember all of the tutorials and influences that helped me develop it.  I do, however, have a short list of sites you should check out.

Cory Jensen: and His work is beautiful! I was influenced by Cory's faces in developing the faces for my fashion dolls.  I believe he works in Photoshop but his dolls easily translate to Illustrator, too.

Von Glitschka: and Von is an amazing artist and a veteran Illustrator user.  He encourages pencil drawing as well as Illustrator.  He has several books available as well as lessons.

Danielle Meder:  Danielle is a fashion illustrator who also creates awesome paper dolls.  I'm pretty sure she works in Illustrator.  Be sure to check out more than just her paper dolls.  Her work is elegant and lovely.

So hopefully this gives people an insight into how I work and some of my influences.  Any questions, let me know!


  1. Thank you for including my work! My dolls are done with ink & coloured in Photoshop.

    1. Thanks for clarifying that! I just assumed the line work was done in Illustrator - it's so crisp.... Love your dolls!