A look into the process of a cover illustration for Jaidene Veda

09 Nov 2011

I'm a very big fan of the music by independent artist Jaidene Veda. Listening to her always makes me feel good, and brings me in the right mood. Her beautiful sensual voice and music style gives me such inspiration. We came into contact with each other after I linked to some of her music via my Twitter account. We talked and after a while the idea started to grow to do a little collaboration. Always nice when you get to work with somebody you admire. Eventually I decided to create this cover illustration in celebration of her "Pisces Pendulum" Anniversary RMX/LP. The illustration is based on a photo she used for one of her "Pisces Pendulum" releases.

People and faces, I find them very hard to draw, but for some reason I get drawn to it. Ever since I created my own avatar illustration, I felt I should do this more often. Though, there hasn't come many business opportunities in this direction. These kind of projects are also usually very time consuming. Certainly if you try to create something more illustrative and less photographic. This illustration however, is a bit different than my usual typical style. I created an illustration version of the photo she used before. This made it possible for me to create this illustration in a short period of time. People who follow me on Dribbble will recognize the eye.

Special Offer

If you like smooth down tempo tunes or deep house music, you're totally gonna love Jaidene Veda. It's the perfect music to design with and to get you into the *inspiration zone*.

Special Offer

Order the new physical CD "Pisces Pendulum Anniversary/RMX LP" * now and get the "Veda VS Veerle" mix as a free bonus. This mix is handpicked by me and includes all my favorites.

*The physical CD also includes an immediate download of the 15-track album in your choice of MP3 320, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire.

Support independed artists

There is a digital download only too but I higly recommend buying the CD to get the extra 'Veda VS Veerle' bonus mix. Remember that it is important to support independed artists like that. It's the future of music sans the big bad labels that want their piece the pie.

Coming to Europe to promote the album

Jaidene is coming back to the UK/Europe in DEC 2011/JAN 2012. For radio, performance, and studio inquiries please send her a mail.

Explaining the process

While drawing this cover illustration, I realized this could be ideal material to share on the blog. This is not one of my typical step-by-step tutorials like usual, but instead an explanation of the process of this creation.

The original as a template

First of all I placed the original photo in a separate Template layer, so it's easy for me to draw her face very exact. For other types of illustrations, such as my own avatar, things are drawn from scratch as they're more based on fantasy than reality and so they don't really match a photo. That's why they are much harder to do and take more time.

illustration in Outline mode with the original photo in a Template layer as guidance

Drawing the contours

In the slideshow below you see how I drew the different shapes as the slideshow builds up the face gradually. You see all paths in Outline mode. Some paths reach outside a certain area as I want to make sure there are no gaps. Since they are below another shape it doesn't matter.

Notice that I gradually build things up from the bottom shape ending with the top shapes, such as the eyes, mouth and nose. I also made sure to put each item in a separate layer so I can access each item separately in a fast and easy way by targeting the layer. I can also temporarily lock a certain layer to make sure I don't touch it while working on a specific item. The last slide shows the end result in Preview mode. I usually start drawing every shape using a tiny stroke in a certain color. Then secondly, I start giving everything its color fill…

Adding color fills

Next step is giving every shape its proper fill, starting from the most bottom shape, working my way up to the top elements. First I start by creating these subtle skin color gradients, both in linear and radial version. For this illustration I used only the radial gradient. You might have noticed that I created an extra shape in the neck. I always do that to use as a shadow. For this I used a transparent shadow going from 10% brown to 0% of skin color.

Adding fill to the body, face and neck

Next up is giving the hair its color. Also a subtle radial gradient is used for the 3 parts, using white at the center to create an extra highlight effect on top of the head.

Adding fill to the hair

The hair's highlighted lines to create a more realistic effect were really fun to do. To create some variation in tickness of lines, I used one of Illustrator CS5's new tool, the Width tool and gave each stroke a curvy smooth thickness in no time. If I had to create the same in a previous version it would have taken me way more time. I really love working with this new tool!

Using Illustrator CS5's Width tool to create smooth curvy strokes for the hair

Below is the end result:

The end result of the hair

I also wanted to add subtle (linear) gradient fills to these strokes, and so I turned them into fills first (via Object > Expand).

The end result of the hair

In the next steps I gave the eyes their proper fills. I love this part, as you can really see how things are starting to look once you are creating the eyes. They are the mirrors of our soul. Together with the mouth they convey emotion. All elements except the pupil and the highlight are filled with gradients. Most colors are tweaked on the illustration itself until I get the result I want, simply by double clicking the colorswatch and move the RGB sliders.

Coloring the eye

For the eye make-up, I used a blend of 2 shapes, a center and outer shape. The center shape has the turquoise color and the outer shape uses the skin color at 0% opacity. This way we create this smooth blending effect. One thing I've learned when using the Blend tool is that you always have to make sure both paths contain the exact amount of anchor points. If not, you'll end up with the weirdest shapes and effects. What I usually do is create a copy of the original shape (via Paste in Front - Cmd/Ctrl + F) which I then tweak, scale or reshape.

The eye's make-up

The hardest part is the creation of the nose, which is probably due to its curvy shape. Each part consists of blends. It took a lot of tweaking to get a good result. Still, if you look at the few paths I've used, it's fairly simple to do. The tricky part is finding the right curve and shades. For this illustration I wanted to achieve a fairly realistic looking nose. If I follow the photo exactly I end up with a nose that appears ticker than the original. So I always cheat a little to get a good result by making it thinner. The holes of the nose were done exactly the same, using 2 shapes which are blend together, with the outer one using 0% skin color to get a smooth transition with the skin.

The eye's make-up

Creating more depth

The eyes

The eye itself has an extra transparent (linear) gradient shadow on top to create a more realistic depth effect. It goes from 50% transparent black to 0% white, which stops about right in the middle of the eye, so the shadow part is right below the eye lashes. It darkens the eyes, making them less hard and also more realistic.

The face

For the face I've only used a radial gradient, but to add a bit more shape and depth I added a subtle effect on the side of each cheek. Again using this same blending technique with 2 shapes of exactly the same anchor points. I have also added a hard, but very transparent shadow under the hair (see image where I show the end result), plus a subtle radial gradient on the chin.

Adding more depth to the face
The shoulders

Last but not least, I added an extra effect on the shoulder, by using a gradient mask. Gradient masks are a bit more complex to use as they involve more steps, but you can achieve great results. For the shoulder I first created a blend from 2 strokes. The 'outer' stroke that follows the lines of her shoulder, and which has a darker skin color, and an inner stroke which has the skin color at 0% opacity. On top of the blend I added a gradient mask so the blending fades out towards the bottom of her shoulder (beginning of her arm). If I would have not added this gradient mask you would see the border of the blend, but because of this mask everything looks perfectly smooth.

Extra effect on the shoulder

The final result

Here is the final result of the illustration, shown with all its layers.

The final result with the layers palette shown

So there you have it, I hope you've learned a few things here and there from my usual process for these type of illustrations. Now go listen and be inspired!


  1. 1 Reshma 09 Nov 2011

    Hi Veerle

    Thank you for sharing your process. Very generous. Great for us trying to hone our illustrating skills. You thought to detail and consistency in the different features of the portrait is amazing.

  2. 2 yarska 10 Nov 2011

    Thanks! It was wonderful to watch your process. I’m used to doing everything vector in Photoshop. I’m glad I saw this, as it shows me exactly how to use Illustrator. Illustrator tends to baffle me a little bit :D

  3. 3 Derek Allard 11 Nov 2011

    I bought the physical media after you mentioned it the first time. She wrote a nice little in the jacket thanking me. It has become a staple of my “while coding” repertoire :)