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Make It on Mobile: Dan Mumford’s Psychedelic ‘Screen-Printed’ Style

By Charles Purdy

For more than a decade, London-based illustrator Dan Mumford has been working on the cutting edge of pop culture, creating illustrations for music album art, images for indie clothing lines, and new interpretations of classic film posters. A self-described “child of the ’80s,” he draws inspiration from science fiction and from the box art of horror movie VHS tapes he loved as a child. In this simple tutorial, he shows how he uses Adobe Illustrator Draw to create an illustration in his distinctive style. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

When creating his bold digital illustrations, Mumford refers back to his background in screen printing. And thanks to the unique way he applies color to his work, those images often have a psychedelic, screen-printed feel—as does this piece, which he created solely with Adobe Illustrator Draw on an iPad Pro while traveling in Europe.

Mumford calls Draw the “missing step” in his workflow—not only because it gives him the power to create and revise work anywhere, but also because it allows him to explore new ideas faster. “I’m not someone who sketches much in a sketchbook,” he says. “In the past, I would ponder an idea, then put it aside, and then come back to it later. With Draw, I can work up ideas very quickly…. And using Draw is not that different from how I normally work in Photoshop—I’m using the app to create my work in a way that I’m already quite comfortable with, but now I can also do it when I’m on the move. I’m not going anywhere without it.” Click on the image to watch a three-minute time-lapse video of his image taking shape—Mumford recorded his screen as he worked, capturing most of the process.

STEP 1

Although you may choose to forge ahead without creating a sketch first, Mumford started with a color sketch that would serve as a guide. After he’d drawn the sketch, he put a new layer on top of it and set that layer’s opacity to 50%, so he could see the sketch while he drew in black and white (select Draw’s layer icon to add a layer, and tap on it to adjust settings such as opacity).

“Most of my work is time-intensive,” he explains, “so I like to make sure the composition and tonal values throughout the image are correct. If I can make the sketch very small, squint at it, and still ‘read’ it, then I feel confident about the composition…. This saves me time in the long run. Also, I generally work quite zoomed in, so I’m not seeing the overall image while I work.”

Starting with a colored sketch (left) on a separate layer allows Mumford to begin drawing with confidence in his composition. As he works (center), he can then zoom in on the piece’s details without losing track of the bigger picture. At any point, he can hide the sketch layer to see how his illustration is taking shape.

STEP 2

On the new layer he’d created, Mumford did most of his line drawing, using the sketch layer as a reference. He used Draw’s taper brush tool with high taper and pressure sensitivity settings (tap on a brush tool to adjust its settings); he also used the eraser tool as a “brush”—creating large areas of black and then carving into them with white highlights. “I used to do pure line work,” he says. “But through experimenting, I learned that you can add impact by creating large areas of black and then carving out the highlights. It adds extra dimension.”

Although Mumford prefers a small brush with a high taper setting, this isn’t the only way to work. “What you’re seeing here is just my method,” he says. “It’s like having a favorite pen that you always draw with.”

Click on the photo to watch a short video of Mumford using Draw’s eraser tool as a brush, creating highlights in areas of black.

STEP 3

Once the black line work was finished, Mumford blocked out two main areas of color: blue for the woman’s skin and the birds, and purple for the woman’s hair.  

For the hair, after he’d added the first layer of purple, he duplicated the layer (tap on a Draw layer to see the option to duplicate it), chose a darker purple to fill in the hair shape on the duplicated layer, and then used the eraser tool to carve out highlights. He then repeated this “color-carving” step, adding depth with each new layer of color. 

Mumford started with a base layer (left). Underneath the darker purple, he added a layer of pink; he then used the eraser tool on the darker layer to “carve out” highlights (center). He also used the pen tool to add color as necessary (right). He explains the process: “After duplicating the color base layer, I select the duplicate, choose a darker color, and hold down on the duplicated layer with the brush. This fills the shape on the duplicated layer with the new color. Depending on the size of the color layer, it can take a few seconds for the fill to process.”

Working this way allows Mumford to toggle between the eraser and the brush tool, so he can color and erase easily without affecting the color below. “You can make a mistake without affecting what you’ve already got. It’s like a backup,” he says. “The way I layer stuff is a callback to how I do screen-print work—as is the way I do a hard dark color on top to pull everything together.”

Once he was happy with the hair color, he merged the layers. He then added more highlights—but nothing “too drastic” at this point.

In this closeup, you can see that Mumford is working on a darker pink layer. He is drawing with the eraser tool to reveal the lighter pink layer beneath, thus adding highlights to the hair.

In this closeup, he’s painting highlights on the bird’s wing in a more-expected way, with a brush tool—but also on a separate layer. This is how Mumford adds final highlights.

STEP 4

For eyes, Mumford always makes sure to use a perfect circle—“especially when it comes to pupils,” he says, “so you can get the right shine on them.”

To get those perfect circles, he added a layer beneath all the other layers; there, he used Draw’s circle shape tool (accessible via the shape menu in Draw’s top navigation bar).

Mumford then added concentric circles of color and experimented until he was happy with the eyes’ brightness and overall look.

“Eyes have to be perfect,” says Mumford, so he used Draw’s circle shape tool to get perfect circles.

STEP 5

The final steps also involved using shape tools. “I added the shapes in the background to complete the illustration—the geometric shapes accentuate the primary figure.”

Using either the square or circle tool as needed, he created a shape, duplicated it, and reduced the duplicate’s size—the double-lined shapes are actually shapes within shapes.

Mumford copied the double shapes and rotated them to create a cool geometric starburst pattern.

THE MAKE IT ON MOBILE CHALLENGE

We invited Create readers to follow part of this tutorial and make their own screen print–style creation with Draw—with the winner receiving an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. And that winner, chosen by Dan Mumford, was Alistair Baxter! Visit the Make It on Mobile landing page to learn more, and to stay up-to-date on the new contests we will be hosting throughout 2016.