Make It on Mobile: Gyimah Gariba’s Dual-World Creations

By Charles Purdy

At just 24 years old, Toronto-based Ghanaian illustrator Gyimah Gariba is already making a name for himself as an illustrator and animator—he creates lively characters full of personality for a wide range of clients and personal projects. Here, Gariba demonstrates how he used Adobe Photoshop Sketch to draw an illustrated figure on top of a photograph, integrating the imaginary character into the real-world scene.  

Gariba says that he has been drawing in Sketch “literally nonstop” since he started using it this spring: “I don’t really use my laptop anymore,” he says. “I use Sketch when I know I'm going to be traveling or on a long commute or waiting somewhere, like at the dentist. It’s really helpful because it allows me to capture ideas when they happen. Say I want to draw a guy I see on the train—I can snap a photo of the guy and start sketching right there.”

For this piece, Gariba wanted to incorporate an illustrated figure into a photograph he’d taken—and have the character be well integrated into the scene. The illustration was created completely on an iPad, using Adobe Photoshop Sketch (Gariba also used Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for mobile to touch up his photograph first). “The hardest thing about what I do is having to be at a desk a lot,” he says, “because I like people. So [Sketch] really helps. I can be doodling or even finishing an illustration while I’m grabbing a beer with someone.”


First find a photograph (or take one) of a scene in which you’d like to place your illustrated character, and bring it into Photoshop Sketch.

To do so, open a new Sketch project, tap the plus-sign icon on the right side of your screen, and select Image Layer.

After he’d done that, Gariba then converted the image layer into a sketch layer and reduced its opacity (tap on the layer’s icon to see layer controls).


Create a new layer and start sketching there (sketching on a separate layer makes it much easier to correct mistakes). Use the brush or brushes you prefer; you can access brush settings—size, flow (opacity), and color—by selecting a brush and then tapping on it again.

To see how he uses Sketch, click to watch a ten-minute recording of part of Gariba’s initial sketching process.

Be as creative as you like with your character, with an eye toward how it will be integrated into your scene. Although Gariba integrated his character by indicating volume and mass, he says there are other ways to make a character fit into a photograph: “I drew a character that’s kind of dimensional, but you could also go flat and graphic, and maybe you could integrate your character by way of the color palette you use. People should feel free to do this project in their own style.”


When he was happy with his sketch, Gariba began blocking in color and adding some more details, frequently adjusting opacity settings so he could see how his piece was taking shape.

Click to watch a 22-minute recording of part of Gariba’s color-blocking and drawing process. At about 12:30, he performed a neat trick to change the angle of his figure’s head: First he duplicated the layer with the character on it, then he erased everything but the head, and then he tapped that layer to reveal its controls. After selecting Transform, he used two fingers to turn and adjust the layer.

Gariba grounded his character in the scene by making him look as if he had his weight pressed against objects in the photo. He says, “For example, it’s the way his body and his hand are pressing onto the seat—this helps sell the fact that he’s really sitting on the bike.”

Although he didn’t use it in this illustration, he also recommends Sketch’s Perspective Grid tool, which you may want to use to guide your drawing. (Tap on the gear icon and then on Grids to see Graph and Perspective grid options.)


For Gariba, the final step was refining his drawing and adding more colors and details. All told, he guesses he spent about six hours on this piece, layering on colors and adjusting his brushes’ flow settings when adding highlights and shadows.

Click to watch a 35-minute recording of part of Gariba’s refining process.


Gariba says, “I like to have control of my colors. I generally do a flat color pass over everything, and then I build darker and lighter areas with a lower opacity setting.”


We invited Create readers to follow this tutorial and share their own Gyimah Gariba–inspired creation, as part of our #MakeItonMobileContest series. This contest ended on December 18, and Gariba selected Mohammed Fayaz as the winner! Check out the Make It on Mobile Contest page to learn more.

December 6, 2016