Draw Your Own Illustrations, Clipart & Avatars

Got a smartphone or tablet? Then you could be drawing your own illustrations, clipart, and avatars! In Learning in Hand #32 I share examples and show techniques for creating your own artwork, even if you don't consider yourself an artist. My technique is based on tracing photos, so don't worry if you are embarrassed by your drawing skills. The video features the free Adobe Illustrator Draw app for iOS and Android, and the techniques can certainly be used in other drawing apps.

View the 13 minute video on YouTube, on Vimeo, in iTunes as a podcast, through RSS, or as a download.


I'm Tony Vincent and I'd like to show you my technique for tracing and drawing my own illustrations, clipart, and avatars. 

I love using my own illustrations in my projects. It makes my work look original and can be attention-grabbing. Check out my posts on Instagram, username @learninginhand. I think the posts that really stand out are the ones where I’ve drawn the illustrations.

There are a variety of apps for tablets that can import an image as a background layer, allowing you to draw on top. Explain Everything and Autodesk SketchBook are available for just about every kind of touchscreen device. While both of these apps are good, I happen to use Adobe Illustrator Draw on my iPad. I use an Apple Pencil for my stylus. A stylus is not necessary to draw on your tablet, but even a cheap stylus can make it easier to draw and trace.

Draw A Map

Let trace a map. Drawing your own map is helpful because you can use your own color coding and labeling. Let me show you. 

I’ve found a map of the original 13 American colonies. I’m importing it as the background image layer in a new project. Notice that this image is not very high resolution. That’s ok, because, after tracing, I will have a much clearer image.

So that I can see my own pen marks better, I like to make the Photo layer somewhat transparent.

Switching to the Draw Layer, I’m going to choose my pen and change the size.

Then I’ll zoom my canvas before I begin tracing. I’ll outline each colony in black.

If I make a mistake, I click the Undo button. I end up using this button a lot.

Next, I want to color code the colonies according to their regions. To make the New England colonies blue, I select a color. In Adobe Draw, you can bucket fill an enclosed area by long pressing inside the area. Other drawing apps might have a dedicated Bucket Fill tool.

Oops! My bucket fill spilled! That’s because I did not fully enclose the shape. I’ll need to use my pen to close up the hole and then try filling again.

I change my color so I can fill in the Mid-Atlantic colonies.

And again, I change the color and bucket fill the Southern colonies.

The Photo Layer is no longer needed, so I click the Eye icon to hide it. With the Photo Layer hidden, I can save my drawing.

It gets more complicated when you want to draw objects and people. I like tracing from photos because, well, my freehand sketches don’t end up looking how I want them to look. If I trace, my illustrations are much more recognizable. 

You can bring in any image as the photo layer to trace. I prefer to use photos that I’ve taken myself as my Photo layer. Tracing someone else’s source image might be copyright infringement, so if you intend to use images that aren't yours, it’s best to stick with images you have permission to use, like public domain and creative commons images. (Check out Pixabay, Pexels, Open Clipart, and Photos for Class.)

Draw an Object

Let’s use the tracing technique to draw an object. Let’s draw this microphone. 

I bring in a photo I took of the microphone as the Photo Layer. I make the layer mostly transparent so that I can see my lines better.

Switching to the Draw layer, I outline the microphone in black.

Adobe Draw has Shapes that I can use as stencils. I choose the Line stencil, which gives me a straight edge. I can use two fingers to position the line right where I want it. I can draw along the edge to get a straight line.

With my tracing done, I’m going to make the Photo layer fully opaque again.

I want to color the top of the microphone purple, just like in the photo. To get that exact shade of purple, I long press Color and a chooser appears. I move the chooser to select the purple from the photo. That exact shade of purple is now my selected color. Other drawing apps might use some sort of Eyedropper tool to select colors.

I can choose a color for the handle of the microphone and then long press to fill.

The other parts of the microphone are different shades. Check this out! I can click Color and select Picker. I can adjust the slider to choose a lighter or darker shade. I can use this color to bucket fill.

When my drawing is complete, I can save or copy it. I prefer to copy and then paste into apps like Keynote, Google Slides, or Book Creator. There I can combine my illustration with text and other photos.


About Layers

In the map and microphone examples, we used just one drawing layer. Adobe Draw allows for multiple drawing layers. Now, if you’re new to using drawing apps, you might want to stick with one drawing layer. It starts to get confusing when you add layers. When I draw people, I do like to use layers. For example, in this illustration, I used several layers. With layers, I’m able to change change colors, words, and pictures on the shirt.

In this example, each person is in their own layer. 


This one places each object on it’s own layer.


Here I put myself on one layer and the parts of the computer on other layers.


In this illustration, I took a photo of my daughter. Her hair, face, shirt, and iPad are all on different layers.


But in this one with my son, all the drawing is in one layer. So, layers are not necessary, but the more I draw, the more I see value in using them.

Draw an Avatar

Drawing people is challenging. With practice, I’m improving. There are different ways to draw an avatar. One way is to outline in black and then fill in with colors. Another is to outline and fill with shades of the same color. Or, you could have no outlines at all. Instead, you use different colors and shapes.

Having no outlines is the way I prefer for drawing my avatars. Let me show you...

After I get my Photo layer in place, I draw the neck. I trace it and then fill with the same color, so you don’t see an outline.

Then choose a shade of that same color and I trace the head and fill.

I like to put hair on its own layer. So I add a layer and trace and fill. 

Adding details to the hair can make it look more realistic. I make the draw layer partly transparent so I can see the Photo layer below as a guide. 

Now I jump back to the head and neck layer. I make it partly transparent so I can see the photo below to trace facial features. I have to decide exactly how much detail to include. 

Undo is my friend, as I use it frequently.

On a new layer, I draw my hand. I’ve found that hands have to have outlines, otherwise they look like blobs. So I outline in one color and then fill with a similar color.

I add another layer and trace and fill the shirt.

Finally, I hide the Photo Layer to see my finished illustration. I can always go back and make changes to any of the layers.


More Tips

I’ve built up quite the library of projects. I keep them all, because I may be able to use them again, perhaps by duplicating it and changing something for a new project. I like having my own library of customizable clip art!

Keep this in mind: Your end drawing doesn’t have to be exactly what you see in the source image.  For example, in this cartoon I really did not pull out my hair, and I really don’t have computer chips in my head. But I was able to trace my original photo and make changes.


Student Examples

You've got to see how students at St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School  in Florida have been using Adobe Draw in their projects. They’ve color coded their own maps, drawn cartoons for prepositions, made avatars, created illustrations for their projects. They are getting better and better with Adobe Draw!

I continue to learn and improve when it comes to creating my own illustrations, avatars, and clipart.

Practice and experimentation can help you discover your own sense of design. If you’ve got a growth mindset, you’ll continue to learn, progress, and improve. See how I progress and improve by following me on Instagram (username @learninginhand). And follow me on Periscope (username @tonyvincent)—sometimes I draw live. I have tons more tips to share!

And I’d love to teach you in person. Contact me about speaking at your school or conference. Thanks for watching!


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