Oct 28, 2009

Creative Faceoff

NHL Hockey Patch Micro-Tut

Source Photo: NHL Legend Gordie Howe.

1. Source Photo
With this style my client provides the archive photo that their team has selected for me to draw from. For these types of portrait patches it helps to have a dramatically lit picture but sometimes that proves to be somewhat difficult since many players have long since been retired and the variety of source photos is very limited.

Thankfully this one was well suited for this style which has to be pulled off in three spot colors due to budget and reproduction methods overseas. So it's all about simplifying detail and baking down an image to not only work small but retain clarity and of course look like the person your illustrating of course.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Hockey was never a big thing in our parts. Sure we had professional teams but they were an hour north in Seattle.

There was one neighborhood kid who liked hockey, but we didn't have any ice rink locally. Every so often he'd pull out some goals he had built, gather a group of kids, and we'd have a game in his drive way using a tennis ball as the puck.

I had about as much success handling my hockey stick as I do chop sticks. It was fun because it was different but I felt something was being lost in our translation of the game.

Refined Pencil Sketch.

2. Refined Sketch
Since this style lacks any use of gradients I draw out my artwork with shapes in mind. If you scrutinize the photo enough you'll see that his eyebrows aren't exactly shaped like that, or his inner ear really doesn't contain those forms. But that is OK, It's not about photo realism it's about iconifying his visual persona.

I look at a photo and the first thing I do is purposely blur my eyes and study it, this helps me see the facial features as contour shapes and this guides my drawing.

I do this not only because of the limited production specs but also because of my own budget constraints. I can't afford to spend 8 hours on a specific patch design when my budget allows me at the most two hours.

This process is expedient but still allows me to retain the level of quality I expect from myself. And thus is the difference between fine art and commercial art.

I still don't have a clue when it comes to hockey rules, or current players or teams. Every now and then I come across a game and I watch it, but I miss the laser puck days when it was on Fox Sports.

I do recognize the hall of famer players from hockey past like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe etc. but even in this blog post I'm only familiar with 4 of the 8 players shown, but thankfully I don't need to be in order to draw them. ;-P

Building Vector Artwork.

3. Building Vectors
Because I spend the board time drawing my refined sketch I know exactly what I have to build when go from analog to digital. There is no guess work it's just a matter of creating what I've already determined I need.

Working like this also speeds up the production process because I'm not slowing down trying to figure out how something should look and noodling around trying to figure it out on the fly.

I still have never actually seen a hockey game in person. And I may never will? And unlike my childhood I don't know anyone now locally who is a hockey fan?

Base Artwork.

4. Base Artwork
Once I have all my core base vector shapes built I flow in the basic colors and set up the outer stroke thickness. At this point I'm about 3/4 of the way done.

In the last three years I've done about 300 of these type of portraits. I've done so many that I've caught myself looking at peoples faces in public and in my mind I begin to simplify their features and think about how I could build the vector shapes. So I guess you could say I have an acute case of Vectoritis.

Drawing Shading.

5. Drawing Shading
At this point in my creative process I print out my base artwork and referencing the photo I draw out the shading using the same modus operandi as I did with the rest of the portrait illustration.

My process is a mix of digital and analog going back and forth until I complete the project and unless clones become part of our everyday lives I don't see this methodology changing anytime soon.

Here is some hockey patches I created a couple years ago.

Vector Detailing.

6. Vector Detailing
I scan in my shading drawing and build out the detail in vector form. Now the art is ready to integrate into the over all patch motif and the iconification of a hockey icon is now complete.

I usually do all of my portraits at the same time progressing from one stage to the next until I have all of them done. It just goes faster that way rather then doing one at a time from beginning to end.

This post is what I call a micro-tut, if you'd like to see a full on tutorial covering this same style in more depth just visit my tutorial site at IllustrationClass.com.

Final Gordie Howe Patch Design.

7. Final Patch
Here is the portrait art nested in context of the final patch design. Along with each patch I have to use the specific team colors as well.

On very rare occasions I've managed to pull this same style off without drawing out my art first. OK, I've only done that once and it was for a very tight deadline and the photography was custom shot by my client. You can view that project here.

2008-2009 NHL Hockey Patches

This Guy Lafleur patch is in reference to his hockey achievements.

NHL hall of famer Ray Bourque.

Legendary iceman Bobby Hull.

The dramatic goalie Robert Luongo.

Tony Esposito and the big hair days of hockey.

Player and now coach Patrick Roy.

The great Mario Lemieux.

Hockey may never hold a lot of interest for me personally but I have learned a lot about it through my various design projects and no matter what the sport it's always fun to illustrate in this fashion.


twoeightnine said...


No seriously. I've been working on a tshirt design using this style and your tutorial. I've never been able to draw faces so it's been a struggle. I was going to email you if you had any other samples that I could study and then you put this up. Thanks!

Bo said...

Seriously. This is why your work is amazing. So much attention to detail. Most other artists wouldn't take the time. You are awesome.

Mike Miller said...

Von, great work. I wonder what it would ad to see the team logos in the artwork - like the Wings for Howe, Montreal Canadiens for Lafleur, Bruins for Bourque, etc - just to pull in the colors in a little. Perhaps it wasn't an option.

Anyhow, you gotta check out a game in person! It's an amazing experience to see live. If you make it to South Florida and you haven't been yet, I'll take you to a game (it's the Panthers, and their crap-tastic, but they probably play someone good.)

Vonster said...


These appeared in context of insert Hockey cards which had photos, text and the team logo on them so it wasn't necessary to be redundant and include that in the portrait patches.

I'd show an image of one but since it's a rare collectible I can't get a sample.