20 August 2011


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This tutorial gives a glimpse of that collaborative process through the work of Chris and Zutto. They bounced an Illustrator file between their respective homes in California and Miass, Russia, until they felt their letter was complete.

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Step 1

Zutto kicked off the collaboration with Chris by doing a preparatory sketch of the R. Her aim was to remix the most fun ideas, characters and landscape elements from her sketchbooks into one piece. Her main inspiration was that ‘renmen’ means ‘love’ in Haitian Creole.
That initial sketch turned out to be the most complicated part of the project for Zutto, because she constantly had to bear in mind how the ingredients she was introducing might best fit in with Chris’s style.
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Step 2

Upon receiving the sketch, Chris felt it was “filled with lovely Zutto creatures and landscape elements”. He began vectoring in his contribution, intertwining his characters with hers. “I loved that she chose an outdoor scenario because most of my artwork is heavily nature-inspired,” he says.

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Step 3

When Zutto received that first coloured version from Chris, containing his creatures and landscape elements, it gave her a lot of ideas on how she might develop the work. First, though, she wanted to get the broad strokes of colour down.
“I filled all of the large shapes, such as trees, rocks, hills, clouds and  main characters, to get a vision of whole composition in colour,” she says. “Then I sent the result back to Chris.”

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Step 4

Chris added in more elements, keeping the forms flat and simple. “That’s my approach to vector art – start with basic forms and add in the details later,” he says.

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Step 5

The next step for Zutto was to start smoothing out the differences between her and Chris’ styles, and to add some more details.
“I started from the bottom-right rock with two lakes,” she says. “I spent much time choosing different colour combinations for all my large elements. The colours of the big shapes are really important for overall look.”

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Step 6

As well as having a consistent colour scheme and style, having a coherent tone is also important in a collaboration (unless you’re specifically after a visual clash). Chris noticed that Zutto’s characters looked much cheerier than his assortment of quirky critters – such as the birds on the left, the two-legged cyclops yak in the lower-left, and the stern-looking squirrel beasts climbing the tree on the right. To contribute to the happy feel, he added in an elephantine “triclops” in the centre. “The Renmen charity is all about positivity, and I wanted to make sure that was conveyed in my part of the art,” he says.

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Step 7

The artwork was becoming overbusy, and Zutto felt that some objects needed shifting and that “we had a bit of mess with layering”. After some tidying, she added little details to the jungle, such as birds, flies, bugs, mushrooms and clouds.

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Step 8

Chris’ final contribution was to add in gradients, detail, shading and texture. Additionally, to balance the composition he resized and repositioned a few elements. He says he made sure “not to obscure the mighty Zutto’s excellent artwork. It was a real joy working with her and letting the artwork do all the talking”.

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Step 9

The trickiest thing was not to overload the composition and drown out what Chris had created. Zutto finalised her shading and texturing… and then she made herself stop.

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