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Mixing vector and raster: Andrew Salfinger’s year-long illustration challenge

At the beginning of 2020, Andrew Salfinger set himself a challenge: to create a hybrid vector and raster illustration during each month of the year and post it on social media.

Now just over halfway through, he talks to us about what inspired his year-long challenge and what he’s learnt from the project so far. He also reveals his process for creating each month’s illustration using Affinity Designer and Photo on iPad.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the world of illustration?

Hi, my name is Andrew Salfinger and I’m an illustrator and graphic designer at Made by Campfire, a solo freelance design studio I founded in 2019 after graduating from University.

When I was seven, the power went out at night and my dad was working on some sketches under a flashlight (one of those big ones that take a massive battery). There was a sketch of our dog laying on the table and when I saw it, I wanted to sit down and draw with him. Looking back, it was at that moment as I tried to sketch with my dad helping that I knew I wanted to do something in this crazy world of art.

What do you like most about blending vector and raster?

Ever since I was a kid painting mini-figures/Warhammer, I’ve loved the grungy, more rustic styles of art. With something like vector that is generally flat in appearance, mixing and layering different photo textures I’ve taken with my phone or using pixel brushes that result in a more stylised and grungier look is something that feels natural to me.

If you wanted to mix vector and raster in the past, it was a bit of a pain having to use separate software, but when I moved to Affinity it opened my eyes to a whole new world of making art.

Affinity Designer is a vector app, however, unlike other vector-based software, you can effortlessly create raster assets too using the Pixel Persona. This allows you to do things with vector you could not do in the past.

I now use Affinity across all my design outlets, from illustration and packaging to branding and motion graphics. The apps have radically changed the way I work and have allowed me to create things I would not have been able to do with other software. On top of this, the apps have changed how I use the iPad with nearly 90% of all my design work done on it now.

What made you decide to start this monthly illustration project?

After finishing uni, I finally had some free time on my hands since I wasn’t working on assignments anymore, so I thought I would design some illustrations in between client work.

Back in late 2018, I designed a pocket calendar where each month had a different illustration.

While flipping through it, the pages started to inspire me to, well, maybe try and create a single illustration over a month and post it online. And I was thinking, am I crazy? Well maybe, but here we are!

Could you talk us through the illustrations you’ve created so far?

With pleasure…

January: Hidden pyramids

Drawing inspiration from the mystery encompassing the plot of Oxenfree (an indie game) and my love for Stargate (hence the pyramids), the illustration used mix media as a texture with the vector shapes. I started by creating all the vector assets, then applied sand/rock textures and pixel brushes by Frankentoon to add more grunge to the objects, followed by shadows. I then polished it off with some colour correction.

Hidden pyramids
February: A day in the park

This illustration was inspired by the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Amazing World of Gumball” with a mix of 2D and real-world images.

The illustration used a real photo of a park with some people and objects within it, so I started by using the Inpainting brush to remove those objects. Then I created the monsters, bench, background bushes and other vector objects, then applied raster textures and pixel brushes to them like in the previous illustration. After that I applied overlay particle effects and colour corrected it. In this image, I also started to play around with the filters in Affinity Photo such as Depth of Field and Noise.

A day in the park
March: Where is my hat?!

Do you see a common theme? I’m kind of on a monster drawing bender. This image was inspired by a real-life event when on a stormy day, my hat was stolen by the evil wind! With this image, I used a real photo of water for the base and started to sketch out and turn the key objects in the scene into vector. After that you know my usual process—apply pixel brushes and textures to objects for a grungier look.

In the background, you can see an island with a lighthouse. Originally the green monster was placed on the island instead of on the rocks, but the scene felt like it was lacking something. So I decided to add more rocks to make it look more interesting. I then played around more with filters in Affinity Photo such as Noise, Depth of Field, Lens Blur, Halftone, High Pass and Lighting. Moving forward these filters became a part of my design stack for these illustrations.

Where is my hat?!
April: In the night

This illustration came from the fact that most of us are not going outside as much (due to the pandemic), so the monsters and ghosts have a taken to the streets! I wanted to learn more about shadows and to get a better understanding of how they work and how to create them in Affinity. Something that helped me a lot was using light in real life with some objects. I played around with the position of the light to see how the shadows interacted with the environment.

In the night
May: Adventure awaits

This image is one of my favourites, so let’s go into more detail about how it was made!

I start all these illustrations in the Pixel Persona of Affinity Designer, where I begin to sketch out ideas. I generally go through a couple of different designs for each illustration, playing around with placement and the type of monsters I will use. This illustration was inspired by the train image that I was going to use as a background.

Sketching out ideas

I knew it was going to be monster-themed… again, but I wasn’t sure on the composition and the type of monsters that would be in it. So I started to play around with different monster types, experimenting with the shape and placement along with combining different drafts together. Once I had an idea I liked, I switched to the Designer Persona and started to create the objects in vector. I used an Apple Pencil and the vector Brush Tool to draw out the monster shapes freehand.

Creating the monsters in vector

After that, I moved the project into Affinity Photo. You may have noticed that there are people in it, so I had to remove these with the Inpainting brush. I also replaced the text on signs with my own. This is something most people may never notice, but I like small Easter eggs hidden in images like that.

With the people gone, the monsters can now play. However, the light is a bit, well washed out… so I fixed this with some adjustments. My effects can differ from image to image but one of the key adjustments I always use is Colour Balance. I like to play around with the mid-tone’s C/R channels to add a bit of warmth and red colour to the overall image. Sometimes I may even use this effect to add more colour. I also play around with Channel Mixer, Curves, Vibrancy, Brightness and Contrast.

Removing the people and text

From there I moved to my texture asset folder, which is a library I have containing a bunch of textures I’ve built over the past couple of years. For this project, I grabbed a couple of dust particle overlays, bokeh lens textures, and other types of particles such as fire sparks, changing the blend mode to overlay/soft light or even multiply. Don’t be afraid to alter the textures either, such as moving elements around or even erasing them.

I then added some shadows to the monsters. This part has two steps: the first being the “Outer Shadow” layer effect to help either create the general shape of the shadow or adjust the ambience. Step two involves duplicating the vector object and turning it into a raster layer with a black colour overlay and using the Perspective Tool to move the shadow into a more realistic position, fixing any issues with the alignment with the Eraser Tool and using the Brush Tool to create the right shape.

Adding texture and shadows

Now it’s time for some filters. The main ones I used are, Noise, High Pass and Halftone to add a slight comic book effect, but you only want to use this effect lightly (in my case) since you don’t want to overdo it.

Affinity’s workflow allows you to create images like this, that in the past were kind of hard and annoying to make, such as mixing vector and raster. Along with this, Affinity has non-destructive editing, so you can also easily re-edit a project even with effects that would normally flatten your image.

Adventure awaits
June: Don’t go into the park today!

First, the park, hat stealing, then taking over the night. Now our picnic baskets… is anything safe? This illustration was inspired by Yogi Bear but instead of a bear trying to steal the picnic basket it was monsters.

Don’t go into the park today!
July: Arcade monster

Outside of design, I love playing and collecting retro games and arcade machines. I recently put together a custom-made arcade, so I wanted to merge this love with illustration.

I started to model the arcade machines and texture them using Maya on Mac, before placing them in a layout that I liked. I then exported the render over to the iPad before sketching out the monsters in Affinity Designer and playing around with placement. After that, I placed a photo I’d taken of a brick wall as the background and started working on the background poster and neon signs. A large part of this image comes from the lighting and to achieve this I played around with colour correction and Affinity’s lighting filter, and then painted the lights with a soft round brush, changing the layer blend mode. With this image I feel I’ve achieved a dark moody look you might see in a dimly lit arcade.

Arcade monster
August: Say cheese

This month I wanted to play around more with the perspective in the background image using only vector shapes. I settled on the idea of a pool setting after getting inspired from looking at some old photos—well not so old really (last year)—when I went down south with some family. So I wanted to recreate a kind of retro family trip to the pool.

This image involved some trial and error to try and get everything right with the perspective, but Affinity has some handy tools such as Grids which made life easier.

Say cheese
What have you learnt from this personal project so far? And do you have any tips for combining vector and raster elements within illustrations?

A little texture can go a long way, even a subtle dirt one at 10% opacity can add a bit of grunge to a flat vector object. Don’t feel limited to ones you find online either, most people have a phone on them with a pretty good camera, so go outside (when you can again) and take photos of bricks, dirt, and different textures around you. You will find even in an hour you can build a pretty big library to use on your projects. These textures are not limited to photos either—pixel brushes and creating your own grunge and grit work amazing too. I love the ones by Frankentoon, for example, the Concept Master Vol.1: Nature and Nomad 2 set. I use them in all my illustrations.

Brush pack by Frankentoon—Concept Master Vol.1: Nature

You can also combine the two (photo textures and brushes) to create something more stylised and custom. Try taking the photo texture and using brushes over it. For example, let’s say you have a nice texture of some dirt, try using brushes to stylise it.

You can add more layers of dirt or moss to it, or even a grass brush to make the texture have some green to it. This then makes it less photo-realistic and more illustrated.

You can keep up to date with Andrew’s illustration challenge by following him on Instagram. To see more of his work visit his website and check him out on Behance, Dribbble and Twitter.