Vector art is a fantastic modern medium of artwork and design. I personally fell in love with it while studying and took it to another level once I started working professionally as a Graphic Designer.
Many love its simplicity and many others dislike its use, but most times I believe it’s because they are not adventurous enough to try it. In order to properly use vector art, you need to know the concept of Abstraction, which is what most vector art relies on for its appeal and beauty.
Abstraction can have many meanings, depending on context, but when it comes to the visual paradigm it is related to how much we can simplify a visual up to the point of taking it to its most basic structure, its basic shapes.
Every visual object is composed of basic shapes. It becomes obvious when you’re learning how to draw and these shapes are perfect to use as guidelines for any piece of artwork you do. That’s exactly what you do with vector art. You take a visual from reality and you recreate it using its most basic shapes.
This basic form can become your stepping stone for starting a more elaborate graphic; take this icon for example:
Icons are the most simplified form of vector art. They are purposefully simple, as they must be quickly recognizable and easy to understand. Now let’s kick this icon up a notch by adding some color and lighting to it.
As you can see, it has turned into a different kind of graphic. It’s still simple, but you added a little extra oomph, and that is what defines your vector art and turns it into a wonderful tool that can be very appealing and highly customizable. Once you get the hang of adding those little changes, it becomes easier to produce unique vectors that will set your designs apart.
The Abstraction of Real Life
The best way to give life to your vector art is understanding that it’s not all about the shape. You could have the most beautiful shape, and it would still look flat and boring. What makes vector art engaging is its ability to convey a little hint of realism, without being very complicated or detailed. You can only achieve that by knowing a little about color, lighting and shadow. Take a step outside home and see how everything works together.
I will show you a couple ways you can give a spark of life to your vector graphics, but first, let’s take a look at this scene with animals.
Cute, ain’t it? This will be our reference for the following examples.
Keep It Flat, Play With Color
There’s no need to get all serious about applying realism. You can give vector art realistic appeal with the shapes and the layout, following some action lines on all the elements and using the right color palette. Use contrast as your primary tool, as it will define all elements in the piece. Depending on your intention, you can either employ very striking high contrast, or harmonize with similar tones and lower contrast to make it softer on the eye.
Interpret the shapes to create a much more basic form. Play with them in their most geometrical state, and make them flow as one. Use color to create a more defined, understandable representation of the object. There are many ways to work with this style, as you can either make it very 2D or play with a more 3D form
Flat Lightning Attack
Using some lighting theory concepts can help you create a more elaborate graphic, abstracting the shapes where the light strikes the subject and using the color tones of the reference scene. You may even choose to add a couple of gradients. Doing this right can give your artwork a very clean and professional look.
These are my usual methods for playing with abstraction to make vector art. Experiment with all of them and choose the style that fits you best. Don’t be afraid of vectors, they only want to be loved!