5 tips you need to know for creating storybook-like Flat Art

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Introduction to Flat Design Principles

Flat Design is a design style which uses minimalistic, simple elements without trying to look three dimensional. It is often contrasted to the skeuomorphic style that gives the illusion of 3D through highly realistic and intricately detailed images.

Flat design is characterized by simplicity, bright contrasting colours and two-dimensional illustrations.

The motto of this style should be: "Less is more"

What makes this design style unique is the minimalist approach - when you design your art in flat style, you don't have to worry too much about where to put the highlights or overcomplicated glares and shadows.

Also, to maintain that minimalist look, you need to refrain yourself from adding too much details to your artwork.

Sounds unchallenging?

Well, even though this style embraces it's simple 2D look, let me warn you: even though it sounds like an easy task, but the devil lies in the details.

Or in our case: the devil lies in the lack of details :)

Just think about it - how can you render your digital paintings into pretty artworks?

Well, your secret art trick might be:
- adding glossy highlights and deep, meaningful shadows
-drawing details

to your composition.

These would surely make your illustration more pleasing to the viewers' eyes.

But what if you are banned ( or highly restricted) from using these tricks to create an outstanding artwork?

Are there any other tools you can use?

Tips for Making your Flat Designs Pop

Hi!
I'm Eliza and I'm an illustrator and art teacher who taught more than 30 000 students all around the globe on how to paint and draw with ease.

In the following tip article I'm going to explain you the principles of flat design and my favorite tips on how to make your flat style illustrations even more outstanding.

You don't have to be a Clip Studio Paint expert to be able to follow this tutorial. I've kept the "technical" side intentionally super-simple, so you will be able to understand it even if you've never opened Clip Studio Paint before.

This is an absolutely beginner-friendly tutorial, so there is really nothing to fear, I can guarantee if you follow my step-by-step instructions you will be able to draw spectacular flat designs in no time!

If you want to get to know more about me ( and get to know my #1 art advice), please check out this video below, otherwise let's jump into learning my top secret flat design drawing tips!

Tip #1 - Turn the Basic Shapes into Silhouettes

All the visual objects can be dissected into shapes. You can build up your entire drawing just by combining simple shapes together like triangles, circles and square shapes.

The three basic shapes are:
- Square
-Triangle
- Circle

When you plan out your illustration, think about what moods and emotions you would like to evoke in the reader and choose your forms accordingly.

Square forms can invoke stability and reliability, circles happiness and pleasure, while triangles are associated with threat and unstability ( hence why you can see many villain characters are designed with triangular shapes).

Now, when you build up your drawings with basic shapes, you may want to try altering the form of the shapes. For example if you have a circle shape, you can alter your regular circle into an oval / egg shape / teardrop shape / etc.

Don't be afraid of playing around with the shapes. Squish them, pull them, push them as you want, be creative and experimental in this stage of your drawing process.

I found that for storybook-like illustration goes well with organic / irregular looking shapes.



From the three basic shapes you can build up any objects you want. Below I created some winter holiday themed sketches.

I used triangles for the trees, circles for the snowmen and squares for the giftboxes.

If you examine it carefully you may notice that even a bit of alternation of the basic shape can create an entirely different end result on the object:

Here is another example on how I created this snowman simply by using the three basic shapes:



Take your time to properly study your drawing references and dissect them into the three basic shapes , just like I did with this bunny:

Head can be a basic circle, the body and ears can be rectangles ( square shape).

Now, you will have an easier time to draw this bunny, just by knowing how this bunny was built up only using these basic shapes.

Now that you learned about the basic shapes, let's try building up a silhouette with these shapes.

Your silhouettes should be recognizable, just like here - by looking at the picture you can guess it's a girl/woman with long hair.

You can always correct your silhouettes by using the Liquify sub tool. It can help you to change the shape and size of a specific part of your silhouette.

The Liquify sub tool has different modes. You can select a liquify mode from the Tool Property palette.

These are my favorite Liquify modes and here is how I used them:

- PUSH: If I want to alter the flow / location of the hairstrands, I can easily push them into the wanted direction. It can warp your image in the matching direction direction of your stroke.

- EXPAND: If your character's hair is a bit too flat, you can add volume with the expand mode. If you use expand mode it will increase the size of the selected part of the image.

- TWIRL: Good for creating curls and waves in the hair. It creates a rotating movement.

Below you can see how I altered the shape of the hairstrands by using various modes:

(Extra Time Saver Tip)

Use the three basic shapes for creating easy abstract backgrounds

If you are in a hurry and don't have much time to create a good-looking background, then why not paint some abstract shapes as backgrounds. Here is how you can create quick backgrounds without putting in much effort:

Let's say you want to create a background for a single piece of autumn leaf.

All you need to do is to go is [Figure] > Continuous curve

And then fill up your background shape with color with the [Fill] tool (Paint Bucket)

You can combine the background shapes to make the composition more interesting, but as you can see one standalone shape can be used as a powerful abstract background:

Tip #2 - Dynamic Composition with an Organic Look

A well-planned composition is key to success. For creating dynamic compositions, I would advise you to start with drawing silhouettes.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

A) Use arched /curvy lines instead of flat, straight lines:

For storybook-like flat illustrations you want to aim for an organic look. If you go out, to take a stroll in the nature, you might notice that natural objects ( trees, plants, clouds, snail shells etc.) has a tendency of being curvy, irregular shapes rather than strict forms with straight lines.

So to get that organic feeling try using more curvy, flowy lines instead of flat lines measured with a ruler.

If you examine closely, you can see I barely used any straight lines in this painting. I arched her posture a tiny bit for making it more interesting visually, her hair is flowy and even the stem of the plant in her hand has a little arch:

B) Guide the viewer's eyes to the focal point of your composition:

I put the bunny in the center of the composition, because I want the bunny to be the most important object on my painting.

I draw some spiky leaves around the bunny character to guide the viewers' focus even more on the rabbit. I closed off the composition with the half-circle blue background.

C) Leading lines:
There is a diagonal line of interest in this painting, starting from the upper right corner, continuing by the descending owl, then the girl's floating hair gently guides the viewers's eyes.

So the girl's hair floating away towards the corner of the painting, but just before the viewers' eyes would trail out of the painting, I curled the girl's hair backwards, pointing back towards the focal point.

Tip #3 - Create Contrast With Bold Colors

Using bold, vibrant colors that create contrast is a must-to when it comes to flat design.

A well-chosen color palette can bring life to an otherwise dull and boring artwork.

You can create contrast by using the color harmony principles I listed out beneath through the example of this bunny illustration on the left. Or, you can just simply create contrast by combining lights and darks into your picture just like I did with this witch girl on the right.

For this angry bunny illustration I started with a warm, autumn color palette ( picture on the left), the orange background goes very well with the purples, all the color are in harmony and overall it could be a nice illustration for a storybook.

O.K. , but what if I want to make it even more bold and vibrant in colors?

I changed up the colors a bit and you can see it resulted two more daring and colorful illustration ( picture on the middle and on the right side).

In the middle picture I left the leaves in their orinal colors but I changed the background, while on the right side picture I did the opposite, I changed the foliage's colors while left the background intact.


So why and how did I changed the colors?

Flat illustration style goes well with contrasting colors, so you shoud consider using Complimentary, Compound or Triad colors.

If you are unfamiliar with color harmony, here is a little explanation:
• Complimenary colors:
Two colors on the opposing side of the color wheel. They can create a lovely color contrast, but they are a bit tricky to use.
• Compound colors:
Similar to complimentary colors, they can create a lovely contrast, but here you have one colors opposing two colors which are very close to each other on the color wheel
• Triad colors:
Three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel, a bit tricky to use

While complimentary colors and triad colors are a bit trickier to use, there are compound colors which are easier to use, yet still can create powerful color contrast.

Compound colors are somewhat similar to complimentary colors, hence they are also called split-complementary colors.

HOW TO APPLY COMPOUND COLORS:

For this bunny painting I originally decided to have orange background. So I opened up the color wheel, searched for my orange color's place on the ring - and I checked what colors lie on the opposite side of the ring.

As you see the on the opposite side is blue color. So what I do here is I search 2-3 adjacent hues of this blue colors and use them to paint the leaves:

So now that we discussed how to choose your color palette to make your colors unified, let me share with you my additional insights on how to apply good looking colors to any of your flat illustrations:

A) Make your coloring process more efficient by using Color Set palettes:
To display the [Color Set] palette, select [Window] menu > [Color Set]

Here you can find many color sets to choose from, what I exactly love for flat design projects is the Bright tone set.

You can access it by clicking on the top-left hamburger icon, select [Switch Color Set] > select your desired color set:

You can make your own color set as well. Here I created a Flat Color pallette from the color I used for this painting.

You can access it by clicking on the top-left hamburger icon, select [Edit Color Set] > Create New Color Set > Name your set > Save

I added the needed colors to the set by clicking on my painting with the [Eyedropper] tool:



B) Use Color mixing:
It is a really handy function in Clip Studio Paint that you can mix out your own colors.
If it's hidden, you can access it via Window menu --> Color Mixing

Here you can experiment boldly, as you can see, I tried out many different hues for this project:

B) Change Hue / Saturation / Luminosity:
If you don't like the result, you may change the properties of hue / saturation or brightness to see a different result.
You can do it by going: Edit --> Tonal Correction --> Hue / Saturation / Luminosity

Tip #4 - Textures

Use textures modestly , but still a little bit of texture here-and-there can add your flat illustration an inviting "homemade" vibe.

My favorite brushes to add a little bit of hand-painted effect is the Gouache and the Dry Gouache brushes, which you can find in:
Brush --> Thick Paint --> Gouache / Dry Gouache

Below I turned on-off the texture layers for this plant painting. You can see how adding a tiny bit of texture can make a big difference:

When you create your textures you have more options to choose for:

- Draw the on a new layer:

For this I create a new layer above my color layer, turn on [Clip to Layer Below], so that I won't color outside my drawing and set this new layer either [Normal] blending mode or [Multiply] blending mode.

The Multiply mode is an useful option if you want to add darker colors ( i.e. shadows) to your painting.

- Draw the on the same layer as your color layer:
If you want to draw the textures on the same layer as your color layer, be sure to turn on [Lock Transparent Pixels] so that you won't be able to paint outside of your drawing.

Tip #5 Grow Your Follower Base by Posting Flat Designs

I found that flat style is very popular and you can gain new followers quickly by sharing your flat style designs on your social media accounts. So if you want to grow any of your social media accounts, you may want to consider picking a theme and create a series of flat designs around that given theme.

Here, I picked the theme of 'magical girls' and from the painting process I could create:
- Youtube shorts
- Instagram / Facebook stories
- Instagram reels

Clip Studio Pant has a very useful function for this, called timelapse.

Timelapse allows you to record your canvas as a timelapse, and share your creative process online! What I especially like about timelapse recording function is that it pauses if I'm not working on my canvas and it continues the recording automatically when I start drawing again.

You can either access timelapse function when you open up a new document ( ticking record timelapse) or in an existing document go to File --> Timelapse --> Record Timelapse

When you finished your drawing process and you want to export your timelapse, please go to File --> Timelapse --> Export timelapse

This will open up a window where you can choose amongst various export options, like the length of your timelapse, size, whether you want the Clip Studio Paint logo shown or hidden on the timelaps and the aspect ratio of your timelapse video.

Different social media platforms requires different aspect ratios, just to mention a few:
Instagram post - 1:1
Instagram story, reels - 9:16
Facebook story - 9:16
TikTok - 9:16



Then click on [Save] as it will save it onto your camera roll.

Or you can click on [Share] button to share it directly on your various social media sites.

As my last advice: don't forget to use hashtags on your posts, as hashtags can help your post be seen by even more people.

I collected some useful and relevant Instagram gashtags which you can use for your flat storybook-style design posts:

#flatdesignillustration
#flatillustration
#storybookillustration
#storybookillustrations
#flatillustrationstyle


These are relative small ( niche ) hashtags, which means there are less competition on these hashtags, so if you are a small account you can still have a chance to ranked as a 'top post' if someone searches for your specified hashtag.

Disclaimer - Flat vs Semi-Flat Design Principles

Now, before I finish I would like to add a disclaimer.

If you search online, you will find various articles and sources about flat design and if you read all the information you had found, you will end up pretty confused what is flat design and what is not.

Some author say it's forbidden to use shadows when you draw flat designs, some created sub-categories like semi-flat design, where a bit of texture and shadows are allowed.

So here is the question: What exactly is flat design?

Personally I don't like strick definitions, so I would define it as a style which aims to convey it's message through simple forms and contrasting colors, without relying too much on shadows and textures.

If you create UI designs, logos, websites, etc. you might want to go for flat design's purest, simplest way without adding shadows, textures or even gradients in your work.

However if your aim is to create a storybook illustration, don't restrict yourself from adding some shadows and textures, otherwise you can easily end up with a boring design.

Also, if you are doing client work, it's always best to ask the client about their exact expectation of the style.

When I get a commission request, I always suggest my client to pick up 4-5 reference photos of their preferred art style, so that I will have a clearer idea on what exactly is in my clients' mind.

All right, this was the flat design theory part of my tutorial, now let's continue with an actual flat design illustration.

Design Process of a Storybook-style Flat Winter Holiday Themed Illustration

In the following part of this tip, I'm going to show you how I actually built up this winter window scene.

These will be the order of the steps:
1. From the three simple forms create some silhouettes
2. Arrange the silhouettes into a good composition
3. create the line work
4. Find the colors with the help of the color wheel and the color mixing tool
5. Fill up the linework with base colors
6. Add textures and embellishments

So let's create a snowy winter holiday scene:

First, I'm starting with opening a new document in Clip Studio Paint.

I choose 2000 * 2000 px size and I tick the Screen recording option, because I want to create a timelapse of my illustration.

Then with a basic black brush I start to create the silhouettes.

You can find the brush I'm using via [Brush tool] > Thick Paint > India Ink

For this illustration I mostly going to use triangles (tree) and squares ( gifts, windows )

For filling the shapes with black I use the [Fill tool]

At this point I decide I want to play a bit with the shapes of the tree, so I switch to [Liquify] sub tool. I'm experienting with the different Liquify modes to shape the tree branches. You can select liquify modes from the Tool Property palette.

Another favorite method of mine is to altering the shape of the silhouette is to use your brush as an eraser. You can do it by switching it's color to "transparent"

Finally I have a wonky, irregular tree shape.

For this illustration I prefer irregular shapes that give a hand-drawn /organic /natural feeling of the painting. So I will continue creating the silhouettes for my gift boxes as irregularly shaped squares.

This is how the final composition of the room enterior looks like:

Now I create a new layer on the top of this silhouette layer for the window pane.

The main idea at this stage is that I want to create an inviting composition. I want to draw the viewers' s focus on the interior of the room.

It's cold and snowy outside, but if you peek through the window glass, you see the gifts, the Christmas tree, everything is warm and cozy there - which is the opposite of the frost bitten outdoors.

So for this I use the window as a frame for my illustration, the dark window panes lead the viewers' eyes towards the cozy room.

This is our simple window silhouette:

Now, Let's see how it looks like with the interior's silhouette added:

The composition is off, so I start to move around the layer of the tree and the gifts until I feel the composition looks good.

You can move around/ scale/ rotate any of your layers by clicking on your layer and then select [Scale / Rotate ]

Finally after I found the right arrangement of the silhouettes, I painted some more tree branches with my brush.

Now that we have the finished composition, it's time to add colors.

But first of all, I outline the silhouette of the interior room. For this I switch off the eye icon next to the window pane's layer, so it will be invisible.

Then I turn down the opacity of the tree+gift box's layer to around 35-40, so that I can see my linework better.

I use my usual brush ( india ink brush) for creating the lines and when I'm finished with my linework, I turn off the eye icon at my tree + gift box's layer to make the layer invisible to our eyes.

So now everything is ready for coloring.

At this point I should examine which colors I want to use.

The idea is the following:

For creating a contrast, I'm going to use warm and bright colors for the interior of the room, while I want to use cold and dark colors on the window pane.

So I open up the color wheel and the color mixing tool:

I want a blueish - dark greyish color for the window pane, so I want to select the other colors accourding to this bluish gray color.

In sense of color harmony, for this project, I chose triadic colors, so for my blue-gray, the other colors would be reddish-oranges and greens.

I add this blue-gray on my color mixing palette.

Following the triadic rule I pick up an orange color from the color wheel. I want this orange to be vibrant and bright, so I move my eyedropper on the top-right corner of the square inside the color wheel.

I add this orange color on my color mixing palette.

So I collect the colors from the color wheel (using the concept of the triadic harmonical rule), put them on the color mixing palette and mix them to create various hues.

In the end my color mixing palette will contain these colors:

Then I start to fill out the forms with colors with the help of the [Fill] tool.

If the line art of an object is not closed perfectly, the color can flow out and cover your whole canvas. To prevent this, you can increase the range on [Close Gap] scale, which can be found in the fill tool properties.

Finally I make the window pane layer visible by clicking on the eye icon next to the layer.

Now that we laid off the base colors, let's move on to adding texture to the picture.

I start to add a bit of texture with a gouache brush on the window pane.

You can access this gouache brush:
[Brush] > Thick Paint > Gouache

I use the dark greyish-blue color for the texture's color from our color mixing palette. I use the eyedropper tool to pick up this exact color from my palette.

I work on the same layer as the window pane's silhouette, so I turned on the [Lock transparent pixels] option.

Then I add textures on the interior room's layer.

As you can see I draw with loose movements, just like how I would draw a messy drawing with a pencil. Your texturizing doesn't need to be neat and tidy, I found children books illustrations go well with the wild and unperfect artistic styles.

Finally I add some more details to my painting with the same Gouache brush I've used for the textures:

A) I draw some ribbons and patterns on the gift boxes
B) I draw some Christmas lights on the tree

Finally I draw some snow with the dry gouache brush, which is very similar to the gouache brush I've used for the textures.

You can access this dry gouache brush:
[Brush] > Thick Paint > Dry Gouache

I create the snow on the window pane with circular movements, while the snowdrops are just simple circles.

Now we finished this illustration, so all you need to do is exporting the time lapse and share your artwork on your social media accounts!

You can export it by going:
File > Timelapse > Export Timelapse

In the window you can choose the length, size, aspect ratio for your time lapse video.

Then click on [Save] button

( and if you are working from a tablet, you can directly share your time lapse to your social media accounts if you click on the [Share] button )

So here is the finished time lapse:

Video Tutorials

Here is the video version of this Christmas scene tutorial ( shorter , with explanation )

Here is the real time painting process- it's the unaltered, unedited version without explanation if you just want to follow along and paint with me:

All right so these were my tips on how to improve your flat illustrations, hope you will find them useful!

If you like this tutorial, please like it, save it, comment on it! :)

Happy Holidays!
Eliza

If you wish, you can contact me on Instagram / Youtube or simply just here :)

P.s. If you have any questions regarding this tip, feel free to ask in the comment section, I'm happy to help :)

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