When pushing your own creative boundaries, it’s always worthwhile to take a moment with the masters. In this tutorial, we’ll explore how to emulate some of Paul Rand’s analog techniques digitally within Illustrator. Then we will take it a step further using some additional Illustrator tricks.
This tutorial looks at his famous 1970 Westinghouse Annual Report cover, focusing on the three colorful figures. Note that this tutorial exists only as an exercise and a practice, not as a means of copy.
Often times trying to emulate famous works can provide insight into technique and allow for further exploration in one’s own unique work!
Setting up the file
A good place to start is with a nice organized file. I have the Paul Rand design directly to the left of my art board for easy and quick reference. This is a good practice to get into as referencing other media can often enhance one’s ability to explore in Illustrator.
Establishing the building blocks
Looking at the Paul Rand design, it can be seen that some basic shapes, or “building blocks” will be needed to compose the figures. Perhaps the simplest is the circle.
By selecting the bottom anchor point of the circle with the direct select tool (A), that anchor point can be deleted, creating a perfect half circle, another necessary shape.
In the screenshot above, a square is simply drawn below the half circle. Note that Smart Guides are enabled to enable perfect alignment.
With both shapes selected, the Pathfinder panel can be used to merge them into one. This is the final shape that will be needed.
Creating the shape of the figures
With all of the “building blocks” established, the figures can be made. Notice how only black shapes are being used, again focusing on shapes before color. It is fascinating how aesthetically strong these forms are even without color.
This perhaps speaks to Rand’s intimate understanding of design and form. It can be helpful to question one’s own ability to create strong forms out of simple shapes like this. A good practice!
Create a layer mask
While there are several ways to accomplish this task, the way in which the colors will be embedded within the shapes is with the use of a layer mask. Notice in the Layers panel there is an empty layer called “Color Shapes” which is selected (by clicking the small circle to the right of its name). This layer will be masked using the previously assembled black shapes.
Select the black shapes and cut them. With the “Color Shapes” layer selected, open the Transparency panel and click the black square to the right. This brings you into the layer mask of “Color Shapes”. Once here paste the black shapes. The outline of these shapes becomes visible.
Don’t forget to change the color of these shapes to white, as that will “let through” the color shapes in the area of the figures. To exit the layer mask, click the small white square to the left.
Now, notice how when I draw a big orange square in the “Color Shapes” layer, it is masked to the shape of the figures within the layer mask on that layer. Let the fun begin!
Now I can easily start exploring Paul Rands colors and shapes, draw in various shapes with the pen tool, see how Rand layered his shapes, see what types of angles and overlapping shapes get created, and look for aesthetic strengths.
Here the design is complete. It’s not perfect, but very close and much has been learned in the process, both in Illustrator technique, and in insight to Rand’s work. With these things under my belt, I can start to take things further.
Taking things further
Here, I simply started exploring random shapes and patterns. The layer mask makes this very simple, allowing for clear path and no obstruction to laying out shapes and exploring.
Perhaps a more interesting result is using Illustrators warp features in combination with the color bars in the previous example. Quite visually intriguing!
At this point I feel that the possibilities have been opened up and the practice has been made. There is also perhaps no point in copying Paul Rand (or any designer) aside from practice, so now is a good time to wipe the drawing board and start applying this practice to completely original works!
This tutorial shows that Paul Rand was able to do incredible things with relatively simple shapes and techniques that are readily available to anyone using Illustrator.
These techniques can be practiced through emulation, then expanded upon to create original works.
Have thoughts or ideas? Comment below!