How to Make a Mid Century Modern House Illustration in Illustrator

How to Make a Mid Century Modern House Illustration in Illustrator

This tutorial will cover some of the basics of Illustrator and how to illustrate a mid century house. Mid century houses are geometrical and angular which, in turn, makes it easy and fun to illustrate. Since I’ll be covering some of the basics, anyone can follow along.

I will go over how I start an illustration to how I make and build shapes to how I add shadows and adjust lightings. In the end, we’ll end up with a mid-century house postcard.

In this tutorial, I will be using RetroSupply’s Palm Canyon Drive, Paper Artifacts, and Vector Fuzz. You don’t have to pick up these same tools but I highly recommend it in order to get the same effect or quality in your illustration.

01. Starting the Sketch

I begin by gathering a lot reference photos of how I would want my illustrations to look like. This process helps in inspiring me to sketch up a creative illustration of a mid century house. While I was searching for reference photos, I started to notice that some mid-century houses are covered with tons of windows for natural lights. Most of their color schemes are pretty neutral but with hints of pop colors. In addition, mid century house’s shapes are pretty solid and concrete with some houses having strong angular roofs.

While I’m sketching, I keep all of these characteristics in mind. When I am satisfied with a sketch, I would either scan it into my computer or take a picture. For this, I took a picture of my mid-century house sketch and dropped in into Illustrator.

02. Building Shapes for the Mid Century House

In Illustrator, it’s best to work in multiple layers so everything can stay organized and you’ll know where things are placed. 

I placed my mid-century house sketch onto Illustrator in its own layer. Next, I locked and dimmed the layer by 50%. You can get to this option by double clicking the layer on the Layer panel.

I create one layer for my mid century house’s base shapes. First, I start the shape with a Rectangle Tool (hotkey “M”)  and create a rectangle with the same shape as the face of the building. I color my stroke red so I can see the sketch behind this layer. Afterward, I select each anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool (hotkey “A”)  and drag them to the position they need to be. Keep repeating this step for every shape of the house.

03. Adding Colors

Colors are important for setting the tone of the illustration; therefore, think about a color scheme beforehand.

From the reference photos, mid century houses are mainly neutral colors so I created a color scheme around that factor. Once a color scheme is established, I add the colors onto my Swatches Panel and make sure Global is checked. Having Global checked allows you to universally change the color of all the shapes that one color is applied to. If you don’t have the Swatches Panel, you can go to Window> Swatches.

Looking for some color inspiration? Palleton makes it easy to customize a palette. There's also a cool little project called Swiss Colors that we love.

03. Applying Shadows to the House

Adding shadows would add more depth to the illustration. When all the base shapes of the mid century house are filled in with colors, I created a new layer for shadows. I make three different types of shadows for the illustration. First are solid shaped shadows, second are a gradient shadows, and last are texture shadows.

Solid Shadow

For each solid shadow, I select the base shape and copied (CMD+C)  it then pasted (CMD+F)  it onto the shadow layer. The shadow is applied with the darkest color in the color palette and set to an “Overlay” effect in the Transparency Panel. I adjust the anchor point with the direct selection tool until I get the shape I wanted. This process is repeated for all the solid shadow of each shape. To get the Transparency Panel, go to Window> Transparency.

Gradient Shadows

Gradient shadows are made the same way except with a gradient applied to it instead of a solid color.

Textured Shadows

I apply this last; so we’ll get to it later. STAY TUNED!

04. Unique Plant Shapes

It’s very easy to make some unique plant shapes! Make a rectangle and adjust the anchor points like before. Create some triangles and place it on top of your rectangle. Select all the triangles + the rectangle. Go to Pathfinder Panel and click Minus Front. To get the Pathfinder Panel  go to Window>Pathfinder.

I repeat this for all the plants in the illustration.

05. Texture Shadows

I mentioned before, I make three types of shadows and one of them is a texture shadow. Texture shadows can make your illustration look very cool and add another level of depth.

I use the Brush Tool (hotkey “B”) and RetroSupply’s Vector Fuzz for the texture. Copy (CMD+C) the object of where the texture is going to be. Draw a line with the Brush Tool.

Paste (CMD+ F) the object on top of the texture. Select both the pasted object and texture and do Make Clipping Mask.

Inside the Transparency Panel, give the texture an “Overlay” effect and adjust the opacity until you get what you like.

06. Adding the Finishing

In most of my illustrations, I like to add a layer of overlay color over the whole illustration and a layer of paper texture.

An overlay of color can change the atmosphere of the illustration and puts everything under one light!

Create a new layer and make a large rectangle the same shape as the Artboard. You can have the rectangle as any color you want. I went with a dark, warm violet. Give the rectangle an "Overlay" effect and adjust the opacity through the Transparency Panel.

For the paper texture, I used Paper Artifacts by RetroSupply. Place it in a new layer above everything. Give the paper a “Color Burn” effect and change the opacity. You don’t have to use "Color Burn" effect, but I use it because it intensifies the dark colors.

When I was done, I found the Palm Canyon Drive typeface. This inspired me to turn this illustration of a mid century house into a postcard!

I hope this tutorial helps you get started on making your own mid century house illustration!

About Linh Le

Linh is a fourth year graphic design student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. You can see more of her works on her website and Instagram.