How I learned to stop worrying and love Illustrator

My reluctance to learn Illustrator mostly had to do with vector intimidation. I thought that since I drew in fluid lines and not angle points Illustrator would require too much a deviation from my process. Photoshop allowed me to draw digitally without feeling like I was digitally drawing. When I went to art I didn’t want to slow down for a learning curve to implement vector curves.

As it happens, the mounting reasons for me to forget the vector intimidation and learn to love Illustrator eventually pushed me into a quick search and then a five minute YouTube video which ignited an Adobe spark that I’ve been propelled from since.

This post was challenging to write because every sentence took me back into the program to see what else I could learn and how I really feel. Though I’m getting the hang of clicking line drawings, mostly I’ve embraced Illustrator’s ability to translate my Photoshop drawings into crisp, malleable vectors.

Photoshop vs Illustrator

As far as I understand it, and with a lil research, the difference between Photoshop and Illustrator has to do with raster and vectors.

Photoshop: raster-based, color pixels that stay as they are, which means if they’re zoomed in on, they’ll become pixelated; if they’re zoomed out from, they could disappear.

Illustrator: vector based, so the lines of an image are all a formula that can be blown up or shrunk while maintaining the integrity of the lines, lines that can change size with the press of a button

Photoshop + Illustrator

I dug up (keyword searched) line drawings from the Lorna Phone archive. I opened them in Photoshop and in Illustrator.

The Illustrator images went through a few steps in order to earn their vectors. (I’m phrasing this oddly.)

  1. Trace Image (it’s a button in Illustrator)
  2. Change threshold or color vs black and white and “corners” and “noise” –> these areas I’ve been messing around with which might be the best way to understand what settings do
  3. Expand (another button)
  4. Boom –> vector image

I  put the Photoshop and Illustrator versions of the same lines together to compare:

Surreal Coloring and Story Book

This is one of my first digital drawings, Sunset(s). I turned it into one of the pages of a coloring book in 2012. On the left, is the PS version, on the right, is a translation of that PS version in Illustrator using the “trace” and “expand” features.


sunsets ai psd comparison

I thought that filling in the lines might hide their quality. Even filled in shapes are sharper in Illustrator:

sunsets color lornaphone ai psd comparisonAnother example from my first coloring book:

clouds in the clouds ai psd comparison lornaphone

With color: (a rorschach for visual interest, but still a display of how (on the left) PS images become fuzzy and lines break. The right side, which went through the Illustrator “trace” and “expand” process looks clearer.

clouds in the clouds color lornaphone sunsets ai psd comparison


When I started printing my art and digitally publishing versions, I began to develop an understanding of how “pixels” relate to my art and its dissemination. Since I hadn’t yet learned to love Illustrator, I compensated for my Photoshop canvases by creating documents 200% larger than their print size. I figured this way the images could maintain their quality/integrity in various sizes.

Alas, I learned pixels don’t work that way.

Affection Album Art:

My drawings for Operator_Error’s album, ‘Affection’ lost some of their vitality when the 200% became the 100%. I used tiny lines to add detail. Lines that took a lot of time to add in. When the file shrank down to the size to use, I lost the lines that ironically took me the longest to make. (Photoshop on the left/Illustrator on the right)

affection album lornaphone ai psd comparison

affection family lornaphone ai psd comparison

Writing this, and all of my experiments during, have helped reshape my mind in such a way to reinforce the applicability of Illustrator. Always so much to learn.

I’m still wrapping my head around how digital tools can increase my palette without the mess of paint. I’m also increasing my paint to mess up my palette.

You Can Find Me…

Facebook: @LornaPhone and @LAWordSalon and @AffectComic
Twitter: @LornaPhone and @LAWordSalon
Instagram: @Lornaphone and @LAWordSalon
Youtube: Lorna Alkana

I update my Exhibition Page with events and galleries that feature Lorna Phone art.

Check out the Disclosure Page to see a chronological evolution of my blog and art.

I share new art/discussions about the process of works in progress, and I’ll be delving back into my segments with Comic Lorna in my autobio comic series called, Affect over the summer.

Current Collaborations:

Operator_Error– Collaboration on the album Affection has moved into collaboration on Affection 2! Plus, the band has released the album Minus the Umm in the meantime.

LAWordSalon– Creative community in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and on tour around you.  Green, esteemed, established, curious. @LAWordSalon Instagram and Facebook documents live music and art around town

Otis Books- I’m an editor for this publication based out of the Otis School of Art and Design in Los Angeles.  Check out our backlog.

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