Create a funny pirate in Affinity Designer

Ahoy, matey!

Today we will embark ourselves into the wild waters of vector seas, flat colors, lineal friends, bezier clouds and fishes made of nodes! The things you’re about to learn, have been buried for more than 15 years inside an old salted designer’s brain. Together we are going to find the little artist that lives in the depths of your heart.

Just one warning fella!

Patience is heavily required to go through this adventure, I promise I’ll make you discover your most precious vector drawing skills and you must promise you’ll pay close attention to every step of this tutorial…

So let’s dive in.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Knowledge required: 

  • Be familiar with Designer’s interface
  • Basic use of the Pen Tool
  • Basic use of the Color Panel

You’ll discover how to:

  • Use less than 5 tools to create a finished piece of art.
  • Create reusable assets for later use in future projects.

Document preparation: Menu/File/New

We want to be able to print out our finished piece of art, so we need to create a CMYK document. Along this tutorial I’ll be giving you a color reference for all the objects we create, in CMYK colors. Don’t worry this will be explained further.

One basic technique

At your left, in the Tools panel, you’ll find this wonderful swiss-armysh-tool called Corner Tool. This bad boy transforms your sharp edged corners into rounded ones. Sounds too simple?, it is. But you are about to discover how powerful this tool can be in the right hands.

Asset: A simple face

Create a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (fig. 1) and select the two bottom nodes with the Corner Tool active (fig. 2) (you can select multiple corners by pressing the shift key), drag them upwards and voilá: two instant round corners that will serve as the chin for our face.

Then, let’s add some lighting. First duplicate the  face: Menu/Edit/Duplicate, then draw a rectangle over it (fig. 3), select both, rectangle and the duplicated face while holding shift and then go to Menu Bar/Geometry/Subtract. You should end up with something like Fig. 4. Ok, now let’s put this objects anywhere inside the Artboard, we’ll get back to them later.

Face color reference (go to colour panel and select CMYK mode for the colour sliders, you should see 4 of them):

  • Face fill: C:3, M:24, Y:28, K:0
  • Face tint: C:2, M:38, Y:29, K:0
  • Stroke: C:43, M:81, Y:33, K:0

Converting to curves: Sometimes you won’t be able to select the nodes (or points) of an object. You can fix this by selecting your shape and then go to: Menu/Layer/Convert to Curves. This will make your object editable.

Asset: nose

Now you’re familiar with the Corner Tool, add a new rectangle from the tools panel (fig. 1)(Don’t forget to Convert to Curves after), then select the 2 upper corners with the Corner Tool and drag them inwards; repeat this step for the 2 bottom corners (fig. 2). Add two ellipses as shown in (fig. 3), select all 3 elements (fig. 4) and go to Menu Bar/Geometry/Subtract or use the subtract button in the top menu (fig. 5). Then just add a simple ellipse on top – because… you can! – (fig. 6).

Nose color reference:

  • Nose fill: C:0, M:66, Y:48, K:0
  • Nose highlight: C:0, M:48, Y:31, K:0
  • Stroke: C:44, M:81, Y:33, K:0

The delicious PieTool

This is a sweet dessert you’ll be falling for very often once you’ve used it a couple of times. Locate this guilt-free pie above the hand tool. If its not selected already, keep pressed your mouse over it and you’ll discover a bunch of little time saver tools… you want to learn all about every one of ‘em don’t cha?… well… you will, one at a time. For now, let’s concentrate all of our senses on this semi-rounded bastard…

The Pie Tool has a handful of edit points you can manipulate. For now we’re just gonna focus on the top one (fig. 1).  Grab it and drag it counter clockwise until you get a half circle shape (fig. 2).

Asset: eyes

As you can see in the picture above, making an angry eye with the pie tool is easy as… well, pie!. Can you follow along the steps with no text explanation now?… of course you can!

Eye color reference:

  • Eye bags fill: C:18, M:48, Y:19, K:0
  • Eye sclera fill: C:0, M:14, Y:17, K:0
  • Pupil: C:49, M:22, Y:30, K:0
  • Stroke: C:70, M:80, Y:25, K:0

Combining techniques. Asset 4: mouth

You own two powerful weapons in your hands already. Just by using the Pie Tool alongside the Corner Tool, the possibilities are endless.

Flipping objects: To make an exact mirror of your object, you don’t have to draw it again. Use the Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical buttons in the top menu bar.

Now is when the fun begins!

Remember all the assets you’ve created?, well, its time to use them. By playing around with these assets you’ll be able to try infinite combinations and ‘sketch’ directly with vector shapes. The cheek bones are made with the Pen Tool and the Corner Tool. We are using the same tools for lots of purposes.

This way, you can make an ear out an ellipse, a rectangle and the subtract function (fig. 1); the bandana is a simple rounded rectangle (fig. 2) and the beard is a rectangle combined with 2 ellipses (fig. 3). For the eyebrows just add 2 rectangles, and the eye patch is another half-pie shape. Don’t worry about the objects not listed in the picture, we are getting to them right now.

Ear detail

Select the Pen Tool and draw a shape similar to (fig. 1), then with the Corner Tool (isn’t your favorite yet?) round the pointy edges to make some nice curves (fig. 2 and 3).

Earring: Introducing the yummy Donut Tool

Located within the same menu as the Pie Tool, is the Donut Tool. Do you get hungry when talking about vectors too?.

This tool (fig. 1) has a couple of transformation points too. Double click it and drag the center point out as in (fig. 2). Place this ring over the right ear (remember to Convert to Curves first) and draw a shape that touches the border of the ear similar to (fig. 3). Then select both the ring and the shape and go to Menu Bar/Geometry/Subtract . Now you have a piercing! (fig. 4)

Bandana knot

Add an ellipse from the Main Tool Panel (fig. 1), Convert to Curves, select the top point with the Node Tool and drag it upwards (fig. 2), go to the top Context Toolbar and in the Convert section select Sharp (fig. 3). Stretch it a little bit if you like (fig. 4), then duplicate this shape and shrink it to simulate the folding (fig. 5).

Color reference:

  • Beard fill: C:42, M:65, Y:24, K:0
  • Beard and bandana strokes: C:70, M:80, Y:25, K:0
  • Bandana fill: C:0, M:70, Y:46, K:0
  • Ear fill: C:0, M:48, Y:31, K:0
  • Ear stroke: C:43, M:80, Y:33, K:0

Make a library: Every time you draw a new object, you can save it for later and save valuable time on new projects.

Homework: Applying fundamentals to make the torso

Okay, let’s test what you’ve learned so far. With the knowledge you’ve gained so far, you should be able to figure out how to create the torso shown above. Remember it is just a combination of rectangles and the Corner Tool. To make the pirate’s right hand, just follow the FIG. A steps.

If you missed something, go back to the previous steps.

Torso color reference:

  • Shirt fill: C:0, M:19, Y:50, K:0
  • Shirt stripes: C:0, M:50, Y:59, K:0
  • Pants fill: C:22, M:32, Y:40, K:0
  • Suspenders fill: C:0, M:67, Y:59, K:0
  • All Strokes: C:70, M:80, Y:25, K:0

The second arm

The second arm is quite simple. Again make a ring with the Donut Tool adjust it to match the other arm’s width (fig. 1), then as in previous steps, cut it in half with a rectangle and the Subtract function (fig. 2). The hand is just a combination of 2 rectangles, the Corner Tool and the Add function in the Geometry Menu. The knuckle and the elbow are just 2 ellipses and the hair are simple lines. Super easy!.

Arranging Objects: Send objects to the back or top with the Arrange buttons located at the top toolbar.

Putting the feet on the ground (one at least)

FIG A: with the pen tool, draw a shape as in (fig. 1) with an 8-12 stroke width (this will be the width of the leg), then round its corner (fig. 2) and while still selected go to the top menu bar and select Layer / Expand Stroke(fig. 3). Finally fill it with the same colors as the pants (fig. 4).

FIG B: the shoe is quite simple. (fig. 1) Add a rectangle (don’t forget to Convert to Curves), select the upper left point with the Node Tool and drag it to the right (fig. 2). To make the heel, put a tiny rounded square over the shoe (fig. 3) and use the Subtract function to cut the hole.

The socks and the other leg are stretched rectangles. To make the pegleg, Move the 2 bottom points of a rectangle inwards.

Let’s add a dead … sleepy fish!

To draw the tiny fish, add a rectangle and round the indicated corners as in FIG A. To make the fin, let’s remember how you drew the bandana knot: (FIG B) add an ellipse, Convert to Curves and select the right point in the middle with the Node Tool (fig. 1). Grab it down until its aligned with the other node (fig. 2),  the drag it to the right. The select the upper node (fig. 3) and grab its handle to the right, to make the fin wider.

Grouping objects: When working with many shapes, making groups is a wise thing to do. Select the objects you want inside the group and go to the top menu bar: Layer / Group


With the Pen Tool, draw a semi-rectangle like in the picture, then round its 2 corners and duplicate this shape as many times as you want to create a texture (see the previous fish picture).

The big fish

This big boy is simpler than its mini counter part. Add a rectangle, make its left corners round and draw a half-pie over it (fig. 1), then subtract this half-pie shape (fig. 2). Go to the Stroke Panel and from the Align buttons, select the option Align Outside.

The bottom stripe is created by duplicating the big fish, then subtracting a rectangle from it. Now you must align this new shape to the bigger one (make sure the stripe has no stroke).

align it with the bigger fish shape as shown above.

Big fish eye

This eye is similar to the pirate’s one, just 3 layered half-pies and a rounded “L” shaped eyebrow.

To make the lips, you’d want to duplicate the main shape again. Select the upper right corner node and in the Context Toolbar, in the Action section, select Break (fig. 1). Now you are able to erase each node one by one (fig. 2), do this until you isolate the mouth (fig. 3).  Increase its stroke 8 to 12 points (fig. 4) and finally Expand the stroke so you can color it as a regular object.

Now look at the picture above and add the rest of the details to the big fish. The scales, teeth, the blue cheek… by this point, this should be super easy. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals, you can create anything you can imagine.

Fish color reference:

  • Body fill: C:0, M:47, Y:62, K:0
  • Fin: C:0, M:33, Y:66, K:0
  • Lips fill: C:6, M:78, Y:45, K:0
  • Scales, eyebrow and eye strokes: C:40, M:83, Y:55, K:0
  • Big fish lower stripe fill: C:5, M:29, Y:57, K:0
  • Big fish pupil fill: C:8, M:66, Y:41, K:0
  • Main strokes: C:70, M:80, Y:25, K:0
  • Big fish cheek fill: C:34, M:5, Y:31, K:0

Putting all elements together

Now that you have all of your building blocks… well, built… your scene should look like in the picture above. However, one little, tiny detail is still missing, which is…

A simple background

Vector Background in Affinity Designer

In fact we can call this: The Easiest Background Ever. Just draw 4 rectangles as shown in the picture. 3 for the sky and one for the sand.

Background color reference:

  • Sky fill color 1: C:28, M:0, Y:16, K:0
  • Sky fill color 2: C:18, M:0, Y:13, K:0
  • Sky fill color 3: C:9, M:0, Y:8, K:0
  • Sand fill: C:6, M:6, Y:22, K:0

Clouds and sea

Use the techniques you’ve learned through all this tutorial to make the clouds and the sea.

As all of the other objects, they’re made out of basic rectangle shapes, the Corner Tool and the Add function. They work for almost everything!

Clouds and sea color reference:

  • Cloud fill: C:0, M:0, Y:8, K:0
  • Sea fill: C:44, M:4, Y:23, K:0

Sea foam

To make the foam just duplicate the sea object, send it back, offset its position a little bit to the left and  fill it with the same color as the clouds. Manipulate the nodes of the sea object as shown in the picture, to make the foam more visible.

and we’re done!

As you can see, this illustration would look complicated at first, but at the end of this tutorial you have discovered how  you can build up complex things by using less than 5 tools, wisely.

You can add some final touches if you like. For example I gave a harpoon to the pirate, to make him look more threatening, you can give him a sword a nunchuck… whatever you please!, you just need to figure out how to combine the right shapes with the right functions.

Also you can enhance the mood of your whole illustration using Adjustment Layers. Levels, Selective Color, Photo Filters… Oh yes!…we are just getting started my friend.



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