Chinagram – Behind the scenes

18 April 2011 by

Our goal with Chinagram was to combine the charm of Chinese ideograms with the potential of the iPad platform, creating an app that is not only useful and interesting to use but also beautiful to look at.
Here is a “behind the scenes” of how I created Chinagram’s illustration of a peacock, a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture, used in the splash screen of the application.

Before going digital, I drew some abstract shapes and strokes with watercolors on paper: once I scanned and edited these images in Photoshop, I used them as textures to provide depth and warmth to the illustration.

To do this, you need to use Photoshop to convert the scanned image to grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale), then Command+click on the gray level’s thumbnail in the Channels palette. This results in a selection of the dark areas, maintaining the range of transparencies intact. You can then copy and paste the cut-out shape into a new document, where you can adjust the settings for color, levels and brightness.

I sketched a peacock by pencil and then used Illustrator’s Pen tool to trace over the main shapes in the drawing.

In order to draw the feathers on the bird’s back, I created a custom brush and applied it to a line running along the neck and body of the peacock. Then I masked it with the shape of the bird’s body. This is the same technique I used to create the dragon’s scales.

I followed the same process to create the feathers on the tail: I drew a single one and then applied it to a series of lines. This method allows you to achieve a high level of detail with minimum effort.

I used more masks and different blending combinations (Multiply and Screen) to add the textures I had prepared, giving depth, grain and warmth to the spot colors.

Inspired by Chinese manuscripts, I included the stamp of a Chinese seal with the 鸟 niao sign, which means “bird”, in the illustration.

I learned how to write and pronounce this word in Chinese thanks to Chinagram’s explanation of where Chinese signs come from and what they mean… which turns out to be very handy when you’re ordering at a Chinese restaurant :)

If you like this illustration of a peacock, you can download it as wallpaper for your iPad or Desktop from

Here you can see a video of how I created it:

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