Final Product What You'll Be Creating
In this tutorial, we will be creating a resting owl scene using basic shapes and brushes in Adobe Illustrator. We will also be utilizing the Paintbrush Tool to create different Stroke Weights for the tree and we will be discussing various techniques for shading and designing with patterns. Let’s get started!
1. Plan Your Composition By Sketching Out Your Idea
It is important that you sketch out your ideas first before you proceed to your vector illustration. For this tutorial, I roughly sketched my ideas into Adobe Photoshop and when I sketch, I always plan ahead on what shapes or techniques to use so everything will become easier when I will be ready to deal with rendering in Adobe Illustrator.
For this one in particular, I thought of using circles for the main body, the eyes and for the claws and a triangle for the ears. Then, instead of using the Pen Tool (P) for the tree and other curvy shapes, I thought of using a Paintbrush Tool (B) instead.
2. Create a New Document
Let’s start by creating a document by hitting Control + N on your keyboard or you can go to File > New. I’ve used the following settings for this illustration:
3. Add a Rectangle for the Background Base
Based from my own experiences, I find it easier in my workflow to put the base background first so that, as soon as we start doing the main elements of the illustrations, it will help us assess if the colors that we will be choosing will be effective for the illustration. Since I plan on doing a night scene for this tutorial, I decided to use a dark violet color instead of the usual dark blue or black.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from your Tools panel (Window > Tools) and drag down the cursor until you cover the empty space on your artboard. By default, Illustrator will give you a rectangle shape with white fill and black stroke colors.
With the rectangle shape that we just created still selected, double click on the Fill box to activate the Color Picker Tool and use the following color R=92, G=50, B=62.
After changing the fill color and with the rectangle shape still selected, activate the Stroke option by clicking on it or hit X on your keyboard to shift between Stroke and Fill. Click the small box with a diagonal red line just below it to remove the stroke color from the shape. You’ll know if you’ll succeed if you’ll see the Stroke box with a red diagonal line at the center too.
Now we’re all set, your white rectangle shape should now look like this. Now to avoid confusion, rename the first layer on the Layers panel (Window > Layer) by double clicking it and type in “Base background” and toggle on the Lock icon so it will not move.
4. Create the Base Shapes for the Owl’s Body
Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an even circle on your artboard. Color the Fill with R=225, G=94, B=50 and remove any stroke colors.
Select the circle that we just created and using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the top point and while holding down the Shift key on your keyboard, drag it a little upwards. And after that, hit V on your keyboard to get to the Selection Tool (V) and therefore, showing us the Bounding Box for transformation purposes. Place your cursor at the center-left marker of your bounding box and drag it a little to the left. Rename the layer as “Body”.
Also remember to set a fine balance between the height and the width of the egg shape as this will define the shape of our main character.
5. Create the Left Eye
Select the Ellipse Tool (L) again and create a circle with a R=255, G=250, B=132 fill and no stroke color. Don’t worry about the size at the moment as we are just dealing with the preliminaries and will deal with sizes later. Select the new circle and copy it Edit > Copy and Paste in Front (Edit > Paste in Front) and change the fill color to R=192, G=210, B=62 and with the green circle still selected, grab the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) and erase half of it while holding the Alt key on your keyboard. Holding the Alt key will give help you erase shapes straightly. Resize it a little and place it just like in the image below.
Now, create a smaller circle with R=168, G=39, B=67 fill and no stroke color and copy it Edit > Copy and Paste in Front (Edit > Paste in Front) and move/drag the copied circle to the lower right part of the original circle. Now, select the two small circles and go to Window > Pathfinder and select the second option under the Shape Modes section called Minus Front. You now have the shape of the iris so just resize and position it between the green and the yellow base shapes for the eyes (you can arrange it in the Layers panel (Window > Layers)).
6. Create the Beak Base Shapes
For the next step, we are going to create the beak of our owl. To do this, make a a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) with R=255, G=230, B=53 fill color and no stroke color. Now this is going to be a little tricky so be sure to follow the next steps carefully. With the circle that we just created still selected, activate the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the bottom anchor point of the circle. Right after you select the point, you will notice that a new panel called the Anchor Point is displayed. Go though the Convert and select the Convert selected anchor points to corner.
You will then notice that the circle will have a dramatic change in shape. Now, activate the Direct Selection Tool (A) again and while pressing the Shift key on your keyboard, drag the bottom points of the direction line in the left and right side towards their respective corner points. Then activate the Selection Tool (V) and resize it to your liking.
Now, for the bottom part of the beak, we need to create three new circles. To do this, create a new circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) again with the same color as before. Select the new circle and copy it Edit > Copy and Paste in Front (Edit > Paste in Front) and change the fill color to R=255, G=188, B=53 and make it smaller. Then repeat the same thing but now, change again the color to R=122, G=0, B=28. And you will have something like this. (Be sure to arrange it similar to the screenshot below too.)
Resize it in a way and make them look like an oblong and place it below the upper part of the beak.
7. Resize and Rearrange the Initial Parts of the Body
Before we proceed to the next steps, we first need to arrange the final size of the eye and the beak and arrange those accordingly. Please refer to the simple guideline that I prepared below. As you can see, I resized the eye and the beak and placed them that will give a proper balance for the body of the owl. The upper part will be for the eyebrows, the next part is for the eyes, the third horizontal like is for the end of the beak and finally, the last part is reserved for the lower part of the owl’s body. These are just initial guidelines. You are of course free to rearrange this once everything is done.
8. Create the Belly of the Owl’s Body
Create an oval using the Ellipse Tool (L) and change the fill color to R=192, G=210, B=62 and place it below the eyes and the beak and just above the orange base body.
Let’s start creating a quick custom brush to add detailing. Create a new circle again with the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with R=168, G=39, B=67. Using the Eraser Tool (Shift + E), erase the top part of the circle while pressing the Alt key on your keyboard as you drag the tool along.
Open the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes) and select the half circle that we just created and after that, click on the New Brush option.
A new window will pop out and select the Pattern Brush option from the list and click OK. Then a new window will pop out and just rename the brush as “Half Circle” and just leave the default settings as is and click OK. You will then notice that the new brush will appear in your Brushes panel.
Activate the Pen Tool (P) and make a convex line without any fill color and with any stroke colors. And then, after that, click on the “Half Circle brush” from the Brushes panel that we just created and you’ll have something similar below.
With the array of the half circle still selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance and watch how your brush stroke was converted to a real shape. We need to do this because we want to use solid shapes while dealing with the Pathfinder panel later. And on top of that, when you want to resize the brush stroke, you’ll end up having half circles in a new number.
Right after that, select the shape of the half circles and Copy (Control + C) it as we will be needing it for later: do not paste anything yet. And with it still selected, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and select the green part of the body and activate the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and select the Minus Front option and you will have something like this.
As you can see, the half circle shape used its form in cutting down the green oblong that we and therefore, the half circle shapes disappeared. The reason why we copied it earlier is so we can put it back again to our illustration. Now, Paste in Front (Control/Command + F) the shape and activate the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the upper part from the original green shape and hit Delete on your keyboard and you’ll have something like this.
9. Create the Ears and the Wing
Creating the ears and the wing is very simple. Just activate the Pen Tool (P) and draw the shape that you want that you think will fit best to the illustration and fill it with the color R=168, G=39, B=67 and carefully placed it at the back of the main shape of the body for the ear and in front of the owl’s body for the wing.
10. Create a Custom Brush
For this part, we are going to create a custom made brush that that we can also use to design various things later in the illustration. It is important that you can utilize a single brush that can also be used to other things. So for this illustration, we will be using this brush for the eyebrows, the tree and the markings of the tree. So let’s get started.
First, create a square with the Rectangle Tool (M) and activate the Delete Anchor Point Too (-) (you can also activate this tool by long clicking the Pen Tool in the Tools panel) and delete the lower right side point of the square.
Activate the Rotate Tool (R) and rotate the triangle just like in the second picture below. Then activate the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag down bottom anchor point until you have an ice cream cone shape.
Now as you can see, the width of the cone is a little bit wide so we need to make it thinner. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), drag the the left and the right anchor points on the top part of the cone until you have a thinner cone just like below.
After that, activate the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a circle on top and at the center of the cone. After which, select the two shapes (the cone and the circle that we just created) and choose the Unite option from the Pathfinder panel. Now you have one solid shape that we can convert into a new brush.
Right now, since we have a solid shape, we can easily resize it that will best fit for a custom brush. As you can see, it is still a bit wide so we can still adjust it. Please refer to the image below on how I resized it and the size comparison of the owl and the shape that we will be using for the custom brush.
So now, select the shape that we will be using for the custom brush and click on the New Brush option from the Brushes panel and select the Art Brush from the pop up window. After you click OK, a new window will pop out and just use the following settings below.
Now we’re all set! We now have a new custom brush that we can use for design purposes. Check the image below to see how the brush works in different stroke widths.
11. Create the Base Shapes for the Eyebrow
Now we are going to create the base shapes for the owl’s eyebrow. Select the new art brush that we just created. For those who have a graphics tablet, then good for you as you can already play with the brush to achieve the design that we will be doing next. But for those who do not have one, we can still make it so don’t worry. Activate the Pen Tool (P) and carefully make three lines that will look like an eyebrow.
After that, with the three lines/paths still selected, click the “Misc Brush” that we created earlier and see how it changed the paths. Adjust the stroke width to your liking and you should end up with the similar thing below.
Now, go to Object > Expand Appearance and then use the Unite option again from the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and place it below the eye. Resize and rotate it if necessary. Also change the fill to R=168, G=39, B=67. Your owl should somewhat look like this now.
12. Create the Base Shapes for the Claw.
Now, we are down to the last important part for the owl’s bases: the claw. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a new circle with R=255, G=218, B=53 fill color and without any stroke. Duplicate it with Copy (Control + C) and Paste (Control + V) it in the artboard. Select the new circle and make is smaller and place it at the bottom center of the bigger circle. Now, select the two circles and use Minus Front from the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). You will now have a shape similar to the third picture below. Then activate the Selection Tool (V) and then adjust the shape to make it slimmer just like in the fourth image below.
Activate the Direct Selection Tool (A) and carefully drag the top anchor point of the shape and duplicate it two times, make them smaller, and place them on each side with a darker yellow color R=226, G=190, B=36.
Now, just place the claws to the owl’s body and we’re done with the basic shapes!
13. Add Further Depth by Creating a Highlight
For this particular tutorial, I would like to share the very basic foundation of add “highlights” that I personally learned years ago when I am still learning how to vector and until now, I still find this useful whenever I illustrate something so I’d like to share this all with you.
Copy > Paste in Front (Control + F) > Paste in Front (Control + F): So basically, that ‘formula’ will give us something like this: We first need to select the original shape layer and duplicate it twice.
Arrange: And then, resize the second copy and make it smaller compared to the first copy.
Cut: And finally, select both of the copies and open Pathfinder (Window > Pathfinder) and select Minus Front.
Then, just change the Transparency (Window > Transparency) to Multiply with 50% Opacity so we can have a new color with a new transparency effect or just change the color that will go well to your creative liking.
Let’s have a visual example on how to do this the easiest way.
Now we’re all settled, you can do it to the other parts of the owl. I have also included the screenshots on how I did the other parts of the owl using the “formula”.
14. Add Patterns to the Owl
Now we are going to go to the most fun part of the process: adding designs to the owl to make it more interesting and appealing. For this part, I will be teaching you:
- Creating a custom pattern with the Pattern Tool of Adobe Illustrator CS6
- Adding patterns onto the shapes
Show the Ruler (Control + R) in your artboard and drag out two horizontal lines and three horizontal lines from ruler. Make sure that they also have the exact distances to one another. The highlighted part on the image below is the space where we will be adding the base path for our pattern. We were able to get the space dimensions equally because of the guidelines that we created just now.
Activate the Pen Tool (P) and draw a wave/curve. For the path, make sure that all your anchor points are aligned at the center and the curves should meet the surface of the guidelines and select any lighter color from our background and apply it to the path that we created. Refer to the image below on how I used the guidelines for this one. You can now hide the guides by going to View > Guides > Hide Guides.
Select the path that we just created and go to Object > Pattern > Make and you will be entering the Pattern Options mode. You need to manually adjust the corners by clicking on the Pattern Tile Tool until your pattern looks seamless and ready to go.
After all the adjustments, your pattern should now look like this and then click ‘Done’. Your new pattern will appear in the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches).
For this one, we are going to need three panels:
- Appearance (Window > Appearance)
- Swatches (Window > Swatches)
- Transparency (Window > Transparency)
First, select the base of the shape as to where you want your pattern added. Next, go to drop down menu of the Appearance panel and select ‘Add New Fill‘. You will notice that a new fill color will be added. Next, select the pattern that we created earlier and notice that it is already added to the design. And then, play with the transparency and opacity until you have a desirable look of the design.
Do the same trick for the other parts that you want some patterns added. Play with patterns until you will use a variety of designs to have an impact on design. Adobe Illustrator offers a variety of free patterns and you may see them at Swatches > Open Swatch Library > Pattern so you may want to try those for your design!
Grab your Pen Tool (P) and finish the other parts where you think needs more design, shadows and highlights and manually create them, play with transparency, change the colors, etc. Do this until you are happy with your design.
Now, this is one of the most important part of the steps. We need to Group (Control + G) the major parts separately. So for this, we need to group the following:
- Eyebrow + Eye + Iris
- Claw; and finally
15. Duplicate the Features
I know that you noticed that we’ve been doing the left side of the owl’s body, right? Now is the perfect time to copy them and complete the owl illustration.
Hit the Selection Tool (V) and select all the left side parts that need to have a pair to the right. For this one, those are the owl’s ear, eye, wing and claw groups and activate the Reflect Tool (O) by right clicking on the artboard and from the list, select Transform > Reflect and a new window will appear and select Vertical and hit Copy.
Now, select the two eye groups and group them together. Do the same thing for the pair of wings, the pair of claws and the two ears and make sure that you rename everything accordingly. Please take note that this is important so be sure to group the paired parts correctly.
An effective character design needs to be balanced so we need to ensure that everything is well crafted here. To ensure the balance for this character, select all the groups in the owl illustration then activate the Selection Tool (V) and select the Horizontal Align Center in Window > Align.
Remember that I stressed out in the previous step that it is important that you group paired body parts correctly right? Well, this is the thing that will happen if you will not group them correctly.
Now we’re done with the owl. Rename the main group into “Owl” and lock the layer and we are now ready to create the background.
16. Draw the Tree for the Owl to Sit on
Create a new layer and rename it “Tree” and place it below the “Owl” layer. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw the tree’s basic path with R=117, G=64, B=11 stroke color.
For this step, we will be applying the “Misc brush” that we did earlier to the tree paths and play with the Stroke Weights until we get the look and feel of the tree. In the image below, The tree trunk has 5 pt Stroke Weight while the branches have either 2 or 3 pt Stroke Weights.
But before that, you need to Expand the paths first by going to Object > Expand . With the Pen Tool (P), manually create new shapes to make the brown shapes more look like a tree and then Unite them with the Pathfinder panel (also arrange things if necessary).
Using the ‘Misc Brush’ custom brush that we create earlier, draw random lines in the tree to add a wooden texture (in slimmer Stroke Weights). Add a highlight as well using the ‘formula’ that I tackled earlier and add many leaves. When you are happy, group the tree layer so we can move things easily later.
17. Create the Background
Now, we are down to last part of the illustration. Since we are doing a night illustration, then I am thinking of adding some things that are surreal yet still childlike that will go well with out illustration and that will eventually pop out in the background.
Using the Pen Tool (P), create a basic shape such as the one that I did below and color it with R=56, G=40, B=57.
So what do you see at night? We have stars, clouds or even spooky things like bats! You can add whatever things you like and have fun!
Congratulations! You’re Done.
In this tutorial, we were able to get into lots of techniques that can be suitable for those who are new in the vector world. We were able to create our very own custom brushes that can be used in various design needs, made our very own custom patterns and even learned the simple way of having highlights with a simple ‘formula’. You can also play with different colors so don’t be afraid in exploring! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and let me see your illustrated owls!