1 January 2009

Tutorial: Vector painting

This will be our final image, which you can download at the end of this post as a little freebie or for further clarification of what I’m talking about. It will be helpful if you have a basic working knowledge of Adobe Illustrator CS3, but don’t be afraid to take a whack at it even if you’re a newbie. The best way to learn is by doing!

Step 1: Open a new document 5″x5″ in landscape format. I work in RGB mode initially because it’s easier to convert that to CYMK if needed than it is to go from CYMK to RGB. I get asked for RGB mode most often for images that will be used on the web, so it’s become a habit for me.


Step 2: Select the pencil tool, and draw a medium sized, curved line. Draw another line curving the opposite way to get an approximate shape of a leaf or flower petal. You can use the direct selection tool (white arrow) to adjust the curves as needed.


Step 3: Now we need to join the two lines together to create a shape. Using the white direct selection arrow again, select the endpoints on each side that are closest together and press Control + J. Or you can go to Object > Path > Join.


Step 5: Join the paths together on the other side the same way you did the first. You can adjust the angle using the convert anchor point tool at the top to “smooth” or “corner”, and adjust it further by using the direct selection tool again.


Step 6: Now select the whole object, and change the fill palette to a gradient of your choice. Set the stroke to 0.


Step 7: Select your whole object again, and hit Control + C. This will copy the object. Press Control + V to paste this copy to the artboard.

Step 8: Select the new copied object with the selection tool (black arrow) and adjust its scale and rotation. Let your objects overlap and layer each other as you work. When you have a general shape that you like, head over to the transparency palette and change the transparency of both objects to “multiply”. I used an opacity of 94% here. You can get a lot of different color effects by changing the transparency and opacity of your shapes; multiply, overlay, and soft light are the ones I use the most. Experiment!

Step 9: Continue copying and pasting your shapes and adjusting the gradients and transparencies you’re using in each. Try rotating and reflecting your shape. Right click on the selected shape, then choose Transform > Reflect. Try adjusting the angles of your gradients to reflect the lighting you want by changing the angle numbers in your gradients palette.

Step 10: When you have something that you like, it’s time to do some fine-tuning on the way your shapes interact using the direct selection (white arrow) tool and the smooth tool. First go to your layers palette and lock the shapes you don’t want to change — this will save you grief, believe me. Just click the small box next to the paths you want to lock.

Step 11: Now select the path you want to adjust with the direct selection tool, and click and hold the pencil tool until the “smooth” tool pops up. You can adjust the preferences on the smooth tool by double clicking it. I set mine to Fidelity: 12 px, Smoothness: 57.

Use the direct selection tool to adjust the points on your path, and the smooth tool to even out any rought spots in your line. In this case, I made my leaf narrower because I didn’t like the way it was overlapping the rest of my objects. I also added extra anchor points (Object > Path > Add anchor points) to help keep my lines smooth.

Step 12: Keep copying, rotating, and making new shapes, and adjust the colors and transparencies until you have something you like. You can select the group of leaves or petals you’ve made and right click > Transform > Reflect > Copy it to make a symmetrical image.

Step 13: Select your group of petals, copy + paste it, then enlarge it and change the color to something lighter than the original group to give your flower some depth. You can add new individual petals, little flourishes ( I have some you can download here), and other shapes to give your image some interest and personality. The possibilities are just about endless, really.

At the end of the day, you may have something like this, or something much more complex, like this. It all depends on how much work you want to put into it.

This is just the basic M.O. of how I work — try adding glows, textures, and other effects to see what you can come up with. Above all, experiment, have fun, and keep learning!

To download the source file for this image, click here,
Tutorial Final Image Download

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