How To Craft Complex Images in Adobe Illustrator

By Kevin Ward

Adobe Illustrator is typically used in logo creation, but the benefits of doing things in vector graphics and not raster graphics extends beyond logos. For the advanced, doing your art this way will help cut down on file size for your next killer mobile app, or if you’re a beginner you can learn the ropes of what defines creating artwork in this program. To capture the full potential of Adobe Illustrator though, you will need to reorient yourself to use the program in a light you might not have first considered. Today, we’ll be recreating a character I used in concept art for a game project I created. Figure 1 shows this image.

Figure 1.png

1. Think in Layers.

Look at an image similar to the one you desire to recreate. Figure 2 shows a comparison between my reference picture and the final version of my concept character.

Figure 2.png

See a person as a silhouette. Then see the pieces that comprise that silhouette. If we were to examine a person’s face we could see that it is first made of the neck, then the head, with the eyes and eyelids, mouth and so forth. Figure 3 shows a progression in layering to build the final form of the face.

Figure 3.png

The eye for example may be made of at least four or more separately layered objects. These would include from the bottom most to the top most, the eye socket, the eyeball, the iris, the pupil, the eyelid and then finally the eye lashes. Figure 4 shows this, although mine lacks eyelashes. Once you begin to think in this way, coming up with the necessary objects and their order becomes a quick and easy process.

Figure 4.png

2. Think of Your Image in Shapes

You often do not start with the desired form of the object you are trying to create. Clever use of the anchor points on your object remedy this fairly easily. Nonetheless if you were creating the shape of the face mentioned before, you would want to start by using the eclipse tool. Make an oval roughly the size and then shape of what you want your final object to look like. Then your edit anchor points by dragging them around with your mouse or by using the coordinate points on the bottom side of the program. Think of all objects in this way. Figure 5 show this process

Figure 5.png

3. Some Hotkeys to Help the Process If You Don’t Know Already

  1. Pen Tool (P) (YELLOW)

  2. Modify Pen Tool to add anchor points on a selected object (+)

  3. Modify Pen Tool to subtract anchor points on a selected object (-)

  4. Section Tool to fully select all anchor points when an object is clicked (V) (RED)

  5. Direct Selection Tool to select an individual anchor point when clicked (A) (BLUE)

  6. Hold SHIFT and A to select multiple anchor points when clicked in succession

  7. Copy (Ctrl C)

  8. Paste (Ctrl V)

  9. To bring an object forward in the order of objects (Ctrl ] )

  10. To bring an object backward in the order of objects (Ctrl [ )

  11. Modify Rectangle Tool to become Ellipse Tool (L)

  12. Rectangle Tool [Ellipse Tool will change symbol of Rectangle Tool to Ellipse Tool if Ellipse Tool is active. In my example it is active](M) (GREEN)

  13. Eyedropper Tool to change the color of a selected object to another object’s color or to make the Pen Tool’s color match that of a pre created object (I) (ORANGE)

  14. Also don’t forget to pull up the Navigator window. It can be found by going to Window, on the top bar of the program, and then scrolling down the list to Navigator. This will allow you to quickly move around your project and to zoom in or out on an object. (PURPLE)

    Figure 6, where these tools are highlight has been blown up and stretched so that all of the tools are conveniently visible enough for your reading experience. It follows on the next page.

Figure 6.png

4. Adding Detail or Using Shapes to Give Definition

Remember the importance of giving definition to the object you have created. Save this portion for last, when you have given your object all of its features. With the complete object you can actually give some 3D shape to your 2D image. Trace out with the pen tool where you think the shadows would hit in black and then reduce the new, black object’s opacity to give either a hard or soft shadow. Figure 7 shows this, mind you my character has a very faint shadow. For areas where light is hitting, trace with the pen tool the area where the light is strongest. Then take the new object, can be white or whatever color light you choose, and likewise reduce the opacity to where you think it should be. Now you have an object that is finally fully detailed.

5. Remember the Importance of Copy Paste and to Look for Portions of Where You Can the Process Easier

One last thing. Remember to make Copy and Paste your best friend. To go back to thinking in shapes, you can see simply take the same oval you made for the face and copy paste to have it become the eyeball after playing with the anchor points and changing its color. Look for similar shapes that may be repurposed for other parts of your image to speed up you image creation.