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Over the years I’ve slowly built a nice collection of crest-based artwork in my portfolio. At any one time I usually have a commission on my table that’s derived from a client asking, "Can you do your cresty thing." This can range from overly detailed pieces with lots of intricate vectors weaving in and out of each other, or clean and minimal marks.
No matter which route however, there are a few principles that underlie each of my creations. Which brings me nicely to this tutorial!
I’m going to walk you through, from sketch to finished vector file, creating a crest and the techniques I use to vectorize them successfully. I will start with the basics on Bézier curve manipulation so if you are more advanced Adobe Illustrator user, please bear with me. We’ll move from creating the main shapes, to adding details in white, and you’ll see how you can create depth and interest to vectors using a limited a palette. We’ll then move on to manipulating the objects using the Pathfinder. Which, once mastered, gives you a killer skill.
Create a new A3 landscape document and Place (File > Place) the "Sketchcrest.jpg" file you downloaded with this tutorial onto your artboard (this is already done for you). Now double-click the layer in the Layer Palette, which should bring up the pop-up window where you can rename it. Call it template. Hit OK and then create a new layer and do the same, but call it black solids.
Lets start from the left-hand side with the Horse. Select the Pen Tool and begin at the tip of the tail. Make sure you have No Fill selected in the toolbar and begin working your way up to the wings. We’re aiming for elegant feathers here. So keep switching between Filling your shape with black whilst hiding the layer below for a clear picture, and no fill, with the template showing to check you’re on track.
Creating strong, fluid lines is really important and the key is to control how the line enters and exits the anchor points of your bezier curves. Each anchor has an arm, and that arms length and angle affects your curve. To make adjustments, select the Direct Selection Tool from the toolbar and click on the anchor that you want to edit, the arms should appear and now you can make the necessary adjustments.
Another key technique for this illustration is to keep positive and negative space as equal as possible. Much like in typography, having equal space between the characters creates a more desirable effect. When creating the effect of hair or feathers, if you space the points out equally the overall look will be more harmonious.
Keeping these points in mind, continue to draw up the rest of the horse in solid black. When finished, set about doing the same for the gazelle on the right. When complete, we need to set a central guide for our shield and the rest of the composition. Note, I’ve started to adjust the position slightly from the sketch.
For the shield, focus on nailing the left-hand side only. Then simply, Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). Then choose, Object > Transform > Reflect and set the value to 90° and check Vertical, then hit OK. Now move the new object, while holding down Shift, to form the right-hand side. This ensures the object only moves in a straight line and will help line up the two halves.
Once you have the two halves lined up, use the Direction Selection Tool to drag a selection over the two anchor points that meet at the top of the shield. Now press, Command + J to join the paths and repeat for the other two points at the bottom of the shield.
Now we’re going to add white detail to the shield. Copy (Command + C) the whole object and Paste in Front (Command + F), but on a new layer. Call this new layer "White detail." Now change the Fill to a 1pt white Stroke. Keep it selected and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path, choose -2mm in the Offset field and hit OK. Now go to Object > Expand appearance. You should have a perfectly equal white stroke line inside your shield. Repeat this process to form your second line
Now back on your "Black Solids" layer, begin drawing the outline of the dragon. Keep to the basic shapes to begin with and then add the details as separate elements after. This will help keep those bezier curves at bay.
Now we’re going to move onto the scroll at the bottom. Again we only need to focus on the left-hand side and we’ll flip it and reposition to form the right-hand side. Before we begin though, select the shield object on the Black Solids layer and add a 1pt Stroke line and choose Align Stroke to Outside on the Stroke Palette. Now draw the two basic shapes that form the scroll.
To give the scroll definition we need to add some white lines. Select your White Details Layer and with the pen tool, add white Stroke lines with a 1pt width to define the folds. Once complete use a 0.5pt Stroke line to draw lines inside the scroll shapes to give it more detail.
Now we need to flip the left-hand side of the scroll like we did in Step 6. Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). Then choose, Object > Transform > Reflect, set the value to 90°, and check Vertical. Now move the new object to form the right-hand side, while holding down shift. Now as with Step 7, you need to zoom into the center and hit Command + J on the ends of each path to join the two objects together at the front.
Now for the crown. First, ensure that your dragon drawing has the color set to Stroke, as you can see below. The crown is made up of three shapes. An oval at the bottom, a curved strip, and a detailed top. Begin with setting the oval headrest. Use the Ellipse Tool to create this element. Copy and paste in front and turn the object to a white Fill. Hold down Alt + Shift and drag the bounding box arms inwards to rescale the object so it fits inside.
Now add a white stroke line Aligned to the outside around the black object, and select the Pen tool. Draw the strip above the headrest. Once complete add a white stroke line to this element. Now set about drawing the top. As with some of the previous Steps, you only need to draw half and then flip the artwork and join.
Now before we go any further with the crown you need to do two things. First, reposition it so it sits directly on the center line. Then, draw an outline, in white, behind the crown so as to make it distinct from the dragon below.
Once complete we can start adding some details. Select your "White details" Layer and begin drawing a few highlights with the Pen Tool. In your minds eye, imagine where light would catch if it were shining above the crown. Once complete use a mixture of the Shape Tool and the Pen Tool to give the crown more definition.
Now we’re going to move on to the other elements and begin adding detail. Start at the dragon and begin by defining the neck. with the Pen Tool, draw the scaling and try and space them out equally with fairly equal width to the lines. Make them meet at a thicker, snaking line from the jaw down to the crown.
Now click and hold the Pen Tool icon in the toolbar and a selection should appear for the Add Anchor Point Tool. Select this tool, zoom in, and for every white scale line add two new anchor points to the black area below. Once done use the point control arms to round the scales to the neck.
Once you have the neck finished begin adding the highlights and definition like we did with the crown. You can also add another layer of black on top of the white elements like I have for the eye, the line snaking down from the neck and inside the wings.
Once you have the dragon as you would like, begin adding the detail to the horse and gazelle. Try and keep them balanced with one another. In other words, don’t add lots of detail to one and not the other.
Now that you have all the drawn elements in place, here comes the tricky part. The Pathfinder can be a bit temperamental. The important thing to remember is to make sure you don't have any stray anchors selected and that the order of your objects is correct. When subtracting white, make sure the white is on top (Object > Arrange > Bring to Front). Start with the horse, as this is nice and simple. Select all the white shapes and on the Pathfinder Palette click the top-left icon (Add or Unite depending on which version you're using).
Now keep the white selected, and while holding down Shift, click the black solid object below. Now choose the second from the left icon on the top row (minus the front or subtract depending on which version your using). Now you should have a single object. You’ll need to add the black eye again to complete your shape.
Start tackling the gazelle and the dragon once done with the horse. Placing a solid color behind the objects might help you here. You’ll find that objects begin to jump across the layers, but just remember go to Object > Arrange; and then send the objects backward for forward. Make note of the shortcuts to help speed this up.
After you’ve completed the three animals, start tackling the crown. Here you’ve got to start from the bottom up. First, select the objects with Stroke lines and go to Object > Expand. This will turn the Stroke into solids. Now choose your white background to the crown and Subtract (top row, second from the left in the Pathfinder palette) from the object below.
Now the next object will be the strip. You need to Add/Unite the black solid first, then subtract the white former stroke line from the shape. On the Pathfinder you’ll see a large button called Expand. After each subtraction or Add, check to see if this is highlighted. If so, click it and it will tidy up your object!
You’ll need to experiment, trial and error here, to get the right effect but try and match my image where the bulk of the crown and dragon interlock with one another. When you have the main shapes set, complete the crown by Pathfinding the details.
The final elements are the Shield and the Scroll. The first job is to Object > Expand the Stroke lines of the black solid that makes up the shield. Then select all the remanding Stroke lines and Object > Expand them so you are left with only filled objects.
Now we want the horse and gazelle to sit on top of the shield and the shield to sit on top of the scrolls and the dragon. In order to do that we will need to connect the black shield object with the dragon tail and the scroll. Select each of these objects while holding down Shift, then click Add/Unite in the Pathfinder.
Once the objects are United together, select the white line that surrounds the shield and Subtract that from your shape. Now simply subtract each of your white line details from the remainder of the scroll and shield and your main structure should be complete. Remember to keep sending objects backwards and expanding!
The final Step is to add the "Vectortuts+" Type you downloaded with this tutorial, as an EPS . I’ve already drawn it up for you so subtract that from the main structure and you'll be done. I’ve also tidied up the feet of the two animals a bit and cleaned up a few stray anchors on mine so you might want to do the same.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and haven’t been too frustrated with the Pathfinder. Believe me, my computer's nearly gone through the window on many occasions when first dealing with it. I can’t stress how important a function the Pathfinder is though. When it comes to creating this style of work my illustrations gained a whole new dimension and became much easier to manage at my end and for my clients. One more bit of advice…always save a copy of your work that is raw with all the strokes and objects separated.