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Create a 3D Paper Bird With Geometric Shapes in Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial, we are going to create a vector illustration of a paper bird by drawing and modifying geometric shapes in Adobe Illustrator. We'll be working from a sketch to create a 3D looking paper bird and utilizing gradients to create depth. Let's get to it!


1. Create Your Geometric Sketch

Step 1

Create a New Document (Control-N) with 600 x 600px size and five layers in the following order:

  • "Details": This is where we are going to put the final detailing of the illustration.
  • "Gradients": This layer will contain our gradients to add depth to the bird.
  • "Draw": In this layer we will create our base illustration.
  • "Sketch": Here we are going to draw a quick sketch with the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B)
  • "Background Color": In this layer goes the background color (#ACDDF0)
Paper-Bird-02new-document

Step 2

First of all we draw a Rectangle (M) for the "Background Color" and set the fill as #ACDDF0Lock the layer and then select the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B). We'll then go into the "Sketch" layer and we'll begin.

Start with our sketch, all you need to do is think in geometric forms, like a low poly illustration. Now if the bird is made out of paper, our body base will be a hexagonal prism (in red on the screenshot), the head and rear (blue) are like extensions of the hexagonal shape and the tails and legs can be like folded paper (green).

Paper-Bird-03sketch1

Step 3

Draw the bird in a more dynamic pose, so it will appear more visually appealing. Straight on illustrations in this style end up looking more technical than artistic. By changing the angle, we're creating a more interesting and pleasing graphic.

Paper-Bird-04sketch2

2. Create Your Base Illustration

Step 1

Change the Opacity of your sketch to 50% and Lock the layer "Sketch". Then on your "Draw" layer we are going to start drawing our paper bird.

Paper-Bird-05sketch3

Step 2

Start by drawing a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M) and adjust it like in the image.

Paper-Bird-06draw1

Step 3

Use the rectangle that you have already drawn to create the other shapes. Simply Copy and Paste in Front, grab the side of the shape you wish to move with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag in place. Adjust some of the nodes as required. With this method, you'll avoid any gaps in the design as all necessary sides should be flush.

Paper-Bird-07drawprocess

Step 4

Here's a tip for modifying two nodes of a square shape, it's pretty simple. First of all duplicate the base shape, then use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to then click the line between the nodes (pink circle) adjust it. Then with the Scale Tool (S), click-drag to adjust the shape as you need it, this is pretty useful in creating symmetrical designs. It also works by selecting a group of nodes and when you select the Scale Tool, the alternation of the scale will happen in the center of the nodes. I use this process a lot in my illustrative work.

Paper-Bird-08drawprocess2

Step 5

I recommend drawing with the basic shape tools (in this case rectangles with the Rectangle Tool (M)) rather than using the Pen Tool (P). This is because the lines will be more precise and clean, and you only need to focus on removing some nodes or scale between certain nodes.

In some parts like the legs, just erase the anchor points by putting the Pen Tool (P) over the node and you will see a little minus sign (-) just click to remove the nodes that you don't need.

Paper-Bird-09basicdraw

3. Add the Base Colors

Step 1

For this illustration, I'm going to use a variety of greys depending on the placement of the planes to the light source. Below are the shades I'm going to be using. For now, add these colors to your Color panel for quick reference.

Paper-Bird-10basecolors

Step 2

Imagine your light source is in the top left hand corner. Use this as a guide to where you place the colors upon your base. I like to place my colors on the artboard and use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample the colors for each shape.

Paper-Bird-11lightsource

Step 3

Let's go through each of the colors to see which plane has been allocated each color.

Paper-Bird-12coloraplication

Below is how these colors should look with our base drawing. You can now see the 3D structure more clearly of the design.

Paper-Bird-13basecolors

4. Create Depth by Using Gradients

Step 1

I'm going to be using a variety of gradients to add depth to the illustration. Below is a selection of gradients, both Radial and Linear which I'll be using throughout the design. For now, add these gradients to your Color panel for quick reference.

Paper-Bird-14gradient-list

Step 2

Copy and Paste in Front the bird drawing in the "Gradient" layer, then press D to set the shapes to the default white fill and black line. You can set the Opacity of the bird to 50% so you can see the different shades of grey underneath. As before, you can select shapes and then using the Eyedropper Tool (I), select the planes you wish to fill with the relevant gradients.

Paper-Bird-15gradient1

Step 3

Below I've applied these gradients. You'll notice some new shapes have been created specifically for applying gradients. This is for when I've needed a gradient to cover more than one area.

Paper-Bird-16gradientprocess

Once you finish your gradients your bird will look something like this.

Paper-Bird-17gradientdone

5. Add Details and Final Touches

Step 1

In the layer "Details" we are going to use this two linear gradients to add some shadows and highlights. This will help further the impression that the bird is made of paper. Add the below gradients to your Color panel.

Paper-Bird-18detail-colors

Step 2

I've drawn out the following shapes, on the ridges of where some of the planes meet.

Paper-Bird-19details1

Step 3

Use the gradients as I've drawn below.

Paper-Bird-20detailprocess

Close up, you can see how they've made the difference and enforced the folded paper style.

Paper-Bird-21details2

Step 4

Select and duplicate the bird illustration. Put it over your drawing and paint it with the blue fill (#10AEE5) then in the Transparency panel set the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Paper-Bird-22softlight

Step 5

Finally duplicate the bird and Paste in Back (Control-B) in the "Draw" layer. Fill it with the blue (#006096) and scale it to the 70%. Then use a Gaussian Blur effect with a 33px Radius and set the Opacity to 15%.

Paper-Bird-23finaltouches

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

Congratulations, you've now finished. I hope you've learned how to create a folded paper, geometric bird and can carry on those tips into future projects. Keep on drawing, saludos!

Paper-Bird-01finalimage
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