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Illustration

Create a Bald Eagle Illustration for Independence Day in Adobe Illustrator

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Living beings are usually complicated and quite hard to draw. An eagle for example, look at all the feathers! It could take you all day! Actually, not. Adobe Illustrator provides tools to draw repetitious things in no time. Do you want to learn how?


1. Prepare Your File

Step 1

First you need to prepare your reference. For this tutorial's purpose I used Bald Eagle Stock by Crystal McEvan. Place your reference inside new file, then:

  • click the first layer and select Duplicate "Layer 1" from the Layers menu
  • click the first layer again and select Template from the Layers menu

Now you've got two templates - one for colors, and one for shapes. Lock them both to avoid mistakes.

baldeagle1-1_preparation

Step 2

Now you need to take a good look at your reference. Creating in Illustrator is like building - you need to plan all the elements first. As you can see, our eagle is built of seven basic parts: one eye, one beak, one head, one barrow, two claws, one tail and two wings. To succeed, you need to build them one by one, not all at the same time.

baldeagle1-2_preparation

2. Create the Eye

Step 1

The first part we'll take care of is the eye. Create New Layer, grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a black pupil. Hold Shift to create perfect circle.

baldeagle2-1_eye1

Step 2

Now draw another, bigger circle (it will simulate the blending between the pupil and the iris). Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick a color for it.

baldeagle2-2_eye2

Step 3

Draw yet bigger circle to simulate the iris. Don't worry about the color, we'll take care of it in a second.

baldeagle2-3_eye3

Step 4

Put a Gradient on the iris. The colors don't need to be perfectly accurate, we can make it more pronounced than in reality.

baldeagle2-4_eye4

Step 5

Now we'll add some shine to the eye. Copy the iris and fill it with some random color. It should be placed above the iris layer. Move the white copy a bit lower.

baldeagle2-5_eye5

Step 6

Come back to the Gradient panel again. Your gradient should be white and... white. Change the upper part's Opacity to 40%, and the lower one's to 0%.

baldeagle2-6_eye6

Step 7

While the lower part is practically invisible now, it's a good usage to remove even invisible parts. Select both iris and it's copy, and select Intersect from the Pathfinder panel.

baldeagle2-7_eye7

Step 8

Now add a big, black circle behind all the eye to fake the eyelids.

baldeagle2-8_eye8

3. Draw the Eye Surroundings

Step 1

The eye is done now, but it can't just hang there. Now we'll build a little pit where the eye is placed. First, draw some kind of brow (it's not really a brow, but it looks like this, just look at the reference).

baldeagle3-1_brow

Step 2

Copy "the brow" and put a lighter color on it, then move it a bit up and left. Now it's time for the pit itself. draw a shape according to the dark you can see around the eye. Then use Mesh Tool (U) to convert it to mesh.

baldeagle3-2_eyelids

Step 3

Put some more Mesh Points around the eye. We're going to use them to blend the pit into the head.

baldeagle3-3_eyelidsmesh

Step 4

Select all the outer points (use Lasso Tool (Q) to select multiple points at once) and reset their Opacity to 0%.

baldeagle3-4_eyelidsmeshblending

Step 5

To make the blending smoother, select some other points too and change their Opacity to 60%.

baldeagle3-5_eyelidsblending2

4. Create the Beak

Step 1

Time for the beak now. Start from the nose hole, it should be quite easy. Use Ellipse Tool (L) for it.

baldeagle4-1_beaknosehole

Step 2

Prepare a base for a another mesh. Use Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a rectangle in general color of the beak.

baldeagle4-2_beakmesh

Step 3

Go into Outlines Mode (Control + Y). Now you can see only outlines and the lower reference layer that you converted into Template on the start. Use Direct Selection Tool (A) to move the points and adjust the borders to the shape of the beak.

baldeagle4-3_beakmesh2

Step 4

Use point's handles to smoothen and bend the lines without adding new points. If you want to move some point, but all the shape breaks in result, just hold Shift while moving it.

baldeagle4-4_beakmesh3

Step 5

This is how it should look:

baldeagle4-5_beakmesh4

Step 6

We're going to use mesh points to add various colors to the same object. First we need to locate the areas of colors and put new mesh points there using Mesh Tool (U).

baldeagle4-6_beakmesh5

Step 7

Go out of Outlines Mode (Control + Y) and move the beak a bit to see the reference. Use Eyedropper Tool (I) to add colors to the areas. Again, you can use Lasso Tool (Q) to select multiple points at once.

baldeagle4-7_beakmeshcolors

Step 8

After covering all the beak with colors, move it back to its place.

baldeagle4-8_beak

Step 9

Select the edge of the beak and reset it's Opacity to 0%. This part should blend into the head.

baldeagle4-9_beakblending

Step 10

Now draw a pert eagle smile. You can use Paintbrush Tool (B) or anything you like.

baldeagle4-10_beaklips

Step 11

Draw "the lips" too (right, they're not lips... but what would you call that?).

baldeagle4-11_beaklips2

Step 12

Time for the lower part of the beak. It's going to be a mesh to. I guess you know what to do?

baldeagle4-12_beaklower

Step 13

Shape and add mesh points to the shape.

baldeagle4-13_beaklower2

Step 14

Some transparency to blend into the head...

baldeagle4-14_beaklowerblending

...and it's done!

baldeagle4-15_beakfinal

5. Create the Eagle Head

Step 1

It's time for the head. Draw a white shape within its borders, then hide the layer - we're going to use it later.

baldeagle5-1_head

Step 2

The head is all covered with feathers, but it would take a lot of time to draw them all. That's why we're going to create a brush for it. Draw something like three grey leaves - it will be one cluster of feathers (you can draw just one, copy it and change their colors to save time). This cluster should be vertical!

baldeagle5-2_headfeatherbrush

Step 3

Select the feathers and click New Brush on Brushes panel. Select Scatter Brush and click OK.

baldeagle5-3_headfeatherbrush2

Step 4

Change the Rotation to Rotation and make it relative to Path. You should also lower the Spacing, so that all the feathers were placed next to each other. The exact value will depend on the size of your cluster, so try something random, click OK., draw a line and check if it looks right. If it doesn't, just double-click the brush on the list and change the value.

baldeagle5-4_headfeatherbrush3

Step 5

When you're happy with your brush, use it to draw all the feathers on the head. Start from the lowest row and then cover it with another. Change the size from time to time to make it more natural.

baldeagle5-5_headfeatherbrush4

Step 6

The feathers are just strokes at the moment, so if you want them to be edited just like shapes, you need to go to Object > Expand Appearance with the strokes selected.

baldeagle5-6_headfeathers

Step 7

Use the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) to erase dispensable feathers. Also, you can make your "white head" layer visible again - it will fill eventual gaps. You may want to change its color to grey.

baldeagle5-7_headfeathers2

Step 8

Add some more feathers, trying to keep natural direction. Now it has better "hairstyle" than on the reference!.

baldeagle5-8_headfeathers3

6. Add Shading to the Head

Step 1

The head looks a bit flat at the moment. We need to add some shading and lights. First, draw something like this using random color:

baldeagle6-1_headshading

Step 2

Go to Gradient panel and create a gradient of three colors. Blue (90%) is a reflection of the sky, brown and peach (70%, 0%) - reflection of dark feathers. White catches as many reflections as possible!

baldeagle6-2_headshading2

Step 3

We need to blend the beak more into the head. Draw a random shape behind it and fill it with dirty orange (100%, 20%) gradient.

baldeagle6-3_headshading3

Step 4

To distinguish the actual head from the neck, add a bit of gradient with color of the sky and dark feathers (10%, 50%).

baldeagle6-4_headshading4

Step 5

Now time for some light too. Draw it as some white, ragged shapes.

baldeagle6-5_headshading5

Step 6

Change its Blending Mode to Soft Light. It will make it more subtle.

baldeagle6-6_headshading6

Step 7

That's our result so far:

baldeagle6-7_headshading7

7. Rendering the Eagle's Body

Step 1

Now we'll build the barrow. It's completely covered with feathers too! We need another brush. Draw some weird shapes in various shades of brown.

baldeagle7-1_barrowfeathers

Step 2

You know how to make a brush, right?

baldeagle7-2_barrowfeathers2

Step 3

Draw a general shape of the barrow in dark brown.

baldeagle7-3_barrowshape

Step 4

Use your new brush to cover the barrow. Remember the hints I've given you some steps ago - first the lowest row, one covers another, mix the sizes and directions. Don't forget about cutting the edges with Eraser Tool (Shift + E).

baldeagle7-4_barrowfeathers3

8. Adding Shading to the Barrow

Step 1

Again, we need some gradients to avoid the flatness. Draw a lightened part with blue and peach.

baldeagle8-1_barrowshading

Step 2

For the shaded part draw some ragged shapes again and merge them together by selecting Unite from Pathfinder panel.

baldeagle8-2_barrowshading2

Step 3

Use Eraser Tool (Shift + E) to cut any unnatural smoothness.

baldeagle8-3_barrowshading3

Step 4

Put a default black and white gradient on the shape. If every part of the shape gets its own gradient, select them all and Compound Path (Control + 8).

baldeagle8-4_barrowshading4

Step 5

Change the Blending Mode to Multiply. Now it's blended quite nicely.

baldeagle8-5_barrowshading5

This is where we are now:

baldeagle8-6_barrowshading6

9. Vector the Claws

Step 1

Now we have came to the claws. They should be easy to built with Mesh Tool (U). Do you remember this technique? Draw a rectangle first, then click it with Mesh Tool (U) wherever it needs to be bent.

baldeagle9-1_clawsmesh

Step 2

Move the points to achieve a proper shape.

baldeagle9-2_clawsmesh2

Step 3

And put the colors on it.

baldeagle9-3_clawsmesh3

Step 4

Claws should be covered with something scale-like. We're going to create another brush to speed this process up. Draw a single scale and convert it to a brush. The most important options here are Rotation and its relativeness to the Path. Again, you need to experiment with the Spacing to get it right.

baldeagle9-4_clawsbrush

Step 5

Draw a line of scales on the finger.

baldeagle9-5_clawsbrush2

Step 6

If it stands out too much, you can lower the Opacity.

baldeagle9-6_clawsbrushopacity

Step 7

Now just copy the finger and its scales to get all the claw done.

baldeagle9-7_clawsduplicate

Step 8

This step is optional. If you think it already looks oK., skip it, but if you want to blend the fingers together, you can use a gradient like this:

baldeagle9-8_clawsblending

Step 9

Build the second claw of two fingers. When it comes to their scales, use Eraser Tool (Shift + E) to remove some of their sides and fix the perspective. Then, add some brown mesh blob to create a shadow of the claws. Don't forget about changing the edges' Opacity to 0% for better blending.

baldeagle9-9_clawscopy

10. Render the Bird's Tail

Step 1

We could've built the tail with a brush, but I think there's no need to create one for the main feathers. There's just a few of them, and they should be precisely placed. So, draw one feather in quite light color.

baldeagle10-1_tailfeather

Step 2

Change its Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 60%.

baldeagle10-2_tailfeatheropacity

Step 3

Copy and paste the feather to create a whole tail. You can turn the second template off to see it better.

baldeagle10-3_tailfeathers

Step 4

Duplicate all the feathers and Unite the copy through Pathfinder panel. Fill the shape with white.

baldeagle10-4_tailfeatherbg

Step 5

Put the copy under originals to see the result.

baldeagle10-5_tailfeathersall

Step 6

Now there is a need to create new brush. Can you see this pattern in the upper part of the tail? We're going to simulate it with little feathers like this:

baldeagle10-6_tailfeatherbrush

Step 7

That's how you can do it:

baldeagle10-7_tailfeatherbrush2

11. Add Shading to the Tail's Shading

Step 1

The tail is placed under the eagle's body and it definitely needs to be shaded. Draw a shape like this, then convert it to Mesh and add some points around the edges (you probably know what we're going to do next).

baldeagle11-1_tailshading

Step 2

Add a gradient look to the mesh to create shading and shadow.

baldeagle11-2_tailshading2

Step 3

Draw some lights with a tapered brush, just a little.

baldeagle11-3_tailshading3

Step 4

There should be a shade on the opposite side. It will be a similar process to shading of the barrow. Can you remember it?

baldeagle11-4_tailshading4

Step 5

Again, put a black and white gradient on it (Compound the Path to unite the gradient - Control + 8) and change the Blending Mode to Multiply, Opacity to 60%.

baldeagle11-5_tailshading5

Step 6

Draw some darker edges of feathers on this side.

baldeagle11-6_tailshading6

Step 7

Change its Blending Mode to Soft Light and Opacity to 20%.

baldeagle11-7_tailshading7

We're quite far now!

baldeagle11-8_tailshadingresult

12. Draw the Eagle Wing

Step 1

Here comes the most interesting part. Wings have complicated structure and it needs to be understood first. Get round to take a good look at the scheme below. As you can see, a wing is built of layers. Each of them is made of different kind of feathers - first short and round, then longer and sharp. One layer covers another.

baldeagle12-1_wingstructure

Step 2

First, let's cover this hardly visible part with some general shapes. We'll take care of it later.

baldeagle12-2_wing0

Step 3

Use the brush we've created before for the barrow. Cover only the part shown below. The rest of it needs more precise treatment. You can also use this brush to cover the general shape from the step before.

baldeagle12-3_winggreen

Step 4

Create new brush like this (yes, it's just part of the previous one). The direction is very important!

baldeagle12-4_winggreenbrush

Step 5

Use your new brush to fill the rest of the "green layer".

baldeagle12-5_winggreenbrush2

Step 6

Time for another brush - it will make these tiny feathers on the top, highlighted by the sun.

baldeagle12-6_winggreenbrush3

Step 7

Just like this. Don't go too regular on this, these feathers should seem to blend into the others.

baldeagle12-7_winggreenbrush4

Step 8

To fill the areas you are most likely left with, draw a shape like this shape under the feathers. Use a dark color for it.

baldeagle12-8_winggreenbg
baldeagle12-9_winggreenfinal

Step 9

As you can see, another (pink) layer is built of slightly longer feathers. Zoom your reference in and look at these feathers, then try to draw one of them. You don't need to be perfectly accurate, just keep the colors (avoid gradients - brushes don't like them).

baldeagle13-1_wingpinkbrush

Step 10

Rotate your feather to vertical position and convert it to a brush.

baldeagle13-2_wingpinkbrush2

Step 11

The situation gets complicated now. Some of the feathers should be placed in a row - you can draw them easily with your brush - but the rest, on the left, are placed radially. We'll need another brush for it.

baldeagle13-3_wingpinkstructure

Step 12

Use the same base as before, just rotate it a bit. The exact angle is hard to define, you may need to experiment with it.

baldeagle13-4_wingpinkbrushrotate

Step 13

That's how it should look:

baldeagle13-5_wingpinkfinal

Step 14

Another layer will be quite similar to the previous. Here's the base feather for this:

baldeagle14-1_wingbluebrush

Step 15

And again, it'll work well for the row, but for this "hand" structure you'll need...

baldeagle14-2_wingbluestructure

Step 16

...a bit rotated version of the same brush. Just to get this result:

baldeagle14-3_wingbluebrushrotate
baldeagle14-4_wingbluefinal

Step 17

Here (yellow-green) we can find much longer and bigger feathers. You know what to do with them (as you probably noticed, it's more like guessing than copying the feathers).

baldeagle15-1_wingyellowbrush

Step 18

The radial "hand" structure is less visible here, still you need to take care of it too.

baldeagle15-2_wingyellowfinal

Step 19

The last (red) layer contains only radial structure. It's just a few feathers, so my advice is not to create any brush for it and place them all manually.

baldeagle16-1_wingredfeather
baldeagle16-2_wingredfeathers

Step 20

You can use Eraser Tool (Shift + E) to make the feathers more realistic.

baldeagle16-3_wingredcutting

Step 21

The wing is done! But we're not finished yet.

baldeagle16-4_wingredfinal

13. Create the Other Wing

Step 1

Copy all of the wing and move it to the right. Make sure you've copied all the feathers (locked layers are not copied).

baldeagle17-1_wingduplicate

Step 2

Go to Object > Transform > Reflect and choose Vertical to reflect the wing. Resize it and rotate to fit the reference (perspective makes this wing look shorter).

baldeagle17-2_wingplacement

Step 3

Some of the feathers are placed at different angle (it's perspective again). Rotate them so that they're closer to the body.

baldeagle17-3_wingrotate

14. Create the Background

Step 1

We need some simple sky for our eagle to fly. Draw a blue Rectangle (M) for it under all the layers (hide the reference layers, you don't need them anymore).

baldeagle18-1_bg

Step 2

Use the Mesh Tool (U) to put some colors in the sky.

baldeagle18-2_bgmesh

15. Add Highlights

Step 1

We've got a sky, and there's a lot of light in the sky, both direct and reflected. I placed the light source behind the eagle, in the left upper corner, so our bird needs to be lighted from behind. To create any light draw a shape around the place you try to lighten.

baldeagle19-1_winglight

Step 2

Then put a gradient on it. Use the colors of the sky. Adjust the angle to the angle of the part you're lightening - the upper part should be strongly visible, the lower should blend into the rest of the body (0% Opacity).

baldeagle19-2_winglight2

Step 3

Locate all the lights and create them. Use all the colors you see on the sky - here the right wing should be lighted in pink, the left - blue.

baldeagle19-3_winglight3

Awesome Work, You're Done!

That's all! Now you know how to create any brush you need, how to use gradients for shading and how to blend meshes into background. Good job!

final
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