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Illustrator is great for creating sharp flawless lines and elements, but sometimes you want to create an illustration with some texture and depth. Watercolor paintings have great textures and depth, but when coupled with Illustrator it seems counterproductive to what the program was built for. You might think "Why not just do this in Photoshop?" Then you will miss out on all the wonderful things vectors have to offer, like scalability.
The source file for this tutorial is not currently available, though we are planning on releasing this in the future. Below is the completed illustration to see what you are working toward.
Start by finding a picture of a flower. The picture doesn't have to be a masterpiece. I just took a quick photo of a flower that I found laying around.
To start, create a new 8.5 inches by 11 inches document. Then go to File > Place, and find your flower pic on your computer. Roughly size the photo to your document the way you would like. Then choose Template from the pop-up menu of the Layers Panel. If the image becomes too transparent, double click on the layer to bring up the Layer Options Dialog. Here, you can change the Dim Images setting to whatever percentage you like.
Press the Create New Layer button on the bottom of the Layers Panel to create a new layer. Double click on the new layer and call it "Flower Outline." Using layers and labeling are great ways to stay organized!
In the new layer use the Ellipse Tool. Click on the artboard to bring up the Ellipse Dialog. Change the Width to 2 inches and the Height to .05 inches, creating a narrow ellipse. Make the fill of the circle 100% black with no stroke.
Next, drag the ellipse into the Brush Panel with the Selection Tool. Once you drag the ellipse in, it will bring up the New Brush dialog. Check the New Art Brush option to bring up the Art Brush Options dialog. Name it "Flower Outline." Then go down to the bottom of the dialog to the Method and choose Tints from the drop down list. This will let you change the color of the brush without creating a new brush.
Select the Brush Tool from the Tools Panel. Then make sure you have the newly created brush selected from the Brush Panel. Then start tracing one of the petals of the flower. If you feel the lines are thicker than you would like them, change the Stroke Weight in the Stoke Panel. Some of you might be more comfortable drawing with the pen tool, but you will soon see that you can go pretty fast with the Brush Tool.
Continue to trace the most predominate lines from the picture until you have traced the flower and stem. When tracing the image, you don't have to worry about closing the brush paths. Next, select all the strokes and change the color to violet. After, press the Visibility Icon on your Flower Pic Template Layer to hide it.
Create a new layer called "Background Watercolor." Then drag the layer under the "Flower Outline" layer. Then lock the "Flower Outline" layer by pressing the Lock Icon next to the Visibility Icon.
For this step, you will use the Pencil Tool, but first you need to change some of the Pencil Tool's options. Double-click on the Pencil Tool in the Tool Panel to bring up the Pen Tool Preferences dialog. In this dialog, you want the Fidelity to be .5 pixels. This creates a path with many points, helping create the watercolor effect.
With the Pencil Tool selected, start drawing a path around the flower outline. When you draw this path, do it very roughly and add some jagged edges. Make sure to close the path. An easily way to close the path is to hold down Option / Alt right before you are done drawing.
Fill the shape with white and give it no stroke. Then draw a path surrounding the first one. Again, do it rough and add some jagged edges. Fill the second path with 18% Cyan. Then send it behind the first object.
Select both shapes and go Object > Blend > Make to create a blend. This will create a smooth blending effect. If you are not getting this effect (the shapes are stepped and not blending), make sure that your shapes are closed and not overlapping each other. You can also check your Blend Options by going Object > Blend > Blend Options. Make sure it is set to Smooth Color.
Next, create two more paths with the Pencil Tool that are a good deal larger than the previous two. Make sure to really make some jagged jetting edges. The smaller path needs to be filled with the 18% Cyan, and the largest shapes need to be filled with white. Then go Object > Blend > Make to make a blend. Then Send Behind the first Blend.
Lock the "Background Watercolor Layer." Then create a new layer labeled "Water Color Textures," and drag it below the "Flower Outline" layer.
The first set of textures are drops of color. Use the Ellipse Tool to draw a circle. It doesn't have to be a perfectly constrained circle. Fill it with a color of your choice, preferably a light pastel color. For the first dot, I used a 30% Cyan.
Next, use the Pencil Tool and draw jagged edges around the ellipse. Make sure you close the shape with Option / Alt. Then fill the shape with white and send it behind the circle. Select both the ellipse and jagged shape and create a Blend, like before. Set the blend to Multiply in the Transparency Panel. Also, change the Opacity to 50%.
Repeat these steps to create more dots with different colors and shapes. For dots with a white fill, don't set the Transparency to Multiply, just make sure the fill of the larger shape (the jagged shape around the ellipse) matches the color it is overlapping.
You can keep the Water Blob elements on the same "Water Color Textures" layer. Use the Pencil Tool to draw a blob. Try to make this shape more elliptical, rather than the jagged edges of the shapes you have already drawn. Fill it with 10% Cyan and take off any stroke. Then create another blob with the Pencil Tool that is slightly smaller than the first one. Also, fill it with white and give it no stroke. Then select both blobs and create a Blend.
Place the blob anywhere you like. Also, create more blobs anywhere in the illustration, as your design eye dictates.
Create a new layer called "Flower Color." Then drag it below the "Flower Outline" layer and lock all other layers.
Apply the blending techniques you have already used to color the flower and stem. When creating the shapes to blend, make the outside shape color white, so it will blend in with the colors it is layered upon. You don't want any hard edges that take away from the watercolor effect.
When the illustration is all done, it nice to crop it with Clipping Masks. Create the shape you want the illustration to be clipped within the "Flower Outline" layer, and Copy it. I am using a rectangle that is the size of my document.
Once you have the shape in the correct positioning, select the shape, and choose Clipping Mask from the drop-down menu in the Layer Panel. Then select the next Layer that needs to be cropped. Then go to Edit > Paste In Front (pasting the clipping object you copied at the beginning of this step). Then repeat the steps the for creating the Clipping Mask. Do this to all the layers that need to be cropped.
Dress the illustration up as you like, and you're done!