This tutorial was originally published in July 2011 as a Tuts+ Premium tutorial. It is now available free to view. Although this tutorial does not use the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, its techniques and process are still relevant.
In this project we will learn how to create a complex vector image step by step and study a lot of techniques, such as the Gradient Mesh, Dynamic Blend, Clipping Mask, Dynamic Art Brushes, Blend Art Brushes, etc. The basic principle of the creation of complex objects is the division of work into simple steps, which we cover here in detail.
1. Create the Initial Shapes
Any simple or complex project begins with the construction of the shape of the objects. Start with the creation of a glass shape. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create an ellipse, stretched horizontally—the shape of the bottom of the glass.
Now create a second ellipse, the horizontal axis of which will be greater than that of the first ellipse, and the vertical axis is much less. Since the ellipse is the upper edge of the cup, place it on the first ellipse and align both ellipses according to the vertical axis of the ellipse with the help of the Align panel.
The distance between the ellipses gives the height of the glass, and the shape of ellipses determines the position in space relative to the viewer, that means you. Judging from my picture, the viewer's eyes are slightly above the upper edge of the glass.
Now we need to create the shape of the upper boundary of the bottom of the cup and the shape of the upper edge of the liquid—it is whiskey in our case. All of these shapes will also represent ellipses, lying between the ellipses that we created in the first step. The shape and size of these ellipses will be different from the ellipses created in accordance with the Rule of perspective and the shape of the glass.
Our glass is a truncated cone, so let us solve this problem smartly and easily. Select the top and bottom ellipses and go to Object > Blend > Blend Options ... and set the number of steps of the blend in the dialog box. Now go to Object > Blend > Make...
We have got a set of cross sections of the glass in perspective. Beautiful! Now go to Object > Blend > Expand.
Select and remove excess circles, leaving only the upper boundary of the bottom and the level of the whiskey.
Take the Scissors Tool (C) and cut the upper and lower ellipses at the points A, B, C and D. Now select and remove the lower piece of the upper ellipse and the upper piece of the lower ellipse.
Now take the Pen Tool (P) and connect the bottom and the top edge of the glass.
Create the shape of the ice cubes. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create two rhombus-like shapes as shown below.
Now we'll move from a simple to complex shape. Select one of the shapes and use the Pen Tool (P) to add anchor points to the outline. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), move some of them, creating a broken circuit.
Now select the created points, and convert them from corners into smooth ones.
2. Create the Base Shapes
With the Pen Tool (P) create the sides of the upper ice cube.
In order to place the objects in the correct order in the Layers panel, I color them in different colors, which is helpful. Using the same technique, create the shape of the second ice cube.
Copy the shapes of two medium-sized ellipses and paste them in front (Command-C; Command-F).
Lock the created ellipses in the Layers panel and make them invisible. Now cut the original ellipses at points A, B, C and D and delete the lower pieces of these shapes.
With the Pen Tool (P) connect the remaining pieces of the ellipses—it will be the shape of whiskey in the glass.
Turn on the visibility and unlock ellipse duplicates. Fill these ellipses with any color, in order to verify that the location of objects in our work is right. You can always edit the location of the objects by moving them in the Layers panel.
Copy and paste in front the lower ellipse (Command-C; Command-F). Lock the original ellipse in the Layers panel and make it invisible. Now cut the top part of the bottom of the cup at the extreme points, and remove the top of the shape, as shown in the figure below.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and connect the cuts with a broken line, so that the created object can go behind the contour of the glass.
Move the created object above all the objects (Shift-Command-]), and now copy the contour of the glass and paste it in front (Command-C; Command-F). Select the contour of the glass and the created shape, and click on Intersect from the Pathfinder panel.
We got the side surface of the bottom of the glass.
The technique that is described here is very important and is used in almost all works. Later on I will refer to this step when I'll be using it. If you work in Adobe Illustrator CS5, for such an operation, use the Shape Builder Tool, clicking on the excess portion of the shape by holding down Alt (in this case it is not necessary to duplicate the shape of the glass).
3. Use Gradients to Create Depth
Thus, the basic geometry is created, so start coloring the image. Select the side surface of the bottom of the glass and fill it with a linear gradient consisting of various shades of gray. Rotate light and dark shades to get a striped gradient, like the one shown below.
Since the bottom of the glass itself represents a cone, the gradient should be tapered too. Copy and paste the shape in front, and we will continue working with it. Leave all the basic shapes untouched, because we might need them in the following development (lock and make them invisible in the layers palette). Keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand, and select the Gradient Mesh option in the dialog box.
After this operation, the bottom of the cup represents a mesh object of a rectangular shape and the Clipping Mask, which will be hiding the part of the mesh object. We will edit the mesh object, so for convenience lock the under layer with the Clipping Mask in the Layers panel.
Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select all the nodes of the lower gradient mesh and move them vertically down, while holding down the Shift key.
Convert all the lower nodes of the mesh from corner to smooth ones. This operation is performed by the Convert Anchor Point Tool. You just have to click on the points you want to convert.
Now, move the nodes using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to join them together into a single point.
The outer mesh lines should coincide with the side guides of the bottom of the glass.
If yours is not like that, then select the lower nodes with the Lasso Tool (Q) and move them up or down (whatever is needed) until these lines coincide.
Fill the upper piece of the bottom of the glass with a linear gradient that goes from brown to orange color.
Fill in the shape of whiskey with a linear gradient consisting of shades of orange. We will not turn this into a conical gradient, as its straightforwardness on the edges will be hidden by other objects, which we will create later.
Create a new ellipse and move its bottom point up, in order to get the shape shown in the figure below. Fill out this shape with a linear gradient that goes from dark orange to light orange.
Fill in the shape of a glass with linear gradients containing the shades of gray. The contrast of these colors should be less than the lateral surface of the bottom of the glass—in other words, the gradient should not contain dark-gray shades.
Do not touch this shape; work with its copy. Using the technique described in the beginning of this section and transform a linear gradient into a conic one.
Fill the upper surface of whiskey with gray.
Now create a smaller ellipse and fill it with a light gray color.
Leave the basic ellipse of the whiskey surface untouched; we will be working on its copy. Select both ellipses and go to Object > Blend > Make...
Now proceed to the ice cubes. Whether it is painting or vector graphics, first it is always the base (background) of the object that is created. Select the front of the ice cubes and fill it with a linear gradient consisting of orange, yellow and light brown colors. Locating color, we are trying to convey the distribution of color on the ice surface.
In the same way, fill the side surfaces of the ice cubes.
With the Pen Tool (P) create a new shape and also fill it with a linear gradient that goes from orange to brown.
Select both shapes of the front surface of the ice cube and go to Object > Blend > Make...
Of course, from the first time you may not get the desired result. Let's see how you can edit that object. Open the Layers panel, and you can see that the blend is still composed of two objects. Select the one that needs to be edited, and edit its fill. To edit the shape, use the Direct Selection Tool (A).
That is how I get the desired result—by editing the finished blend object. I call this technique "a dynamic blend". We will continue using this technique, but more radically.
Apply this technique to the left side of the ice cube.
This technique allowed me to get a smooth transition on the edges of the cube of ice.
Notice that the right side of the cube remains unchanged.
4. Add Detail to the Ice Cubes
Create bumps on the front surface of the ice cube. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create two circles, as shown below.
Select both circles and go to Object > Blend > Make...
Select the bottom circle and set 0% for the Opacity in the Transparency panel.
Now take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and change the shapes of both circles, watching the result.
In addition to shape changing, I changed the fill of the lower object. I filled it with a linear gradient with colors matched by eye.
I would not have got what I wanted, or would have spent a lot of time if every time, if I had to redo the blend object. Run it dynamically. In this delicate work, of course, you will be bothered by the selection of the object (green in my case). So turn it off during the dynamic setting of blend object (Command-H). Use the same key combination to turn it on.
Now let's see where I have used this technique.
I also used this technique to create light contrast at the edges of the ice cube.
The same technique was applied also on the right side of the cube. I'm pointing out that all blend objects were created from simple circles.
Of course, you should not blindly copy my shapes, but try to create your own pattern of light and shadow. I believe this technique is not difficult, but the result depends on your stick-to-itiveness. Red eye is a sign that you're a stubborn designer!
Now create a smooth transition on the right edge of the ice cube. We will use another technique, Blend Art Brushes and Dynamic Art Brushes. Now we'll create Blend Art Brushes. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle of dark brown color, and with the Direct Selection Tool (A) pull the right point to the right.
Now create a new circle of the same color.
Set 0% Opacity for the lower shape in the Transparency panel and apply the blend.
Transfer the resulting blend object to the Brushes panel. Save the brush as a new Art Brush and choose the Stretch Between Guides option in the dialog box—that is what makes this brush dynamic.
Art Brush has this property in Adobe Illustrator CS5 only, unfortunately. How did I do without this property before? I just had to change the original shape of the brush a few times, then save as an Art Brush, and so on until I achieved an acceptable result. It may take several attempts. Now with the help of the Pen Tool (P) or Pencil Tool (N), create a line along the right edge of the ice cube and apply it to your brush.
Now you can dynamically change the distribution of the thickness of the brush along the path, controlling the position of the guides in the Art Brushes dialogue window.
To bring on the dialog box, simply click on the brush image in the Brushes panel.
To make it more realistic, create dark objects with the help of the Pen Tool (P) on the edges of an ice cube. It will be fine if you use linear gradients, reproducing the play of light on the edges of the ice.
Create cracks on the ice cubes. With the Pencil Tool (N) make a wavelike line and apply any profile to it from the Stroke panel.
Keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand and fill the obtained shape with a linear gradient.
Copy this shape and paste it in back (Command-C; Command-B). Now move it slightly to the right and up, and fill it with a new, lighter gradient.
With the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the points at the ends of the bottom object and move them as shown below.
If you skip these cracks and small objects, the effect of a split line will be visible. Try to work carefully. Now use the same technique to create another crack.
Now let's create air bubbles in the ice. Any complex object consists of many small objects, which are not so difficult to create. With the Pen Tool (P), create the shape (like the one shown below), and fill it with a dark brown shading.
Copy this shape and paste it in back (Command-C; Command-B), drag it a little bit to the right and fill it with a linear gradient containing shades of a yellow color.
With the Ellipse Tool (L), create an ellipse and rotate it as shown below. Fill the ellipse with a radial gradient, consisting of orange and shades of brown.
Now create a new object, using the technique described previously. Fill the shape with a linear gradient that goes from brown to dark brown.
Next, I will show all the objects that form an air bubble.
An air bubble is not realistic when zoomed in, but with zooming out, I think it seems rather realistic to me.
The remaining air bubbles in the ice grooves are created according to the same principle.
Create a few circles, deform them using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and fill them with a Radial Gradient.
One ice cube is ready.
We now proceed to the second ice cube. It is different from the first one, since part of it is above the liquid. Consequently, its pieces must be separated and colored in different colors. In the under layers, find the ellipse of the shape of the whiskey surface in a glass, we left it before using the blends. Copy and paste it in front. Take the Scissors Tool (C) and cut the ellipse at points A and B, deleting the bigger piece of the ellipse. Now select the front part of the ice cube and the arc A to B, and click Divide from the Pathfinder panel.
Fill the upper part of the ice cube with gray.
Cut the original ellipse with the Scissors Tool (C) at points C and D, and also delete the bigger piece of the ellipse.
Select the right side edge of the ice cube, and press the Divide button from the Pathfinder panel.
Color the upper part of the side of the ellipse in a dark gray color.
Fill the bottom left surface of the ice cube with a radial gradient that goes from orange to brown.
Fill the lower part of the ice cube with a linear gradient containing shades of orange.
Use the gradient mesh to make the lower front surface of the cube look less similar. Take the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) and add a few nodes to this surface. Select (Direct Selection Tool) and color the nodes in different shades of the basic (orange) color.
When I pick a color, I do it in the following order:
- Select the node (Direct Selection Tool (A)).
- Turn off the selection of the shape edges (Command-H).
- Pick a color in Color panel.
- Turn on the Edges selection (Command-H) and proceed to the next node.
Create depth on the upper right surface of the cube. As with the first cube, I used the technique of dynamic blend.
If some of the blend objects go beyond the cube, hide them with the Clipping Mask. Copy the right upper surface of the cube and paste it in front (Command-C; Command-F), and place this shape above all the objects (Shift-Command-Right Bracket key). Select the blend objects that go outside the contour of the cube and the top shape, and press Command-7.
Using the previously described technique of dynamic blend, create a play of light and shadow on the planes of the ice cube.
As in the case of the first ice cube, work the edges of the second cube using the Pen Tool (P), and fill these objects with linear gradients, while trying to convey the play of light on the edges.
Create a crack on the top piece of the cube.
With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create the shape of the boundary of the liquid in the glass and fill it with a dark brown color. This shape is caused by surface gravity force—although I'm familiar with this subject, I will not bother you with the physical science.
On top of this shape, I created a few small objects that reproduce and reflect the play of light.
Any part of an ice cube which is in contact with whiskey absorbs some liquid in it and gets its color. This shape was created using the Pen Tool (P) and filled with a linear gradient.
To create an uneven boundary of the shape, which will reproduce the pore content of the ice, I used the Eraser Tool with 1.5 px diameter.
Below this shape, create another shape with a dark brown fill. Make its edges using the Eraser Tool.
These are all the techniques of creating ice cubes, so let's proceed to the glass.
5. Add Details to the Glass
The light is refracted in the edges of the glass, forming dark lines. With the Rectangle Tool (M), create a rectangle.
Keep the rectangle selected, go to Object > Create Gradient Mesh... and set the number of rows and columns in the dialog box as shown below.
Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the lower and upper central nodes of the mesh and recolor them in dark gray.
Now select nodes A, B, C, and D, and set 0% Opacity for them in the Transparency panel.
Place a mesh object at the right place of the glass and, by controlling the nodes and their handles, bring the object to the shape indicated in the figures below.
Apply the described technique in the following places.
Now move to the upper edge of the glass. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a curved line, as shown in the figure below.
Apply the profile from the Stroke panel to it and set the thickness of the outline. Using this technique, create other objects at the upper edge of the glass.
Let's create glare on the front surface of the bottom of the glass. The technique to create it is the same as in the previous step. To fill this object with a linear gradient, you must first perform the procedure Object > Expand.
All the elements of the lower portion of the upper cube are created using the techniques described in the creation of the first cube.
Create a glare of light on the front of the glass. Create the shape shown in the figure below, fill it with a linear gradient, and set it to Lighten Blending Mode at 30% Opacity in the Transparency panel.
Now create a new shape and fill it with a linear gradient that goes from light gray to dark gray color with 0% Opacity.
To make it look more realistic, create a few scratches on the glass. Create a line with no fill and a gray stroke. Apply a wavy profile to it from the Stroke panel and Overlay Blending Mode in the Transparency panel.
Awesome Work, You're Now Done!
Frankly speaking, this is my most difficult work, and it contains about 300 objects. Of course, it is impossible to describe the creation of all the objects. I have described all the techniques that I used when creating this work, though, and your task is to focus on this. If you do something wrong, I'm always happy to help you.