How to Create a Cute Valentine's Puppy with Gradient Mesh in Adobe Illustrator
Valentine's Day is coming! It's perfect time to show someone your feelings, and what can be better for it than self-prepared valentine card, with a red heart and a cute puppy whose sad eyes make the hardest of partners go awww? Maybe only a herd of kittens... Never mind. Don't hesitate any longer, love can't wait!
As always, I start with a basic sketch of my idea. It can be drawn traditionally and scanned, or digitally in Photoshop. Put in into new file in Illustrator, then select the layer and choose Template from Layer menu. It will make the sketch semi-transparent.
We're going to use symmetry to save a lot of time. To get a neat symmetry axis click Ctrl + R and drag the line out of the vertical ruler.
Now use Pen Tool (P) to draw half of the heart's shape. Don't cross the symmetry axis, even if your sketch tells you so (sketch is just an idea, it doesn't know anything about illustration).
Select your shape and go to Object > Transform > Reflect, then click Copy. This way you'll get a perfect, mirrored copy of your half.
Move the new half to the place where it should be, then select both halves and choose Unite from the Pathfinder panel. This will merge the halves and make a full heart of them.
Choose a color for your heart (deep red should do), then use Mesh Tool (U) to convert the shape to the mesh. Click somewhere inside the shape using this tool to get this effect. Before we go further, experiment with mesh - try to move the selected point with Direct Selection Tool (A), change the color of it - this will let you know why it's so useful.
To find a proper shade for the heart choose HSB from Color menu. Select the point and use the sliders to get the color you need (if you want to make some area look convex, use lighter shade - darker ones are good for concave and shaded parts).
Create a new mesh point on the other side and choose come light color for it too - it doesn't need to be the same color, as some part may be closer to the imaginary light source.
Create another mesh point in the middle of the heart. This time we'll focus on the line, not the point. It should divide the heart into two halves (not completely equal - remember about perspective). If you have any problems with putting the line this way, try moving the point with Mesh Tool (U), holding the Shift key.
Add another mesh point and color it with some darker shade to stress the cavity in the upper part.
Heart should be made of two slightly spherical halves that are squeezed together. If you look at it this way, you'll realize that they're not equally lighted. There should be a sharp border in the area of "squeezing", and you can get it adding new mesh line close to the middle one. If they're close enough, their colors won't blend and will look sharp.
It's time for stronger lights now. You can add new mesh points for them, so that they're not so big (mesh lines in a proper distance around them will not let them take too wide area).
Now add stronger shades, adding new points whenever you need them. Hint: it's good to leave a base-color border at the shaded part (look left) - it will make the object even more natural.
The heart is done now. If it's what you were looking for in this tutorial, you're free. The rest of you are invited to the lesson about drawing a cute puppy in the second part.
If you want your puppy to look realistic, you need to find a good reference for it. I used this picture from Gracies Stock. Put your picture on a new layer, duplicate it, and then convert the lower one to Template. Thanks to it you'll see the reference in Outlines Mode.
Draw a rectangle that will be similar in size to the half of nose. Pick a general color of the nose for it, then convert it to mesh by putting single mesh point on the border.
Go to Outlines Mode (Ctrl + Y) and try to adjust the rectangle to the shape of the nose by manipulating mesh points (after converting a shape to mesh, every point building it becomes a mesh point).
Prepare new mesh lines for future color-covering. Try to surround the nostril with them (if one of your lines has its perfect position and moving anything else breaks it, try to add an Anchor Point - choose Pen Tool and click "+" before using it - it will divide the line and let you move one part without distorting another).
Come out of the Outlines Mode (Ctrl + Y again) to see the colors. Select the points you want to change and pick colors for them with the Eyedropper Tool (I).
Complete your mesh with new points wherever you need to change the color. Then use a method from Step 4 to get the other half.
To create the eyes, draw three circle, one inside another. Work in Outlines Mode not to care about color at this phase and to clearly see the shapes. Change the shape of the most outer circle, as it's slightly covered with eyelid.
Put basic colors on the circles, then start all the fun with mesh. When the colors you pick from the reference don't seem to fit, use your intuition to find a proper one.
Actually, the pupils shouldn't be blue (they look like this on the reference because it's a photo - it's a similar problem to classic red eyes effect), but I liked how it looked and left it this way.
This part may be a bit tricky - the lights of it shouldn't be covered with the pupil, because it's all one surface. Use the-closer-the-sharper method to avoid unnatural effect.
Now group all the circles and duplicate them with the method of Step 4. Move the eyes to their places, then zoom out to check if it looks okay. It's a good moment for small corrections, as we're going to another big phase now.
Time for the head. We're going to use a similar method to the one we've used for the nose. First a rectangle, then converting to mesh and adjusting the shape.
Things don't really go complicated now, just give yourself a second to understand it. Look carefully for all the crowns and pits, locate their beginnings, ends and the spots where they blend into each other, and try to map the mesh according to what you see.
When you think you mapped all the most important areas, put the colors on them. Again, colors you pick from the reference must be verified - maybe they need more saturation or brightness? What to do to make it more natural? The reference is built of billions of shades, and you have just few dozens of mesh points to color - some rounding is necessary. You can blur the image by narrowing your eyes; it will make you see rounded colors of whole areas (and that aren't usually ones you pick with Color Picker).
We could've built all the head at once, but sometimes it's pointless, as you can make it easier by dividing it into parts. That's why I chose to make the lower jaw separately. It can be done with a few steps, and since it's a separate part, you don't need to be afraid you're going to break all the things you've just built.
Ears are another thing we didn't included it head. You should be familiar enough to "rectangle mesh adjust" method to manage without any hints from me.
While coloring the ear, don't forget about sharp border in the area where it's bending.
Another part of the ear is really simple and doesn't need to much coloring, as it will be almost invisible under all this fur.
For now the eyes look as if they were sticked to the head. To make the impression they're built into it, you can add another part of them, with the borders slightly blending into surrounding part of the head.
Now reflect all the parts you've created to get a whole image. One could say it's done, and yes, it may look good from a (big) distance, but we can do it better. Time for hair!
To create hair brush, you can use my other tutorial (Steps 30-32). When you're ready, cover the head with hair using the colors under them.
Now select all the hair and lower the Opacity, so that they blend into the head.
Now create a layer under the one with hair, take a smaller brush and draw another layer of hair. This time be very careful with colors, they should blend without changing Opacity.
Add some white hair in shiny spots, then lower the Opacity of them.
Draw whiskers using very narrow brush (yes, dogs have ones too!).
Create just one finger without diving into details - whole paw is just a detail of the illustration.
Copy one finger and resize it, then reflect them both and place in the right position. Simple ellipse will make the rest of the paw - place it behind the fingers. Add some hair too.
Reflect all the paw and place both copies on the heart. To get a natural effect, I broke the symmetry.
Our puppy is holding the heart, so it should affect the heart surface. Add some shadow under puppy's paws and head, putting darker color in the heart's mesh.
Since the heart is colored with very bright, highly saturated red, the puppy's hair shouldn't look as natural as it did on the reference. Select all the layers with hair, go to Edit > Edit Colors > Saturate, and move the slider to get more alive colors.
Oversaturate the head manually by selecting areas with dull colors and choosing new ones for them. You can be creative now, there's no reference that could restrain you (use Lasso Tool (Q) to select areas of mesh points).
As main color of the puppy is brown, light reflecting from its hair and hitting the heart's surface should be brown too. Add some of it on the heart's mesh, but do it carefully.
To make the heart's surface more natural, we can add some roughness to it. Open Symbols window, then choose Open Symbol Library > Artistic Textures from its menu. Choose a texture you like, drag it out of the window and click Break Link to Symbol in the Symbols window.
Copy and transform the texture to fill all the heart's area. Then select all the copies and go to Object > Expand. It will convert the textures to shapes.
To cut the parts out of the heart shape, select it and go to Object > Path > Offset path. Change offset to 0 and click OK. This way you'll get an exact shape of the heart without mesh.
Fill the shape with color and move it above the texture. Select them both and choose Crop in the Pathfinder panel. Then go to Object > Path > Clean Up to make sure everything has been cut properly.
Change the color of texture to black, then choose Soft Light in Transparency panel. Lower the Opacity until it looks OK. for you.
Repeat Steps 48-52 with different textures to make it more varied. This is the effect I liked, you can do it in any way you find proper.
Lastly, we'll add a slight shadow under our picture. It's not going to be that easy, since we need a single shape of whole picture. To do this, select everything you've done, copy it and paste into new layer (your computer may not like this situation, but it's temporary). Go to Object > Path > Offset Path to get a general shape of the picture. It's still built of many, many elements tho, so copy the shapes you've just created (they should be selected right after offsetting) and paste them to new layer. Delete the other one to help your computer breath, then use Unite option in the Pathfinder panel to merge the shape and put a black color on it. Viola!
Downsize the shape a little bit and put it behind the picture. Then go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and use the options to get a nice, subtle effect.
If you've gone so far, congratulations! Things you've just learnt will let you do a lot of amazing stuff in Illustrator, even more cool than this cute puppy. Happy Valentine's Day!