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Design

How to Create a Trio of Cute Pencil Characters in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

School started a while back, so let's get inspired and create three pencil characters in Adobe Illustrator. 

At the beginning, you will create the body of the pencil using basic shapes and a few distortion techniques, and after that comes the fun part where you will create different face expressions. You can even mix and match all the elements as you desire to obtain a personalized pencil character. 

Next, you'll add the arms, the hands and some accessories to make them even cuter. Let's start the fun!

1. Start a New Project 

Launch Illustrator and go to File > New to open a blank document. Type a name for your file, set up the dimensions and then select Pixels as Units and RGB as Color Mode. Make sure that Align New Objects to Pixel Grid is not checked. 

Next, go to Edit > Preferences > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1 px and while there, go to Units to make sure they are set as in the following image. I usually work with these settings and they will help you throughout the drawing process. 

start a new document

2. Create the Body of the Pencil

Step 1

Grab the Rounded Rectangle Tool and use the settings shown to draw the first shape. With the shape still selected, go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points in order to add an extra point in the middle of each side. Grab the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and add two extra points at the bottom. 

create the pencil body 1

Step 2

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only point 1, and then go to Object > Transform > Move. Type 25 px in the Vertical field and hit OK. Next, select points 2 and 3 and apply the Move effect again, but this time type -6 px in the Vertical field.

create the pencil body 2

Step 3

Still using the Direct Selection Tool (A), drag a selection over the three points at the bottom and then press the Convert selected anchor points to smooth option in the Control panel. This will generate handles and make them rounded.

create the pencil body 3

Step 4 

Use the Line Segment Tool (\) or the Pen Tool (P) to draw a straight path over the rectangle, not through the middle but slightly to the right. Now, select the rectangle along with the path and press Divide in the Pathfinder panel. You will get two separate shapes.

create the pencil body 4

Step 5

Fill the shape on the right with the lighter gradient and the shape on the left with the darker one.

color the pencil body

Step 6

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a triangle at the bottom (1) and then a path like in the next image (2). Select the triangle and the path and press Divide in the Pathfinder panel. 

As a result you will get two separate shapes, the “wood” and the “lead” (3). Add two extra points with the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) on the sides of the “wood” and move them 1-2 px outwards to create a slightly rounded look (4).

create the wood and lead

Step 7

Fill the “wood” with the linear gradient shown and select dark gray as the fill color for the “lead”.

color the wood and lead

Step 8

Let's add some highlights. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a similar shape on top of the “wood” and fill it with a gray to white linear gradient (1). Set this shape to Blending Mode Screen and 20% Opacity (2). Next, zoom on the “lead” and draw two shapes like below using the Pen Tool (P). Fill them with a black to white linear gradient (3).

add highlights on pencil

Step 9

At this point the body of the yellow pencil is ready. Group (Control-G) all the shapes and name the group “Body”. To create other pencils, just multiply the “Body” group and replace the two yellow gradients. Remember to use the lighter gradient on the right side and the darker one on the left.

color the pencils

3. Create the Rubber

Step 1

Grab the Rounded Rectangle Tool and draw a new rectangle with the dimensions shown. Go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points in order to add an extra point in the middle of each side. 

Move these points in the direction of the arrows about 2-3 px using the arrow keys on your keyboard. If your points don't have handles, just press the Convert selected anchor points to smooth option in the Control panel. Fill this shape with the gradient from below (the colors are grayscale because they are shades of gray and it's easier).

create the rubber 1

Step 2

Draw a similar shape and send it behind the one from the previous step. Use the first gradient shown below to fill it. Copy and Paste in Back (Control-B) this shape and then move it upwards a little. Use the second gradient to fill it.

create the rubber 2

Step 3

Now, grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw two ellipses like in the next image. For the bigger one, select white as the fill color and set it to 75% Opacity. For the smaller one, use the linear gradient shown.

create the rubber 3

Step 4

Next, take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a thin rectangle a few pixels wider than the metal shape.  

create the rubber 4

Step 5

With the thin rectangle still selected, go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and apply this effect three times using the settings shown in the following image.

create the rubber 5

Step 6

Create two copies of the thin rectangle and arrange them under the first. Group (Control-G) the three rectangles and then go to Effect > Warp > Arch and apply a 3% Horizontal Bend.

create the rubber 6

Step 7

Let's add some highlights on the rubber. First, draw two ellipses like in the next image. For the one in front, select white as the fill color and set it to Blending Mode Overlay and 50% Opacity. For the ellipse on the right side, just select dark pink as the fill color. Go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and apply a Radius of 15 px for both shapes. 

add highlights on rubber

Step 8

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw a path following the top side of the metal shape. Give it a 4 pt black Stroke and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 9 px.

Next, draw a path at the bottom of the metal-shape, give it a 5 pt black Stroke and apply a 5.8 px Gaussian Blur. Send both paths behind the metal shape. 

add shadows for rubber

Step 9

At this point the rubber is ready. Group (Control-G) all the shape that compose it and name the group “Rubber”. Arrange it at the top of the yellow “Body”. Make two copies for the other pencils.  

add rubber to pencil

4. Create the Eyes

Step 1

Take the Pen Tool (P) and draw the eye shape, and then go to Object > Transform > Reflect, check Vertical and hit Copy. As a result you will get the right eye shape. Next, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and apply an Offset of 10 px to both shapes. 

create the eyes 1

Step 2

Fill the bigger shape on the left with the linear gradient shown. For the bigger shape on the right, use the same gradient but choose the Reverse Gradient option in the Gradient panel.

Select the two eye shapes and fill them with white, and then go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and apply the settings shown below.

create the eyes 2

Step 3

To create the iris, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw a 40 x 40 px circle over the left eye. Select blue as the fill color and a 3 pt Stroke, and then make a copy of this circle and arrange it over the right eye. Draw two smaller circles filled with black as the pupils.

create the eyes 3

Step 4

Let's add some sparkles in the eyes. Draw a small circle, fill it with a white to black radial gradient, and then set it to Blending Mode Screen (black becomes transparent). Make a copy of this circle and arrange it over the right eye. Next, draw two more circles at the top and fill them with white. 

create the eyes 4

Step 5

The first pair of eyes is ready. Create two groups called “Left eye” and “Right Eye”. The red and blue eyes are created using the exact same settings and colors, except that the eye shape is a 83 x 83 px circle, which is easier. All you have to do is to replace the gradient for the bigger shape according to the pencils, and in this case we have a red pencil and a blue pencil. Don't forget to press Reverse Gradient for the right eye.

At this point you can also make the iris and the pupils bigger or smaller and move them around as you like.

create the eyes 5

5. Create the Mouth

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw the mouth shape like in the next image. Select dark brown as the fill color and a 5 pt Outside Stroke.

create the mouth 1

Step 2

Next, draw the tongue shape and fill it with red; then go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and apply the settings from the following image.

create the mouth 2

Step 3

Still using the Pen Tool (P) draw a black shape in the middle of the tongue, go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and apply a Radius of 15 px

create the mouth 3

Step 4

To create the teeth, first draw a shape like below. Select the mouth shape, and then Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F) and remove all existing appearances. Select this copy along with the green shape and press Intersect in the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with white.

create the mouth 4

Step 5

Select all the shapes and create a group called “Mouth”. The other two mouths are created using the exact same settings and colors—just the mouth shape is different. To match the mouth to the red and blue pencils, just change the Stroke color of the mouth shape to red and blue as indicated.

create the mouth 5

6. Create the Eyebrows

Step 1

Draw the right eyebrow-shape with the Pen Tool (P) and select brown as the fill color. Go to Object > Transform > Reflect, check Vertical and hit Copy in order to get the left eyebrow.

Having the right eyebrow selected, go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and apply the settings shown. Apply the effect again for the left eyebrow but increase the Blur to 25 px.

create the eyebrows 1

Step 2

Having the left eyebrow selected, go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and apply the settings shown in the next image. Repeat the same thing for the right eyebrow.

create the eyebrows 2

Step 3

Use the Pencil Tool (N) to draw two paths on the front part of the eyebrows. For the path on the right, select a 2 pt Stroke and apply a 1.6 px Gaussian Blur. For the path on the left, select a 3 pt Stroke and apply a 1.6 px Gaussian Blur again.

Create a group called “Right eyebrow” and a group called “Left eyebrow”.

create the eyebrows 3

7. Compose the Face Expressions

Step 1

All the face elements are ready and each element should be grouped now. You can be creative and you can mix and match to create different expressions for the pencils.

eyes mouth eyebrows

Step 2

These are the faces that I've come up with:

face expressions

Step 3

Move the correct face over the yellow “Body” and at the next step we will add some highlights.

add face to pencil

Step 4

For the right eye, select only the bigger shape from the group and take a look at the Appearance panel. Add a New Fill below the existing one and select white; then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform and apply the settings shown. Set the Blending Mode for this Fill to Overlay. Repeat the same thing for the left eye.

Next, select the mouth-shape and in the Appearance panel add a New Fill below the existing appearances. Use white, apply the Transform effect, and set the Blending Mode to Overlay again.

add highlights on the face

Step 5

Move the correct face over the red “Body” and add highlights to the eyes and the mouth as explained earlier. The same thing goes for the blue pencil. 

add face to pencils

8. Create the Arms

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P) or the Pencil Tool (N) and draw the arms for the yellow pencil. You can choose any shape. 

In the Appearance panel, add the four strokes using the Stroke Weight and the colors indicated and in the same order. Now, select only the brown Stroke at the bottom, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform and apply the settings from the next image.

create the arms 1

Step 2

The process remains the same if you create the arms for the red and blue pencils—just change the stroke colors and the shape of the arms as you want.

create the arms 2

9. Create the Hands

Step 1

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape like in the next image and then go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Apply the settings shown and hit OK.

create the hands 1

Step 2

Switch to the Pencil Tool (N) and draw four paths following the edge of the hand shape (1). For the green, purple and blue paths select a 2 pt Stroke, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 5 px. After that, for the red path select a 3 pt Stroke and apply a 7 px Gaussian Blur (2). 

Next, select the hand shape, Copy and Paste in place (Shift-Control-V), and remove all existing appearances (3). Now, select the four paths along with the copy of the hand and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7) (4).

create the hands 2

Step 3

Group (Control-G) all the shapes that compose the hand and make more copies for the other pencils. You can rotate them depending on the position of the arms. 

add hands to pencils

Step 4

Let's add some shadows. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw two small rectangles as wide as the arms. Fill them with a white to black linear gradient and use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust the direction (black should be next to the body). 

Set the rectangle from the right to Blending Mode Multiply and 30-40% Opacity and the rectangle from the left to Blending Mode Multiply and 50% Opacity because we have a darker and a brighter side.

add shadows to arms

10. Create the Accessories

Step 1

Now, we will create some accessories, although this part is optional. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a lens shape, and reflect it to obtain the other one. Use the linear gradient shown to fill them both, and reduce the Opacity to 45%. Next, draw the frames, the bridge and then the temples. All these shapes are filled with dark gray. 

create glasses 1

Step 2

Select the lenses, the frames and the bridge and then Copy and Paste in Back (Control-B). Still having the copies selected, press Unite in the Pathfinder panel to get a single shape. Use the Selection Tool (V) to distort the new shape by dragging the bounding box downwards. Fill this shape with dark gray, apply a 4 px Gaussian Blur and reduce the Opacity to 25%

create glasses 2

Step 3

To create the headphones, start with two shapes like in the next image as the cushions. Continue with the caps, and then draw the headband.

Next draw some basic music notes and then multiply, rotate and arrange them as you desire.

create headphones and music notes

Step 4

Group (Control-G) all the shapes that compose the glasses and arrange them over the eyes. Make extra adjustments if the temples do not match perfectly.

Move the headphones over the blue pencil but send the headband in back. Next, arrange the music notes as you like.

add glasses and headphones to pencils

Step 5

If you want to bend the blue pencil (or any other), first hide the rubber, the headphones, the face and the music notes in the Appearance panel to get them out of the way. 

Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag a selection over the points at the top of the “Body” and move them towards the left as much as you want (1). Adjust the handles of these points and along the body if necessary (2). Now, make the “Rubber” visible and rotate it to match the new direction of the pencil (3). Make the rest of the elements visible and make additional adjustments for everything to look good (4).

bend a pencil

11. Add a Shadow Under the Pencil 

Step 1

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw an ellipse at the bottom of the pencil. Use the radial gradient shown to fill it (the white stop has 0% Opacity) and set it to Blending Mode Multiply. Send this ellipse behind everything by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift-Control-[).

add shadow under pencil

Step 2

Add a shadow under the other two pencils, and at this point they are ready.

pencil characters

Congratulations! You're Done

Here they are! The three cute pencil characters. I hope this was a fun tutorial, and if so, you can suggest a new character in the comments.

final image pencil characters
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