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How to Create Ice Skates in a Softly Drawn Vector Style in Illustrator

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It's pretty much winter in the northern hemisphere and the winter Olympics are right around the corner. As such, I've got figure skating on my mind with soft lines, sweet pastels, and scalable graphics. Open up Adobe Illustrator and join me in using Bristle Brushes, the Appearance panel, and some Effects to build figure skates from the ground up and creating perfect line art from overlapping shapes.


1. Build the Boot

Step 1

I've started with a quick sketch, done in Adobe Photoshop CC of two figure skates. They're drawn softly, colored with pastel tones, and I've made heavy use of the Blur effect. Import your sketch, if you care to have one, into Illustrator.

Skates-001

Step 2

The bulk of this tutorial will concern ourselves with the right boot. Below I've quickly drawn over (in Photoshop, over a screenshot) the main boot shape that I made (with the Pen Tool (P) in Illustrator) based on my sketch. The foot, in this case at an angle between profile and 3/4, is wedge-like in shape. Make note of the heel being rounded off (1), how the foot is arched upwards due to the angle of the hanging boot (2), and where the top of the foot meets the joints of the toes (3). This base boot shape will be broken down into more shapes shortly to create the figure skate.

Skates-002c
Skates-002

Step 3

For the sole of the boot, the portion of the skate that will connect to the blade (minus the heel, which we'll draw in Step 5) draw a shape that followed the contour of the boot's bottom edge but is lower than the boot shape itself.

Skates-003

Step 4

In order to get the sole flush with the boot (1), use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to grab an anchor point (2) and pull it in line with the bottom right corner of the boot (3). To round off both boot and sole edges, draw a shape the intersects both of these pieces and reshapes them (4). Select all three shapes and, using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M), select the portions of each shape that intersects with the pink piece just drawn. Deselect and delete these extra pieces (5).

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Step 5

The heel is comprised of two pieces, both drawn with the Pen Tool. The left piece is the side of the heel and it's left most edge follows the edge of the boot's heel. The right piece is the inside portion of the heel and curves a bit while remaining perpendicular to the outside of the heel.

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2. Draw the Blade

Step 1

Referring to my sketch, the blade follows the boot's angle, but remains flat (we'll be adding some shapes to create dimension in the next step). The back portion of the blade extends beyond the back of the boot. There's three parts, called stanchions, where the blade attaches to the boot itself: at the heel, near the ball of the foot and at the toes. Don't forget the toe pick at the right end of the blade (how detailed you draw it in is up to you).

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Step 2

to add dimension to the blade, consider extending the blade, with a small series of shapes, half an inch or so (this measurement is relative to the boot itself as if it were 9 inches or so in size). Make sure angles are perpendicular to the blade's edge and they follow the angle of the heel. Use the Shape Builder Tool to help in deleting portions of the blade's top side they extend too far.

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Skates-008

3. Create the Boot Components

Step 1

These next two sections are about the components of the skate that keep it on the wearer's foot. Let's start with the portion of the shoe that holds the eyelets (the holes for the laces). It's of a medium thickness, rounded at each end, follows the curve of the tongue of the boot, and extends from top to toes.

Skates-009

Step 2

The tongue, having already been drawn into the main boot shape, is redrawn below in hot pink (all the better for which you to see. These colors are only to show each separate piece and help keep things organized). Quite unlike the fashion boots I'm used to, the tongue drawn below is a bit larger than those for figure skates. Adjust the size according to your sketch or reference, if at all inclined.

Skates-010

Step 3

Draw a curving three point shape with the Pen Tool over the toe. It's placement on the boot can be moved back as well as rounded off for a more dynamic, well used, and accurate representation of an ice skate. I'll go over changes to the overall boot for a more lively drawing in section five when we tackle the line art component of this design.

Skates-011

4. Position the Laces

Step 1

Using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B), I've quickly indicated where I want to add each hook and eyelet for the laces. There will be four hooks that the laces would wrap around if these were real skates, and seven eyelets that the laces will go through. Group (Control-G) together these little blobs and, using the Ellipse Tool (L) and make four large ellipses near the top of the boot. Group these four shapes together.

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Step 2

For the eyelets, draw two circles, one smaller than the other and aligned inside the larger, with the Ellipse Tool. Select both and hit Minus Front in Pathfinder. Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) six of these eyelet shapes along the line of blob shapes made in the previous step. Group these yellow circles together and Delete the white blob shapes.

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Step 3

Using either the Blob Brush Tool or the Paintbrush Tool (B) (you'll have to expand all strokes if you use this one), draw several curved lines for the laces. Regardless of which tool you use, adjust the size and overall shape in that tool's panel (double-click the tool in the toolbar). The first four go across the tongue without any criss-crossing. The other ten to fourteen should make little x's and bunches along the rest of the top of the skate. Note that the skate below will be adjusted so the laces take up less space on the boot itself.

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5. Construct Perfect Line Art

Step 1

I've hidden the lacing components in the Layers panel so we can focus on the line art of the skate itself. As you can see, the shapes overlap each other quite a bit. If I added a stroke to those shapes the line art would be a mess. Using the Shape Builder Tool, we're going to reassign the overlapping components of each shape so the lines are cleaner.

Start with the blue boot and the green sole (seen below). Select both shapes and with the Shape Builder Tool, select all three components: solve, overlapping portion, and boot. Deselect and Unite the middle bit, the one that was overlapping the boot from the sole, with the blue boot shape in Pathfinder.

The second image below now shows the sole and boot have a clean edges against one another while remaining complete, closed shapes (perfect not only for line art but to be filled later with color).

Skates-015

Step 2

Let's continue with the technique from Step 1 on the tongue and that purple shape that holds the eyelets. Select the blue boot and the pink tongue. Using the Shape Builder Tool, select every component of shapes you see: boot, tongue, overlapping bits, non-intersecting bits, etc. Deselect and Unite boot portions with themselves in Pathfinder and the shoe's tongue components with themselves as well. For parts of shapes that do not intersect at all with the boot (see the portion of the purple shape that is higher than the boot or juts out from the toe), you can delete those before any Uniting occurs.

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Step 3

Continue with every shape so that each color block does not intersect with any others. You'll notice a change in the overall look of the skate, as I've reshaped it so it's less stiff and more rounded on the heel, ankle, and toe. See below for a quick screenshot of the toe being rounded out with the help of the Pen Tool and Shape Builder Tool.

Skates-017
Skates-018

Step 4

Two things are going on below: 1) I set the fill to null and the Stroke Weight to 0.5pt. The stroke color is a dark gray and the brush used is the Spotter brush under Bristle Brushes in the brush library. 2) It's a comparison of the first skate shape I drew and the changes made to the boot so it appears less stiff and more rounded.

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5. Fill in the Lines and Working With Laces

Step 1

Group together your line art. Copy and Paste the line art, and Align it with the original group. Lock the top line art group in the Layers panel. For the bottom group, change the stroke to null and the fill colors to white, assorted creams, cool grays, and warm grays (see below for colors and application). This is the overall color scheme for the piece. Lock this group in the Layers panel for the time being.

Skates-037

Step 2

Unhide the lace components in the Layers panel. See below for the general groups being made. All shapes need two things: to be set as a stroke with the bristle brush used for the skate line art, and to have white shapes behind each shape so you cannot see lines through each shape.

Skates-021

Step 3

The easiest way I found to organize these shapes is to Ungroup all eyelets and laces, Copy and Paste each component so the secondary shapes are filled with white (stroke set to null), and each white shape is Grouped with its line art counterpart over top. Then, in the Layers panel, they're arranged thusly: hooks over top each each corresponding lace (four and four), all eyelets under the rest of the laces, and each lace piece, from top to bottom, is in descending order (the bottom-most piece is highest in the Layers panel. See below for order reference.

Skates-022

Step 4

For reference (and as you can see this is the initial stiff skate), this is the placement of both of the skates in the final composition.

Skates-023

6. Gradients, Transparencies, and Assorted Shadow Shapes

Step 1

Once again, I've hidden the lace components for the image below. I've drawn, with the Pen Tool, two shapes to add gradient shadows to the portion of the boot that holds the lacing eyelets. Once you've drawn additional shapes (these conform to the previously purple shape and take up one third of the full shape each), apply a Radial gradient using the Gradient panel. This one goes from light cream to white. Adjust the angle with the Gradient Tool (G).

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Step 2

For shadows from the opening of the boot over the tongue and laces, draw a shape that overlaps the tongue. This will be placed below the eyelet piece, but above the tongue, of the boot. Copy and Paste this transparent shadow shape (I've reduced the Opacity to 30% in the Transparency panel) two times and stack them so each is a little bit further back then the next. Apply a Gaussian Blur effect to the bottom piece and Group all three pieces together.

Skates-025

Step 3

For the shadows above and be neath the laces, repeat the technique from Step 2. To make sure the shadow shapes conform to the boot or tongue pieces, draw a shape with the Pen Tool that intersects with the shadow pieces where you want to cut them off. Select all of the pieces, and using the Shape Builder Tool, as you've done previously, select the intersecting components, deselect and delete the extra portions of those shadow shapes so they cut off at the end of the shoes' tongue.

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Step 4

Continue adding layers of transparent shapes, applying Gaussian Blurs to the bottom-most piece, and Grouping them together as you go along the length of the boot's tongue.

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Step 5

Draw a shape, with the Pen Tool, that conforms to the contour of the back of the boot (the heel of the foot, in this case, rather than the shoe itself) and apply a Radial Gradient using a darker cream color than from Step 1.

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Step 6

Use blue and yellow transparent shapes, some with a Blur effect applied, some without, to shade the bottom of the boot. Layer them on top of each other and Group together. Continue adding shadow shapes, gradients and transparencies, around the skate. Focus shadows on the sole (in dark warm gray), and for the blade, use a dark cool gray (similar to the color used for the line art) showing cast shadows.

Skates-029

Step 7

Select all of the shadow gradients and transparencies and Group them together. Those on the boot's tongue will be grouped separately, since they have to be beneath the majority of the boot's shapes. In the Appearance panel, change the Blending Mode to Multiply by clicking Opacity and choosing Multiply from the dialogue box that pops up. Repeat for the shadow shapes on the laces and tongue. For highlights on the blade, use white gradient shapes and set them beneath the line art, rather then to multiply, so they remain visible.

Skates-030

7. Let's Tie the Laces

Step 1

I've chosen to tie the laces into a simply little bow. Using the Blob Brush Tool, make sure "Merge Only with Selection" is selected in the Blob Brush options panel (double-click the tool in the toolbar to bring the options up). Adjust the brush's options to your liking. In my case, since I'm using a tablet, the brush's size varies based on pressure, the fidelity and smoothness have been brought way down so whatever I draw isn't smoothed out after I draw it, and the angle and roundness are fixed (since I want thick rounded strokes).

Skates-043

Step 2

I drew two loop shapes, with the Blob Brush Tool, after adjusting the options in the previous step, and two slightly curved long laces. Copy and Paste all four shapes and apply the same Bristle Brush stroke from the skate's line art. Layer each line art piece and filled shape accordingly so the top loop sits behind the bottom loop and the tails of the bow are behind each.

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Step 3

For the knot, I repeated the process from Step 2 and drew a little blob rather than a perfect circle. Shade the lace bow in a similar manner as the process from Section 6. Repeat Sections 1-7 for the left skate. Alternatively, you can Copy and Paste the right skate, after Grouping all components together, and change the lace shapes, boot's tongue, and angle of the boot so there's some difference between the two skates.

Skates-032

Step 4

Repeat Sections 1-7 for the left skate. Alternatively, you can Copy and Paste the right skate, after Grouping all components together, and change the lace shapes, boot's tongue, and angle of the boot so there's some difference between the two skates. Then, layer dark shadow shapes, with linear gradients applied going from Transparent to fully Opaque dark gray over the left skate that will serve as cast shadows from the right skate (see the right skate's placement as a reference for this). Below I have six layers of shadow pieces layers on top of one another.

Skates-038

8. Work on the Background

Step 1

Using a light minty green as the fill color, I scribbled a background with the Blob Brush Tool behind the skates. Please note the skates in the shot below are not the final version for this design and are used as placement reference for the final background.

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Step 2

Select the background scribble and in Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen, adjust the options so scribbled color becomes very choppy.

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Step 3

Under Effects > Distort > Glass, adjust the options so the background looks like it was drawn with a pastel or crayon on textured paper (canvas, in this case).

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Step 4

Copy and Paste the background a few times, adjust the transparency of each so it's softly layered, and apply a Gaussian Blur to one of the duplicate mint shapes so it looks more like the background was made of pastels rather than pixels.

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8. Make a Snowflake Pattern

Step 1

The snowflakes are easily made. Draw a stroked circle with the Ellipse Tool. Using the Line Segment Tool (\) draw a horizontal line, bisecting the circle. Copy and Paste the line segment and Rotate each around the circle for four lines in total and eight equal sections. Thicken the weight of the lines and circles, Expand their appearance in Object, Group them together, and go to Zig Zag under Effect > Distort & Transform. Adjust the size and ridges per segment to your liking. Hit OK. Expand the snowflake under Object.

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Step 2

Apply a single fill color to the snowflake shape. Using the Direct Selection Tool, select components of the snowflake and delete them. In order to delete more components of the snowflake, draw additional shapes over the snowflake (in this case, more thickly stroked lines that have been expanded to objects). Select the new shapes and the snowflake, and use the Shape Builder Tool to select intersecting components of the shapes. Deselect and Delete parts of the snowflake so there are more spaces in the design. Once you're satisfied with the overall snowflake, Unite it in Pathfinder.

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Step 3

Repeat the process of Steps 1 and 2 so make differently shaped snowflakes. Resize one or two of them (I'm only using two in this design) and select both while they're placed near each other. In the Pattern Options panel, hit Make Pattern.

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Step 4

Adjust the pattern in the options panel to your liking. When you're satisfied, save the pattern in the additional options portion of the panel (the little block of lined to the upper right) and apply your newly made snowflake pattern to a large rectangle covering the artboard (draw with the Rectangle Tool (M)) placed behind the skates but above the minty pastel background in the Layers panel.

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Get Your Skates On!

Assorted changes were made to each skate in order to make them less stiff (all done to the basic shape itself versus redrawing it). The idea of the piece is to create a vector that looks like it was drawn with design markers or watercolor and inks. Keep it light, dreamy, and evoking the thought of elegantly moving skaters.

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