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Learn More About Art and Scatter Brushes While Drawing Abstract Trees

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In this tutorial I'm going to cover the main features of Art and Scatter Brushes in Adobe Illustrator, how to create and apply them.

We are going to take an abstract approach and create trees entirely using Art and Scatter Brushes made from basic shapes. By the end of this tutorial, you will have a better understanding of these brushes, the settings and the individual options that can be set within each brush. This is why Art and Scatter Brushes are so versatile, so let's start the lesson.

1. Start a New Project

Launch Illustrator and go to File > New to open a blank document. Type a name and set up the dimensions then select Pixels as Units and RGB as Color Mode. Next, go to Edit > Preferences > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1px then to Units & Display Performance and set the Units as indicated. I usually work with these settings and they will help you throughout the drawing process.

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2. Create the First Art Brush

Step 1

Art Brushes are the most common, in my opinion and they are very different from other types of brushes because they take the base symbol and stretch it along a path that has been created. It could be a simple straight line, any other open path or the outline of a shape. The shape of the Art Brush (the base symbol) can be created by modifying basic shapes but more complex brushes can also be created.

Since this if for beginners we'll create a simple Art Brush starting from a triangle. So, grab the Star Tool and draw a triangle having the dimensions shown then Rotate 90 degrees using the Transform panel. Next, take the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and click on the three points indicated to remove them.

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Step 2

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only the point indicated then go to Object > Transform > Move, type 150px in the Horizontal field and hit OK.

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Step 3

Before you save the brush, select black as the fill color. Now, you can drag it into the Brushes panel and choose New Art Brush. In the window that opens, type a name, select the Direction and set the Colorization to Tints. Hit OK and then you can find your brush in the Brushes panel along with the default brushes.

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3. Use the Art Brush to Create a Tree

Step 1

Grab the Pencil Tool (N) and draw a wavy path on your Artboard, which in this case is 600 x 500px so make sure that the path is long enough just like in the image. You can change the settings for the Pencil Tool (N) by double-clicking on it in the Tools panel and as an alternative, you can also use the Pen Tool (P) for this.

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Step 2

Next, select the Art Brush saved in the Brushes panel in order to apply it to this path. Keep the Stroke Weight at 1pt but double click on the brush applied in the Appearance panel to open the Stroke Options window and set the Width to 65%.

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Step 3

Also using the Pencil Tool (N) draw three new paths as branches. Stroke them with the same Art Brush then open the Stroke Options window and set the Width to 30%. Depending on how thick or thin you want your brushes to be, you can adjust the width as you wish.

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Step 4

Draw other two paths and Stroke them with the same Art Brush then set the Width to 20% to get thinner branches.

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Step 5

Select all the paths then choose Expand Appearance and Ungroup (Shift-Control-G) twice from the Object menu. As a result the strokes will turn into shapes and you can now fill them with a very dark shade of brown. At this point the tree is ready.

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Step 6

Here is another example. Following the previous steps you can create more complex trees like in the next image. After Expand, you can also go to Effect > Distort & Transform and apply the Roughen effect to get a more realistic tree.

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4. Create a Leaf Scatter Brush

Step 1

While the Art Brushes take the base symbol and stretch it along a specific path, Scatter Brushes take the symbol and scatters copies of it along the path. Basically there's a repetition of the base symbol depending on the brush settings.

The base symbol of the Scatter Brush in this case it's a leaf. We'll start from a basic shape again so grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an ellipse having the dimensions shown (1). Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only the top point then go to Object > Transform > Move, type 25px in the Vertical field and hit OK (2). Still having the top point selected, press the Convert selected anchor points to corner icon in the Control panel (3).

Finally, select the left and right anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag the top handles to make them a little longer. You will get a more rounded shape (4).

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Step 2

Next, take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a thin rectangle over the leaf-shape. Select both shapes and press Horizontal Align Center in the Align panel. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only the bottom left anchor point and move it 2px to the left by pressing the Left Arrow Key on your keyboard twice. Now, select the bottom right point and move it 2px to right.

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Step 3

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw another rectangle having the dimensions shown. Rotate 45 degrees and move it on the left side of the leaf (1) then make two copies and arrange them above the first (2). Take another rectangle and Rotate -45 degrees then move it on the right side of the leaf (3). Make two copies and arrange them above the first (4).

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Step 4

Select the leaf-shape and the shape that goes through the middle and press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel (1). Before you continue Group (Control-G) all the angled rectangles. Now, select the new shape of the leaf and the group of rectangles and press Subtract again (2).

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Step 5

The leaf is ready and before you save it, select black as the fill color. Drag the symbol into the Brushes panel and choose New Scatter Brush. In the window that opens, type a name, set the Rotation relative to Path and the Colorization to Tints. We will work with the rest of the settings later. Hit OK and now you can find your Leaf 1 Scatter Brush in the Brushes panel.

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5. Apply the Leaf Scatter Brush

Step 1

Double click on the Pencil Tool (N) in the Tools panel to open the Preferences window. There, set the Fidelity to 10px and also increase the Smoothness to get fewer anchor points along the paths. Go along the branches from the right side of the tree and draw the first path as in the image (purple). Draw the other half following the branches from the left side (green). Don't unite these to paths into one, it's important to have the two halves.

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Step 2

Stroke the paths that you have previously drawn with the Leaf 1 Scatter Brush. Keep the Stroke Weight at 1pt and set the color to green. Since the Colorization is set to Tints the leaves will pick up the color of the stroke.

The great thing about Scatter Brushes is that you can control the manner in which the base symbol (the leaf) actually scatters. For this, you have four options: Size, Spacing, Scatter and Rotation in the Stroke Options window. You can access them by double clicking on the brush applied in the Appearance panel while the path is selected. I've reduced the Size of the leaves to 12% but depending on the original size of your leaf this value may vary. We want the leaves to be close to each other therefore set the Spacing to minimum, which is 10%. For this abstract tree the leaves are aligned and not scattered therefore set the Scatter to 0% this time. Set the Rotation to 180 degrees only if the tips of your leaves are facing inwards (towards the branches). When you're done with these settings, hit OK and your leaves should look like below. Use the same settings for the other path.

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Step 3

Take again the Pencil Tool (N) and draw two new paths by following the contour of the existing leaves. Stroke them both with Leaf 1 Scatter Brush and apply the same settings shown at the previous step. This time select a lighter shade of green as the stroke color.

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Step 4

Follow the second layer of leaves and draw other two paths with the Pencil Tool (N). Apply the same brush and settings then select as the stroke color a lighter shade of green than the previous one.

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Step 5

Draw the last two paths and repeat the same things. This time, use a very light green as the stroke color.

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Step 6

This is your chance to make a few adjustments. If your layers of leaves are not beautifully aligned, you can move some of the anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to fix the problem. Don't worry about the overlapping leaves because you will fix this later. If you are happy with your tree, select all the paths that you have stroked with the Leaf 1 Scatter Brush and choose Expand Appearance from the Object menu. As a result, instead of each brush stroke you will get a group of leaves.

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Step 7

You don't have to ungroup the leaves to make a few adjustments. Just double click on one of the groups (a layer of leaves) to enter the Isolation mode. Now, you can select each leaf, rotate and move them to cover the empty spots or to free up the cluttered spots. After you are done with a group of leaves, click on the arrow in the upper left corner of your artboard to Exit Isolated Group. Continue with the rest of the groups.

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Step 8

In the next image you can see the main areas in which I've rearranged the leaves. At this point the first abstract tree is ready and you have successfully used an Art Brush and a Scatter Brush to make it.

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6. Create a Second Art Brush

Step 1

First, you need a triangle having the same size as the one from the beginning. With the shape selected, go to Object > Transform > Reflect, check Vertical and hit Copy. Move the new triangle right next to the first like in the image.

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Step 2

Select the two back to back triangles and press Add in the Pathfinder panel to unite them into a single shape. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only the top and bottom points then press the Convert selected anchor points to smooth icon in the Control panel. As a result you will get the rounded corners.

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Step 3

Before you save the brush, select black as the fill color for your shape. Now, drag it into the Brushes panel and choose New Art Brush.

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7. Create a Second Leaf Scatter Brush

Step 1

Using the previously created rhombus Art Brush you will create a new leaf Scatter Brush. Grab the Pencil Tool (N) or the Pen Tool (P) and draw a wavy path like below then stroke it with the newly saved Art Brush.

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Step 2

Draw another wavy path but shorter and through the middle of the black leaf. Stroke this path with the same Art Brush but set the Stroke Weight at 0.1pt.

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Step 3

Select the two paths and from the Object menu choose Expand Appearance then Ungroup (Shift-Control-G) twice. As a result the strokes will turn into shapes filled with black and blue, in this case. Having the two new shapes selected, press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel and the result will be leaf no.2.

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Step 4

Drag the black leaf into the Brushes panel and select New Scatter Brush. In the Options window, type a name (Leaf 2), set the Rotation relative to Path and the Colorization to Tints then hit OK. You will play with the other settings later.

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8. Apply the Second Leaf Scatter Brush

Step 1

First, make a copy of the tree silhouette. Grab the Pencil Tool (N) and draw a random spiral over the branches then stroke this path with the Leaf 2 Scatter Brush. Since the Colorization is set to Tints the leaves will pick up the stroke color, which is a darker shade of red.

Now let's play with the other settings and for this, double click in the Appearance panel on the brush applied to open the Stroke Options window. Select Random for the Size then drag the sliders up to 20% and 30%. I kept these two values for the next strokes as well because I didn't want major differences between the leaves. The values for Spacing, Scatter and Rotation were randomly chosen and you can use them if you want or select your own.

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Step 2

Duplicate the first stroke by pressing the Duplicate selected item icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel then change the color to orange. Open the Stroke Options window and change the values for Spacing, Scatter and Rotation. In the image below, you can see the ones that I've used.

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Step 3

Add a third stroke and change the color to cyan. Again, drag the sliders and change the values until you get the desired result.

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Step 4

For the fourth stroke use dark blue and the same brush of course. Change the settings like in the image or how you want. For this reason the Scatter Brushes in Illustrator are very versatile.

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Step 5

In the following image you can see the next stroke.

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Step 6

Here is another stroke:

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Step 7

Finally, the last one using red as the stroke color. At this point, open the Graphic Styles panel (Window > Graphic Styles) then drag the thumbnail from the Appearance panel into the Graphic Styles panel to save it, while the path is selected.

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Step 8

To rapidly increase the number of leaves, take the Pencil Tool (N) and draw another spiral over the branches (1). Apply for this spiral the graphic style that you have previously saved by selecting it from the Graphic Styles panel (2). The last thing to do is to move this path behind the tree silhouette using the Layers panel in order to reveal some of the branches (3). The second abstract tree is ready.

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9. Create and Use a Third Scatter Brush

Step 1

The third brush is the simplest. Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a 50 x 50px circle. It doesn't have a gray fill but black at 50% Opacity. This way you will get an overlapping semi-transparent look. Drag this circle into Brushes panel and choose New Scatter Brush. In the Options window type a name then set the Rotation relative to Path and the Colorization to Tints, as usual.

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Step 2

Make another copy of the tree then draw a random spiral over the branches using the Pencil Tool (N). Stroke this path with the Circle Scatter Brush then open the Options window and change the values for Size, Spacing and Scatter. Doesn't make sense to rotate a circle therefore keep the Rotation at 0 degrees. In total, I added four strokes using different shades of purple.

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Step 3

Now let's correct the bottom part of the trunk but first make sure that the shapes that make up the tree are not grouped. If so, press Shift-Control-G. Next, draw a rectangle over the angled part like in the image. Select the rectangle and also the trunk-shape and press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel.

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Step 4

Repeat the same thing for the other two trees.

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10. Create the Shadows under the Trees

Step 1

The lesson about Art and Scatter Brushes ends at this point but if you want to add the shadows under the trees continue to read a few additional steps. Start by drawing three flat ellipses of different sizes and fill them with the colors indicated. Select all of them and press Vertical Align Center in the Align panel then move them under the abstract purple tree. Still having them selected, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and choose 20 Specified Steps. Hit OK then go back to Object > Blend > Make (Alt-Control-B). Reduce the Opacity for the resulting blend-group to 50%.

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Step 2

Using the Layers panel locate and open the blend-group created at the previous step. Select only the medium-sized and the small ellipses then Copy and Paste them in Front (Control-F). Drag these two copies outside of the blend-group, above it. Keep the same fill colors but reduce the Opacity to 30%.

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Step 3

To create the shadow under the multicolor tree, just select the shadow (all five the shapes) that you have created under the purple tree and make a copy. Then, simply replace the shades of purple with shades of yellow as indicated.

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Step 4

The same thing goes for the first tree. Make another copy of the shadow and arrange it under the tree then replace the existing colors with shades of green.

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Step 5

Make sure that you have sent the shadows behind the trees and then the trees are ready. Instead of these symbols you can use practically any other and to name a few: hearts, letters, simple flowers, buds, fruit or even birds, why not.

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Congratulations! You're Done

So that is all about basic Art and Scatter Brushes, this time around. Besides the ones from the Library you can create various brushes so play around with various shapes from basic to complex, different opacities, colors, settings and widths from now on. Have you found the explanations useful? Let me know.

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