Halloween is just around the corner and what better way to get in the mood than by showing you how I created this fluffy cat illustration. I'm going to show you how to create a fur texture with the Paintbrush Tool and Gradients via the Appearance panel. So let's get stuck in!
After looking through Photodune to find a cute, fluffy cat, I've decided on this lovely stock image of a Scottish Fold kitten. The colors don't really matter for now as they can be modified during the process. I've File > Placed the image onto my artboard and then rescaled it using the Free Transform Tool (E). I've hide my Artboard by going to View > Hide Artboards (Shift + Ctrl + H) so I don't feel limited to a specific document boundary. I find when you do this, you can often compromise to these limitations. I then set up my Layer panel as shown below. With the "BG" layer folder, I've added a white fill Rectangle (M) set to 50% Opacity.
I've created a tapered Art Brush based on a shape which starts with a circle created by the Ellipse Tool (L). Pull out the sides by about 30-35pts and then pull out the handle bars of the top and bottom points with the Direct Selection Tool (A). I've then squashed it with the Free Transform Tool (E).
In the Brush panel, Add New Brush > Art Brush and then use the settings below.
I've used the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw the strokes of fur. Double click on the Paintbrush Tool (B) icon on the Toolbar to access the Options dialog box. I've changed the Tolerances to 20 pixels Fidelity and 100% Smoothness. Specifically the Smoothness we need as we don't want jaggered strokes.
The theory is to use 1-2pt strokes around the desired areas of fur. With a high Smoothness percentage, it prevents you from having bumps in your strokes which when expanded would create unnecessary points.
So after I've drawn around the face, go to Object > Expand to expand the strokes to a fill. Then I've used Pathfinder > Unite to combine them into one shape.
There is a chance that you may not create one shape with this method and the shapes are then placed within a Group. This is a tell tale sign that this has happened. If this does happen, then go into Outline Mode to see there the shapes have not overlapped.
Once you've discovered this, you can simply draw strokes over these sections and then Object > Expand and then Pathfinder > Unite them again until you've created a Compound Path.
Now that I've completed the shape around the face there are two ways to fill in the rest. The first, go to Object > Compound Path > Release. This will show you the shape which is left over in the middle. I've then used Pathfinder > Unite to make one shape. The other method would be to use the Live Paint Bucket (K) to fill the center. Then Object > Expand, Pathfinder > Unite. The downside to this method is that there maybe further smaller shapes/holes to fill in with the Live Paint Bucket (K) and it could end up being more time consuming. So I used this method as a last resort.
Pay attention to the style of fur you're rendering and then create shapes for each one.
Here are the Outlines of the shapes I've created.
For each of the shapes, I'm going to apply a dark grey/brown fill, a dark grey/brown stroke with a 3pt Stroke Weight, Aligned Inside, set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 5% and then an inverted light grey/brown transparent radial gradient, set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50%. I've then used the Gradient Tool (G) to position and shape each of the gradients, so it highlights mainly the tips of the fur shapes.
I've then began adding shapes underneath each of the previous shapes. Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), I've drawn several connecting strokes and the Object > Expand, Pathfinder > Unite and then made a Compound Path (Ctrl + 8).
I've then used a similar graphic style, however this time using a dark grey/brown transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 40%. This has been used to add a shape effect under each of the shapes.
I've created shapes under each of the original fur shapes and applied the same Appearance panel settings as shown in Step 9.
I also added shapes on the face, around the eyes, cheeks and ears with the same style.
I've then started to duplicate some of the fur shapes, using the Free Transform Tool (E) to rescale and Object > Transform > Reflect to modify it slightly.
I've then positioned them to make the cat look even fluffier!
I then start to work on the areas with large gaps of exposed fur which doesn't currently have any detail. The first being the paws. I use the same process of drawing several strokes with the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the Object > Expand, Pathfinder > Unite. I use similar Appearance panel settings, sometimes slightly modified depending on the area.
After having the initial patches of fur on the fact, I place a layer beneath the face shape layer folder. I then draw strokes underneath and Group each section (Ctrl + G). I then go through the usual process to make them into a Compound Path by Expanding and Uniting.
I've then applied a dark brown/grey fill and gradient for each one of the shapes.
I've followed the same process by creating strokes behind shapes for the legs and tail.
Then Expand, Unite and use the below Appearance panel settings. The cat is now looking a lot more fluffy!
Time to give our cat a face. I create base shapes for the eyeball, iris, pupil and nose.
For the iris, I've applied gradients via the Appearance panel. I've first added a dark brown vignette effect and then a golden ring gradient. Once added, I've used the Gradient Tool (G) to reshape and position the source so it circles around the pupil.
I've duplicated the eyeball shape and then placed it on top of the entire eye. Within I've filled it with a modified version of the dark brown vignette gradient I used on the iris. I've then set it to Blending Mode Multiply and used the Gradient Tool (G) to reshape it and position it so it's overlapping the top portion of the eye. This is to give a shadow effect.
Now that I've got my basic eye colors, I notice the eyes are much more bold and contrasting than the fur I've created. So I select all of the fur shapes and then used Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape which covers the whole of the cat.
I've then used the below Appearance panel settings to alter the color and the contrast of the cat. I've added stroke outlines set to Blending Mode Color Dodge to give a subtle backlit effect on the fur.
The gradients have been placed so they firstly highlight the face and then darken the rest of the body. This helps balance the contrast of the head and body. This shape is placed on top of the fur, but beneath the eye/nose details, as I don't need the contrast for these modified.
I've selected the shapes for the iris and then added a New Fill to each and given it an emerald green fill set to Blending Mode Overlay. This is to give our catch some bold green eyes.
Continuing the work on the eyes, I've added a dark brown eyelid/eyelash shape to help frame them. These are created using the Pen Tool (P).
Then using our fur Art Brush, I've added a light brown stroke under the eyes to highlight the waterline. These are set to 80% Opacity.
I've then added a light brown transparent radial gradient fill in a circle, created by the Ellipse Tool (L) to add highlights to the eyes. I've repositioned the gradient using the Gradient Tool (G) and then set the shapes to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50%.
For the nose detailing, I've added a subtle drop shadow/inner glow effect by duplicating the stroke in a process similar to a tutorial I did a while back on creating a vector drop shadow effect. This helps blend the nose into the fur, but still helping it stand out against it.
I then add shapes to darken the nostrils, emphasis the mouth and the crease in the nose. These have a medium brown/grey fill and are set to Blending Mode Color Burn, Opacity 35%.
Using a magenta transparent radial gradient, I've added a slight pink to the inner ears. These are drawn with the Pen Tool (P). I've then changed the Blending Mode to Color and Opacity to 10%.
The whiskers are drawn using the Paintbrush Tool (B) with a basic line (no Art Brush applied). I've then used the Profile "Width Profile 5" with the largest end at the root of the whisker. These have then be set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 75%. Remember to add whiskers under the nose, a couple on the cheeks and a couple on the eyebrows.
To make the nose stand out a little more, I've added a magenta fill set to Blending Mode Overlay, Opacity 25%.
I still feel I could add a little bit more detailing to the face, legs and tail; so I draw additional strokes with the Paintbrush Tool (B) and our fur Art Brush. These have a medium brown/grey stroke color and are set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 30%. I don't go over board with these strokes as it may distract from the fluffy gradient style I'm aiming for.
I'm going to create a quick background for our cat to sit against. Firstly I add a Rectangle (M) with a dark blue fill and a dark brown vignette over the top. I've positioned the gradient so it's darkening the edges and the lower potion of the background.
I add an additional Rectangle (M) over the top of the cat and add the same vignette gradient, this time Linear. This is set to Blending Mode Multiply. I'm using it to cover the feet slightly as the backlit effect makes the feet and bottom of the tail stand out a bit too much.
I'm going to Live Trace a tree that I've previously used in my African Sunset tutorial. I'm only really after a bush like appearance, so I'll be using the upper portion of the tree.
After File > Placing the image on the canvas and rescaling it with the Free Transform Tool (E), I've used the below settings to give a black outline. I've then set it to Blending Mode Multiply.
I've duplicated the rectangle in the background and used it to create a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7) with the tracing and background.
After lightening the blue in the background slightly, so the tree is more visible, I've added stars behind the tree shape. I've used a transparent radial gradient within circles created by the Ellipse Tool (L). These are then set to Blending Mode Color Dodge.
I want more detail to be shown in the tree and as I have not expanded the Live Traced tree, I can go in and modify the settings.
I then go into the Appearance panel settings for the shape which is covering the whole cat and add a blue fill set to Blending Mode Color Burn, Opacity 30%. This is so it takes out some of the golden tones and gives a more night light tone to the fur. I've also modified some of the Opacity settings of the other fills, as shown below.
I hope you've enjoyed my Halloween tutorial for this year! It's my third since being a writer for Vectortuts+. If you're interested in checking out the previous years tutorials, why not try creating a Zombie Witch inspired by Left4Dead or even a quick Pumpkin using Blend Brushes.
Happy Halloween and always spay/neuter your pets!
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