Let's learn how to create a fun tree character design from initial sketch through to making each detail in Adobe Illustrator. This tutorial outlines a professional workflow for creating character based illustrations. Put a smile on your face and let's get to creating an illustration with fun-loving characters!
You can find the source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.
First, let's sketch our fun-loving character. Grab your pencil and keep on drawing till the image fits your needs. For me it is the quality of the pencil sketch that makes the impact of the digital illustration. So I always try to improve my drawing skills!
I cleaned the sketch on a lightbox and filled in all the missing details. For me it is necessary to know what the result will be. I try to complete the image throughout every stage of the process.
Scan the image. It will be easier to trace small details if you use 300 dpi. Use grayscale so the file size will be relatively small. If it is needed, open the file in Photoshop and select Image > Adjustment > Brightness/Contrast to increase the images contrast.
Before starting, I look at the sketch and try to find out where to start and how the process of building could be. Where might be any problem? Where to start? For me, this is a very important step. Build the image in your mind before building it in vectors!
Note: for my working process I start by building all the shapes. Thereafter, I finish this and add the colors.
Open Illustrator and select File > New (Command + N) to create a new document. Select A4 size and the CMYK color mode. In this mode the colors are easier to handle. Select File > Place to place the scanned sketch. Go to the layers palette and create a new layer, name it "Tree." That will be the layer we are working on. If your work is very complex don't forget to name your layers! Lock the "sketch" layer as well.
Let's start with the green tree body. Although we could create it with the Pen Tool, I prefer for this to use the Ellipse Tool, as the curves will be rounder. Follow the outline of the tree body by creating circles in the needed sizes. Hold Alt + Shift when using the Ellipse Tool to create perfect circles. Then fill out the space in the middle. Select all the circles, press Add To Shape Area on the Pathfinder palette, and then press the Expand button. The Pathfinder is a very useful Illustrator tool, make sure you know what it is all about!
Next we create the tree trunk. For this we use the Pen Tool. Start tracing the sketch trunk. Use a 0,25pt stroke so you can see the sketch. It is necessary to be as near as possible on the pencil lines. The bezier curves may be difficult to control for vector beginners, but it is just a matter of practice to get used to them. Try to add anchor points only where needed, and place as few of them as possible. The curves will be rounder this way. Start with the two trunk arms and the back root on the bottom.
To build the shadow the green body throws on the trunk, duplicate the tree body and place it behind. To do this select the tree body vector and press Command + C and then Command + B. Move it down by clicking the direction tab (16 times perhaps).
Select the trunk, copy and place it in the front with Command + C and Command + F. Copy the new tree body again Command + C. Select the trunk and the new trees shape by shift-clicking. Press the Intersect Shape Areas on the Pathfinder panel, and then press the Expand button. The first shadow is ready. Place the pulled body vector again with Ctrl/Command + F and repeat the steps to create the shadows on the trunk arms.
For the mouth, I used the Ellipse Tool. Create a circle which follows the bottom pencil line of the mouth. Copy it and place it in front (Command + C and Command + F). Drag it with Shift-click so that its bottom line is on the top mouth line.
Pull it in the shape you need (holding Alt while moving both sides will make it looks perfect. Select both circles, press Subtract From Shape Area in the Pathfinder panel, and then press the Expand button. Do the same with the trunk eyes and the chin line. After adding all the details to the trunk face, select the tree body and place it at the top of the layers template. Now we can add all the details to the tree body.
Next we'll create the tree glasses. Use the Pen Tool with a 9pt stroke and round edges. Build the basic frame with four lines. Select them by Shift-clicking and then go to Object > Path > Outline. Select them again and press Add To Shape Area on the Pathfinder panel, and then press the Expand button. Create the eyes (use a process similar to how we created the trunk eyes), and place them behind the frame in the layer palette.
Now we need to create the lenses. Create them with the Pen Tool and place them behind the frame, but over the eyes. Add some highlights by using the Rectangle Tool and place the rectangles in front of the glass in the layers palette.
We'll build the mouth by using the Pen Tool. Create two eye like shapes, then add them to the left and the right sides using the Pathfinder panel. For the teeth use the Ellipse Tool. Place an ellipse over the mouth shape. Copy the mouth shape and set it in front (Command + C and Command + F).
Select this and the tooth ellipse by Shift-clicking, press Intersect Shape Areas in the Pathfinder panel, and then press the Expand button. Repeat this for the next tooth and the tongue. Build the lines on the left and right of the mouse, like the tree shape. Use the Ellipse tool to draw three ellipses, and have one side follow the pencil line. Select them and combine them with the Pathfinder's Add To Shape. Then use the Scissors Tool to cut the shape. Delete the part you don't need.
For the rest of the tree body trace the sketch by using the Pen Tool. For the accordion add a 1pt line followed by a 0,5pt dotted line (4pt).
Create a new layer. Name it "bottom" or whatever you want to. This is the layer for the watching mushrooms, the grass and the background. To create the grass use the Ellipse Tool, like we did for the tree body. Do the same to make a cloudy background shape.
Trace the mushroom's body with the Pen Tool and the mushroom heads with the Ellipse Tool. For the mouths use the same techniques we used to create the trunk details.
Now that all shapes are build we can start adding the colors. Fill the tree body with a linear gradient from light green to dark green. Change the location of the Gradient Slider to 60 percent. Give the body a 0,5pt outline in dark green.
Fill the glass with a linear gradient from yellow to white. Set the Transparency to 50%. The glass highlight receives white with 50% transparency. Copy the black frame and place it behind (Command + C and Command + B). Apply a Gaussian Blur by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and use a value of 2.0. For the object's blending mode, set it to Multiply and the Transparency to 57 percent - so the glasses look more three dimensional.
Fill in the colors. Do not fill a gradient in every shape! It disturbs the images harmony. Use it only when needed, for example to make the arm look more three-dimensional or to give the big accordion shape in the middle some life. Add a Linear Gradient from yellow to darker yellow (just add 25 percent black to the color to make it darker) on the hand shape. That will make them looking rounder.
Notice, I only add outlines to the shape when I feel this is really needed. With 0,5 pt strokes, the accordion boxes are looking more three-dimensional. The tree body needs the outline so these outlines can be used as details inside the shape.
Now let's add some shadows. Copy the accordion and place it behind (Command + C and Command + B). Fill it with 100% black. Apply a Gaussian Blur by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and use a value of 2.0. Set the object's blending mode to Multiply and set the Transparency to 45%. Drag the shadow so it looks really shadowish. Add a shadow to the hat in the same way. Try to find out how dark the shadow has to be.
Next we want to make the tree body more fluffy. Copy the body shape and place it in front (Command + C and Command + F). Shift-click and drag it some millimeters to the left. Copy the body shape and place it in front again (Command + C and Command + F).
Select both bodies by Shift-clicking and press Subtract from the Shape Area on the Pathfinder palette, and then press the Expand button. On the left you see some tiny shapes that we don't need, delete them. Fill the vector with green. Set the object blending mode to Multiply and set the Transparency to 20%.
Now move it some millimeters to the right. Copy the basic body shape and place it in front again (Command + C and Command + F). This shape needs no color. Set it in front by using the layers. With this new duplicate of the tree body still selected, Shift-click the green shape. Create a clipping mask by going to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
Add the colors to the bottom layer. The grass receives a linear gradient from a light grass green to dark green. Fill the cloud in the background with a 28 percent cyan. Apply a Gaussian Blur by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur with a value of 3.0.
Fill the mushroom heads with a radial gradient that goes from 32 percent to 75 percent magenta. Give the heads a 0,5pt outline of 80 percent magenta. Fill an ellipse in the middle with 100 percent black, which is for the tree shadow. Apply a Gaussian Blur to it by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and use a value of 3.0. Now set the blending mode to Multiply and set the Transparency to 32%.
For the little stars create a circle with the Ellipse Tool, while holding Alt + Shift. Select the ellipse and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat to bring up the dialog. Change the option to -75. The first star is ready.
To create the other copy of the star, place it in front (Command + C and Command + F). Shift-click and rotate it. Then scale it down. Select both again with Shift-click, press Add To Shape Area in the Pathfinder panel and then press the Expand button. Fill them with 100 percent cyan. Set the Transparency between 20 to 35 percent. Do not add to many of them!
The final image is below and I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!