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Create a Peacock Illustration in Illustrator CS5

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Read Time: 14 min

In today's premium tutorial I'm going to show you how I created a peacock illustration with mainly brushes and symbols. Learn how dividing an image into areas and remedying it with the use of art brushes, scatter brushes and symbols can make your workflow quicker and easier.


Although I've not used stock directly to trace from, I have used them as a basis for color sampling and sketching. You can get them from Photodune: image 1 and image 2.

Step 1

Unlike previous tutorials, I'm not going to be tracing the illustration directly from the stock image I have, instead I'm going to be using the stock images as references for the style of the feathers and the look of the head.

I'm lucky enough to have two monitors, so on my main widescreen monitor I have Illustrator open with a New Document and on my smaller monitor, I have two stock images. One of the base of the tail (which gives an idea of the feathers in the tail) and the other is of the head with the crest.

I'll be sketching on the canvas using the Blog Brush Tool (Shift + B), but before I use it, I need to Double-click on the icon in the toolbar and alter the Default Brush Options. I'm going to reduce the size of the brush to 2pt, change it to Pressure and then the Variation to 2pt.

Step 2

I'm wanting to create a portrait orientated illustration, with very little of the background showing. I'm going to sketch it in two parts: the head and body and then the tail. I've Grouped together the strokes (Command + G) for the sketch so it's easier to refer back to and hide any parts I wish to as I go along.

Looking at the sketch, I've worked out there will be four sections to work on: the tail feather, the base of the tail, and the body and the crest. All the other details aren't as detail intensive and bold as these main sections. So I'll keep this in mind when creating the Brushes and Symbols.

Step 3

I'm going to start on the smallest areas first, which is the crest on the top of the head. I'm going to create an art brush and from looking at the reference image, I've got a basic idea in my head what the brush will look like.

Once I've established this, I'm going to use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick out colors from the crest feathers and add them to my Swatch palette by drag and dropping them into the palette.

Step 4

To create the brush, I'm going to first of all draw a line with the Line Segment Tool (\), give it a gray/brown stroke color with a 10pt Stroke Weight. Now to use the Width Tool (Shift + W) to decrease the width of the stroke at the top to 4pt.

In the Appearance panel, use the drill down menu to Duplicate Item, this being the stroke. Alter the stroke color to a lighter shade and then the Stroke Weight to 7pt. Duplicate Item again and change the stroke color to an off gray shade with a Stroke Weight of 4pt.

Step 5

For the top of the feather, I'm going to start with a base of two crescents drawn with the Pen Tool (P). I've then built up the feather with a variety of strokes using my Width Profile brushes. These have a 5pt Stroke Weight.

Finally, I add some 2pt Stroke Weight strands coming from the center with a light brown stroke color. Group each one of the colors together (Command + G) to make it easier to go back to (should you need to) and then Group all the elements together.

Step 6

With the group selected, click on New Brush in the Brush palette. Then select Art Brush and click on OK. I'm going to reduce the Width to 50%. Within the Brush Scale Options, I'm going to select Stretch Between Guides and on the image of the brush, set the guides to be between the bottom of the feather and just below the light brown strokes.

Make sure the Direction of the brush is going down to up and then click on OK.

And here is the result of those brushes:

Step 7

The next brush I'm going to create will be to help with the texturing of the feathers for the body and face. If you look on the reference image, towards the face of the peacock, the features seem to have a blunt edge and the body feathers are a lot more random and frayed in appearance. Rather than creating two brushes for the job, I'm just going to create the one: with a blunt edge and with a frayed edge.

Using the Line Segment Tool (\) again and the Width Profile 1 brush, I'm going to draw some vertical black lines. Select All (Command + A) and then in the Align panel, select Vertical Align Top to give you the blunt edge.

Duplicate the lines and give it a dark/mid gray stroke color, reduce the Opacity to 50% and move them away from the edge. This will help emphasize the blunt edge, but give variety in the tones of the feathers. Finally, add some mid gray lines at random and Group everything up (Command + G).

As before, create an Art Brush with the group selected and change the Colorization Method to Tints.

The result of the brush is below:

Step 8

The next area to work on a brush for is the bottom of the tail. First I'm going to add the previously sampled colors to it's own Color Group by selecting them all in the Swatch palette, and then going into the drill down menu and selecting "New Color Group".

Now using the Eyedropper Tool (I), I'm going to sample colors for the bottom of the tail and make them into a Color Group.

Step 9

First draw a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) with a dark brown/green stroke of 2pt and a green fill. Go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag and apply the settings shown below.

Step 10

Using the Line Segment Tool (\) I've drawn a vertical line with lime green and a 3pt Stroke Weight. Then I've applied a Transform Effect (Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform) and created this star effect with the settings shown.

Step 11

I've used the Width Profile 1 brush to add further detailing to the feather. First, adding strokes of lime green set to Blending Mode Color Dodge, with Opacity 30% to the entire shape. Then adding dark brown strokes around the edges set to Multiply at 30%. Both sets of strokes are created using the Paintbrush Tool (B).

Then I used the Line Segment Tool (\) to add random strokes of green set to Color Burn, 30% and then strokes from the edges with the dark brown set to Multiply at 50%.

Step 12

Now add an Ellipse (L) to the top of the circle with the below settings in the Appearance panel.

Step 13

I'm going to Group up all the elements (Command + G) and then create a New Brush > Scatter Brush with the settings shown.

This will produce the following when you draw a line... perfect for the almost scale effect I'm wanting to achieve for the bottom of the tail.

Step 14

I'm now going to work on the "eye" of the tail feathers. For this I'm going to create a symbol rather than using an art brush. The reason being is that I'm going to use gradients, which can't be used in brushes. You could however get around this by using a Blend but this would make it more resource hungry.

As before, I'm going to use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample colors and create a New Color Group.

Step 15

Using the same Zig Zag effect settings, I'm going to apply them to four circles (L). Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), I'm going to modify the circles, with the two largest shapes to be more egg shaped, and the two smaller ones to be slightly squashed.

Then I'm going to replace the fills of the shapes with a radial gradient, with the outside color being the same shade as the stroke color and the center shade being the original fill color.

Step 16

For the individual feather strands coming from the eye, I'm going to create a Blend. To help me I'm going to draw a vertical line using the Line Segment Tool (\). Then I'm going to draw six lines starting at the bottom of the feather and going upwards. It's important all the lines go in the same direction, as to not distort the Blend.

Step 17

Select the strokes and create a Blend (Command + Alt + B). Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and alter the Spacing to Specified Steps and the value to 8. Now click on OK.

From this, you can also modify the position of the six original strokes using the Direct Selection Tool (A), should you need to.

Step 18

I'm going to create an Art Brush to apply to the Blend we've created. This is going to be done with the below Appearance panel options on a line created with the Line Segment Tool (\). The * on the Stroke values just indicates that there are further options to the line, other than the Stroke Weight. In this case, I've applied a Profile to each of the strokes, which is Width Profile 4.

Now create a New Brush > Art Brush with the below options.

I've then selected the blend group and applied the new brush.

Step 19

I've duplicated the eye of the feather twice and applied the following Blending Modes with the eye on top of the blend: Overlay, Overlay and then Darken. This will make it look like the eye is made up of strands from the feather.

I've then used our newest art brush from the bottom of the blend to the middle of the eye, set to Blending Mode Multiply. Group up all the elements when done (Command + G).

Step 20

Go into your Symbols panel and click on New Symbol. You'll get this Symbol Options dialogue box, which you just need to put in the Symbol name and then click on OK.

Step 21

With the sketch unhidden, use the Symbol Sprayer Tool (Shift + S) to click on the canvas where you'd like your eyes to appear.

Step 22

The eyes on the outside of the tail are much larger than those which are towards the bottom. They also aren't all in a vertical direction. So to modify the symbols, I'm going to use the Symbol Tools.

You can access them by holding down on the Symbol Sprayer Tool in the toolbar. After a moment a selection of tools will appear and you'll just need to select the bar along the right hand side to "Tearoff" the additional tools into their own mini toolbar.

I'm first going to use the Symbol Spinner Tool to rotate the eyes in the directions required.

Step 23

Then I'll use the Symbol Sizer Tool to increase and (Alt + Click) decrease the sizes of the eyes depending on the distance from the root of the tail.

Step 24

Now use the Symbol Shifter Tool to move the position of individual eyes.

I then went to View > View Artboards to make sure that I have enough eyes visible within the artboard.

Step 25

For the stork of the tail feathers, I'm going to use the Fine Feather Art Brush again within a Blend (Command + Alt + B). When I've finished one side, I'm going to duplicate the Blend and then Object > Transform > Reflect vertically.

Group the Blends (Command + G) and then I'm going to Object > Transform > Rotate it by 90 degrees.

Step 26

Now to create a New Brush > Art Brush with the below settings.

Step 27

I can now begin to add the tail feathers to the eyes. So I'm going to hide the sketch and use the Line Segment Tool (\) to add the tail feathers with varying Stroke Weight depending on the distance from the base of the tail. The smallest will be at 2pt with the largest at 5pt. These tail feathers should be Grouped (Command + G) and put behind the eyes.

Of course these feathers are the only whole visible ones with the eyes. However there will be many feathers behind the specific feathers, so I'm going to add some larger tail feathers Grouped (Command + G) behind the first group of tail feathers.

Step 28

For the base of the feather (with the circle Scatter brushes), I'm going to apply them to a Polar Grid. You can access this tool via the Line Segment menu by holding down and then using the "Tearoff" function. Double-click on the Polar Grid Tool and you'll get the options. I've changed the Concentric Dividers value to 8 and the Radial Dividers to 0.

Draw the Polar Grid onto the base of the feathers and apply the Bottom Tail Scatter Brush.

Step 29

Now to draw the body of the peacock. I've drawn a basic shape using the Pen Tool (P) and I've included the beak. I've filled it with a dark blue and then applied a radial gradient set to Opacity 50% via the Appearance panel, with colors from what we've already sampled. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to position and adjust the ratio of the radial gradient.

Step 30

I'm going to use the Body Art Brush with the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw strokes over the body using a blue shade. The first strokes will be set to Blending Mode Overlay, with Opacity 50%. The next will be a blue/green shade along the neck and face set to Overlay 50%.

Now I'm going to use the Width Profile 1 brush to add darker feathers around one side of the body and on the face. These will be set to Blending Mode Multiply, with Opacity 100%.

Step 31

For the beak and white/cream marks on the face, I'm going to draw a shape with the Pen Tool (P), and then fill it with a light gray to cream linear gradient.

Now with three further shapes around the beak and eye, I'm going to add a mid gray transparent linear gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply.

Step 32

To give the face further definition, I'm going to add some mid gray shapes set to Blending Mode Multiply for the nostril, beak and around the face and neck. Then add some white fill shapes for further definition set to Opacity 50%.

Step 33

The eye is pretty easy to make, as it's just options within the Appearance panel. First draw the shape with the Pen Tool (P) and give it a black fill and an off black/green tint 2pt Stroke. Add New Fill and add a gray transparent radial gradient (as shown below) set to Opacity 40%.

I've then added some gray Width Profile 1 strokes around the eyes and beak set to Blending Mode Screen, with Opacity 50%.

Step 34

Now to use the Crest Art Brush for the top of the head. I've set these to a Stroke Weight of 0.5pt and then Grouped them once done (Command + G).

Step 35

When looking at the whole illustration, I've felt the actual storks of the tail feathers weren't visible enough. So I've used the Fine Feather Art Brush within the below Appearance panel settings, applied to lines created by the Line Segment Tool (\).

Remembering to also add some lines for the back feathers, which would be applied below the visible eye feathers.

Step 36

For the background, I've filled a Rectangle (M) with a green to dark green radial gradient, and placed the source of the gradient towards the bottom of the tail, as this is where the feathers will be more dense.

Step 37

Between the circle bottom of the tail and the symbols, I've added a light green transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Color Burn, with Opacity 75%.

Step 38

I've used the Artboard Tool (Shift + O) to reposition the artboard boundaries to include less of the bottom of the peacock, but more of the eyes on top.

Step 39

Finally, I've added some highlights and shadows using Blend Brushes I've previously created in a Jellyfish Tutorial. This is to add extra depth and variety to the tail.


I hope you've enjoyed today's Tuts+ Premium tutorial, and learned how putting an image into areas you can make brushes and symbols to make the job a lot easier, and less time consuming!

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