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Create a Pen Tool Free Swan Silhouette Swamp Scene in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called Simple Silhouette Exercises.
Quick Tip: Make Vector Silhouettes with Live Trace and Photoshop
Create a Dandelion in Adobe Illustrator Using Two Custom Brushes
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you follow my tutorials on a regular basis, you'll know that I'm no stranger to a silhouette scene. I love creating them, as they're easy to do and you can learn some new techniques along the way. I try to vary the tips you could pick up from them.

In this silhouette tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create an easy swan silhouette swamp scene in Adobe Illustrator. With some creative tricks using the Twirl Tool, Scribble effect and some of Illustrator's own brushes, I'll show you how easy it is to create a Pen Tool free silhouette scene in a short amount of time.

Tutorial Asset

For this tutorial, I'm going to be using a stock image from PhotoDune. However, if you're able to confidently draw a swan, or anything else present on a lake, you're free to create this on your own and skip the swan step.

1. Use Adobe Color CC to Download Palettes 

Step 1 

I'm going to start by downloading some palettes from Adobe Color CC (previously called Adobe Kuler). I really love this site and app, perfect for grabbing new collections of colours and combinations that you may not have thought of using before.

When you go to the page, click on Explore along the top of the site and it will take you to a page where you can search using keywords. I've searched on "fantasy green" as I'm looking for some nice enchanting looking green shades which you'd find in fantasy illustrations.

I've gone through the themes and selected five of my favourites which contain greens and blues. They're called:

  • Mermaid Dreams
  • Fairy Dust (water)
  • Yoda
  • the frog and the fairies
  • Green Fantasy

I may not use them all, but they'll be good to use either for this project or future ones. You'll need to be logged into your Adobe account in order to favourite them and download them directly into Illustrator. 

Adobe Color CC website

Step 2

Let's open Adobe Illustrator and create a New document which is 800 x 600

Open the Color Themes panel by going to Window > Color Themes. Along the bottom of the panel, click on the Refresh button and your favourite themes will automatically download. 

By clicking on the heart to the left, you can add each palette to your Swatches panel.

Download your palettes directly in Illustrator

2. Create Blends for the Background

Step 1

For the construction of the scene, I'm going to use a selection of green shades. By working with monochrome colours, you'll get to focus more on the composition and not be distracted by adding too many colours. This is vector, remember—you can change the colours at any point!

I'm going to start by creating some basic blends for the background. The first is made out of two rectangles using the Rectangle Tool (M)

Create two rectangles

Step 2

With the smaller rectangle selected, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to mouse over one of the corners where you see the circle. This is so you can use Live Corners. Drag in the corner to create rounded corners for the shape. 

Use Live Corners on the smaller rectangle

Step 3

With both shapes selected, I then create a Blend (Control-Alt-B). If you don't have a smooth transition of colours, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options, change the Spacing to Smooth Color and click on OK.

Create a Blend

Step 4

Let's create two more rectangles on top of the previous two with the Rectangle Tool (M). This time, I'm going to place a smaller rectangle along the middle of the larger one.

Create two rectangles with the Rectangle Tool

Step 5

I then create a Blend (Control-Alt-B) and set it to Blending Mode Overlay to create a green glowing effect. 

Create a green glowing effect

3. Have Fun With the Twirl Tool

Step 1

The Twirl Tool is one of those tools I find which has very little use, but is a lot of fun to play with. I've finally found a great effect you can create by combining it with blends.

Double-click on the Twirl Tool in the Tool panel to open Twirl Tool Options. Tick the box Use Pressure Pen if you've got a graphics tablet. If not, decrease the Intensity. Then click on OK.

Twirl Tool Options window

Step 2

Go into the second blend you created and select the rectangle bar that goes across the middle of the larger shape. Then with the Twirl Tool, lightly tap along the top horizontal path. Between each tap, wait for the blend to update so you can see the effect. You'll then know how hard or soft to tap the path to create this warped light effect (and you can even undo). Pretty cool, huh?

Use the Twirl Tool on a Blend

Step 3

I've then applied the same technique around the shape with Live Corners applied, to modify the edges of this blend's effect.

Apply another Twirl Tool effect to a Blend

4. Add a Swan to the Composition

Step 1

Firstly, did you know there is some truth to the rumour that the Queen of England owns all the swans in the UK? The more you know. But in this case, the swan I'm using can be purchased on PhotoDune

If you want to create a quick silhouette, pick an image with a white background and then use Image Trace on it. So first go to File > Place and locate your image. Then place it on your artboard and resize it using the Free Transform Tool (E).

Place your image of a swan on the artboard

Step 2

When you place an image onto your artboard, the option to Image Trace should be highlighted in the Control panel along the top of your UI. Click on it to access further options. 

Now depending on the image you're using, you may want to tinker with the settings. If you're using the swan image, then I'd recommend the options below. If not, try out this tutorial by Cheryl Graham on using Image Trace.

Using Image Trace on a stock image

Step 3

With the trace selected, go to Object > Expand to expand it to an editable path.

As the swan will be swimming on the top of the water, you're going to need to cut off the lower part of him. So using the Line Segment Tool (\), I draw a horizontal line across the middle of the body. Then with the line and trace selected, go into the Pathfinder panel and select Divide. This will split the swan in two.

Split the swan in half

Step 4

Now I'm left with our swan floating on the water. Remove the lower half, as this will be submerged in the water.

I've drawn a line across the centre of the artboard so I can better imagine the composition.

Our swan floating in the lake

5. Create the Lake Texture and Reflection

Step 1

The swan is going to be reflected on the water, so let's first select the swan shape and go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Select Horizontal and click on Copy. This will duplicate and reflect the shape.

The use the Selection Tool (V) to move it underneath the original so you've got a perfect reflection.

Create a reflected duplicate of the shape

Step 2

Now to begin the process of creating the lake surface. 

The surface of the lake is going to be relatively calm, only rippled with the wind and the swan swimming on it. I want to create a slightly textured surface that looks as if it has calm waves. In order to do this, I'm going to use the Scribble effect. 

First draw a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L), with the same height as the area of water, and fill it with a dark green stroke. Then go to Effect > Stylize > Scribble and apply the below settings. 

use the Scribble effect on a circle

Step 3

Reduce the Opacity to 10% and set it to Blending Mode Multiply. Then add further circles to the lake to create a calm surface. 

Create a calm lake surface

Step 4

Draw a circle underneath the swan and give it a lighter stroke colour with the Scribble effect applied. This time, set it to Blending Mode Overlay, Opacity 40%. This is to help lighten this area of the lake to make the reflection stand out more.

Add a lighter effect under the swan

Step 5

Before I apply a Scribble effect to the swan's shape, I'm going to fill it with a Linear gradient, with the darkest shade at the top of the shape and the lightest at the bottom. I then set it to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 40%.

Apply a gradient to the reflection

Step 6

I then apply a slightly different Scribble effect to the shape. What differs is that I want the lines to be more spread out and less condensed, to create a more distorted look to the reflection.

Add the Scribble effect to the swan reflection

6. Create Simple Foliage Silhouettes 

Step 1

There are several libraries of brushes in Illustrator which can be used for many tasks. One of my favourites, and a good shortcut for creating silhouette scenes, is the set of brushes I'll be showing you in this tutorial. 

To access them, in your Brushes panel, go into the drill down menu and go to Open Brush Library > Decorative > Elegant Curl & Floral Brush Set

For the tall grass in the foreground, I'm going to draw two lines with the Line Segment Tool (\) and apply the Grassy art brush. To create tall grass, increase the size of the stroke weight to 9 pt for the tallest and 3 pt for the shorter ones. 

Create all grass

Step 2

For the bushes and trees in the background, I've drawn another line and applied the Ground Cover art brush. I've reduced the Opacity of this line to 50% and given it a 3 pt Stroke Weight.

Create bushes and trees in the background

Step 3

For the vines around the edges of the scene, I've used the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw waved strokes around the outside of the composition. I've applied the Vine 2 pattern brush with a 1 pt Stroke Weight.

Add vines to the composition

Awesome Work... You've Created a Swamp Scene!

Using only greens, you've now been able to create a swamp scene with a swan swimming on a lake. 

Swamp scene

However, let's create a more calming scene and use some of the blues that I've downloaded from Adobe Color CC

7. Turn a Swamp Into a Calming Lake

Step 1

The first thing I'm going to do is select the first blend I created and go into the blend group. Locate the smaller shape of the two and change the fill colour to a light, sky blue. I then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to increase the width of the shape.

Change the sky to blue

Step 2

I then go into the lake scribbles and change the stroke colours to the same blue. You'll also need to change the lightest green in the gradient of the swan reflection to a blue so it blends better into the calm lake.

Create a calming blue lake

Great Work, You're Now Done!

You should be left with a calming lake scene with your swan happily swimming along. 

I hope you've enjoyed this silhouette tutorial as much as I have. Silhouettes are great fun to play and practice with techniques you may not have used in the past. Happy vectoring!

Final product swan swimming on the lake
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