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Create a Simple Drawing Manikin with Gradient Mesh in Illustrator


Drawing manikins are used to help us create a correct pose, but we never draw them as they really are. Maybe it's time to pay tribute to them, along with the Mesh Tool? Whether you have problems with gradient mesh, or you're total beginner to Illustrator, this is the tutorial for you! Are you ready?

1. Let's Prepare to the Work

Step 1

Say hello to Bob, my drawing manikin. As you can see, he's really busy at the moment, so we'll need to manage without a reference. But that's even better, actually. This way we'll learn how to create something without a reference image.


Step 2

Let's check what a drawing manikin is made of. Just like a human, Bob has a barrow, two arms, two legs and a head. The joints are replaced by balls. These are all really simple shapes that we should have no problems with.


Step 3

So, let's create a pose for the start. You can sketch it traditionally or draw it in any program, it doesn't matter. You can even use this picture as template, if you want to make it fast.


Step 4

Open Illustrator and create a New file (Control-N). The options don't matter for this exercise, just hit OK. Paste your template.


Step 5

Open the Layers panel, click the layer and open the menu. Select Template.


Step 6

Now we've got a semi-transparent template to work on. If you want, you can adjust the artboard size to your needs. Use Shift-O to change it. Now we're ready to start building our manikin!


2. First Steps into Gradient Mesh - a Ball

Step 1

To understand what gradient mesh is, we'll start with the big ball inside the manikin's barrow. First, create a New Layer.


Step 2

Take the Ellipse Tool (L), place the cursor between the balls of the barrow and draw a circle, holding Alt and Shift.

Alt places the center of the ellipse where your cursor is. Shift makes it a circle.

Step 3

Now select the circle (click it with Selection Tool (V)) and open the Color tab. Remove the numbers next to the hash and write your own code: #b6a28f. We're going to use it as a base color for the manikin. (If there's no hash with numbers, open Layers menu in the right upper corner of the tab and select RGB).


Step 4

Time to convert the circle into a mesh. Take the Mesh Tool (U) and click the center of the circle. You will notice new points have been added to the shape.


Step 5

Select the center point with the Direct Selection Tool (A). You can now change the color of this single point to a lighter shade of the base color, for example #f4dbc9.

A bit of theory: every point has its own color. The space between them works the same as a "normal" gradient (e.g. the further the points are from each other, the more blurred the gradient).


Step 6

We can use the ball for other joints too. Drag the mesh with Selection Tool (V) holding Alt to duplicate it, then resize it to fit the joints. Hold Shift when resizing to keep the proportions. For now, leave the neck and arm balls.


Step 7

Neck and arm balls are going to be placed on the barrow, not under it, so create a new layer and paste them there.


3. Create Arms and Legs

Step 1

Lock both of the layers with balls (click the square next to the eye) and create a new one. Now we'll take care of the arms and legs. First, draw a long rectangle, using the base color (use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick it from the balls) and the Rectangle Tool (M).


Step 2

Place the rectangle between the two joints of the right arm.


Step 3

Turn off the template for a moment:


Step 4

Now use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to create a "sleeve" out of the rectangle. Double-click every point and drag it as shown below:


Step 5

Convert the shape to a mesh just like you did with the circle - click it with the Mesh Tool (U).


Step 6

Grab the point shown below with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag it a bit over the ball.


Step 7

Use Direct Selection Tool (A) again to manipulate the handles of the corner mesh point. Move them to rounded the edge.


Step 8

Do the same with the other end.


Step 9

Drag the corner handles to create the bulge of the arm.


Step 10

Rounded the handles inside to equalize the shape.


Step 11

Select the point in the middle and pick a light color for it with the Eyedropper Tool (I).


Step 12

Add two more mesh points at the end of the arm.


Step 13

Change the color of the middle point to the light shade picked from a ball, and color of the corner points to #847162. Now it looks like an edge, doesn't it?


Step 14

You can now duplicate the mesh to use it as the other arm. Actually, this mesh is going to be quite useful for us for every other part of limbs, but we'll need to modify it a little first.


Step 15

To make the mesh shape longer, select the lower points with the Lasso Tool (Q) and drag them with the Direct Selection Tool (A).


Step 16

Modify the other points to extend the bulge. When the calf is done, go to Object > Transform > Reflect and select Copy to reflect it for the other side.


Step 17

Use all the techniques we've just learnt to create other parts of limbs.


4. Build the Torso

Step 1

We can now take care of the hardest parts. Create a layer under the second set of balls (neck and arms) and draw a rectangle using the base color. Place it on the torso.


Step 2

Convert the rectangle to a mesh.


Step 3

Grab the corner points in the bottom with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move them to the inside, to touch the ball in the waist.


Step 4

Move the upper corner points a bit lower, to touch the arms.


Step 5

Add two new mesh points at the top.


Step 6

Drag them up to create shoulders.


Step 7

Add another mesh point right before the bottom.


Step 8

Drag the handle of the corner mesh point to create a gentle slope. Do this for both sides.


Step 9

Use the Mesh Tool (U) to drag the points from the armpits a bit lower. Hold Shift while doing it to move the points without changing the shape.


Step 10

Add a mesh point under the neck.


Step 11

Do you remember the technique we used to create edges of the arm "sleeves"? Do the same to create the edge of the torso.


Step 12

Add new mesh points in the middle. This way we'll create two areas for the light.


Step 13

Pick a light color for the points selected below. As you can see, points being close to each other create a clear border.


Step 14

Add three more mesh points surrounding the middle.


Step 15

Change the color of the middle point to the base. Move it and the point above to create a cut dividing the chest.


Step 16

Add mesh points on both sides and color it with a light shade. Color the top of the shoulders too.


Step 17

Sometimes instead of making the mesh more and more complicated it's better to create a new one and blend them both. Create a new layer, lock all the rest and draw a rectangle.


Step 18

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to change the shape of the rectangle. We're going to pretend it's a chop on the side of the chest.


Step 19

Add two mesh points to the shape, then color the points next to the border with light shade.


Step 20

Drag the lower points a bit up to create a rounding, then go to Object >Transform > Reflect to create a copy of the shape.


Step 21

Now come back to the torso to polish things up. You can leave it as it is, or add more points and shades - it's up to you.


5. Add the Hips

Step 1

This part is going to be quite similar to the former, so you may even do it on your own. However, if you need some help, keep on reading.

Create a layer above the torso and draw a rectangle between the waist and the legs.


Step 2

Modify the shape to create something like below:


Step 3

Add three new mesh points and make them light.


Step 4

Draw a circle at the bottom. The "hips" are cut here.


Step 5

Select the hips and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Type 0 and hit OK. You've just created a path out of the mesh's shape. Drag its layer to the top to see it and fill it with any color.


Step 6

Select both filled path and the circle, and select Intersect in the Pathfinder panel.


Step 7

Fill all that left of the circle with a light shade, then convert it to a mesh. Darken selected points:


5. Create the Head

Step 1

The hardest part is already behind us! Let's complete the manikin now. Create a new layer on the top, then place a rectangle and a circle on the neck.


Step 2

Drag the upper corner points of the rectangle to blend the shape into the circle.


Step 3

Unite the shapes with Pathfinder.


Step 4

Add a light mesh point on the forehead.


Step 5

Use the same trick as before to create the half of the face.


Step 6

Reflect the half. Resize them if needed to fit the face.


Step 7

Pick a light color for the left half and a bit darker one for the right half.


Step 8

Add a mesh point in the upper part of every half and change the colors as shown below - even lighter for the left half and darker for the right half:


7. Add Hands and Feet

Step 1

We're almost done! Luckily for us, drawing manikins have very simplified hands and feet, so it's going to be as easy as pie!

Create a new layer on the top. Draw a circle touching the "wrist".


Step 2

Drag the point on the right to the head.


Step 3

Add a light mesh point to the shape.


Step 4

The hand and wrist are actually a one part, so we need to merge them. Add two more mesh points, select the points touching the wrist and pick a color from the surface right next to them.


Step 5

Now you can reflect the hand to the other side.


Step 6

We can now cheat a little to save some time. Copy a hand and resize it a bit to create a fore part of the foot.


Step 7

Feet are built of two parts, so we need to take care of the other part too. Create a new layer on the bottom and place a rectangle under the leg. Make it a mesh


Step 8

Manipulate the points to create a shape like below:


Step 9

Look at our manikin! It looks done, doesn't it? You can stop right here, but if you want, I can show you how to make it more real.


8. Polish Things Up - Details

Step 1

The "joints" have two important features: screws keeping the parts together and chamfers to let them move. Depending on the perspective, a screw or a chamfer will be visible.

Let's create the chamfers for the legs. It's really easy - you only need to place the layer for them correctly. To draw them, use the Line Segment Tool (\) and the base color.


Step 2

To create screws:

  • Draw a circle using the base color;
  • Create a smaller circle inside and color it with #c6c2c1;
  • Use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a chamfer inside;
  • Make the line rounded, using Stroke panel;
  • Copy the line and rotate it holding Shift to create a cross.

Step 3

Select all of the screw (Control-A) and group it (Control-G). Copy and paste the screw to place it on the wrists and elbows.


Step 4

For now our manikin is floating in the air, so let's built a support for it. After all these exercises you should be pretty familiar to gradient mesh tricks, so I'll make it short:


Step 5

To create a tube draw a line with rounded corner, then go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. You can now convert it to a mesh and add a polish.



Our manikin is done! You've learnt everything you need to jump into world of powerful gradient mesh. It wasn't very hard, was it?

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