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Create an Organic Spring Lettering Illustration

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This post is part of a series called Vector Text Effects.
Getting Carried Away with Balloon Lettering
Create Colorful, Layered Paper Type in Illustrator

Warm up your illustration skills with this spring-inspired tutorial for creating organic letters. Use of a Wacom tablet is recommended but not required.

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.


Before we get started I'd like to give credit to the inspiration for this tutorial. The work of Charles Gary inspired me to create this illustration. Having been inspired by his work, I believe it's important to expand on and make something that's thematically and artistically my own. Having said that, lets get on to the tutorial!

Step 1

This tutorial makes use of a Wacom tablet but is not required. If you don't have a Wacom tablet you can still follow along step-by-step but you won't be able to adjust your Pressure sensitivity using just a mouse. Lack of a Wacom tablet will impact the ability to create tapered edges to your lines. Although, you can still achieve natural looking curves and shapes.

Start by opening your Brushes Palette (Window > Brushes.) You can create a new brush or modify an existing one. We'll just modify an existing brush. Double-click the brush highlighted below.

Step 2

The only setting we'll modify is the Diameter. Set the Diameter to about 10 and set the variation to the same. If you have a Wacom tablet, set the middle drop down to Pressure. If you don't have a Wacom just leave the drop down as it is.

Step 3

Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw an "s" shape. You can adjust the stroke size to achieve different results. If your letter is much too thin or thick, double-click the brush in the Brushes Palette or alter the stroke weight.

Step 4

I usually draw each letter several times until it looks just right.

Step 5

Continue to draw the other letters of the word one at a time. This will give you a better opportunity to craft each letter precisely how you'd like.

Step 6

Below, the entire word is written out.

Step 7

After you have all the letters drawn, go back and add flourishes to the beginning and end of the letters. They don't have to line up perfectly, we'll fix that next.

Step 8

Once you're satisfied with the overall look and flow of the letters expand all the letters by going to Object > Expand Appearance. After that, Unite them using the Pathfinder.

Step 9

Use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and clean up the messy areas of the letters.

Step 10

You want to achieve a smooth line as shown below.

Step 11

Next, make a copy of the letters and paste it directly on top (Command + F) of itself. Give the top copy a thick stroke with no fill and the bottom copy should just have a green fill. You should have two sets of letters now.

Step 12

Expand the letters with the black stroke by going to Object > Expand Appearance. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) drag the points of the black outline so that the outline becomes more varied and natural looking. Lock the green letters if necessary so that you're not inadvertently selecting them at the same time.

Step 13

Observe how I've varied other areas as well.

Step 14

Once you're finished varying the outline make sure to adjust the green shape so that there's not white gaps between the black and green. Use the Direct Selection Tool again to accomplish this.

Step 15

To create the impression of volume we'll add more black lines and shapes where needed. Use the Pen Tool (P) as opposed to the Paintbrush Tool this time. The Pen Tool will give you more control over what you're drawing. Since these shapes will indicate how the letters curve and overlap, the Pen Tool will give us more control over small details like this.

Step 16

Use your imagination to envision where the letters could fold. Accentuate what you've already drawn; I essentially started drawing in corner areas.

Step 17

This is what your artwork should look like right now.

Step 18

Give your letters a green to light green linear gradient.

Step 19

For the background, draw a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M) and fill it with a radial blue to light blue gradient.

Step 20

To add more volume to the letters, select the green shape that comprises the letters and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Select Multiply for Mode, use green for the color and adjust the Opacity and Blur to your liking.

Step 21

We'll give the letters a subtle texture by drawing arbitrary shapes using the Pencil Tool (N.) The Pencil Tool will allow you to more organically draw shapes over the letters.

Step 22

Give the texture shapes a green to white linear gradient and set them to Multiply in the Transparency Palette.

Step 23

To create the small vines that wrap around the letters simply use the Pen Tool to draw the basic shape. After that, draw another smaller shape inside the black shape and fill if with the green gradient. Copy and paste these vines throughout the illustration in various groups to achieve a random look.

Step 24

To create the black vines in the background use the Paintbrush Tool, as we did to create the word "spring." To make the vines really skinny simply adjust the stroke weight.

Step 25

We'll add other details like leaves by using the Pen Tool to draw the basic shape of the leaf.

Step 26

Since the leaves are going to be small we only need to apply a stroke to the shape. There's no need to make two leaves and adjust the outline.

Step 27

Place the leaves throughout the illustration.

Step 28

This is what your illustration should look like right now.

Step 29

Small details really enhance the overall design. To draw the ladybug start with a red circle drawn using the Ellipse Tool (L.)

Step 30

Draw a rectangle over the circle and click Minus Front in the Pathfinder to cut the shape in half.

Step 31

Draw a series of other ovals to give the ladybug spots. The head is just an oval that's behind the main body of the ladybug.

Step 32

Use the Star Tool to draw the legs of the ladybug. When you are drawing the star press the down key on the keyboard to reduce the amount of points the star has. You'll obviously only want three points, as a triangle has three sides.

Step 33

Select the ladybug's main body and the black ovals that overlap it, and then in the Pathfinder select Divide. Ungroup the objects and get rid of the unnecessary shapes around the edges that are leftover.

Step 34

This is what your ladybug should look like right now.

Step 35

We'll warp the ladybug to add more of a cartoon-ish look to it. Select it and go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Warp. Select Arc from the Style drop down and enter about 30 for the Bend.

Step 36

Go to Object > Expand then click OK.

Step 37

In some instances, the warp shape may be clipping the ladybug. If this is the case, use the Direct Selection Tool and adjust the points so that your entire ladybug is showing.

Step 38

Now, the entire ladybug is visible.

Step 39

Draw another arch shape over the top part of the ladybug and fill it with a white to transparent gradient to create a reflection.

Step 40

You can further draw a black shape behind the ladybug so the style matches that of the spring letters.

Step 41

To create the bee you'll predominantly use the Pen Tool. Draw the more organic shapes using the Pen Tool and use the ellipse for things like the center of the body. For the details in the wings use the Pencil Tool (N) so the lines look more random.

Step 42

Use the Pathfinder's various functions as we've used previously to tidy-up the shapes that comprise the bee.

Step 43

Color the bee and place it throughout the illustration. It's important to note that you should group items in clusters rather than place one bee here and one bee there. Clusters allow you to create an overall flow for your composition while one-off bees make everything look scattered. This concept applies to any elements within the illustration, bees, ladybugs, leaves, vines ,etc.

Step 44

To make the clouds use the Pen and/or Pencil Tool and draw arbitrary yet visually appealing organic shapes.

Step 45

Even though the clouds look very random, they do have a level of artistic quality about them. This is an important concept to note. Even though clouds are, by nature, random, just scribbling with the Pen Tool may not produce good results.

The other factor to take into consideration is that of line weight. Clouds that are farther away will have a thinner stroke, while clouds that are closer to the viewer will have a thicker stroke.

Step 46

Give some choice clouds a white to transparent gradient. Apply the gradient sparingly, as overuse will make all your clouds look too similar.

Step 47

Last, draw the sun and give it a yellow to orange gradient. Be sure to give it subtle details on the surface so it doesn't look foreign.

Final Image Preview

Here is the final illustration! To conclude, there are several core concepts that come into play when creating the illustration. Composition, color and style:

  • Composition – the composition feels organic and I've made judicious use of clusters of objects like clouds, insects and vines.
  • Color – nothing stands out too much and isolates your focus. When looking at your illustration you can use the Saturation dialog (Edit > Edit Colors > Saturate) to make adjustments to the intensity of your colors.
  • Style – the style of the full and thick letters in contrast to that of the thin and light background complement each other.

All these elements come together to create an intriguing final illustration.

Thanks for following along!

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