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Dragon in a Snow Globe: How to Vector a Baby Dragon

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Do you remember how magic snow globes used to seem when you were a child? We can bring this magic back by creating a virtual snow globe with a little dragon inside. In the first part of this tutorial we've drawn a baby dragon, now it's time to create a home for it! You'll learn how to use a variety of Adobe Illustrator tools to create a complex illustration; textures, Clipping Masks, 3D tools, Gradient Mesh, color management and many, many more!

Create a Dragon in a Snow Globe

Our dragon in a snow globe series is spread over three tutorials.

1. Build a Glass Globe

Step 1

Create a New File (Control-N) using any size you wish. Using the Rectangle Tool (M) draw a rectangle or a square to create a background for our globe. Color it with a gradient made of #373d45 and #7a8c9e.

Why do we create the background at the very beginning? A glass globe is a shiny, semi-transparent object that will reflect the colors from around, so first we need some kind of background that will define the colors within.


Step 2

Draw a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) and holding Shift.


Step 3

Take the Mesh Tool (U) and add mesh points to the circle as shown below:


Step 4

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to distort the mesh lines. To do so, click a point and drag it.


Step 5

Color the circle with a dark blue, just like the darker part of the background gradient. Then use the Lasso Tool (Q) to select mesh points from the middle of the globe. Color them with white.


Step 6

Select the part shown below with the Lasso Tool (Q). Change the Opacity of the selection to 0%.


Step 7

Change the Opacity of the points as shown below to create a shine. At the moment you're not adding any colors, you just reveal them!


Step 8

Select the points on the right rim and change their color to #a8c9e2 (light blue) and Opacity to 10%.


Step 9

  • Create New Layer under the previous one and draw a white circle (L);
  • Convert it to a mesh by clicking its middle with the Mesh Tool (U);
  • Select all the points except the middle one and change their Opacity to 0%;
  • Select the circle with the Selection Tool (V) and change the Opacity of a whole circle to 15%.

2. Put Snow Inside

Step 1

Create New Layer between the previous ones. Draw an oval at the bottom of the globe.


Step 2

Copy and paste the oval. Change its color to #d8e3ea, and drag the lowest point almost to the edge with the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Then select all of the shape and move it to behind with Control-[.


Step 3

Convert the lower oval to a mesh, select the points shown below and darken their color.


Step 4

Convert the upper oval to a mesh too and change the color of its middle point to #d8e3ea.


3. Create a Stone Base

Step 1

Create New Layer under the previous ones and draw a dark grey oval under the globe. Make it a mesh.


Step 2

Move the middle point to the bottom and drag the handles of the neighbor points to create a gentle arch.


Step 3

Add two more points. Now color the area (A) with light grey and area (B) with dark grey. Select all the points in the upper half and darken them too.


Step 4

Drag the oval up while holding Alt to create a copy of it. Resize it holding Shift and Alt to keep the proportions. Repeat this twice.


Step 5

Now we're going to create a brush to create a realistic granite surface. Draw a several white and black shapes; triangles and circles.


Step 6

Select all the shapes and click New Brush on the Brushes panel. Select Scatter Brush and change the options as shown below:


Step 7

Delete the group of shapes, you don't need them any more, and create a New Layer over the base. Draw a few lines of different size with your new brush.


Step 8

Select all the lines and change their Blending Mode to Overlay and Opacity to 10%.


Step 9

Come back to the layer with the base and do the following:

  • Select the lowest oval;
  • Go to Object > Path > Offset Path;
  • Type 0 as Offset and hit OK;
  • Without clicking anything else, use Control-X to cut what's already selected;
  • Paste it over the brush strokes and fill it with black;
  • Place the black oval exactly over its counterpart below;
  • Select the strokes and the black oval, and hit Control-7 (create Clipping Mask).

Step 10

Drag the clipped texture down, over the counterpart, but below the other parts of the base. You can now lower the Opacity once again for more natural effect.


Step 11

Now, there are two options for finishing the base:

  • If you're lazy or in hurry, just copy the clipped texture and resize it to fit the other two parts of the base;
  • If you want more natural effect, repeat the steps 7-10 for other two parts of the base.
If your computer is slow, rendering the textures can be hard for it. If you notice any slow-down and long saving time, create a copy of your file and rasterize the textures in the original.

Step 12

Now I'm going to show you how to decorate the base, but it's not mandatory and you can skip to the next step if you feel it's taking too long.

It's going to be a snow globe for a dragon, so we can add a bit of medieval look to the base. Create a New Layer and draw a shape exactly like below.


Step 13

Select it and go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Change the options like below, but ignore the position for a while.


Step 14

Create three copies of the shape and change the position for every one of them. To change Extrude & Bevel options, just select the shape and go to this option in the Appearance panel. Drag the cube to create a proper perspective.


Step 15

Let's add a few studs now. Draw a grey circle and go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel again. Use the options just like below, and change the position of every copy to fit the perspective.


Step 16

Add black ovals under the studs and change their Opacity to 50% to create shadows.


Step 17

Let's add little chains as a decoration. We can use 3D tools again to save a lot of time. Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool to draw the first link, then go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel again and change the options. The surface is up to you - check which looks the best. Copy the link and change its position to create a full chain. Sometimes the rotation tool will do it, but most of the time you'll need to change the position in Extrude & Bevel options.


Step 18

Select all of the chain and go to Object > Expand Appearance to convert the 3D object to a normal shape. Now you can use the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) to "hide" the parts that should be covered.


Step 19

To make it all more realistic we need more shadows. First, select the chain and go to Object > Path > Offset Path and type 0 as an Offset just as we did before. Cut the selected path and copy it on a layer above the base. Unite the path with the Pathfinder panel and fill it with black. Then place it just under the chain.

If you want to modify a part of a shape, double-click it with the Selection Tool (V).

Step 20

Change the Blending Mode of the shadow to Soft Light and Opacity to 30%. To make it more natural, go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and select any feather you like.


Step 21

You can use the same trick to draw shadows under the hook supports.


Step 22

All the objects should cast a shadow. Draw a dark oval on a layer at the bottom.


Step 23

Convert it to a mesh and change the Opacity of the borders to 0%. Drag the points around to create a realistic shadow.


Step 24

For the end, we can add a little blue gemstones to the studs to make it lighter. I guess you should have no problem with drawing a single gemstone, but if not, you can check my old tutorial.

Group (Control-G) all of the gemstone and add it to Symbols.


Step 25

Symbols can be used to put on a surface of a 3D object. Go to Extrude & Bevel options of a stud and select Map Art. Select your symbol from the list and hit Scale to Fit.

The snow globe is now done and ready for its little dweller!


4. Let's Build a Dragon!

Step 1

First, we need a sketch for the base of our vector. You can draw your own or use our sketch from the first part of this tutorial. You can download a larger version of it.


Step 2

The vector we've been creating is very big at the moment, and it's going to be even bigger with the dragon inside. It's better to create a new file for the dragon and assemble them both when it's done. However, the dragon needs to be lit with the same colors as the globe, so copy the background and the snow, and place them inside the new file.


Step 3

To prepare for further work, we need to take following steps:

  • Paste the sketch inside the file;
  • Duplicate the "sketch" layer;
  • Select one of the sketch layers and select Template from Layer menu;
  • Drag the "template" under the background;
  • Select the other "sketch" layer, change its Blending Mode to Multiply and lower the Opacity;
  • Lock all the layers.

The template layer will help you whenever you'll want to see the sketch only, without anything covering it. Just hit Control-Y to see this mode.


Step 4

Now we can create a single scale:

  • Draw a rectangle;
  • Convert it to a mesh;
  • Manipulate mesh points and handles to create a shape you want;
  • Add more mesh points as shown below and change the colors, so that:
    • (A) is dark (part shaded with a scale over it);
    • (B) is light and saturated;
    • (C) is light and desaturated;
    • Optionally, you can add a light, desaturated edge on the right.

Step 5

The mesh we've just created is quite complicated, so its shape is hard to modify (and we're going to need a lot of different shapes based on that). We can make it simpler by going to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh. Select 2 Rows and Columns, so that you have only 9 points to deal with.


Step 6

Duplicate the mesh and play with it a little to see how it works. Basically, your primary mesh is now trapped inside another mesh that rules its shape. It's easy to rotate, resize and modify, no matter how complicated the mesh inside is!


Step 7

So, let's start the art work! Copy the scale and place it in a row under the eye. Check out its shape - is it what we've drawn before?


Step 8

If it's not, use the mesh points to change the shape a little. Just like with a normal mesh, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to drag the points around.


Step 9

Hold Alt and drag the scale to copy it. Again, change the shape as needed.


Step 10

Select the scale with the Selection Tool (V) and press Control-[ to move the scale under the previous one.


Step 11

Use this technique the complete the row.


Step 12

This scale can be used on several places on the dragon. Remember that it can't be used in places where only a half of the scale can be seen! Group (Control-G) every row for better organization.


Step 13

To cut part of the scales that are only partially visible we're going to use Clipping Masks. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw over areas that won't be cut.


Step 14

Draw the scales just as you did before, but this time pay attention the the perspective. It's already been settled in the sketch, so just follow it carefully. Keep the mask over the scales.


Step 15

When you're done, select both the scales and the mask, and press Control-7 to make it Clipping Mask. Repeat this step for the other scales.


Step 16

Time for horns and claws. Create a rectangular mesh and add two lights for it - brighter on the top and darker on the bottom.


Step 17

Go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh again to make the manipulation easier, then copy the mesh all over the picture to create the shapes you need. Organize the groups you can see.


Step 18

The breast and neck plates are going to be a bit different. Make them light and wide.


Step 19

Here comes another scale. Of course, we could use the same scale for all the body, but it would make our dragon very unnatural and flat.


Step 20

The last row of scales should be the lightest, the least distinctive. It should almost blend into the rest of the body.


Step 21

Before we go any further we need to organize the groups of the scales to properly put the other elements. For example, the tail should lay in a layer at the bottom, left foot should be over the hands, etc.


5. Add Body to the Dragon

Step 1

Let's start from the left foot. Here we can use the same trick we used to draw the foot - connect circles. Gradient Mesh will help us shade the parts, and by lowering the Opacity of border points to 0% we can blend two circles together.


Step 2

The rest of the foot can be done in a similar way. This time use rectangles instead of circles, make it dark on the right and light on the left, and duplicate it. Later blend the lower part of the foot by giving it the same color (you may need more mesh points first).


Step 3

Use the same technique to finish the hands and the other foot. Keep the layers organized all the time!


Step 4

Two simple meshes should be enough to create the thigh and the calf.


Step 5

The tummy is nicely covered with other parts, so we don't have to pay too much attention to it. Just remember to add proper scales and make the tummy a bit darker.


Step 6

Wings are going to be more complex, but since they're quite similar to fingers, the same method can be used for them. So, first draw the joints (you can make them partially transparent to blend them into wings):


Step 7

Add the bones:


Step 8

Add the membranes using simple meshes based on triangles and rectangles. Generally, they'll only need one light mesh point in the center. Use the same tricks for the other wing.


Step 9

Time to get back to scales for a while. This time we need big, wide plates to cover the forehead.


Step 10

Add the nose - it needs to be put above the other elements.


Step 11

Draw the lips. They shouldn't be too distinctive, change the Opacity of the edge points to blend them into the mouth.


Step 12

The mouth should be built of two elements - upper one on "head" layer, and lower one on "neck" layer. Adjust the colors so that the lips don't jump out too much.


Step 13

Add the rest of the mouth on the "neck" layer. Adjust the colors again.


Step 14

The eye is placed in a pocket, so the scales here should be darker. Don't pay too much attention to details here, just create proper shapes and light up the central point.


Step 15

Add the eyelids' edges to create a final border to the eye.


Step 16

Before we discard the sketch once and for all, we need to prepare basic shapes for the eye. They may change in the end, but we need to establish them first.


Step 17

Hide the basic shapes for a while and add a circle under them. Convert it to a mesh, darken all the border points and lighten the center.


Step 18

Darken the upper part of the pupil and iris, and lighten the lower part. This way it's going to look more 3D.


Step 19

To give more realistic look to the iris we can use a trick - select the Flare Tool (it's in the basic shapes list) and draw it under the pupil. Then go to Object > Expand and use the Eraser Tool (Shift - E) to cut the redundant parts.


Step 20

Select the highlights on the eye and go to Filter > Stylize > Feather. Choose any Radius you like and hit OK.


6. Add the Finishing Touches

Step 1

This part is going to be quite subjective, since it's about fixing things. If you're happy with the overall effect, go straight to the Step 8.

Check if the emotions are shown properly from distance. I noticed the mouth should be a bit more distinctive, so I dragged the lower lip down and put a dark background under it.


Step 2

Time to finally add the other horn!


Step 3

It's very easy to shade gradient mesh, so if you feel the dragon's body is too flat, you can use shadows to fix it. First select all the scales and go to Object > Expand to convert them to pure meshes again, then use the Lasso Tool (Q) to select the areas you want to darken. Once you're done, go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance and type -10 in all the fields. But be warned: don't use real time preview if your computer is slow!


Step 4

The same trick can be use to lighten some parts. The lower part of the body should be brighter, since the snow under it is going to reflect a lot of light.


Step 5

You can use some messy meshes to draw snow the dragon is sitting in. Change the Opacity of their edges to 0% to blend them into the rest of the snow.


Step 6

Let's add some shine to the dragon's body! Draw messy patches on the right, then blur their edges with the Feather and Outer Glow filter.


Step 7

I added some more glow to the eye with white mesh.


Step 8

Now you can remove the background and File > Place the dragon inside the snow globe, between the layers grouped in over and under groups. Resize the dragon to fit inside the globe and see if you want to change something.

I wanted to make the colors more vivid, so I changed the background to violet and selected some parts on the dragon with the Lasso Tool to change their colors too. Once you've placed the dragon in a new file, you can still edit it in the original - after saving the linked file will be updated.


Awesome Work!

It was very, very long tutorial, but we're finally done. Now you know how to bring a sketch to life with gradient mesh, you've also learnt how to create metal and stone in Illustrator. Are you ready for the last part of this tutorial?

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