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How to Create a Bone Calligram with Art Brushes

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Read Time: 9 mins

In today's tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a "Bones" calligram in Adobe Illustrator. I'll show you how to create a bone Art Brush with a painted look and then finishing the composition with blood splatters and a textured background. Enough chatter, let's jump right in!

Step 1

Let's start with the core component of this project and create our Art Brush. Enabling Smart Guides (Ctrl + U) will make this easier to create.

Using the Ellipse Tool (L) click once on the canvas and input the values of 20 x 20px and click OK to create an even circle. While the circle is selected, duplicate it by using Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste in Front (Ctrl + F). Using your keyboard arrows, nudge the circle down til it's slightly overlapping the original circle. Then using the Free Transform Tool (E), hold Alt + Shift to drag out and increase the size of your duplicated circle, til it's about 25px.

Step 2

Select both circles and duplicate them. Using the arrow keys, nudge them to the right about the distance as shown below. While still selected go to Object > Transform > Reflect and reflect the circles on the Horizontal Axis and click on OK. This will flip your circles.

Step 3

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), hover your mouse over the center of the original circle. With Smart Guides enabled (Ctrl + U) it will highlight it with "center". Click and drag down to the center of the smaller circle to the right to create a long rectangle.

Step 4

Select All of your shapes (Ctrl + A) and go to the Pathfinder panel and use Unite. This will combine all your shapes to create just one shape.

Step 5

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), draw a rectangle over the two points connecting the circles to the rectangle of the bone as shown below. Make sure you only select the two points. Then using the Align panel, select Horizontal Align Center. This will centralize both points so they are parallel to each other. Repeat the same for the two points to the right.

Step 6

Before we begin adding a painted effect, let's first change the stroke color to a medium grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40) and fill to a light grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=10).

Most default new documents for Adobe Illustrator contain select brushes. The one you'll be looking at using is the "3pt. Round" Calligraphic Brush. If you've not got this, click on New Brush > Calligraphic Brush and use the options below.

Step 7

For the actual painting/shading of the bone you could do this two ways. The first is if you've got a mouse, you could draw the lines with the Pen Tool (P). It may take longer but it is possible. The second and the method I prefer, is with a graphics tablet and using the Paintbrush Tool (B).

Begin adding the shading to the bone using the medium grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40) set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 30% via the Transparency panel. Draw around the ends of the bone, then the tip and underneath the joint and then working around the sides and ends.

Change the Stroke Weight to 0.5pt and change the Opacity to 50%. With these darker more detailed stroke, add detailed shading around the ends and a slight texture with streaks across the tube of the bone.

Step 8

Bones aren't all shades of grey, so let's add some discoloration which would have happened over time. First we'll add some brown (C=25, M=25, Y=40, K=0) set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50%. We'll be using the same Calligraphic Brush set to Stroke Weight 1pt.

Let's get a little gruesome and add some red 0.5pt strokes (C=15, M=100, Y=90, K=10) set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 25%. If you want to go a little more gory, add as much blood as you wish. Typically add these around the joints as this would be an area harder to clean.

Step 9

Now to add some highlights to the bone. Use a light grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=5) with a 0.5pt Stroke Weight and set these strokes to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 25%.

Step 10

Select All of your strokes and shape (Ctrl +A) and Group them together (Ctrl + G). While still selected, go into the Brush panel and click on New Brush > Art Brush and use the options below. Specifically we're looking at the Stretch Between Guides on this brush. By setting the guides either side of the center portion of the bone, the Art Brush will stretch this area only and not the joints. This means that the end joints won't be distorted as long as the brush is longer than the joints themselves.

Step 11

Before you start using your brush, sketch out the design you're wishing to create. I've sketched mine using the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the 3pt Calligraphic Brush. These strokes can then be Grouped together (Ctrl + G) and then you can reduce the Opacity to about 20%. You can use this then as a guide to where you place your bones.

Step 12

Let's start with the easy lines. Using the Line Segment Tool (\), add straight lines. If you hold Alt + Shift you can create a straight horizontal, vertical or diagonal at 45 degrees, from the center of where you're drawing from. So for instance for the B-shape, I start in the center of the vertical line and hold Alt + Shift and drag up or downwards to create a vertically perfect line. I've started with the vertical lines.

Then I've moved onto the horizontal lines.

Step 13

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the curved lines. You could use the Paintbrush Tool (B) if you're not so confident with the Pen Tool (P) however your lines may not have such a smooth curve. Try to avoid long curves (such as the S) by breaking up the shape with smaller curves. If you use larger curves it may create too much space between the bone joints.

Once you've created your first set to lines, Group them together (Ctrl + G).

Then add a second set of bones and Group them together (Ctrl + G).

Step 14

Duplicate both groups of bones and organise them so you have the duplicate on top of the original group of bones. Select one of the original groups and go to Object > Expand Appearance and then Object > Expand. This will convert your strokes into fills. While still selected go to Pathfinder > Unite to create solid shapes and the go to Object > Compound Path > Make or Ctrl + 8 on your keyboard. This will create one complete shape. Do the same for the other original bones group.

Step 15

Your Layers panel should look as below. I've hidden the groups as we're more interested in these Compound Paths right now. We're going to create a subtle shadow effect with these shapes so they don't look as merged into each other and actually look like they are overlapping.

Step 16

Using your arrow keys on the keyboard, nudge your Compound Paths two to the left and two downwards. Change the fill to black and set them to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 75%.

Step 17

Time to create a couple blood splatters! I've got a bit of a cheat for you which doesn't require you to create any new brushes. There are some ink splatter Scatter Brushes which come with Adobe Illustrator. In the Brush panel, go into the drill down menu in the top right hand corner and go to Open Brush Library > Artistic > Artistic_Ink and select the below brushes. By clicking on them, they will automatically add themselves to your Brush panel.

Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) to add deep red (C=15, M=100, Y=100, K=31), varied splatters behind your calligram, set to Blending Mode Multiply. Again, if you're wishing to get more gory, splatter to your hearts content but remember to vary the brushes and perhaps Stroke Weights you use.

Step 18

Now we need a surface that is being blood stained. Create New Layer and place it below your calligram. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to add a background and give it a grey/brown fill (C=18.75, M=18.75, Y=30, K=25).

If you're familiar with the Appearance panel, Duplicate Item for the gradient or if you're not comfortable with using the Appearance panel, simply duplicate the rectangle. Add a transparent radial gradient with the same brown and set it to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 60%. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to move the source of the gradient and reshape it.

Step 19

If you wish to add additional details such as a frame, this is easy. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a shape around your bones and apply the bone Art Brush. Then in the Stroke panel place a tick in Dashed Line. Add the values of 100pt for the Dash and a Gap of 5pt.

Step 20

Duplicate the frame and as before create a shadow. Go to Object > Expand Appearance and Object > Expand, nudge it two left and two down and add a black fill set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 75%.

Step 21

Let's finish off our composition now by adding a subtle texture and vignette effect to the background. You can do this via the Appearance panel by Duplicate Item or by duplicating the background rectangle. In the Swatch panel click on the drill down menu and select Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic_Graphics_Textures and clicking on Burlap. This will add the pattern to your Swatch panel. Use this to fill the rectangle and set it to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50%.

Then with another fill, add a black transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50% and position it in a similar place as the previous gradient by using the Gradient Tool (G).


Your calligram is now complete! Try seeing what you can create with a bones Art Brush and perhaps using the same process to create other painted brushes. Creating Art Brushes can be very addictive as I've found in my own vector journey.

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