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How to Create a Modern Hand Turkey in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we'll take a simple image of a traced hand, palm-side down, and transform it into a beautiful turkey, ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in classic four-feathered style. The hand turkey is a traditional holiday craft in the US, created by kids for Thanksgiving and tacked up on the refrigerator for all to see. With the use of textures, brushes, and symbols, we'll create a design that gives a nod back to its arts and crafts roots. 

1. Prepare Your Hand Outline

Step 1

Download the image 001.jpg attached to this tutorial and open it up in Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 (or whatever version of the program you're using). Alternatively, you can trace your own hand, palm-side down, and scan it into your computer.

Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the scanned image into a New Document and go to Object > Image Trace > Make to get a vector version of the outline.

Prepare your traced hand image

Step 2

Expand the newly Live Traced hand outline under Object.

Expand your hand outline

Step 3

I set the fill color to dark plum (#330033) and used the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to draw a small beak and a little dot to indicate the eye. Our turkey is beginning to form.

Draw a little eye and beak

Step 4

Draw a large rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M) over your artboard, and place it behind your hand outline in the Layers panel. Using the Gradient panel, set the rectangle's fill to a Radial Gradient of #99876d to #6d5e5b. Or whatever background color you think would most complement your work.

Select the hand outline and apply a Radial Gradient of dark plum at 100% to 0% Opacity.

Create a background for your design

2. Rendering the Turkey's Head

Step 1

For this tutorial, I found myself most comfortable using the Pencil Tool (N) to draw the features of my turkey. Draw a shape that outlines the beak and use the Gradient Tool (G) to apply a Linear Gradient that goes from #ff9933 at 100% Opacity to #330033 (dark plum again) at 0% Opacity.

Draw an orange beak

Step 2

Next up is the turkey's wattle (that pinkish hanging skin below the beak) and the snood (the pinkish bit of skin flopped over the beak). For both, I drew them with the Pencil Tool and applied a Linear Gradient that goes from #ff6666 at 100% Opacity to dark plum at 0% Opacity.

Draw the wattle and snood of the turkey

Step 3

The turkey's neck will be a series of layered transparent gradient shapes.

  1. Start with drawing a dark plum circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) for the eye (or you can keep the little eye drawn earlier). Draw loopy, flower-like shapes behind the eye, using the pink and plum colors.
  2. The shapes layered onto the turkey's neck have scalloped edges and a smooth top. Reduce the opacity of the shapes as you see fit in the Transparency panel, or adjust the gradient in the Gradient panel.
  3. Keep layering scalloped-edged shapes along the turkey's head and neck. Note how they flare out at the on the left of each shape.
  4. The thumb of the hand outline comprises the turkey's head and neck. Six scalloped shapes make up the neck in total. Group (Control-G) together the objects drawn to create the turkey's head and neck (except for the hand outline).
Draw the turkeys head and neck feathers

Step 4

A lot of people think turkeys are in grays and browns. Many turkeys, though, have a plethora of colorful feathers ranging from purples to blues to greens.

Draw a large shape over the head and neck of your turkey (or the thumb of your hand). Set the fill color to a Radial Gradient going from #6798ff at 100% to 0% Opacity. Adjust the shape of the gradient with the Gradient Tool so that it's elliptical rather than circular.

In the Appearance panel, set the object's Blend Mode to Overlay and the gradient fill's Blend Mode to Soft Light so that the turkey's feathers have a soft, blue glow to them.

Give your turkeys feathers a soft blue glow

Step 5

Use the Ellipse Tool to draw a circle behind the turkey's head. Apply a Radial Gradient to the shape going from #fef35d at 100% to 0% Opacity. Set the Blend Mode to Screen in the Appearance panel.

Step 6

Draw a rectangle over the background rectangle and go to Effect > Sketch > Note Paper. Set the Image Balance to 18Graininess to 8, and Relief to 11. Adjust the object's opacity as needed for a more subtle texture.

Add texture to the background

3. Drawing the Feathers

Step 1

Let's rough up the look of our turkey design. In the Brushes panel, go to Open Brush Library > Vector Packs > Grunge Brushes Vector Pack. Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), choose the fourth brush from the top and draw a stroke from the top of the bird's beak to the bottom of the wattle. Expand the brush under Object and apply the same Linear Gradient used previously on the wattle itself.

Use grunge brushes to make your piece more painterly

Step 2

Add other grunge brush strokes around the bird in blues, pinks, and purples for a more painterly look.

For the layered feathers around the base of the neck, draw a curving feather shape with the Pencil ToolCopy and Paste two instances of it, each Scaled down slightly more than the previous one. Each shape has a Linear Gradient applied that goes from 100% to 0% Opacity. Choose hues that complement your design.

Group together your layered feather objects and then CopyPaste, and Rotate the layered feathers around the base of the turkey's neck.

Create layered feather sets

Step 3

Much like was done on the turkey's neck, the body starts with larger and larger transparent plum shapes drawn with the Pencil Tool or the Pen Tool (P). Layer a row of layered feather shapes and another row of large, transparent scalloped objects.

Layer feathers to create the turkeys body

Step 4

In the Symbols panel, go to Open Symbol Library > Grime Vector Pack and choose from various splash and splatter shapes. Use the Symbol Sprayer Tool (Shift-S) to "spray" out one instance of a grunge symbol. 

Right-click the symbol and hit Break Link to Symbol to expand the symbol into a vector object. Set the fill color or gradient as you see fit and place behind the turkey drawn so far. Repeat with other symbols and brushes as needed for your design.

Use symbols to create various sketchy shapes around your design

4. Create the "Finger" Feathers

Step 1

Using the same dark plum at 100% to 0% Opacity Linear Gradient, draw large feather shapes over the palm and reaching toward the fingers of the hand outline, behind the rest of the turkey design. I drew nine feathers in total.

Select the feathers, Group them together, and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Input -6 as the Offset to create smaller, layered feathers within the feather group.

Offset feather paths to create easily layered feathers

Step 2

CopyPaste, and Rotate the large feathers drawn previously to fill out the hand turkey design. Add additional instances of grunge splatter symbols behind the turkey design so it looks as though the turkey has been painted into textured paper. 

Create larger feathers to fill the bird out

Step 3

And now for the best part of all: the finger feathers. Draw four large feather shapes with the Pencil or Pen Tool that mimic the contour of the fingers in the hand outline. Place them behind the rest of the turkey design in the Layers panel.

Draw four large feathers on the hand outline

Step 4

Each feather is a Linear Gradient that goes from 100% to 0% Opacity. The colors, from left to right, are blue (#6794f4), green (#1a815f), yellow (#f7b819), and red (#671431). Use the Blob Brush Tool to add additional squiggles and sketch lines on each feather with the corresponding gradient color.

Add color to the large feathers

Step 5

In the event you'd like to preserve the colors created with one background (as Blend Modes affect how colors in shapes and gradients appear), you can create a background from the hand outline easily without having to change all of your object attributes.

  1. Copy and Paste the hand outline created at the start of this tutorial. Use the Blob Brush Tool to draw a line at the bottom of the hand, closing the hand outline shape.
  2. Select both the newly drawn line and the hand outline and Unite them in the Pathfinder panel.
  3. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the inner path of the hand outline and Delete it.
  4. Apply the Radial Gradient of your choice.
  5. I chose the previous background color with an additional transparent tone at the end so that the hand's color is concentrated mostly on the palm and becomes transparent at the edges.
Create a background for your hand

Great Job, You're Done!

Keep playing with layered shapes, various Blend Modes, grunge symbols, and whatever else you see fit to draw the best hand turkey in your life. Share your creation in the comment section below, and if you're celebrating Thanksgiving today, have a fantastic Turkey Day! If not, you've just been introduced to one of the classic crafts of the holiday created by kids annually. 

Final hand turkey design
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