It's your resident crazy cat lady / vector fanatic here, with another tutorial which features a feline. This time around, I'm going to show you the step-by-step process of creating a soft, furry, back-lit kitten in Adobe Illustrator, using brushes and gradients. I'll teach you the basics of creating fur, so you'll be able to apply this exact process to any furry illustration.
I would recommend that, when creating any fur or hair heavy illustrations, it's always a benefit to have a tablet. However, you can use a mouse. The main difference I find is that a tablet will dramatically cut down the time in creating this.
1. How to Prepare Your File
In a New document, File > Place your reference on the artboard. Then create a dark filled Rectangle (M) which overlaps the photo and set it to Opacity 50%. Then create a new layer.
You'll need to create some art brushes. These are based on an Ellipse (L) which you can use the Free Transform Tool (E) and Convert Anchor Point to Corner to create a single taper and a dual taper brush.
When it comes to adding the brushes to the Brushes panel, add them as an Art Brush and be sure to set the Colorization Method as Tints. This means any black filled shapes will show as the colour of your stroke.
2. How to Vector Fur: Theory
Let's first look at the areas where I'm going to draw fur. I'm aiming for the outside edges of the key shapes—so the body, head, feet, and tail—as well as focusing slightly on the areas of the face so we're not looking at a faceless cutie.
The style I'm aiming for is a back-lit style, but this would mean the features in shadow would not be as prominent. So when you jump into this style, consider which areas will be more bold than others and how you can add details to those areas but not distract from the style at hand. You'll notice that on the diagram below, I haven't added lines directly under the chin or where the stomach is. This is because those areas will be in dark shadow.
There's no shame in using reference images for this sort of project, especially if you're not familiar with the direction and length of the fur on your animal. Pay close attention as these properties can change so much in a small area of the illustration.
There are two ways to actually put your strokes onto the artboard: either in a zig-zag motion or in one direction. Both are completely fine, but be careful with the former method when you're using single tapered brushes. The zig-zag motion can be quick to do when you've got a double tapered brush.
When I render fur, I use the Paintbrush Tool (B). It makes for smooth curves and lines and the settings can be edited. Double-click on the icon in the Tools panel to access the settings to increase how smooth the lines will be.
3. How to Create a Furry Kitten
The illustration will require the fur to be rendered in different ways. There are areas which will have the same length fur. Then there will be places such as the top of the head where it overlaps the ear, where the fur will need to appear to taper. This will give depth to the head. Study your reference image to find which areas require tapered fur, single or dual!
For all of the fur on the kitten, I'll be using the zig-zag motion with the dual tapered art brush.
Draw around the kitten for the outside areas only.
Create a new layer for the inner fur areas. This makes it easier to treat the fur with different Opacity settings later on.
Add short lines around the eyes. In the shine of the waterline, I use the Pen Tool (P) to create more accurate lines to help the eyes stand out.
For the inner fur areas, try to avoid adding too much fur as this will distract from the back-lit effect.
I want to use an almost black background for this illustration. However, when you're dealing with opacities and use white strokes on a black background, I find the fur looks dull and not as stylish. So use an off-black shade for the background. In this case, I'm using
#0a0402, which has a warm red tone to it.
The outer and inner fur are on different layers, so it's easier to alter the Transparency panel settings. Select all the strokes on a layer and change the settings to the following:
- Outer fur: Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 20%
- Inner fur: Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 10%
Now that the base fur is added, let's create additional strokes in the same areas and beyond to create more depth. I'll be adding these in the Inner fur layer folder, so they'll need to take on the same settings.
If you look at the below image, I'm adding onto outer fur areas but bringing the fur inside to thicken the area which the light is hitting. Then I'm adding subtle strokes inside the area to give the impression of a claw and even some tufts of fur to imply a pattern.
4. How to Add the Kitten Features
To add subtle details to the face, I'm going to use a white transparent gradient. I'll be adding shapes to represent the shine in the eyes and the whole of the nose tip. You can also use this method if there are visible claws. Although my reference image doesn't really have them, I've added them to show you the effect.
Modify the gradient using the Gradient Tool (G) to add the transparency at the bottom of the shape so only the top of the shape has a hint of white. Set these to Blending Mode Screen and modify the Opacity to around 20-50% depending on how bright you wish the shines to be.
Use the single taper brush to add those iconic whiskers to the illustration. Remember, there are whiskers above the eyes, so be sure to include those. Use the same transparency settings.
For an added detail, which I find really brings out the eyes, draw strokes using the single tapered brush over the top of the gradient using the stroke colour of the off-black shade from the background. This will give that detail of the fur from the eyelashes casting a shadow over that eye shine.
5. How to Refine the Illustration
To soften the fur and make it look less sharp, you can add subtle strokes which have a thicker weight but a lower Opacity.
In this case, I've added dual taper strokes with a 3 pt Stroke Weight (my other strokes are set to 1 pt) and with the Blending Mode of Screen and Opacity 3%.
Time to add a soft dust halo around the edges of the cat. I'm going to do this with a Scatter Brush.
Using the Ellipse Tool (L) and strokes from the dual taper brush, add a collection of them together, as shown below. Be sure to space them out.
Select them and add them to the Brushes panel as a Scatter Brush with a randomised size and rotation.
The dust which sits closer to the fur (red) I give a 0.5 pt Stroke Weight. The further from the fur (green), I set to 1 pt. Both are set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 10%.
To help fill in the gaps, I add more 0.5 pt strokes close to the fur.
You could save your illustration now, but you'd notice when you saved it that due to the thin strokes, the fur wouldn't stand out as much.
So to increase the contrast (and a way to modify the tints), add a Rectangle (M) over the top of the illustration with a dark beige/brown fill (
#998675). Set this to Blending Mode Color Dodge to ramp that contrast up. Play with the fill colours to create different tints depending on your own taste.
Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty, Little Ball of Fur
By following this method, you'll find yourself getting deeper and deeper into creating fur. It's a lot of fun, and I find it personally rather relaxing... must be those zig-zag strokes!
I'd love to see your versions of this in the comments, so please upload them to show everyone and to have a chance to appear in our community roundups.