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How to Create an Illustration of a Starling on a Branch in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Spring is here, and we are all about it! It's the most wonderful time of the year, when the trees and flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and joy is in the air. And that is what we will create today—an apple blossom branch and a starling.

Before browsing PhotoDune, I didn't know that starlings are in all different colors, because on my side of the Earth they are just black. It's interesting to browse a few pages and see what a big diversity there is for birds with the same name.

As this tutorial is for beginners, you don't need to be a super artist to follow it, because we will use basic shapes, some warp effects here and there, and your illustration is ready!

Let's go!

1. How to Create the Starling

Step 1

Create a new document (File > New) with 850 px Width and 850 px Height.

Let’s start with the head. Delete the stroke color and set the following fill color you see in the image below. Next, take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a dark grey ellipse.

Now, we will apply the Inflate effect to this ellipse. Go to Effect > Warp > Inflate. Enter the options you see below. Expand this shape (Object > Expand Appearance).

To start the eye, first create a small, light grey oval (use the Ellipse Tool (L)) and rotate it slightly to the left. After that, add a black circle and one more tiny white circle to highlight the eye. To get a perfect circle, use the Ellipse Tool while holding the Shift button.

how to create the head and eye

Step 2

To create the body, draw a dark grey ellipse using the Ellipse Tool (L). Modify it by going to Effect > Warp > Arc. In the image below, you can see the options you need to enter. Expand the shape (Object > Expand Appearance).

how to create the body

Attach the body to the head.

attaching the body to the head

Step 3

For the beak, create a yellow ellipse. While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the options you see below. Expand the shape.

While keeping the expanded shape selected, create a new copy in front (Control-C, Control-F). Don't take off the selection yet, and hit the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and delete the three marked anchor points by clicking on them. Now you should have the two parts of the beak: a light yellow shape on top and a dark yellow one on the bottom.

Stretch the lighter top part to the right a little bit. The beak is ready!

how to create the beak

Give it to the starling.

placing the beak

Step 4

On to the wing. Using the same fill color as the starling has for the head and body, create an ellipse. While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the options you see below. Expand the shape.

Next, we will give the wing some shading. Create a copy behind (Control-C, Control-B) and shift it diagonally to the bottom-right corner. Make the new copy a bit darker.

Keep the same fill color and draw a tiny ellipse, because we want to add a few feathers to the wing. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select its top and bottom anchor points and move them down just a little bit using the same tool. That's another way to warp an ellipse. 

Next, make few copies of this shape and put them under the actual wing shape. The whole wing is now completed. Group it.

how to create the wing

Place the wing in its place.

placing the wing

Step 5

In this step, we will create the tail. Start with an ellipse, and then go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the options you see below. Next, we'll apply another effect to the same ellipse: Effect > Warp > Inflate. As the printscreen option on my computer allows me to show you just one options window, that's why you can see the Arc options below. Now, as you need options for the Inflate effect, scroll down to see them.

As we want to make the tail more interesting, create a narrow horizontal ellipse. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select its top and bottom anchor points and move them down just a little bit. Make a few more copies of this narrow ellipse and place it as shown below. That's the completed tail, so group it.

how to create the tail

The Inflate options window:

Inflate options window

Give the tail to the starling.

placing the tail

Step 6

Now we'll create the leg. Draw an ellipse. Hit the Direct Selection Tool (A), select its top and bottom anchor points, and move them following the direction shown by the arrow in the image below. Notice how the handles of the anchor points changed their positions.

Add one more copy, so now you have two bird's toes.

Add a third copy of the toe, pointing in the opposite direction.

Finally, add a narrow rectangle attached to the toes, which will be the leg.

how to create the leg

Step 7

Place the leg behind the bird's body. Add a tiny ellipse with the same fill color as the body. This ellipse has to be placed where the leg begins.

Create another copy of the leg, putting it close to the first one, and don't forget about the tiny ellipse.

placing the leg and creating another one

Step 8

Remember how we created the "feathers" on the bird's wing and tail? Create another copy of this warped ellipse, and be sure it has the same fill color as the starling's body (use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to take the same fill color as the body). As we will use this shape a lot, it's better to keep one extra copy on the side for later use. I'll just call this shape the feather. So put three feathers on the bird's head, to make him fuzzier.

Then, make a new copy of the feather which should be a lighter color (the same fill color as the feather on the tail), and place some copies on the starling's head and wing.

Finally, make a new darker copy of the feather (the same fill color as the feather on the wing), and place some copies of it on the starling's tummy.

adding feathers

2. How to Create the Apple Blossom

Step 1

Start to create the petal with a white ellipse, and then go to Effect > Warp > Fisheye and enter the options you see below. The black stroke you see below is just to help you see it better, so you don't need it in your final result.

Take the feather, make sure it's narrow and pink, and then put few of them on the petal.

Select the whole petal and group it (right-click > Group).

how to create the petal

Step 2

Don't take off the selection of the petal, but hit the Rotate Tool (R). After that, holding down the Alt key, click under the petal, where you want the axis of rotation to be. A new dialogue window will pop up. Enter Rotate Angle 72 degrees, and press Copy. To repeat your last movement, hit Control-D three times, and you'll notice that now you have a flower with five petals.

You still need the middle part for the flower, so place a yellow circle in the middle. To make this yellow middle part more natural, let's distort it. While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen... In the new dialogue window, enter Options Size and Detail at a value that's not too high—just try to move the slider and find the result you like. Don't forget to check Absolute in the Options section and Smooth in the Points section. Once you like how it looks, press OK.

how to create the white flower

Step 3

To make the flower even more natural, delete the fill color and set the fill color. Using the Arc Tool, draw a few curves on the middle part of the flower. We are creating the stamens. Then make another copy of this middle part of the flower, put it in front of everything (Control-X, Control-F), change its fill color, and make even more tiny copies. Place those as shown below. Now our flower looks like apple tree blossom!

how to create the stamens

Create a copy of your first flower, and change its color to get two different flowers. Remember that in the final result, the white petals won't have the black stroke.

two flowers

Step 4

Let's draw a new flower that is half open. For this, we need a special shape for the petal. Start with a pink ellipse, and then deform it (Effect > Warp > Arc), and enter the options you see below. Don't take off the selection, and apply a new effect: Effect > Warp > Fisheye. The options for this second effect can be found below.

how to create the petal

Fisheye Options window:

Fisheye Options window

Step 5

Remember the first flower we created today, the white one? Make a copy of one petal from this flower and change its fill color to pink. Shrink this new petal down a little. Create another copy of this petal behind (Control-C, Control-B), making this copy darker and wider.

Next, you need to take the first petal of the half-open flower, which we created previously. Place the two of them as shown below.

Create two more copies of the first petal and place them behind all the petals as in the image below.

how to create the half open flower

Step 6

In the same way as we draw the stamens for the first white flower, draw them for this half-open flower.

continue creating the half open flower

Step 7

Let's draw the place where all the petals sit. Add a tiny green ellipse, select its top anchor point by using the Direct Selection Tool (A), and move this point down.

Take the feather, make it long and narrow, and use it as the stalk.

finishing creating the half open flower

Step 8

Now we want to create the bud. Take the first petal from our previously created half-open flower. Add two more pink petals behind. Then, add one darker petal behind everything. Note how the petal used for the bud is not shrunk down.

Finish off the bud as we did for the half-open flower.

how to create the bud

Step 9

Create one more bud by using the fill colors shown below.

how to create another bud

Step 10

So here are all the flowers and buds we created so far. Group each flower separately for your convenience.

all flowers together

3. How to Create the Leaves

Step 1

Start creating the leaf from a green ellipse. Apply a warp effect for it: Effect > Warp > Fisheye. Then expand the shape.

Keep it selected, hit the Reflect Tool (O), and then press Enter. In the new dialogue window, check Axis Horizontal, Angle 0 degrees, and press Copy. You'll get a copy of the previous shape. Move this copy down using the Down Arrow key. In the image below, you can see how the two shapes should overlap, but actually you don't need the black stroke.

how to create the leaf shape

Step 2

Now we want to make the leaf more natural. Unite these two shapes you created for the leaf: while keeping them selected, press the Unite button on the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder).

Now that you have one shape, let's distort it: go to Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen... Depending on your leaf size, enter Options Size around 2 px, check Absolute, Detail around 20/in, for the points check Smooth, and finally press OK.

Take the feather, make it dark green, and apply it as the leaf veins.

finishing creating the leaf

Step 3

In this step, I'm sure you already know how to warp the leaf. Just make sure you grouped the whole leaf (right-click > Group).

warping the leaf

It's nice to have about three different leaves for variety. You should keep one untouched and two warped.

Group each leaf separately for your convenience.

all leaves together

4. How to Create the Branch

Step 1

Take the Rounded Rectangle Tool and draw a long brown rectangle.

Now, double-click on the Warp Tool (Shift-R) and enter the options you can see in the second image below. Following the arrows in the first image, stretch the rounded rectangle to have the branch.

how to create the branch

The dialogue window for the Warp Tool Options is shown here.

Warp Tool Options window

Step 2

First, place the leaves on the branch, and then add the buds and half-open flowers.

Finally, add the rest of the flowers.

placing blossom and leaves on the branch

Step 3

Put the starling on the branch.

placing the starling on the branch

5. How to Create the Background 

Step 1

Grab the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on your artboard. In the new dialogue window, enter 850 px Width and Height, and then press OK. Change its fill color to a pastel blue.

how to create the background

Step 2

Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and, while holding the Shift key, create an even circle in the middle. 

how to create the background

Step 3

Put the square and your circle behind the starling and the branch.

placing the branch with starling on the background

Step 4

Create few ellipses as clouds. The black stroke, which you actually don't need, shows you how the ellipses should overlap each other. Notice how that branch and the clouds overlap the big circle, and the starling doesn't.

how to create the clouds

Step 5

After you've placed everything how you like, select the big circle in the middle and create a new copy of it in front (Control-C, Control-F). Then cut the copy off (Control-X) and place it in front of everything (Control-F). This copy in front of everything is marked by the black stroke.

You can also add a black stroke color for this circle so you can see what is inside a bit better.

Now—be careful—select everything except for the light blue square (our background). You should select the starling, the branch, the clouds, the big blue circle in the middle, and the top copy with the black stroke. After that, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7).

You should end up with a similar result to the image below.

how to make the Clipping Mask


Amazing job! I'm happy that you went to the end with me, and I hope you learned something new in this tutorial. I think that this is a really nice spring-themed illustration, and I hope you like your final result. See you next time!

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