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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Illustrator
Design

How to Create Nature-Inspired, Decorative Arrows in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you will learn how to create fancy, decorated arrows. We will use basic shapes and then apply Warp, Roughen, and Zig-Zag effects. You will also learn how to create different feathers from basic shapes.

Before we begin, you can check out Envato Market for more inspiration. I promise that you’ll find so many beautiful decorative arrows made by many talented illustrators.

And now—let's get started with our tutorial!

1. Create the First Arrow

Step 1

Let's start out by creating our first arrow from a regular rectangle. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a long rectangle. The fill color you can see in the image below. 

Since we want to create colorful, ornamental arrows which we see on Pinterest rather than those that we see in Game of Thrones, we will decorate our arrows. So let’s make a copy of the light brown rectangle that we just created in front (Control-C, Control-F), make it shorter, and change the fill color to blue. 

Holding the Alt and Shift keys on your keyboard, move the blue rectangle to the left and you will see that you now have two blue rectangles. Change the fill color of the newly created rectangle to yellow. Again, holding the Alt and Shift keys, create a copy of the yellow rectangle and change the fill color to red. 

You should now have four different colored rectangles. We just created the wooden shaft of the arrow.

creating the wooden shaft of the first arrow

Step 2

Let’s move on to the tip of the arrow, known as the arrowhead.

Start with the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an ellipse. Then hit the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) and click on the right anchor point—you’ll end up with a sharp point. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the top and bottom anchor points and move them to the left by pressing the left arrow keys on your keyboard. Add a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M) with the same fill color, and your arrowhead is done.

creating the arrowhead

Place the arrowhead on the shaft.

placing the arrowhead

Step 3

Let’s start adding some decorations—we’ll start with a feather. Some time ago, someone asked me to create a tutorial on drawing feathers. Your wish has been granted!

Draw an ellipse using the Ellipse Tool (L). While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and apply the options you see below. Expand the shape (Object > Expand Appearance). For the stem of the feather, we will use a copy of this shape. Just make the copy darker and narrower. Place the stem in front of the first ellipse and centered in the middle.

creating the violet feather

Step 4

Hold your horses—our feather is not done yet. Let's add some details. Take the Polygon Tool and click on your artboard. In the new dialogue window, enter 3 Sides with any Radius and press OK. Rotate the triangle to the right. 

A little trick: if you want to rotate a shape exactly 90 degrees, select the shape, hit the Shift key and start rotating. You’ll notice that you are rotating exactly in 45 or 90 degree increments.

Make the rotated triangle very narrow, and then apply the warp options. Go to go to Effect > Warp > Flag. Enter the options shown below. We will call it “a flag shape”. Save a copy of this flag shape for later.

creating the flag shape

Step 5

Make a few copies of the flag shape and place them on the feather shape. First, place them on the left side. Then make a reflection of them by right-clicking the mouse, Transform > Reflect. Check Vertical, Angle 90 degrees in the dialogue window and click Copy. Place them on the right side of the feather. 

When you are satisfied with the result, select all these little flag shapes along with the feather, but not the stem. Go to the Pathfinder panel and press the Minus Front button. Now, select the stem and put it in the front (Control-X, Control-F).

creating the violet feather

Step 6

Place the feather on the arrow and warp it: go to Effect > Warp > Arc. Expand the feather (Object > Expand Appearance).

placing the violet feather

Step 7

Now we will create another feather. Instead of a feather with a narrow top and wide bottom, we will make one with a wide top and narrow bottom. Take the stem from the previous feather and recolor it blue (see fill color below). Then add a light blue ellipse in the back. 

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the left and right Anchor Points of the light blue ellipse and move them up. Remember the flag shapes? Bring those and place them on it. Select all the flag shapes along with light blue ellipse and press Minus Front in Pathfinder. Be sure to put the stem in front (Control-X, Control-F).

creating the blue feather

Place the feather close to the previous feather that we created before.

placing the blue feather

Step 8

To finish off our arrow, we will decorate it with a wavy green branch. Delete the fill color and set the stroke color as shown below. Take the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw a line over the shaft. Adjust the stroke Weight on the Stroke panel as you want. While keeping it, selected go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag... and enter the options you see in the image below.

creating the green waving branch

Step 9

Now, choose the previous stroke color as the fill color and draw an ellipse. Take the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) and click on the left and right anchor points to make them sharp. This will be our leaf.

creating the leaf

Step 10

Create a bunch of the leaves and place them on the wavy branch. Our first arrow is done!

placing green leaves

2. Create the Second Arrow

Step 1

The shaft of the second arrow will be the same fill color as the first one. Draw a tiny dark gray rectangle on the right side of the arrow. While holding down the Alt and Shift keys, move it to the left. Keep pressing Control-D, and a copy of this tiny rectangle will move further. Change the fill color of every second tiny rectangle to light gray.

A quick side note: All the decorations that I’m adding are just examples—feel free to decorate these arrows to your taste!

creating the wooden shaft of the second arrow

Step 2

Now the arrowhead. Let’s first place a gray rectangle on the left side of the arrow shaft. Then draw a little square. While holding down the Shift key, rotate it 45 degrees. Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the left anchor point of the square to the left. Can you see the pointy arrowhead now?

creating the arrowhead

Step 3

Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool, create three identical tiny rounded rectangles as marked with the black arrow. 

Remember the violet feather that we created for the first arrow? Make a copy of it, and change the fill color to yellow—we’ll use it for the second arrow. To make it little bit different, create a horizontal reflection of this yellow feather: right-click > Transform > Reflect and check Horizontal, Angle 0 degrees and press OK. Place it as shown below, but remember to place it behind those three tiny rounded rectangles.

creating and placing the yellow feather

Step 4

Let’s continue decorating. In the next few steps, we will make a green branch. In a newly created green ellipse, move the left and right anchor points up. That's our simple leaf.

creating the leaf

Step 5

Set the stroke color to the same color and delete the fill color. Using the Line Segment Tool (\), draw a stalk. Place the previously created leaf on top. Make a copy of this leaf, rotate it 45 degrees and place it as shown in the third image below. 

Holding together Shift (for moving it straight) and Alt (for making a copy), move that leaf down a little bit. Keep pressing Control-D to repeat your last movement until you finish filling in the stalk on the left side. Then select all the leaves on the left side and make a vertical reflection: right-click > Transform > Reflect. In the new dialogue window, enter Vertical, Angle 90 degrees and press Copy. Move it to the right. Our green branch is almost ready.

creating the green branch

Step 6

Let’s show that the branch is flexible. Just go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the options you see below. Don't forget to expand the branch (Object > Expand Appearance). We are expanding the shapes all the time because we want to rotate them without distorting.

warping the green branch

Put the green branch close to the yellow feather.

placing the branch

Step 7

Delete the fill color and set the stroke color. Go to the Stroke panel and make the stroke Weight thick, and check Round Cap. Using the Line Segment Tool (\), draw a brown branch. To make it more realistic, go to Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen and enter the options shown below. Expand the branch.

creating the brown branch

Place the branch between the green leaves and yellow feather.

placing the brown branch

Step 8

Let's create one more feather. Be sure to delete the stroke color and set the fill color. Draw a dark gray ellipse and move up the left and right anchor points. Add a stem (just take a copy from some previous feather) and change its fill color. 

Remember the flag shape? Take a copy of it and place it on the stem as shown below. Make a few of them and then reflect them on the other side as well.

creating the gray feather

Step 9

The last detail we want to add is the stains. Draw a few light gray ellipses and then apply a Roughen effect to them (Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen). The options will depend on the size of your stains.

creating the stains on the gray feather

Place this dark gray feather on the arrow.

placing the gray feather

3. Create the Third Arrow

Step 1

So here is where it gets easy. I took the first arrow and changed the arrowhead—I created it from a triangle, using the Polygon Tool.

creating the shaft and arrowhead of the third arrow

Step 2 

Now, let’s have a quick practice—create a pink feather just following the image shown below. Try it—don't be afraid!

creating the pink feather

Step 3

Place your beautiful feather on the arrow and warp it. Select the feather, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and in the new window, move the slider in the Bend section to your taste. When it looks good, click OK. Expand the feather.

placing the pink feather

Step 4

Let’s create a green ellipse. Make the top and bottom anchor points sharp. Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag... and enter in the new dialogue window the options you see below. Your options can be different than mine—just try to find what suits you best.

creating the green leaf

Place this new leaf close to the pink feather.

placing the leaf

Step 5

Delete the fill color and set the stroke color as you see in the image below. Draw three stalks using the Line Segment Tool (\). Now—remember our first arrow when you created sharp cornered leaves? Make three copies of it, and place them on the stalk we just created.

creating the green branch

Place it on the arrow.

placing the branch

Step 6

Take the Spiral Tool and click on your artboard. A new dialogue window will pop up; enter the options you see below. Then take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the handles of the anchor points to achieve a shape that looks like this:

creating the green swirl

Make a copy of it and place both of these on the arrow.

placing the swirl

Step 7 

Let's create a flower, something like a ranunculus, a peony, or even a rose—it all depends on the options you enter later. 

First, draw a circle and go to Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen. Check Points Smooth, and move the sliders in the Options section how you like. After that, create a smaller and darker circle in the front, and again apply Roughen effect options to it. And then again a smaller and darker circle and apply the Roughen effect. In the end, draw a few tiny circles inside the flower, and it's complete.

creating the pink flower

Place the flower on the third arrow.

placing the pink flower

Step 8

Move up the left and right anchor points in the newly created blue ellipse. Create a copy in back and make it darker. Rotate it slightly to the left. Right-click the mouse and Transform > Reflect. In the new window, enter Vertical, Angle 90 degrees, Copy. Then make a green Ellipse in the back and add a curve using the Arc Tool (no Fill color, stroke color shown below). The blue flower is ready.

creating the blue flower

Step 9

We want to add some leaves too. Remember the green branch we made for the third arrow before? Take a copy of it, but let’s change the stalk: instead of a straight one, make a stalk using the Arc Tool. Be sure to check Round Cap on the Stroke panel.

creating the branch

Step 10

Place the blue flower with the leaves on the third arrow closer to the arrowhead. Then use the Rounded Rectangle Tool to create three tiny rounded rectangles, to show that the flower is fixed to the arrow.

placing the branch

4. Create the Background

Step 1

Now that we have completed three decorative arrows, let’s arrange them as you want or place them like this:

placing all the arrows together

Step 2

Be sure to delete the fill color and set the stroke color to blue. With the Rectangle Tool, draw a thick stroked frame for your illustration.

creating the frame

Step 3

Keep the frame selected and make a copy in front (Control-C, Control-F). Change the stroke color and now make the stroke weight thin.

continue to make the frame

Step 4

Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag... and enter the options you see in the image below or just make your own.

Zig-Zag effect options

Voila!

applying Zig-Zag effect to the frame

Fantastic, You're Done!

Awesome work! Now you know how to create feathers, different branches, leaves, and flowers. You've learned how to make arrows with different arrowheads. After this tutorial you will be familiar with the Roughen and Zig-Zag effects, as well as the Warp effect and moving anchor points in basic shapes.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and got a lot more ideas to create thousands of arrows!

End result
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