Retro circuses and funfairs have their own enchanting atmosphere that makes me want to draw them again and again. If you enjoy those shapes and colors of a retro-style circus, then follow this tutorial and learn to design a set a flat circus icons, using simple shapes and warp effects and working with a variety of tools and functions of Adobe Illustrator.
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll learn some new tips and tricks and will be able to expand the set, creating more circus icons. If you’d like to design something else using these techniques, make sure you’ve browsed GraphicRiver for inspiration.
1. How to Create a Flat Clown in Adobe Illustrator
Let’s start depicting the clown, starting with the head. Take the Rounded Rectangle Tool and make a 75 x 115 px yellowish shape with fully rounded corners. You can adjust the Corner Radius either from the control panel on top or in the Transform panel. Another way to edit the roundness of the corners is to do this manually by using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and the Live Corners feature (tiny circle markers next to each corner of the shape).
Pick the Ellipse tool (L) and place a 26 x 26 px circle for the nose.
Make sure that you’ve placed the nose right in the middle of the face by selecting both the nose and the head shape and clicking the head once again to make it a Key Object. Open the Align panel and click Horizontal Align Center to align both shapes.
Place a 9 x 9 px light-pink spot on top of the nose for the highlight.
Now let’s add the eyes. Make a 16 x 16 px circle with dark-brown Stroke and no Fill. Head to the Stroke panel and set the Weight to 4 pt and Cap to Round Cap.
Take the Scissors Tool (S) and click both side anchor points to split the shape apart. Now we can delete the bottom part of the shape. Select the created eyelid with the Selection Tool (V), hold Alt-Shift and drag to the right, creating a copy for the second eye.
Take the Rounded Rectangle Tool and let’s make a light-blue shape for the eyebrow. Create a 10 x 5 px rectangle with fully rounded corners. Keeping the shape selected, double-click the Rotate Tool (R) and set the Angle to 20 degrees.
Now double-click the Reflect Tool (O) and select the Vertical Axis. Click Copy to create a mirrored copy of the eyebrow and move it to the opposite side of the face.
Group (Control-G) the eyes, and then group the eyebrows and select both groups together with the head shape. Click the head once again to make it a Key Object, and use the Align panel to align all the elements to the Horizontal Center of the head.
Depict a mouth in the same way as we created the eyelids. Make a large 53 x 53 px circle with dark-brown Stroke and 4 pt Weight. Split the shape apart using the Scissors Tool (S) and delete its top part, thus creating a smiling mouth.
Let’s expand the mouth in Object > Expand Appearance to turn it into curves. Go to Object > Path > Offset Path and set the Offset value to 5 px, leave all other options as default and click OK. Fill the new shape with the same red color as we have for the nose using the Eyedropper Tool (I).
Now we’ll add the hair to our clown. Make two blue circles of 35 x 35 px and 40 x 40 px size by the left side of the head. Keeping both circles selected, press Shift-Control-[ to Send the shapes to Back, beneath the head. Hold Alt-Shift and drag the circles to the opposite side of the head with the Selection Tool (V), making a copy.
Now that the portrait of our clown is ready, let’s group (Control-G) all of its elements.
Let’s form a circular base for our icon. We’ll be using it for our next icons as well. Make a 180 x 180 px dull-purple circle and Send to Back (Shift-Control-[) to place it behind the clown.
Furthermore, to give our icon a completed look we need to add a long flat shadow. Make a 115 x 115 px rectangle of light purple color. Switch the Blending Mode to Multiply in the Transparency panel, making the shape semi-transparent.
Next, rotate the shape 45 degrees either using the Rotate Tool (R), the Free Transform Tool (E), or the Selection Tool (V). Place the shape over the clown’s head, making it fit the edges of the face and the hair (you may need to resize the rectangle a bit).
Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to snap the anchor points of the shadow to the edges of the clown’s head. Zoom In (Control-+) to make it easier to make the shapes fit each other.
Send the shadow Backward by pressing Control-[ a few times to place it between the clown’s head and the icon base.
Now let’s see how we can hide the unneeded part of the shadow. Copy the icon and Paste in Front (Control-C > Control-F). Bring the copy to Front (Control-]), to the very top. Finally, select everything, click the right mouse button and Make Clipping Mask, this way hiding all the objects inside the top circle.
There we have it! Our first icon is ready. Let’s move on to the next one.
2. How to Draw a Flat Circus Cannon Icon in Adobe Illustrator
Let’s use the shape that we’ve made for the clown's head to design the cannon. Copy (Control-C) the shape, Paste (Control-V) it, and rotate it 90 degrees.
Go to Effect > Warp > Arc and set the Vertical Bend value to -5% and Horizontal Distortion to 10%, making the right side of the shape wide and bulging.
Object > Expand the shape to apply the effect. Let’s take the Eraser Tool (Shift-E), hold Alt, and erase the left part of the shape.
Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the top and bottom left anchor points and drag them further left, extending the shape.
Now we need to depict the muzzle of the cannon. Arm yourself with the Ellipse Tool (L) and add a squashed oval to the left side of the cannon. Make sure that the height of the ellipse fits the left edge of the cannon, snapping the anchor points of the shapes to each other. Remember to use the Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) to make this process easier.
Now go to Object > Path > Offset Path and set the Offset value to -2 px. Fill the new shape with purple color, depicting the inner part of the cannon.
Let’s decorate our cannon with some stripes and stars!
Make a 30 x 130 px red stripe using the Rectangle Tool (M). Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Set the size to 5 px, Ridges per segment to 10, and Points to Corner.
Object > Expand Appearance the shape to apply the effect and move our zig-zag to the front part of the cannon. Select both the cannon and the zig-zag and take the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M). Hold Alt and hover the mouse over the unneeded part of the red shape. As your mouse cursor changes to a tiny minus sign, click the highlighted piece to delete it.
Press Control-[ a few times to move the zig-zag under the muzzle of the cannon.
Let’s move on and add another stripe to our cannon. Create a 30 x 110 px blue rectangle, using the Rectangle Tool (M). Take the Star Tool and make a 5-pointed star on top of the blue stripe.
Select the star, hold Alt-Shift and drag the shape down, creating a copy at the bottom of the blue stripe. Select both stars and go to Object > Blend > Make. Now that we have a group of stars, we can adjust their quantity and the spacing between the elements using Object > Blend > Blend Options. Set the Spacing to Specified Steps equal 3.
Let’s use a Clipping Mask to hide the unneeded parts of the decoration inside the cannon.
Duplicate (Control-C > Control-F) the cannon shape and Bring the copy to Front (Shift-Control-]). Select all parts of the cannon, click the right mouse button and Make Clipping Mask.
Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and let’s depict the wheel. Make a 50 x 50 px red circle. Duplicate (Control-C > Control-F) the circle and make the copy smaller, setting its size to 45 x 45 px. Make the color of the new shape a bit darker. Finish off the wheel by creating another copy of the circle and setting its size to 25 x 25 px. Group (Control-G) all elements of the wheel.
Now let’s rotate the cannon to make the composition a bit more dynamic. Group all the parts of the cannon (excluding the wheel). Double-click the Rotate Tool (R) and set the Angle to -20 degrees.
Move the wheel to the left a bit, maintaining the proper balance.
Let’s use the circle base from our first icon. Duplicate it and place our cannon on a circular base. Don’t forget to adjust the shadow. Chance the color of the icon and the shadow to turquoise.
Voila! Let’s move on to our last icon.
3. How to Make a Magic Hat Icon in Adobe Illustrator
We can either use the muzzle part of our cannon to start off with the hat, or let’s go ahead and create a new dark-purple ellipse of 103 x 13 px size. Apply the Offset Path with -4 px Offset value to create the inner part of the hat.
Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and make a 54 x 57 px shape. Apply a darker purple color and Send to Back (Shift-Control-[), placing it beneath the brim.
Keeping the created rectangle selected, apply Effect > Warp > Bulge with -3% Vertical Bend value and 12% Vertical Distortion.
Object > Expand Appearance to turn the shape into curves. Here I’ve also decided to change the color of the top circle to dark-purple, making the hat look more three-dimensional.
Let’s add a bright ribbon to our top hat. Make a 75 x 15 px turquoise stripe using the Rectangle Tool (M). Select both the stripe and the rectangle part of our hat and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) while holding Alt to click and delete the unwanted pieces of the ribbon.
Now let’s depict a magic wand. Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool to make a 95 x 10 px light-yellow shape with fully rounded corners.
Now we can either use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make a 45 x 10 px dark-purple shape on top of the wand or duplicate the yellow shape and use the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) while holding Alt to delete the tips of the copy and recolor the top shape.
Make sure that both shapes fit each other by aligning them in the Align panel.
Place the magic wand right above the hat and use the Rotate Tool (R) to rotate it 10 degrees. Speckle a few stars using the Star Tool and varying the sizes of the elements.
Place the magic hat on a round icon base and apply a pale red color to the circle and to the semi-transparent shadow.
Step Right Up for the Main Event! Our Circus Flat Icons Are Finished!
Fantastic work, my friends! I hope you’ve enjoyed following this fun and easy tutorial and discovered some new tips and tricks. Now you’re ready to create more fancy circus icons. Check out all the variety of flat icons on GraphicRiver, and don’t forget to share your results! Have fun!