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How to Use Basic Shapes to Build a Vector Illustration

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Read Time: 3 min

The following is an illustrative design tutorial. This tutorial will demonstrate for you the process of Shape Building in Adobe Illustrator. We'll be using basic shapes to create a fun illustration.

The video for this tutorial is available in the Source File ZIP.

Step 1

Building precise vectors requires knowing when and when not to use the pen tool. Sure the pen tool will always have a place within digital illustration, but sometimes your art is better served building your content using other tools not commonly thought of as vector building tools.

I want to introduce you to Shape Building. To demonstrate this build methodology I have recorded a video that will take you through the fundamental aspects of building your vector art using nothing by the the Ellipse Tool.

Step 2

Once shape building is done we have finalized our form. These core shapes will make up the foundation of our art.

Step 3

With our core shapes done it's all about filling them with color now. At this stage I don't worry too much about detail. I work out my flat base colors that I'll build upon later. I'm after an over all palette and balance at this stage.

Step 4

Once my flat color is determined, I go in and work out some basic gradient builds on various shapes to begin pulling out the details I need and to help emphasis areas of the illustration better. The new On Object Blend Tool in CS4 makes this a lot easier than past versions.

Step 5

I now begin to build in more extensive detailing using a combination of gradients and blend modes. For the nose, my gradient is set to a Multiply blend mode so the white becomes transparent and the darker shade of red helps to form and model the nose.

Step 6

I now create a radial gradient, and using the new ability in CS4 I set one of the blend colors to transparent and my opacity to 50% to achieve the dull sheen I want on the top of the nose. If you think of blend modes as layers of paint, you can literally get painted effects by layering coloring in this manner. This clown illustration doesn't lend itself to that style for obvious reasons, but the principle is the same regardless.

Step 7

Using illustrators effects I create a simple Inner Glow on the hair shape.

Step 8

I clone my hair shape and create a gradient blend, then set the blend mode to Multiply to create my shading on the bottom of the hair.

Step 9

This image shows you all the various gradients using blend modes in this illustration. These shapes sit on top and in between base color shapes. When combined model the art and add the detailing needed.

Be sure to explore the source file so you can see how the transparency, gradients and blend modes all combine to pull of these simple effects.

Final Image

The next time you work on an illustration think of how you can use Shape Building to speed up your process or make your art more precise. The pen tool is great but working this methodology into your creative process will improve your overall results.

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