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How to Use the New Pencil Tool in Adobe Illustrator

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Quite recently Adobe Illustrator CC's Pencil Tool (N) has been updated, refreshed, and changed to be more precise and rival the ease of creating complex shapes with that of the Pen Tool (P). Let's take this fresh tool for a spin with a fun, stylized plant design.

1. Draw Leaves for the Plant

Step 1

Let's start with the Pencil Tool's (N) options. Double-click the icon in the toolbar and slide the Fidelity slider all the way to the right. In this case I want your lines to be as smooth as possible. Unclick Keep Selected and Edit Selected Paths, unless you'd like to edit pencil lines as you go (this is entirely up to you and your work flow).


Step 2

I like to draw my leaves with a couple curves in one motion. Start with the right side and curve upwards to the left where you'll slope down again. Bring it back around after the leaf's pointed end and bring it back to the starting point. With the changes to the Pencil Tool, you can now close active paths while drawing shapes.


Step 3

When closing an open, active path with the Pencil Tool, this little circle will pop up next to the pencil icon. Ending your path here automatically closes the shape.


Step 3

Let's take a quick moment to compare the Fidelity settings of the Pencil Tool. On the left, the Fidelity slider was set all the way to Accurate. On the right, the slider was set to Smooth. As you can see the leaf on the left is more angular, rather than curved. It also has more anchor points. The size disparity between the two has nothing to do with the tool and everything to do with my drawing leaves quickly.


Step 4

Draw a curved line in the center of the leaf. With the Fidelity set to Smooth in the Pencil Tool's options you'll get a smooth curve with only three anchor points (compared to many more with the old tool). Group (Control-G) the leaf and its vein together. Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the leaf group, Reflect over a Vertical Axis and Scale it down by 50% or so.


2. Add Plant Details

Step 1

For the plant's stem I changed the Pencil Tool's options to Keep Selected, that way I could make the first curve and pick up the path again with the second before closing it at the top of the leaf.


Step 2

Let's break down two ways of making these stems. You can start by drawing a curved line, picking up the path again (you'll notice the / next to the pencil icon) to draw a small horizontal line, drawing another curved line, and closing the shape at the top. If you've selected Edit Selected Paths in the Pencil Tool options, you may find that new paths drawn into, on top of, or connected to active paths may alter their shape.


Step 3

You can also create the stem by drawing one curved line and Copying and Pasting it for the other side. Rotate the copied stem shape and with both shapes selected you can drawn small lines to connect the two lines and close the shape.


Step 4

You can also edit anchor points in a path so that they conform to whatever shape you need. In this case I drew curves in the middle of my smaller leaves. Using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) I placed new anchor points on the path where I wanted it to end. From there you can delete any anchor points beyond your new additions with the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-).


3. Draw the Pot

Step 1

As I want to keep this piece Pencil Tool-centric, draw a quick ellipse with it (rather than using the Ellipse Tool (L). If precision is your thing, though, have at it). Copy and Paste the ellipse and Scale it down by 50% or so to form the bottom edge of the pot. Copy and Paste the top ellipse again and Align it with the original shape.

For the sides, I held down Alt in order to keep my pencil lines straight. Keep the line selected and pick up corner anchor points to complete the trapezoid shape.


Step 2

Hide the copied top ellipse in the Layers panel. Select the top ellipse, bottom ellipse, and trapezoid shape and hit Unite in the Pathfinder panel. Unhide the copied top ellipse (in the Layers panel) so you retain the open edge of the pot. Draw a curved line that overlaps the pot for its rim and use the technique from Section 2, Step 2 to delete the parts of the path that extend beyond the pot.


4. Adding Color

Step 1

Adding color is rather easy, since the Pencil Tool has made it simple to close paths without having to add extra anchor points and joining open anchor points. A full breakdown of the final colors chosen in this piece is written out in the next section.

In the meanwhile, simple select closed shapes and set the stroke color to null and the fill color to various greens and terracotta colors.


Step 2

For now I've also set some additional stroked paths to greens. The Stroke Weight doesn't matter just yet. We'll apply an Art Brush to those strokes, as well as shape outlines in the next section. Let's fix up any minor design details first.


5. Final Details and Fun With Brushes

Step 1

Group together your plant pieces and place them above the pot elements in the Layers panel. Depending on your satisfaction with the plant stems drawn earlier, you can draw additional shapes to make the connection from pot to plant seem more organic. The same goes for adding veins in the leaves with stroked lines.


Step 2

For the scribble drawn look to the final design, I changed the stroke colors to match the fill colors. For any paths with only strokes, keep their fill colors set to null. All strokes have had an Art Brush applied as well. In this case, it's mostly Chalk-Scribble, found under Artistic brushes in the default brush library of the Brushes panel. For the exact colors I chose in this design, check out the breakdown below:

  • Leaves: R=0 G=188 B=115
  • Stems: R=0 G=138 B=96
  • Leaf veins: R=0 G=106 B=48
  • Line on the pot: R=148 G=41 B=35
  • Pot: R=211 G=79 B=29
  • Background, inside of pot, and face on pot: R=35 G=27 B=27

Step 3

You can also adjust the stroke weight, in case the Art Brush's features are a but too large for the object, in the Stroke panel. I did this for the stems and line details around the design by decreasing the weight from 1pt to 0.5pt.


Great Work, You're Now Done!

Play with your plant design until you get a result you really dig. The new features of the Pencil Tool make impromptu designs tidier than before, allow for more ability to edit, and have the versatility of the Pen Tool. Illustrator is a fantastic program for drawing and tool upgrades like this one really promote the illustration side of vector design.

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