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Using Gradients to Create a Slick & Fun Cartoon Worm in Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial, I'll be showing you how to draw a slick and funny worm character from rough sketch to the final illustration. I'll be using various Adobe Illustrator tools and blending options. Let's get started!

1. Create the Outline of the Worm from a Sketch Base

Step 1

I usually start my drawing with a rough sketch in Adobe Photoshop, scanned pencil doodle or directly in Adobe Illustrator. There is no need to add a lot of details, as we will add them later. Let's create a New Document (File > New) about 600 x 600 pixels, RGB mode. File > Place your sketch image in the middle of the artboard and Lock the layer in order not to move the picture accidentally. Now Create New Layer and let's start drawing the outline!


Step 2

We are going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) and create our own brush for the outline of the worm. Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a small extended ellipse with a black fill. Drag and drop it on the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes) and choose Art Brush in the pop-up window.


Step 3

Choose Tints in Colorization Method in order to be able to recolor our brush strokes and leave other options as shown in the screen shot below.


Step 4

Our brush is ready, so let's start making a nice outline above the sketch. We can control the process and edit our line by moving anchor points with Direct Selection Tool (A) in order to make the line more smooth and neat. We can also vary the Stroke Weight from 1px to 0.25px, making some stokes thinner and thicker, showing the perspective and emphasizing the details.


Step 5

When the outline is finished, Select All (CTRL + A), go to Object >Expand Appearance and press OK in the pop-up window.


2. Color the Worm Using the Live Paint Bucket

Step 1

Now let's apply basic colors to our worm using the Live Paint Bucket (K). Select All (CTRL + A), take the Live Paint Bucket (K), choose light-rose color and apply it to the head of our worm by clicking on it.


Step 2

Continue coloring the worm by clicking on its parts. Notice that the strokes of our outline should overlap each other, creating a continuous closed line without any gaps.


Step 3

After finishing applying the colors, go to Object > Expand Appearance and press OK in the pop-up window.


3. Add Depth Using Gradients

Step 1

Our character looks rather flat at this stage. Let's make it more realistic by using the Gradient Tool (G)! Choose a Radial Gradient in the Gradient panel (Window > Gradient) and apply it to the worm's head using a transition of colors from light-yellow on his forehead to darker pink on his neck.


Step 2

Continue coloring other parts with the Gradient Tool (G), turning the darker point to the places, where shadows should be.


4. Use Blending Modes to Add Highlights & Shadows

Step 1

In this step we are going to add some highlights and shadows to our worm. I really love this part because the character literally becomes alive and more realistic! For this purpose we will use Blending Modes which you can find in a menu in Transparency panel (Window > Transparency). Draw a simple half-moon shape below the lower lip of our character using the Pen Tool (P) and fill it with linear gradient from light-brown to black. Now choose Screen in Transparency panel and our shape will turn into a highlight (the black part of the gradient becomes transparent).


Step 2

Now let's make a shadow in the eye. Draw a slightly arched shape across the eye-ball and apply a linear gradient from white to dark lilac color. Select the created shape and choose Multiply Blending Mode in the Transparency panel. The white area of the gradient will become transparent and our shape will look like a shadow under the upper eye-lid.


Step 3

Continue adding shapes on the eyes, applying Screen and Multiply Blending Modes to them, making the eyes more vivid, pop up, reflecting and realistic.


5. Style the Eyebrows

Step 1

In the next step we are going to work with the eyebrows. Draw simple curved shapes using the Pen Tool (P), filled with black (or any other color) right above the brow. Select these shapes and the brow and click Divide in the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). Grab the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the pieces which are left outside the brow and delete them.


Step 2

Now add some colorful gradients to the newly created shapes using the same method with Screen and Multiply Blending Modes.


6. Add Details to the Body of the Worm

Step 1

Continue adding highlights and shadows to our worm, using Blending Modes and Linear Gradients.


Step 2

Remember that we put the shapes with Screen Blending Mode on the brightest parts which are highlighted by the imaginary light source, while shapes with Multiply Blending Mode should be placed in the darkest areas, making shadows.


Step 3

Don't forget to add the rings to the body of our worm using the same method as we did with the eye-brows.


Apply a Linear Gradient in Blending Mode Multiply to make the rings slightly darker than his skin tone.


7. Add a Quick Background

Step 1

Let's finish by adding a simple but stylish background to our funny guy. Select All the pieces of our worm (CTRL + A) and go to Object > Offset Path.


Choose OK in the pop-up window with 10px offset by default.


Keeping the selection, click Unite in Pathfinder panel and move the newly created shape to the bottom of the layer, right under our worm (CTRL + SHIFT + [ ). Fill the shape with a white color.


Step 2

Finish off by adding Ellipses (L) of various sizes in the background. Select them and apply a bright, colorful Linear Gradient.


Bravo! Your Worm Should Now Be Complete!

Here is the finished piece! Our cunning worm looks slick and attractive. I hope this tutorial will inspire you to create some new interesting characters using the same simple, but effective techniques! Good luck!

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