I started learning how to use Adobe Illustrator this summer, and I thought I should share my progress. Hopefully it will be useful for someone who might also want to start. For each illustration I make, I’m planning on documenting the process, inspirations, resources and tutorials that helped shaped it.
Also, please brutally critique me so I can get better!
The internet is cool. There are infinite free tutorials for Illustrator out there on the web, so it’s easy to learn from scratch. To kick-start my Illustrator journey, I decided to pay for an actual online Illustrator class, but I think it’s totally possible to learn everything you need to know for free.
The class I took is called “Learn the Ins and Outs of Illustrator“, taught by Brad Woodard. The class can be found on Skillshare, which has a bunch of awesome online classes, with a focus on the design/illustration/art side as opposed to a lot of the other MOOC sites like Coursera or edX. (which I also recommend if you’re interested in other MOOCs. I’m taking a programming class on Coursera for free right now.)
The course itself was awesome. Brad Woodard was a great teacher for people who are just starting out. He doesn’t gloss over any details to make sure even absolute beginners don’t get confused, and focuses on getting you very comfortable with all the basic tools that you need know to get started. The class also has a project component, so you can work on your own project while learning, and you can present it to other classmates for help and critique. Here’s my project from the class.
By the way, I also just signed up for the “Rock Poster Design: From Concept Development to Execution” class on Skillshare to keep it going with Illustrator. It’d be cool if I had someone to take it with!
The project: succulent
For my first project, I wanted to choose something based in real life, so I would have something real I can look at. My family recently got into growing succulents because of how unique the plants look. The illustration is based on the first succulent that grew in our house.
Think twice and create once
The most time-consuming parts wasn’t the actual making part, it was retroactively trying to fix something that I’ve already made.
I shouldn’t be afraid to experiment to find out what looks good, either. A lot of the way the final illustration looks was based on just fooling around with the colors, shapes, and different patterns and seeing what looks good.
For example, I tried out a lot of different things to try to make the flower pop. One example is this:
I just overlaid a bunch of differently-sized circles on top of each other to create a pattern. I thought it looked cool, but the flower ended up looking creepy somehow when all the petals were put together. I still liked the effect, so maybe it’s something I can use later.
The main point is that experimenting is a really good way to discover new techniques that will expand my knowledge, even if I end up not using it for the particular project.
Messing around with colors is a easy way to make something pop
At first, I tried to use the colors of the real succulent for my Illustration. Green leaves, brown stem, pink flower. But it looked too dull, so I decided to mess around with the colors. Instead of a brown stem, I made a gradient from light blue to dark green (I just used these colors after playing around to see what went well with the color of the flower). Instead of green leaves, I decided to use a family of colors based on the purple of the flower petals. As long as photo-realism isn’t what I’m trying to achieve, messing with colors outside the boundary of reality is a really easy way to make something look unique and vibrant.
Use blend tool to find a family of colors that work
Speaking of colors, I found a cool technique to find a family of colors that work well with each other, using the Blend Tool. First, I created two rectangles with two different fill colors:
The blend tool can be found on the list of tools to the left:
If you double-click it, the Blend Options will come out. From the drop-down menu for the spacing, I chose “Specified Steps” and I chose a number around 8 to 12:
Then, I clicked on the two rectangles one a time, and this happens:
Now, all I have to do is ungroup it, and I get a bunch of rectangles with fill colors that I can use as a family. I used this to find good colors to use for the base leaves, the blend colors for the stem, and the flower buds at the top.
Use mesh tool to make dynamic shapes
I also learned about the mesh tool, which I used to make different dynamic shapes that might be harder to make using different tools.
It’s how I made the curving shapes of the base leaves.
To make the budding flower, I adapted this tutorial for making a stylized wave.
Use transparency to create a cool fluorescent effect
This one influenced the illustration the most. Using the transparency effect really makes everything look amazing. It’s based on this tutorial by Ben the Illustrator, whose work is the biggest inspiration for me right now. Seriously, look at his work, it’s crazy, it really shows the infinite creative possibilities of Illustrator.
Everything in my final illustration has transparency set to 70% (except for the background) to get that cool fluorescent look.
Things to work on
Surprisingly, the hardest part of the illustration for me was the background. I just couldn’t figure out how to make a background that matched the subject and made it look good. I tried all kinds of things – different colors, polka dots, but nothing really worked.
I ended up using a gradient and a texture effect. But I’m hoping to learn how to make better backgrounds that really go well with the subject in the future.
I also want to learn best practices for using textures in Illustrator. I’ve seen people’s work where they use cool texture techniques to make really dense, rich illustration that I really like (some examples).
- Learn the Ins and Outs of Illustrator from Skillshare
- 95 amazing Adobe Illustrator tutorials from Creative Bloq
- How to use Illustrator: Blend tool tips for beginners
- Illustrator Mesh Tool quick tutorial video
- How to Create a Stylized Wave using Adobe Illustrator
- Bring a fluorescent transparency to life in Illustrator from Ben the Illustrator
- Creating seamless textures for the background