In this section, I will show you a few drawing techniques that I am using to create my vector illustrations. Of course, this tutorial requires that you own a vector software. I will not focus on a particular application.
These tips are made to be used with most vector application. Please refer to the help file of your software if you have any questions regarding the tools.
All tips are rather easy to understand. Using these simple techniques, you can virtually create anything you want. The good thing with digital illustration is the fact that nice results are pretty easy to achieve. Anyone with interest in drawing can come up with something quite impressive in no time.
I would recommend that you try a few tutorials in this section of the site. Most cartoon animals are different and you might end up learning a few extra tips just by following 3 or 4 tutorials.
Your ultimate goal should be to create a cartoon character on your own using all the techniques described below. Let's start this small drawing lesson!
The easiest way to create a simple cartoon character would be to use a plain and simple line with no width variation. However, for these tutorials, I prefer a simple pattern where both ends are thinner and the middle part is larger (the circle on the left in picture #1).
You can also try other patterns (like the middle circle in picture #1), but it's important to make a few tests just to be sure that the result is relevant and not too distracting.
Of course, you can use a wide variety of patterns in the same illustration. Just remember that lines are a huge part of a drawing and that a plain black line can be fine, but also quite boring.
Since my circular shape is opened, I need to add plain colors using another shape that will be placed below my original line. In the illustration above, you can see the result on the left and the colored shape in the middle.
On the right, the shape was slightly moved to give you an idea of how both shapes must fit together.
Not all drawing techniques described here are relevant since some application might give you the opportunity to add plain colors to a shape that is not closed.
Like I said earlier, a simple black line can be fine for the outline of your character, but you can also use another color to create something more subtle and effective. Be careful since not all colors can be blended gracefully. In my case, I prefer to use a variation of the color used to fill in the shape.
In the third illustration, you can see that a lighter tone of green (the circle in the middle) doesn't make the illustration more enjoyable to look at. In fact, it's even worse than a simple black outline. The circle on the right made with a darker color is a more interesting choice.
Each vector application usually comes with a tool named "gradient fill". This tool is quite useful to create nice and simple shadows quickly and effectively. However, as we will see later, you cannot create complex patterns using this tool.
Like shown above, you can either place the darker color on top and the lighter one on the bottom (like the image on the right) or do the opposite (image in the middle). Since the sun usually comes from above, I like to put the darker tone of color on the bottom of the shape.
This example only shows what a linear fill can do. You can also choose other fills like circular, elliptical, conical or others. These choices are also useful, but limited to pre-determined shapes that are unlikely to fit into your cartoon character.
If you have trouble visualizing how a gradient fill works, here is a simple illustration that should help you. On the left of image #5, you can see the circular shape that was used in the previous example.
On the right of this shape, you have a sample of both colors used to create this shadow. Only two different colors are used to create this effect.
On the right of the same illustration, you can see a circular shape filled with two different colors (blue and pink). Once again, on the right of this shape, you have a sample of both colors used to create the circle.
This one is a little bit tricky since not all vector software are handling transparency the same way. As shown on the picture above, the middle shape is partially hidden on top using transparency. On the right, you can see how it looks when the outline is applied.
Be careful when using transparency. This is not the same thing as using the gradient fill to create two different colors within the same shape. As you can see in the illustration above, the circle on the right is filled with two colors (green and white). On a yellow background, it is quite easy to see.
Transparency was applied on the shape on the left. The top part is partially hidden and seems to disappear (or seems to blend) within the background.
Some vector application have an independent tool to create transparency while others have an option in the gradient fill tool to create one color and one blank area in your shape.
With the gradient tool, you can create nice shadows using linear or circular fills. However, in some occasions, you might want to create irregular fills or simply have more control on how these effects can be applied. My drawing techniques also includes using new shapes. I will show you a few examples below.
The first illustration in picture #8 is a simple circle created with a circular fill. However, if I want to create a shadow like the one displayed on the illustration on the right (with the red line), I cannot use the gradient fill tool. A linear fills (like the image in the middle) won't do the job properly.
To gain some control over the creation of my new shadows, I need to create new shapes. In this case, I want to create a darker area on the bottom part of the object. One easy technique that you can use to duplicate the bottom part of the shape is to cut/subtract/slice two shapes together.
First, as seen above, create a new darker shape over the original one. It doesn't matter if the bottom part is not aligned with the shape on the back. Then, you should have access to a tool that will allow you to slice the new shape using the original one. You might need to duplicate the original shape to do so.
The result should be a perfect dark shadow that is perfectly aligned (at least the bottom part) with the original circular shape. Don't hesitate to use the help section of your application if you are not familiar with this technique.
Just look at illustration #10 to see how this new addition adds more volume to your object. The first image is the original shape. The second circle is representing the original shape and the new one that was created over it. Finally, transparency was added on the dark area of the third object. That's how we want this new shape to look like.
When light is unable to reach a certain area, dark shadows are visible. However, the area that is exposed to light can also be covered with a different tone of color: reflection.
In this example (#11), I have created a white spot on the object and this one was partially hidden to create the reflection.
Unlike the darker area on the bottom that is lighter on top, but darker on the bottom, the reflection is usually brighter on top. It's pretty obvious since the light is coming from the top section of the illustration.
Of course, you can always create shapes that are different as long as the result is credible and effective. In this case (#12), my reflection was created with a larger shape, but the result is the same.
I hope you enjoyed my drawing techniques. These simple tips are useful if you want to understand how I create my online tutorials. Of course, you might have other techniques that are similar or even better! Just feel free to experiment and use the tools that you feel the most comfortable with.
Don't be afraid to learn more, try new things and be creative. Using the same technique over and over is nice, but you won't improve your drawing abilities by doing so.
Use your imagination and have fun!