In this tutorial, I will be walking you through the creation of a magic party illustration of 3 kawaii animal friends. Adobe Illustrator has a very powerful tool called the Shape Builder Tool and while I will be showing you various tips and tricks throughout the tutorial, I will be highlighting this tool in particular as it deserves its very own spotlight.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
Prepare The Sketch
Sketches are very important in the process and people do it differently. I used to draw really rough ones in the past, but later on, I realized that having cleaner sketches help me a lot in building the final illustration as I can just trace whatever I have on the drawing.
Plan Out The Colors With a Color Key
When I’m happy with my sketch, I like to roughly color my drawing and try to make it as close to the final colors as possible. This way, whenever I am doing the final illustration, I can just easily use the Color Picker (I) on my color key and just adjust the colors as needed.
Prepare The Document
Make a new document by going to New → New Document (Cmd + N) and set the width to 1500 px and the height to 1100 px and click Create.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and fill the background with a solid color #F8DDC2 and lock the layer. Create 5 new layers and name those as Sketches, Racoon, Rabbit, Lion, and Misc. All our sketches will be placed inside the Sketches layer so we can easily hide them and only turn them on for reference. The 3 next layers will be our character layers while the Misc is where we will put all the extra things in the background. Let’s begin illustrating the Racoon!
Illustrate The Racoon
Hide the BG layer for now and place the raccoon sketch inside the Sketch Layer and set the transparency to Multiply with 25% opacity and lock the layer.
Select the Raccoon layer and with the Ellipse tool (L), create an oval that follows the shape of the head.
Select the Direct Selection Tool (A) and choose the left and right points to manually adjust them and get your desired shape.
Continue adjusting the bottom point and readjust the left and right points when needed and do this until you are able to get the shape of the raccoon’s head and change the color to #71443B.
Use the Pen Tool (P) and start tracing the ear and color it with #4A292A. Copy and Paste the shape that you just created, resize it to be a bit smaller, reposition it until it looks like the inside of the ear, and give it a darker color #3D2223. Place the 2 shapes behind the head.
Select the first group of ear, right click and go to Transform → Reflect
Select Vertical and hit Copy so we’ll have a reflected copy of the first ear. Adjust the position accordingly.
Grab the Pen Tool (P) and start tracing the body. When doing this, be mindful of the edges that need to be rounded. This way, we will be able to have a consistency with the art style.
With the Pen Tool (P) still selected, continue tracing the hands and tail and position them on where they need to be. You can start drawing the left hand first and duplicate it to use as the right hand. The right-hand needs to be darker so we can see it clearly, so give it a #613A33 color. Give the tail an even darker color with #54312D.
Continue by tracing one of the patches around the Racoon’s eyes with the Pen Tool (P) with color #371F1F. The goal here is to create a shape that would go beyond the shape of the head. Don’t worry about the overlapped part of the patch’s shape for now as we will trim it down later.
Select the first patch, right click and head again to Transform → Reflect and hit Copy to create a second patch. Reposition it accordingly.
Select the head and the two patches and activate the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M) and you will notice that the cursor will change and it will automatically select areas from overlapping shapes by showing a crosshatch-like texture if you hover your cursor over any shape that you created. By default, the Shape Builder tool is set to Merge (Cursor with a plus (+) sign) where it will merge all selected shapes together. But for this case, we want to use the Erase mode, so press and hold the ALT key and you’ll see the cursor changed and is now with a minus (-) sign.
To recap, you need to do the following:
- Select the head and the two eye patches together
- Hit Shift + M to activate the shape builder tool
- Hold the ALT key on your keyboard
- Click on the areas that you want to remove, which for this case, the patch areas outside the head.
For the eyes, hit the Ellipse Tool (L) and make a circle while holding down the Shift Key to ensure a perfect shape. Hit the Direct Selection Tool (A) and slightly move the bottom anchor point down until you get an egg-like shape. Rotate it a bit with the Rotate Tool (R), change the color to white and place it on top of the first eye patch. Reflect and duplicate the same shape (Right-click → Transform → Reflect → Vertical → Copy) and put it on the other eye patch.
Add two circles (M) to complete the eyes.
Using the Pen Tool (P), trace the mouth patch (#563530) and the nose (#371F1F). Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the eyebrows (#371F1F).
I also created 2 hair strands with the Ellipse Tool (L) in 2 colors #71443B and #5D3831.
Hit the Brush Tool (B) and go to Window → Brushes to open the Brush panel. In the Brush Panel, head over to Menu → Open Brush Library → Artistic → Artistic_Calligraphic and use the 5 pt. Round brush and start drawing the lines that make up the mouth.
Activate the Rectangle Tool (M) and create several rectangles (#371F1F) and arrange them like this.
Select the Rectangles and the tail, activate the Shape Builder Tool (Shift+M) and remove the unwanted shapes using the technique we learned earlier. (Go back to Step 8 if you need to review the steps)
Create a rectangle (#D05336) with the Rectangle Tool (M) and using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the two points at the top and place your cursor near one of the points until you see your cursor changed into a curved line. Click and hold the point and move towards the center and set the curve to your liking.
Continue adding details to the hat. The yellow circles (#E6B71F) were made by using the Ellipse Tool (L), the lines (stroke color: #E6B71F) were created by the same Calligraphic Brush we used earlier and the base (#E6B71F) was created by the Rectangle Tool (M).
You can group together certain objects by selecting the items together and pressing CMD + G on your keyboard.
The Racoon is done!
Illustrate the Lion
Place the Lion sketch in the Sketches layer and continue by creating an oval (#F7AA3A) in the Lion Layer.
Create another circle (#7E462D) behind the yellow circle and adjust the anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to get the shape of the lion’s hair.
Create a new circle (#F7AA3A) with the Ellipse Tool (M), copy it (CMD+C) and Paste in Place (Edit → Paste in Place). This will add a copy of the yellow circle on top of the original yellow circle. Change the color to #512713 and make it smaller and you’ll have the first set of ears. Duplicate the ear and place it on the other side.
Use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the lion’s body (#F7AA3A). As for the hands, I copied the same hands from the Racoon illustration we did earlier, changed the color to #F7AA3A and placed it behind the lion’s body.
Use the Ellipse Tool (M) to create the lion’s belly patch (#F2D793).
Create 2 perfect circles for the eyes and 2 ovals for the eyebrows with the Ellipse Tool (L) and change the color to #542619.
Grab the Pen Tool (P) and start tracing the nose and the mouth and use the same calligraphic brush for the lips.
When doing the final illustration, I sometimes change a few things from my sketch and whenever that happens, I find it as a way of making my final artwork be more interesting and to see it as an opportunity to improve my initial plans. So for this, I changed the sketch a bit, so use the Pen Tool (P) to add triangles surrounding the head (#E88F29). Select the shapes you just did together with the head, hit the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M), hold the ALT key while clicking the unwanted shapes of the triangles outside the head to trim it down.
Remove the lion’s hair from the lion for a bit and start adding random rectangular shapes with the Pen Tool (P) to add details to it. Give it a #A1633C color.
We will repeat the trimming process again by selecting the base of the hair and the rectangular shapes, activate the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M), hold the ALT key while clicking the unwanted areas of the triangles outside the hair.
Take back the hair to the lion illustration to complete the look! Add two ovals (#F7AA3A and #E78F29) with the Ellipse Tool (M) and simply add them on top of the head. Create more circles and place them together in groups of 3 to make the whiskers (#B95E28).
Finally, make a thin rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M) and rotate it a bit (R) and give it a color #512713 and you’ll have the base of the wand
Create a simple crown (#E78F29) with the Pen Tool (P). For the tongue, create a new circle (#D05336) and place it on top of the mouth. Create also a new white rectangle and place it on top of the wand.
Select the new shapes you just did (except for the crown) together with the wand base and the mouth and hit the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M), hold the ALT Key, and trim it down.
Using the same calligraphic brush we did earlier (Window → Brush), use the Brush Tool (B) to draw a curve that looks like a tail (#E78F29). Simply add two ovals with the Ellipse Tool (M) for the tip (#7E462D).
The Lion is done!
Be sure to group layers accordingly and let’s move to the rabbit!
Illustrate the Rabbit
Use the Pen Tool (P) and trace the hat’s shape (#544062). Create a Rectangle (M),Rotate it a bit (R), and color it #32223D.
For the head, create a white Circle (L) and adjust the points accordingly with the Direct Selection Tool (A) to get the rabbit’s head right.
Continue using the Pen Tool (P) and add more details to the rabbit’s body. Everything will be in white, with an additional color of #D96C5F for the ear.
Using the same techniques we used earlier, I used a Circle (M) for one of the eyes, Pen Tool (P) for the nose and the calligraphic brush for the mouth, the wink, and the eyebrows.
Complete the magical look by adding stars. Star shapes are found in the Tools Panel (Window → Tools → Default). The default icon on this one would be the Rectangle Tool. To access the Star Tool, click and hold the Rectangle Icon until a new panel shows then drag down onto the Star Tool to select it. Create multiple copies of the star (#F4AC40) and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M) to trim down unwanted shapes while the stars and the hat shapes are selected.
And they’re almost done! Be sure to group the rabbit layers accordingly.
I hope you are able to get the idea behind the Shape Builder Tool so far. It is such a fantastic and powerful tool for adding details to the illustrations. Now let’s use the same technique for adding shadows for the characters.
Add the Shadows
From this point forward, we will be using the Shape Builder Tool only. Remember that you have to create the shadow shapes first, and select it together with the shape of the base, select Shift + M, hold down the ALT key and start trimming down the things you want to remove.
For the hat, create a rectangular shape with the Pen Tool (P) and give it a color #BB4B34 and trim it down.
Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the shape of the shadows for the head, the tail, and the rest of the body, set the transparency to Multiply with 30% Opacity in #332C2C color.
The shadow on the neck is just a half circle with the same color and properties.
All shadow shapes here were made using the Pen Tool (P) with color #A36F33 set to Multiply and 40% opacity.
The shadow on the lion's hair is just a half circle with the same color and properties.
The hat’s shadow is #372344 while the rabbit’s shadow has a color of #E9D4FB .
Now the characters look more alive!
Let’s start adding the background details
Design the Background
Use the Pen Tool (P) and create 2 triangles with colors #F8B04D and #CB543B. Duplicate these until you get this layout.
Add various circles (#F8D351) with the Ellipse Tool (L) and red rectangles (#BB4B34) with the Rectangle Tool (M).
With the same technique we’ve been using since earlier, apply the Delete option by pressing ALT on your keyboard while in the Shape Builder tool (Shift + M) to start trimming extra shapes to get the desired pattern effect on the banners.
Use the Pen Tool (P) with a white stroke to draw the rope.
Add the Finishing Touches
Adding finishing touches is really fun! Here are some suggestions for this illustration
- Add a shadow below the characters. Don’t use black for shadows as it can ruin the image. The shadow can be a darker shade of the background and it works really well most of the time.
- Add some white triangles beside the characters. It adds a feeling of fun and excitement!
- Add dark spots to the characters. It adds a good effect, especially on animal characters.
- Complete the rope by adding two circles on the sides.
- Add a star in the middle and add a bit of shine. Do you know how you to make the shine inside the star? I bet you do!
And That's It!
Be sure to upload your works in the projects section! And if you have any questions, be sure to leave your comments and I'll be checking them all the time.
Adobe Illustrator has a very powerful tool called the Shape Builder Tool that can create complex shapes by merging or subtracting overlapping simple shapes with just a few clicks. We will be highlighting this tool in particular and see how this can help us efficiently in creating shadows, highlights and adding details to our illustration for this tutorial.