A while ago, Astute Graphics contacted Sean Ferguson of Singlemalt fame to create a special celebratory artwork piece using his favourite vector tools. The brief was about a loose as can be, with the only criteria that it should be a unique commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In this article, Sean walks us through the process by which he created the wonderful “Britannia 60″ vector artwork seen above.
Over to Sean…
I think the thing I love most about vector illustration is the actual creation process. I replaced the Pen Tool with InkScribe (part of the DrawScribe plugin for Adobe Illustrator) some months ago and I haven’t looked back. This Illustration was crafted almost entirely using InkScribe and a little bit of Pathfinder.
To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I decided to create an illustration of Britannia. Of course, being an American, I knew I’d need some reference! Enter my trusty friend Google…
Once I felt I’d researched Britannia enough, I proceeded to draw various sketches until I hit on the one that felt right. I took it into Photoshop and began cleaning it up. Almost all of my design decisions are made at this point — I prefer to simply build in Illustrator.
I really dig Tom Whalen’s work. It’s incredibly striking and deceptively simplistic, so I decided to do something flat and graphic. I didn’t bother trying to get the little strokes right or the shading in the sketching phase. I knew this is something I’d tackle in vector.
Once the sketch is done, I place it into Illustrator and lock it down. But before we get to path building, let’s take a look at my settings. If you haven’t already, take some time to watch the InkScribe videos that Astute Graphics has put out.
My settings closely resemble the original Pen Tool because I prefer some of the keyboard shortcuts like Option + Drag to define out-handles or Option + Click + Drag to convert to a corner while drawing.
Additionally, I prefer to leave the Connector mode on all the time. InkScribe allows me to fuss with my paths and handles during point placement and I never have to leave the tool. Because of this, I frequently place a point then tug on a handle to finesse it before moving on.
I begin by placing points and adjusting handles as I go. The little ‘S’ indicates I’m using Smart Smooth to automatically convert this Corner point into a Smooth point as my handles get within a preset range. Laying down all my paths can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours depending on the complexity of the illustration.
I find that sometimes, I place a point in the wrong spot! Option + Click will Smart Remove any ill-fated point from my path. Holding the Option key will highlight the tangencies along the path. I frequently remove points in this manner, let the path snap to a better, more pleasing shape and then Option + Click to insert a point on a tangency.
To create perfectly trimmed shapes, I use a combination of the Pathfinder window and more recently, the Shape Builder tool.
Here, I wanted to create the shadow underneath the helmet. I created a path that runs through the helmet, then selected the path and the helmet. Once both paths were selected, I clicked Minus-Front on the Pathfinder window to punch out the shape.
To create other parts, like the front of the horsehair crest, I used the Shape Builder tool (Shift + M). This is more ideal for creating intersections when the part you want to delete is hanging off into space. Many times, you’ll find the Shape Builder will misbehave if you overlap too many elements. You’ll have to experiment to find the best results for you, but I’ve found it’s great for simple tasks like this.
Though you can’t see it, all the paths are shaping up quite nicely. At this point, I decided I needed to create Britannia’s lion medallions. Whenever I can, I try to work symmetrically. I begin by building out the eye using InkScribe.
I create a straight line, then click the Close or Join Path button. I use my Annotations window a great deal so I’ve highlighted the necessary button. Once you close the path, use InkScribe to grab the path and drag it out to the desired curve.
For the mane, I use the same Shape Builder trick as with the crest.
Once the lion medallions are built, I needed to place one of them at an angle. To do this, I select the medallion and group the paths. Then, use the Free Transform tool (E) and begin to warp / skew it. You can achieve different effects by holding down Command, Shift and Option together or separately. In this instance, I grabbed the top corner and hold Command while dragging to achieve the skew I want.
Now all my base paths are complete. I have a picture in my head how I want to achieve the folds so I hold off on those and fill my paths with varying shades of black. At this point, I begin rearranging my shapes to make them sit correctly before moving to color.
After a bit, I’ve got the base colors to my satisfaction and I begin the process of laying in the folds. This is identical to the original path building process. InkScribe does 95% of the work here as well, while I use the Pathfinder to trim shapes to my liking.
I decide to fuss with the nose of the lions just a touch and create an opacity mask for them. Once you create an opacity mask, make sure that Clip is turned off. Draw any random shape, and fill it with a gradient. Presto!
When you work with opacity masks, remember to click the thumbnail of whichever object you’re working with. If you’re still in the opacity mask, you won’t be able to select anything else.
You could also achieve this effect through gradients, but I prefer opacity masks for small bits like this. It avoids those hairlines that Illustrator will sometimes show you after cloning an object.
Lastly, I went through and used Dynamic Corners (part of the VectorScribe Studio plugin for Adobe Illustrator) to soften some of the harsher points and angles throughout the illustration. It ends up with an overall more organic feel this way.
Now the tweaking is over and the illustration is complete.
I really love experimenting with different styles and techniques, but that always eats up precious time. InkScribe has helped me trim production time drastically and I dig getting to apply that time to exploring new styles. I hope that this walkthrough will show you how seamlessly this plugin works within Illustrator and with the native tools already in place.
About the artist and author
My name is Sean Ferguson and I’m an illustrator and graphic designer based in Oklahoma City. I make an awesome chicken salad and play a mean round of bocce ball.
You can find more of my work on my Dribbble page www.dribbble.com/inkstatic
Astute Graphics plans to supply the original Britannia 60 vector artwork with future updates of the DrawScribe, to further compliment the original example artwork files already distributed along with the installer.