Monday, November 12, 2012

Introduction to Illustrator

I know it's been a little chaotic over here lately!  Finally, back to normal with a lesson.  I'll do two more lessons this year.  The month of December is very hectic for me, so I have a low-maintenance, super fun idea for the whole month.  Look for it December 1st.

So today's lesson is an introduction to Adobe Illustrator.  I use Illustrator CS4 but most of what I go over should work with most or all versions.  I know that there are several other vector programs available that are similar to Illustrator.  Maybe next year I'll venture into product trials & reviews, but at this point, I'm all in with Illustrator.

Briefly, Illustrator is a vector based program.  So instead of having images made up of billions of little square pixels, the image is produced by a series of complex mathematical calculations.  Lucky for us, that has no impact on creating in Illustrator!  What does matter, however, is that vector images are infinitely scalable.  When you have an image in Photoshop (a jpg, gif, png, etc...) these have a set resolution (300dpi, 600dpi, etc) and really should only be scaled down, not up.  A vector can go any which way.  The Fashion Friday dolls, for instance, were originally created for a 5 x 7in booklet.  After printing a sample, I realized they were too detailed for that size.  So I scaled everything up to 8.5 by 11 with no problems.

This is the way I have my work area setup.  I believe it's more or less the default setting, so when you open Illustrator it will look something like this.  Every version of Illustrator is slightly different, so remember this is CS4.  On the left, the toolbar.  It can be set up as a single column (shown here) or as a double column (next image).  On the right, the default swatches panel and the layers panel.  All the way to the right there is a second toolbar with more advanced tools, such as the gradient palette and appearance panel.  We won't go over all of these tools today.  I've been working with Illustrator for about 4 years and I learn something new with every project.

These are the tools I mentioned above.  We will use the selection tool (black arrow), direct select tool (white arrow), the pen tool (looks like a pen nib), the shapes tool (shows up as a rectangle here), and the color swatches at the bottom.  They look similar to the swatches in Photoshop, but here they show the fill and stroke color.  Some of these tools have hidden options indicated by a small black triangle in the lower right corner.  You can also pull some of these tools out completely from the toolbar (next image).

Here, I've pulled out the direct select arrow and the pen tool.  These are the tools I use the most.  The pen tool is my weapon of choice for creating in Illustrator. The pen tool has four states total: the pen tool itself, the add point, remove point, and convert anchor. We'll actually trace a doll out in Illustrator in the next lesson.  Today I just want to show you how the various tools work.  In the image above, I've drawn a line with three points using the pen tool.

In this image, I used the convert anchor tool (looks like an upside down V) to create a curve.  Select the covert anchor tool, click on a point, and pull.  You get a neat little curve.  The blue lines sticking out are what you use to adjust the curve.  Click and drag with the direct select tool and the whole curve changes.  Click and drag on the end of the blue line with the convert anchor tool and you affect just that arm.

On the top, a line that was altered slightly with the direct select tool.  On the bottom, I clicked and dragged one of the blue lines with the convert anchor tool.  I know this all sounds a lot more complex than it really is.  It'll make a lot more sense next time.  To close a shape, click on the first point again.  An O shape will show up next to the pen to indicate that the shape is closed.

This is an image of another doll I'm working on.  On the left is what the doll looks like, on the right is an image with all the lines visible.  Most of that was done with the pen tool.  Some of it, like the earring and the iris/pupil on the eyes was done using the shape tool.  That one is pretty self-explanatory so I'm not going to get into it.

I think this is a good place to stop. Play around with the pen tool.  When I was learning, my teacher suggested that we trace a coloring book page with the pen tool.  It was a really great way to get a sense of how to use it.  There are numerous sites online that have Illustrator tutorials available (and do a much better job than I do of explaining things!) This one, for instance, is a nice overview.  Do a search for illustrator pen tutorials and you'll get lots.  And if you aren't familiar with it, deviantArt is a wonderful resource too.   Practice with the pen tool & we'll start using it next week!

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