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In Illustrator CS5 One-on-One: Mastery, the third and final part of the comprehensive Illustrator One-on-One series, author and industry expert Deke McClelland shows how to take advantage of the wide array of dynamic effects in Illustrator CS5. Deke explores Illustrator’s powerful Gradient Mesh feature, great for creating photorealistic airbrushing effects. He also covers graphic styles, the liquify tools, envelope-style distortions, the new Bristle Brushes, 3D text, and perspective drawing. Exercise files accompany the course.
All right, so I promised you a gorgeous graphic, and here it is. It's called Moku Ka'alikai.ai, and Moku is the Hawaiian word for island, by the way. Ka'alikai is my Hawaiian word for hummingbird, because there is no Hawaiian word for hummingbird, so far as I can figure, and that's just by a way of background. I want you to see that over here we've got a custom column graph over on the left side of the illustration. That's what we'll be creating over the course of this chapter. However, in this exercise, you know how I like to begin with something that's unrelated to the topic at hand, but it is a very important topic if you find yourself working with gradient meshes very often.
Now, we've got a couple of gradient meshes going on inside of this illustration; one is assigned here to this rectangle at the bottom of the screen. It represents all the sea colors and the surf washing against the shores and so on. And this wave right here, I think it looks great, but it would have to be about 2,000 feet tall in order to look that big. Still, I am taking some artistic license of course. But more to the point, what I think you might find more interesting here is the gradient mesh that's at work inside the island. Now, I am not going to walk you through every point and how I put down the colors and all that jazz. If you want to get a sense of how that gradient mesh is put together, you can twirl open the title & island layer here inside the Layers panel, and then go ahead and scroll down to this group, which is called big island. Twirl it open, and then inside of there you're going to see a compound shape that's masking a mesh. And then you'd go ahead and meatball that mesh, and you would see all of its anchor points and segments and so on here inside of the illustration window.
But, here's the trick. This compound shape--I am going to go ahead and meatball it--notice that it contains a total of three paths that I assembled together using the Unite operation, a dynamic version of the Unite operation, from the Pathfinder panel. And it's wicked complicated from Illustrator's perspective, because it has all of these anchor points, and the reason it has all of these anchor points is twofold. First of all, I created the core outline from a live trace of an image I found of the big island, and so everything is based on that island, including the mountains are basically an upside down version of the island and so forth.
And you can see a little version of the island over here in the lower-left corner of the illustration, so you get a sense of how things are put together. I also went ahead and used the Warp tool, that Liquify tool, in order to scoot the edges around, and I turned off that Simplify check box, so as a result I've just got scads of anchor points. What that means is--let me show you. That makes it very difficult to fill this shape with a gradient mesh. So what I am going to do with that compound shape meatballed, I am going to press Ctrl+C, or Command+C on the Mac, in order to copy it.
Then I am going to twirl closed big island, I am going to meatball it, and we're not going to see any selection at work at all inside the illustration window for some reason. Illustrator just basically gives up on it, but it is selected. And then I'll press Ctrl+F, or Command+F on the Mac, in order to paste it in front, so we've got this wicked complicated path. Let's fill it with something so we can see it. I'll go ahead and fill it with black. And now, let's say I want to assign a gradient mesh. Well, you go up to the Object menu and the Create Gradient Mesh function isn't even available, and that's because I am working with a compound shape. So, fair enough, all right, can't fill a compound shape with a gradient mesh.
So I'll bring up my Pathfinder panel, and I'll go ahead and click on the Expand button in order to expand out those shapes. And if for some reason your Expand button is dimmed, just go ahead and twirl open the shape and twirl it closed and try again; it should wake up at some point. Anyway, I've gone ahead and expanded those shapes to a single path. It's not even a compound path; it's just a straightforward, everyday, average path, with an awful lot of anchor points associated with it. All right, I'm going to hide the Pathfinder panel, and I'll go back up to the Object menu. Now Create Gradient Meshes available to me, so, awesome! And I'll choose the command and Illustrator says, "The path has too many points to create a gradient mesh." Now, the reason it's telling us this, in Illustrator's defense, is because when you create a gradient mesh in this fashion, it tries to mold that gradient mesh to the existing edges inside the path outline. And in order to do that, it's just going to be a big nightmare. So, click OK.
Here is what you've got do. You go ahead and copy this path, so press Ctrl+C, once again, or Command+C on the Mac, and press Ctrl+F, or Command+ F on the Mac, in order to paste it in front. And we'll go ahead and turn off the guy that's in front for a moment, and then I'll turn on the guy that's in back, the original one, and we're going to simplify it. So I'll go up to the Object menu and I'll choose Path, and I'll chose Simplify. And this is a command that I don't use very often. I don't actually recommend it for everyday work, because it really does make a smooth mess of any path outline you assign it to, but in this case it's our only option.
So I'll go ahead and choose Simplify, and I went ahead and took the Curve Precision value to 50% and the Angle Threshold to 90 actually. But notice that I am reducing the number of points, the number of anchor points, from 518 down to 71, which is a lot better. I'll go ahead and leave these two check boxes off, although Show Original is interesting, because if you turn on Show Original, Preview has to be turned on as well. Then any of the points that are showing up blue, in this case, because this is a violet layer I believe, so any of the violet points are the ones that are going to stick, and any of those blue points are the ones that are going to drop away.
So whatever points are in a different color than the layer color are the ones that are going to get wiped out. All right, so I'll turn that back off just so we can focus on this very sort of goopy, simplified version of the island now. Click OK in order to accept it. Now, go ahead and hide big island in the backgrounds, then hide the stroke. To achieve the stroke, I had to create yet another version of the path and stroke it independently. But I'll go up to the Object menu, and now I'll choose Create Gradient Mesh, and I added 6 rows and 9 columns, Appearance > Flat, because I just figured I'd add my own colors. I didn't want anything resembling this, for example; just a glowy island wasn't what I was looking for at all, so I just set it to Flat. And then I clicked OK.
And then I set about obviously modifying my gradient mesh, I added mesh points all over the place, and so on. The larger problem is that it's overly simplified. Let's say I go ahead and change all of these points to, I don't know, something green, just as a place to start. Well, we're of course lacking all kinds of definition associated with this island now. So what I did was I went ahead and turned on the path in the foreground which has all the definition associated with it, and then I went ahead and got my Scale tool. And notice, by the way, the Mesh object in the background is still selected, and I went ahead and scaled this path outward a little bit, made it bigger, like so, so that it takes up too much room, and then I went ahead and did this.
I went back to my Layers panel and I Shift+Clicked on the top path, and because it's in front, I can use it as a mask. So I went up to the Object menu and I chose Clipping Mask and I chose Make, or press Ctrl+7, Command+7 on the Mac. Now, I do get yet another warning. This time Illustrator is saying, hey, that top object, it just hates that top object, it just hates that super complicated path outline, and it says, it's very complex, and it may cause the document to fail when printing. Now, what it means is not the way we think of things failing--that is, you know, gradients drop out and transparency doesn't work and all that jazz.
In this case, it would be an out of memory error. So Illustrator, if it had problems printing this document, it would just choke, whereas if you just go ahead and render the document in Photoshop or export it as the TIFF file from Illustrator, you should be fine. So I'll just go ahead and click Yes, I want to go ahead and do it. And now you can see that you've got the simple object filled with a gradient mesh, clipped inside the more complicated path outline, so you've got the best of both worlds. Then I went ahead and locked down my clipping mask, so that it didn't get in my way, and I meatballed my mesh and I set about working on it.
So just wanted to give you a sense of what's going on there. I am going to turn that off of course, and then I'm going to turn my island back on, turn the stroke on as well, this stroked path in the background. That is the illustration we'll be creating. We won't be creating the island and the surf and all that jazz; instead, we'll be creating this graph. And I'll show you how to take an initial stab at creating a column graph in the very next exercise.
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