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Drawing with the brush tools


Up and Running with Illustrator

with Deke McClelland

Video: Drawing with the brush tools

Drawing with the brush tools provides you with in-depth training on Design. Taught by Deke McClelland as part of the Up and Running with Illustrator
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Watch the Online Video Course Up and Running with Illustrator
Video Duration: 5m 55s2h 52m Appropriate for all Jul 19, 2011

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This course is a streamlined introduction to Adobe's popular vector drawing application. Expert Deke McClelland shows how to create professional-quality illustrations for print and electronic output, in the shortest time possible. The course covers the basics of setting up artboards, formatting type, drawing and combing path outlines, and applying dynamic effects.

Topics include:
  • Getting around an illustration
  • Drawing shapes and brushstrokes
  • Applying fills and strokes
  • Designing custom gradients
  • Creating type on a path
  • Working with the Layers panel
  • Scaling and rotating artwork
  • Drawing with the pen tool
  • Saving and exporting artwork
Deke McClelland

Drawing with the brush tools

In this exercise, I am going to do show you the Illustrator's brush tools which include the Paintbrush tool as well as the Blob Brush tool. Now even though the second one has a goofy name, these are both exceedingly useful expressive drawing tools, which means they allow you to lay down path outlines in pretty much the same way you draw in the real world; especially if you're equipped with a drawing tablet. I happen to have a Wacom Intuos4, and you can learn more about these things at

Drawing tablets cost anywhere from less than 100 bucks at the low end to in the case the one I am using about 400 bucks. And I also have a pressure sensitive stylus meaning that I can achieve just about any results I want. I am going to go ahead and zoom in on that top middle art board inside this file called Incomplete And then I'll go ahead and get my Paintbrush tool which you can get by pressing the B key, by the way. Then I'll bring up the Brushes panel. Now there is couple of different ways to get to the Brushes panel.

One is to go upto the Control panel and notice this guy that says 2 point Oval, in my case click on it and that brings up a pop-up version of the panel. Problem with this from my perspective is that it ends up covering up my work and I want you should be able to see what I am doing as we work inside the panel. So instead, I am going to go to the Window menu and choose the Brushes command, you also have the option of pressing the F5 key. And that brings up the BRUSHES panel over here on the right-hand side of the screen. I am going to select this brush that I created in advance called Pressure brush and it responds to a pressure sensitive stylus.

And then I'll go ahead and click inside of this orange face outline, like so. Click and hold in order to create this kind brow, and then I'll let up on the stylus and draw this guy's nose. And as I press harder, I end up getting a thicker stroke. Then I'll go ahead and draw the guy's mouth as well. And I'll go ahead and click and hold for a couple of eyes, both there on the left-hand side and on the right-hand side as well. You can see how you can lay down these path outlines very easily, but you can also apply specialty brushes to existing paths.

For example, I'll go ahead and switch back to my Selection tool, and then I'll click on this guy's scalp. And I want to select the other orange path outlines, so I'll go upto the Control panel. Notice this icon that says, Select Similar Objects. I'll click the down-pointing arrowhead to the right of it and I'll choose Stroke Color from the list. And that will go ahead and grab all those orange paths. And now I am going to apply this brush here inside the BRUSHES panel, the one that's called Fountain Pen. Doesn't look much like a fountain pen to me but it creates a great results.

And it looks very organic for a vector based drawing program. I do have one problem. I want his jaw to go to the other direction. In other words, I want the thick part of the brushstroke to start over here on the left-hand side and then tape your way on the right-hand side. And I want his hairs to go to the other direction as well. So they are thick at the top and thin at the bottom. So I am going to go ahead and marquee like so, drag inside of an empty portion of the art board to partially select those top hairs, I don't want to get any of his scalp. Now I've missed a hair so I'll go ahead and Shift+click on this far left there, and then I'll Shift+click on that outline around the base of the jaw.

Here inside the BRUSHES panel I'll drop all the way down to the bottom and you can see this icon that says, Options of Selected Object. If you're working along with me, inside this dialog box be sure to turn on the Preview check box so you can see what you are doing. And I am going to click on Flip Along which is going to reverse the direction of the brush along the outline. And then I'll click OK in order to accept those results. The interesting thing about these brushstrokes is they are ultimately these path outlines shown in blue. I am going to go ahead and marquee all these guys here.

And some of the outlines are small as one or two points and that's it. And then we have these big oblong strokes surrounding the path. What if instead you would prefer to fill the path? In other words, you want to trace the outlines of the path and then fill them with black? You would go up here to be Object menu and choose Expand Appearance. And that goes ahead and reverses the structure of the path outline as you see there. Now the reason, I mentioned this is because this is the way the Blob Brush works from the get-go. It always paints filled path outlines.

I'll do ahead and click off the path to deselect them, and I'll switch to the Blob Brush tool. Notice that it has a very similar keyboard shortcut to the Paintbrush. So you press the B key for the Paintbrush tool; you press Shift+B for the Blob Brush tool. And I dare say many of you will find it to be the more useful tool. Now I am going to double-click on the Blob Brush tool icon to bring up the Blob Brush options dialog box and I want you to see that I've set the size to 20 points. I am varying the size according to the Pressure that I applied to the stylus. Note that if you're using a mouse this option will not be available to you.

You have to have a drawing tablet. And then I've got ahead and crank the Variation value to match the Size value, so we have that much variation as well. So in other words this is a very flexible brush that I've setup. Click OK. And now I'll go ahead and paint the face in over here on the right-hand side inside of that blue face path outlined. And I am just going to go ahead and paint these brushstrokes here. Now notice how organically this brush behaves. It's actually really fun to use after you come to terms with it, especially if you have a drawing tablet.

Again, emphasize that enough. I'll go ahead and paint the bottom of this guy's chin right here. Give him a little crinkle on the side of his mouth as well. You should have a couple of crinkles under his eyes I think. I'll give him a little wrinkle above the brow may be a little sort of cheek line right there. All right! That looks pretty good to me; two very different faces, drawn with very different tools and remarkably little effort here inside Illustrator.

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