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By Lauren Harmon | Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Deke's Techniques: Drawing a radiant, cheerful cartoon background

Last week, Deke showed you how to create your very own “grumpy bird” with Adobe Illustrator. This week, learn how to give our wingless friend a pastoral background filled with rolling hills of grass, rays of light, and a couple of flowers.

The final grumpy bird illustration

Follow along with Deke in this week’s free video and use the companion text below to help with each step.

  1. Start with the grass layer, which is the green rectangle at the bottom of the artboard. To add the illusion of a receding grassy hillside, you’ll add a series of independent fills to this same path. To do so, click the Add New Fill icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel. Drag the new fill that appears to the bottom of the panel’s stack.

Step 1: Start by creating the background.

  1. Click the new fill’s color swatch and select a new shade of green. Deke uses an RGB value of R=150 G=200 B=0.

Note the new fill is still hidden in the background, so you won’t see the change just yet. Time to scale it!

  1. Choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Change Vertical Scale to 120% and select the bottom point in the reference point matrix to stretch the fill upward.
  2. Duplicate the fill by activating it and clicking the page icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel again. This copies over the fill’s color and Transform effect as well.
  3. Select this fill, click on its color swatch, and change it to the next shade of green, or R=210 G=240 B=50. Click on the word Transform next to the fill in the Appearance panel and change the Vertical Scale value of this effect to 160%. Now you should have four separate color fills that make up the grass.

p>Step 5: Transform the background to turn it into layers of grass.

  1. Now to transform these flat rectangles into rolling hills. Close the fills and select the Path from the Appearance panel. This will apply the next effect not to any one fill, but to the entire path outline. Now choose Effect > Warp > Arc Upper. Change the Bend value to -90 degrees, make sure the Horizontal radial button is selected, and change Vertical Distortion to 50%. Click OK to accept these offsets.

Step 6: Transform the flat rectangles into rolling hills.

  1. Round off the effect by choosing Effect > Stylize > Round Corners. Dial in a Radius of 300 points.

Still not getting a hilly result? Well, the effects are applied in the wrong order. Drag Warp Arc Upper all the way to the bottom of the stack, and drag Round Corners just above that. This will resolve further as you apply the next few steps.

Step 7: The order of how your layers should be for this illustration.

  1. Choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Choose the bottom point in the reference point matrix and increase Horizontal to 150%, Vertical Scale to 154, and Vertical Move to 10. Click OK.
  2. Drag your new Transform effect below Round Corners in the Appearance panel.

  3. Now you need to stagger the positions of each of the fills in the hill’s path outline like so:

• Change the topmost fill to 160% Vertical Scale and -50 points of Vertical Move • The next fill to -38 points of Vertical Move • And the next to -22 points of Vertical Move

Step 10: Stagger the position of each fill.

  1. Next, return to the Layers panel and select the bluish rectangle behind Deke’s knoll. This is the beginning of the rays of light. Choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Change Horizontal Move to 200 points and change Copies to 1 to create an additional ray on the right-hand side of your composition.
  2. Switch to the Appearance panel and click on the word Transform in the bottommost effect. Change Horizontal Move to -200 points and click OK. (Copies should still be 1 from the previous step.) There’s your third ray.

Step 12: Light rays and clouds added to the illustration.

  1. To change the shape of the rays, choose Effect > Warp > Arc. Change the Bend value to 0% and Vertical to -100.

Once again, the effect is in the wrong position, so the rays are bending incorrectly. Move Warp to the bottom of the Appearance panel stack.

  1. Apply Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform once again to further alter the angle of the rays. Click Apply New Effect to confirm when prompted. Change Horizontal Scale to 45% and click OK.

Step 14: Transform the angle of the rays.

  1. Click the word Opacity at the bottom of the stack and change the blend mode to Overlay to add a final bit of transparency to your rays.

Step 15: Change the transparency and blend mode of the light rays.

  1. Lastly, you’ll create the flowers. Select the white ellipse on the right-hand side of the artboard and choose Effect > Transform. Change Horizontal Scale and Vertical Scale to 100% and both Move values to 0%. Select the bottom point in the reference matrix and change Rotate to 60 degrees. Change the Copies option to 5.

Step 16: Create the flowers for our grumpy bird illustration.

  1. Choose Effect > Transform again and click Apply New Effect when prompted. Change Rotate to -15 degrees and Vertical Scale to 90%. Click the center reference point, change Copies to 0, and click OK to finish your first flower.
  2. Switch to the Layers panel. Select the meatball* next to the completed flower and hold down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key and drag it to the path representing the incomplete flower. This move effectively copies all the dynamic effects to that layer.

  3. Lastly, select the black ellipse representing the shadow that falls underneath your character and change the blend mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 50%.

p>The final grumpy bird illustration

And that is a comprehensive look at creating a dramatic cartoon background in Illustrator. Turn on the visibility of your character to see the entire composite.

If you’re a member of the lynda.com library, Deke has another video for you where he shows you how to stroke live editable text inside of Illustrator and create the final version of the artwork.

Next week, Deke takes a generic wood photograph and dresses it up with synthetic water droplets, created entirely from scratch inside Photoshop. Stay tuned!

  • Meatball is what Illustrator experts affectionately term the circle to the right of the layer name.

Interested in more?

• The entire Deke’s Techniques collection • Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate • Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate • Start your 7-day free trial to lynda.com today

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