- The first vector build method we'll discuss, is the clockwork method. When you first learn Illustrator, no one teaches you how to determine where to place your anchor points. Most just learn by trial and error, and this is how bad vector building habits are formed. The clockwork method is a simple mental trick to help you look at any drawn shape. Then figure out where to place the anchor points in order to form the vector shape accurately. Look at your drawing design, then associate a clock with the curves in your sketch.
Orient the clock as needed to align with your drawing, then look at the 12 o'clock, the 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and the 9 o'clock positions to help you discern the location to place your anchor points. When I approach any creative project, I like making the process of creating my art as easy as possible. And so, in that effort, when I started teaching years ago, I had to explain to my students how to build vector art with precision.
I mean, nothing irritated me more than getting artwork from them and it was just horribly built. And so I tried to think through how best to communicate that and I came up with something called the clockwork method. And this is nothing more than a mental trick to help you discern how to place your anchor points when you start creating your vector artwork. And I want to walk you through that process now. But first, we're going to revisit this character. We already built the top of his hat once, but we're going to build his entire hat in this movie.
And I'm going to walk you through with more precision, exactly how I think when I'm building my shape. Now it's not like I'm sitting there, talking to myself doing this. But, when I had to communicate it to people, so that they could understand, it is how I think. And once you start building this way, it's going to seem a little laborious maybe at first. But the more you do it, it'll just become second nature, and you won't even think about it. When you approach building stuff, you'll just jump into it, you' start building.
And I think you'll find this methodology really helpful. So we'll go to the pen tool, that's what we're going to use. And I'm also going to be using the anchor point tool in Illustrator to manipulate my paths. That said, when I create my own art, I love Astute Graphics plug-ins. And I use a tool called PathScribe down here to do the same thing that the anchor point tool does. I just happen to think it does a little better. So I'm going to demonstrate that for you as well.
Because, I think having choices is always a good thing when it comes to artistic tools, digital or otherwise. So we're going to start creating our vector artwork on our build layer. And wherever your artwork comes to a point, gets a point. So we're going to go ahead and just lay those down. The back of his hat is easy, wherever it comes to a point, gets a point. Now when we get to this curve, this is where we have to discern where do we place the next anchor point to form this curve precisely as possible.
Well, if you picture a clock in your mind, then the right-hand side of the clock, the 3 o'clock position might be here. And if we click and pull out our anchor points, just enough to make them available, you don't have to pull them out to far. That's where we place our first anchor point. Swing around, come to the top, wherever it comes to a point gets a point. We can go all the way down to this point because this curve in between is so shallow, we can make that with our handlebars when we pull them out.
So we'll place the next anchor point here. And then as we form the front part of his hat, if you think once again of a clock in mind, then this would be the 3 o'clock position. Right about here, pull the anchor handles out, as far as you need, just have access to them. We swing around at top, this is where our 12 o'clock position would be. We'll click and pull to get our handles to come out there. And then the nine o'clock position on clock would be right about here. So we'll click and pull to make our handlebars accessible there, wherever it comes to point, gets a point.
And the bill of his hat is so shallow, that once again we don't need to place an anchor point in between here. We can create that with the handlebars when we pull them out. Could you put an anchor point right here? Yes you could and it's not that it's bad, it's just really not necessary once you start working with the handlebars. So we're not going to do that. We'll just go to the point, gets a point. As it swings down here, this is where you might associate this curve with either a 6 o'clock location, or it could be a 9 o'clock location, depending on how you're seeing that in your mind's eye.
So we'll add an anchor point here, and pull out the handlebars. It swings up here where it comes to point, gets a point, swings back down. And now once again you'll associate this curve with a clock. It can be 6, it can be 9 o'clock. But we're going to place an anchor point, right there in that position. Now this is where it gets a little tricky. This is where anywhere in your art that comes to an angle, you'll want to angle your clock in your mind's eye. In this case, maybe the clock is leaning to the left, and it's narrowed, it's been squished together.
And this is where we'll place our next anchor point, a 3 o'clock position, right about here. Then we'll swing into a 12 o'clock position, at the top. And we'll swing over to the left and this will become a 9 o'clock position. So as if our clock is tilted, leaning to the left. And now to finish up the shape, we swing down back into the artwork. We can place this anchor point anywhere because it's going to be consumed once we combine all of our shapes together.
And this is how I'll finish up the shape. Now when I get to this point, this is what I consider rough building. I don't worry about it being exactly aligned to my underlying drawing. I'm more concerned about anchor point locations. It's at this point, I'll zoom in on areas. And now I'll grab the anchor point tool. And I can grab a path, anybody using CS6 or above can do this, this feature is in CS6 and above. If you use something below it, you'll have to handle it a little differently, and I'll show you that.
Or use a plug-in from Astute Graphics, and I show you that as well here shortly. But you grab anywhere on a path. You pull it and it's kind of like clay. So I'm making subtle curves here just so they're not perfectly straight. And if I zoom out here, this is where we can select an anchor point. And because we've pulled out the handles, we can now continue to pull those out to align with our underlying sketch. So we'll pull this one out a bit. Now I don't have any handles pulled out here.
And this is how this tool will work with anybody using CS5 or below. You'll grab the anchor point handle, you'll click on this anchor point, and drag to get access to the handle. Then when you release, you can grab a handle and then adjust it out. That's how you'll have to handle building your vector art if you're using CS5 or below. And then you can grab the other handle and manipulate that as well. Now I'm going to show you really quickly the plug-in that I prefer to use.
You could use everything that's included in Illustrator out of the box, and never touch any plug-in, and do it just as precisely. It's just going to take you just a little bit longer to do that. And I use the PathScribe tool down here. Actually, VectorScribe is the plug-in, you get all four of these tools. But the one I'm going to use is this one called PathScribe. And this works kind of like the anchor point tool in Illustrator, it just is a lot more elegant. You notice when I go to my path selected, you see this little white point right here that I can grab? Those are what are called ghost handles.
One, I just love that name, I just think ghost handles is a cool brand name. But, it allows you to grab it and pull out the anchor point handle. That's why it's so nice, it makes it so fast. I don't have to mess with the anchor point, I can get access to it quickly. And then I can just start manipulating. You can also grab a path, and you can see the annotation that shows up. That's because on this tool if I double click it, you can customize what information it's telling you. And, personally, I don't like when it shows me those annotations.
So I usually turn those off, so that when I use it, I don't get the text that shows up. I even turn off the little red annotation showing here. I don't need it. But as you start using it for the first time, you might want to leave those on. Now you notice when I pull it out, how these anchor points are kind of breaking here. Well the nice thing about the PathScribe tool, is I can go in, I can grab it. And you see the S that shows up, that says I'm fixing it. It's now a smooth anchor point like it should be, like you intended it to be.
So it's smart enough to know where it should be smooth, and where it should be straight. So once again this one's doing the same thing, so you don't have to fix those. That's something you can't do with anchor point tool out of Illustrator. But we're going to switch back to Illustrator. And once again if you want to try those plug-ins from Astute, just go to Astute Graphics.com. Download the trial plug-ins, you get 14 days to play with it. If you like it then you can consider getting it. I think it's worth it's weight in gold because it really does save you time.
And time is money, so if you value your time, you're definitely going to like it. And the ease of use is really great. And to be completely honest, they had it out before Illustrator ever did. And I just happen to think Illustrator kind of got their idea from them as well. So this is how I'll start going through my artwork and manipulating all my vector paths. I'll grab the anchor point tool, and I'll just grab a path. And it gives me access to the handle. So once again, this one I didn't need to put an anchor point in between these two areas, because these curves are so subtle.
Now I'm going to grab this path and manipulate this curve. We'll go down here, and I'm going to adjust my anchor point handles. So we're going to continue and we'll manipulate these just to have access to those anchor point handles. And I'm going to go here, I'm going to pull this curve out. And we're going to continue to manipulate this and finesse our curves because we want to create elegant, free-flowing vector artwork that aligns with our underlying drawing.
Once again, your underlying drawing is going to help you in this effort, it's going to speed up the process. Now I know this methodology, if you're not used to working this way, it's going to seem very laborious, and very time consuming. And initially it may be, if you're not used to working this way. But the more you work this way, the faster you're going to get. And eventually you won't even think about it. You'll just start building, you'll jump into the process. And it will speed up your build times, and you're going to notice a drastic improvement in the quality of your vector art.
And that's the whole point of doing it. So we're going to continue to manipulate the last few curves on this path. And you can see the bottom here. Now this one, I'm probably going to adjust this anchor point a little bit. I'm going to pull this one out, and I think we're looking pretty good. So let's zoom out and see how that shape looks. I think that looks pretty good. So we've gone ahead and created the whole hat shape. I think overall, that looks pretty good.
And once again, this process doesn't distinctly go fast. You want to take your time and do it well. In the next movie, I'm going to scrutinize my anchor point placements and make any revisions necessary to my art. If you find yourself struggling to form a vector shape accurately, use the clockwork method to analyze your anchor point placements and improve your final design results. Like anything new, the clockwork method will take some time to get used to.
But eventually your discernment on anchor point placements will improve. That said, don't assume that every anchor point you place when using the clockwork method is going to be perfect every time. Because it's won't. Think of it this way, the clockwork method will get you within the correct neighborhood, but might not be the exact street address. And that's ok at this stage of the process.
- What is illustrative design?
- Establishing a creative brief
- Defining client expectations
- Exploring creative thinking exercises
- Art directing your drawing
- Selecting an appropriate style for each project
- Drawing and thumbnail sketching
- Discerning anchor point placement
- Building vector drawings with shapes
- Presenting your illustrations
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: This course was updated on 12/01/2015. What changed?
A: We updated 17 movies to reflect changes to the vector drawing workflow in Illustrator CC 2015.