Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Design symmetrical character art

LouLou & Tummie reveal how to create perfectly balanced characters in Illustrator.

Intro


The beauty of this image lies in its simplicity: it’s so clean and neatly proportioned that it radiates effortless charm. One key reason for its clear-cut appeal is its symmetry – by its very nature it’s balanced and orderly, but it retains a sense of movement. It’s also got a sort of comical formality, partly because its symmetry and background make it look almost like a heraldic crest.

In this tutorial, creative duo LouLou & Tummie show you how to use Illustrator to create a symmetrical, character-filled banner. You’ll hone your use of the Pathfinder tool to build new shapes, and tweak lines to give them a sense of flow.

The tricks you’ll learn are useful in a range of other vector-based illustrations, helping you to create art that is clean but not stilted.

To start, you’ll need to get some reference images of plants and flowers and draw yourself a rough sketch to base the tutorial on.

Time to complete

5 hours

Software

Adobe Illustrator

Step 1

STEP 1

Import your sketch into a new Illustrator document, and set the opacity to 30%. Place a guideline in the middle of your artboard and align your image so that its centre is on the guideline. This guideline will be the pivotal element of your whole illustration. Use the Pen tool to trace the upper part of the banner on the right-hand side.


Step 2

STEP 2

Hold down Shift + Alt/Opt and drag the line to copy it. This will be the bottom line of the banner. Select the endpoints and join them (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Close the two ‘open’ sides of the banner by drawing two shapes over it. Make sure nothing sticks out of the banner. Select all (Cmd/Ctrl + A) and go Window > Pathfinder > Divide, then ungroup.

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Step 3

STEP 3

The banner is now composed of three parts: top, middle and bottom. Select the pieces that belong to the bottom part and choose Add to Shape in Pathfinder. Click Expand. Repeat for the two other parts. Select all and click on the Reflect tool then, while holding Alt/Opt, click on the guide in the middle. Choose Vertical > Copy.


Step 4

STEP 4

Draw the right–hand side of your central flower or figure, making sure you start on the guideline. Drag as you place the second anchor point, so that you can  make smooth, flowing lines that you can then adjust later.

It’s best to place as few anchor points on a curve as you can – this makes it flow better. Reflect the line vertically on the guideline (as in Step 3). Select and join the endpoints.


Step 5

STEP 5

Drag a rounded rectangle for the mouth and a smaller one for the teeth. Drag and copy the ‘tooth’ (Shift + Alt/Opt), then Cmd/Ctrl + D to repeat this. Copy the mouth and teeth, choose Divide in the Pathfinder tool and ungroup. Delete the parts you don’t need and place the teeth back in the mouth.

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Step 6

STEP 6

Create a leaf by dragging a circle, then using the Convert Anchor Point tool (Shift + C) and clicking on the top anchor point of the circle. Select this anchor point and nudge it up a little to give the leaf a point, making it a teardrop shape. Place the leaf according to your sketch and make multiple copies. Adjust the outer leaves so that they fit your sketch.


Step 7

STEP 7

Drag a small circle. Select it and grab it by the left anchor point. Hold Shift + Alt/Opt and move the circle to the right until it snaps to the furthest right anchor point and release. Use the Cmd/Ctrl + D to copy this action. Draw a curve and reflect it to create the bottom part of the flower, then join the endpoints. Select all the circles and the bottom shape and then select Pathfinder > Add to Shape > Expand.


Step 8

STEP 8

Now let’s draw the swirly vines. Again, we draw only the left (or right) side of the illustration and then reflect it. Try to draw lines by hand using the Pencil tool as this gives a more spontaneous feel to your image. They don’t have to be perfect, but try to limit the amount of adjusting they need.

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Step 9

STEP 9

Next, clean up the points you don’t need from the lines – use Delete Anchor Point (-) from the Pen menu. Fewer anchor points means a better flow. Drag the curve handles on the anchor points (use the white arrow) and tweak them until the lines have the right flow. This will take some time and practice.


Step 10

STEP 10

Now let’s make the flowers to go with the vines. This can all be done the same way as we made the other shapes before. You can either copy the central figure, resize it and add some new detail, or you can play around with new shapes if you prefer.


Step 11

STEP 11

Make a simple flower out of circles. Create a circle and drag a guide from the top and side to the middle of the circle. Centre a small circle on the top anchor point of the bigger one. Tap R and Alt/Opt + click in the middle of the big circle, then rotate it 30º. Repeat this (Cmd/Ctrl + D) until you have enough circles. Select all and in the Pathfinder palette select Add to Shape > Expand..

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Step 12

STEP 12

Finish all the flowers, leaves and curls on one side of the illustration. When you feel this side looks good, select all the flowers, curls and vines and use the Reflect tool to copy and flip it.


Step 13

STEP 13

Now for the faces. Create a mouth, as in Step 5. Draw the eye, the freckles and cheek on the left side and then reflect them to the right. Again, use a guide in the middle to keep the face symmetrical – this is a great timesaver. Group the face (Cmd/Ctrl + G) and place it on the flower. Rotate it (R) to fit.


Step 14

STEP 14

You will need to add some details to finish the illustration. Placing these randomly, rather than perfectly symmetrically, will liven
up your illustration. These could be little leaves, dots, scales, extra curls – whatever you fancy.

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Step 15

STEP 15

Now adjust the line weight to get it just right. Also, check that your shapes are fully closed by making them black – if the lines aren’t properly connected then the black will fill the artboard. You may need to reorder some of the shapes, moving them to the front or back.


Step 16

STEP 16

When you’re happy with the illustration in black-and-white you can start colouring. Some people prefer to colour as they go along, but you can often get a better feel for the lines and shapes when they’re black and white. Colouring is also much faster when your composition is already finished.