Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Master composition in vector art

Great art doesn’t have to be complicated, as Petros Afshar proves by conjuring up a bird graphic out of basic building blocks

Petros Afshar, who recently won a D&AD Student Award in Brand Communications, has a penchant for primitive forms. Basic shapes, geometric patterns and intricate line art fascinate him, and he finds inspiration in how artists such as Peter Grundy, Charley Harper, Leandro Castelao and Eleanor Grosch have used simple elements to beautiful effect in their work.

Petros recently created a series of bird artworks which evoke the beauty and vibrancy of our feathered friends. By working through this tutorial, you will see how he depicted a blue jay using only solid shapes, strokes and typographic elements. More importantly, you will also acquire a feel for how to assemble these ingredients to create impressive and compelling compositions.

Time to complete

5 hours


Adobe Illustrator CS or later


Good work is often founded on good research, and I started out by doing an Internet image search for certain bird species. I was particularly intrigued by the blue jay and made a mood board containing pictures of it, to help me appreciate its characteristics and distinctive appearance. These are my reference pics, but you can find some of your own in the free stock images on the Download Zone.


Eventually I settled on a reference image I liked. I brought this into Illustrator and began deconstructing the shot, breaking it down to its core elements. I used a black background as I wanted to emphasise the bird’s vivid coloration.

Advertisement. Article continues below


Next I drew the blue jay’s outline with strokes of different weights to establish the basic composition of the piece. I was then ready to place my type strategically. For the font, I chose Helvetica as it seemed to complement the geometric shapes of the design.

The colours were specifically chosen for what they connote. Blue represents the blue jay of course, while orange creates a sense of flamboyance and the light grey helps the bird stand out against the black background.


It was now time to add detail to the top half of the illustration. By using elements loosely based on wheels and circuitry, I was able to build a cohesive network of shapes. The idea behind the choice of elements was to highlight the endangered status of some bird species and that they may only live on in our virtual memories.


The idea was that the shapes and lines would flow across the body and wings of the bird. I expanded my palette of shapes to incorporate musical elements such as the stylised record player. This was placed where the heart of the blue jay would be, evoking the melodic and alluring side of the bird’s persona.

Advertisement. Article continues below


The tail caused the least hassle as by the time I came to do it, I already had an idea of how to tie it in with the rest of the shapes. I was able to draw freely in this section, hence the unconventional stroke swirls and solid filled shapes. This was meant to convey the sense of freedom we associate with birds in flight.


With the main shapes and line art finished, I carried out some minor adjustments and touch-ups. The record player had a full makeover with additional colouring and splash marks. I also added a second layer of patterns to fill in areas that felt incomplete in my eyes, paying special attention to the bird’s edges in order to give the overall look a ‘raw’ feel.


Sometimes it feels right to add more text, but here I thought it would only overcomplicate the design. All that I decided to add by way of words was a small label stating the name of the bird.

Advertisement. Article continues below


London-born and based, Petros recently graduated in graphic design from Middlesex University. Aged 23, Petros is not content with specialising in typography and print and web design – among his many other interests are creative writing, music production, PR work and running his own clothing brand.