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Brush Strokes: Making Natural Pen and Ink Drawings

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Brush Strokes: Making Natural Pen and Ink Drawings

Excerpted from The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book,
by Sharon Steuer © 1999

Editor's note

To view the pages as Sharon designed them, you can download a PDF version of this story.


Adjust the Paintbrush Tool settings; customize a Calligraphic Brush; trace or draw your composition; make final adjustments.

original photo
The digital photo saved as a TIFF and placed as an Illustrator template

It's easy to create spontaneous painterly and calligraphic marks in Illustrator--perhaps easier than in any other graphics program. Creating highly variable, responsive strokes (using a graphics tablet and a pressure-sensitive, pen-like stylus), you can now edit those strokes as paths, or experiment with applying different brushes to the strokes after the path has been made. This illustration, one of 150 figures I drew for Christina Sillari's teaching manual on Chakra Yoga, was created using one custom Calligraphy Brush and a Wacom ArtZ tablet.

Maintaining your pressure

Only brush strokes initially drawn with pressure-sensitive settings can take advantage of pressure-sensitivity. Also be aware that reapplying a brush after trying another may alter the stroke shape.

  1. If you'll be working from a source, prepare your template. Although you can draw directly into the computer, if you want to trace a sketch or a scan you'll need to prepare your template. For this series of illustrations, since the charcoal drawings were between 11" x 17" and 18" x 24", I took digital snapshots of the drawings instead of scanning. The grayscale TIFF version of this posture "Easy Pose" was then placed as a template into Illustrator (see pages 80 Ð 83 for template help). To toggle between hiding and showing the template, press -Shift-W.

Paintbrush dbox
Customizing the Paintbrush Tool Preferences

new brush
Creating a new Calligraphic Brush

  1. Setting your Paintbrush tool preferences and customizing a calligraphy brush. Choose the Paintbrush tool and select one of the Calligraphy brushes in the Brushes Palette. In order to sketch freely and with accurate detail, the default Paintbrush Tool settings must be adjusted. Double-click on the Paintbrush tool to open Paintbrush Tool Preferences. Drag the Fidelity slider all the way to the left (.5 pixels), the Smoothness all the way to the right (100%), and disable both "Keep Selected" and "Fill new brush strokes" Options.

Calligraphic Brushes
Customizing a Calligraphic Brush; the brush in the palette viewed with Tooltips and By Name

stroke variations
Strokes made with customized brush (left); applying default 3pt Oval then 1pt Oval

    To create a custom brush, select a Calligraphic Brush, click the New Brush icon and click OK to New Calligraphy Brush. Experiment with various settings, name your brush and click OK. For this series of yoga illustrations, I named the Calligraphic brush "6 pt oval" with settings of: Angle 60° , Random 180°, Roundness 60%, Pressure 40%, Diameter 6pt, Pressure 6pt. The Paintbrush is now set to use your current stroke color--if there is no stroke color, it will use the fill color! Now draw. If you don't like a mark, either choose Undo or use the Direct-selection tool to edit the path. (If you don't have a pressure-sensitive tablet, you may want to try Random as a variable in Brush Options, since Pressure won't have any effect.)

  1. Experimenting with your image. First, save any versions that you are pleased with, then try applying different brushes to specific strokes and to the entire image (to hide / show the selection edges, -H). To access more Adobe-made calligraphy brushes choose Windows: Brush Libraries: Calligraphic--though you'll likely find that custom brushes provide more nuance (at left, see two of Adobe's brushes applied to the same strokes). For more on Calligraphic and "natural" brushes see pages 70 ­71 (for other brushes, see pages 54 ­ 55 and Chapter 6 ).wow!

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