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Brushes & Washes

Drawing with Naturalistic Pen, Ink, Wash


Overview: Start with a placed image as a template; create a custom calligraphic brush; create variations on the brush to apply to strokes; add a wash layer below the ink layer.

It’s easy to create spontaneous painterly and calligraphic marks in Illustrator—perhaps with more flexibility than in many pixel-based programs. Sharon Steuer drew this sketch of Honfleur, France, using a Wacom tablet, her Art Pen for the Intuos4, and two different Illustrator brushes. She customized a brush for the thin, dark strokes and used a built-in brush for the underlying gray washes.

  1. Placing artwork as a template. If you want to use a sketch or photo as a reference as you draw into layers above, set it up as a non-printing template layer. For her template image, Steuer scanned a small photo of Honfleur and saved it as a JPG and then opened it in Illustrator. To place an image as a template, choose File> Place, enable the Template option, and click the Place button. If the image imports at too large a size, unlock the layer, select the image (holding down Option-Shift/Alt-Shift keys to resize proportionally from the center), and drag on a corner of the bounding box until the image is the size you want; then lock the layer again. Illustrator automatically dims images on your template layer to 50%, but you can double-click the layer icon to adjust this and other settings in Layer Options. Toggle between hiding and showing the template layer using common01.jpg-Shift-W/Ctrl-Shift-W, or toggle the visibility icon in the Layers panel.

  2. Customizing a calligraphic brush. In order to sketch with accurate detail, you’ll need to adjust the Paintbrush Tool Options by double-clicking the Paintbrush tool icon. In Options, drag Fidelity (accuracy) and Smoothness sliders all the way to the left for maximum control (in CC you adjust just one Fidelity slider to Accurate). Disable “Fill new brush strokes,” and if you want to be able to quickly draw strokes that overlap, disable Keep Selected.

    To create a custom calligraphic brush, click the New Brush icon and select Calligraphic Brush. For this piece, Steuer chose the following settings: Angle=90°/Fixed; Roundness=10%/Fixed; Diameter=4 pt/Pressure/Variation=4 pt. If you have one of the newer Wacom Art Pens, try varying the diameter with Rotation instead of Pressure and then let the pen barrel rotate between your fingers naturally as you draw. (If you don’t have a pressure-sensitive tablet, only Random will have any effect on varying your stroke.) To create a variation of a brush, duplicate it by dragging it to the New Brush icon and then double-click the copy to edit it. If you create a variety of brushes—adding minor variances in Angle, Roundness, and Diameter—you can enhance the hand-drawn appearance of your ink drawing by selecting a brushed path and choosing a new brush for it.

  3. Adding a wash. For this piece, Steuer added depth by introducing gray washes underneath the dark brushstrokes. To easily edit the wash strokes without affecting the dark ink strokes, create a new layer, and draw your wash strokes into this layer between the ink and template layers. To avoid altering other layers while you brush in the washes, you may want to lock all the other layers. To toggle between locking all layers except the wash layer, and unlocking all layers at once, including the wash layer, Option-click/Alt-click the wash layer’s Lock icon.

    For the wash, select a light color. Steuer used the Dry Ink 2 brush from the Artistic_Ink brush library (Swatch Libraries menu). In the Layers panel, click the wash layer to make it the current drawing layer, and paint away.

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