In this post we’re going to draw the head of a cute lion graphic, and then complete it with some more awesome techniques in the next post. OK. You may not want to draw a cute lion as such, but I am willing to bet that if you do there will be something in it for you that will accelerate the way you create in Illustrator. Running even the first part of this at recent demos has had people staring open-mouthed at how fast it is. You’ve got to try it!
You Could Do This in n Minutes!
What we really should take away from this tutorial—let’s ignore that it’s a cute lion—is how much faster it is to draw in Illustrator CC than in previous versions. I read lots of tutorials and see all-too-many outdated techniques being used, that while they do still work—no arguments there—aren’t the best use of the super-amazing-awesome-powerhouse that Illustrator CC is. Do you know what it makes me think of? I think it’s like having a Ferrari and attaching a horse to the front of it. We’ve got the keys! Unhitch the horse and fire up those cylinders—let’s burn, er… vectors. Yeah.
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Get yourself a new document open in Illustrator. For mine I’ve used the Basic RGB profile and set the document to 210mm square, but the size of it isn’t really an issue—the only thing I’d recommend is perhaps staying away from the web document presets though because we don’t need any “Align to Pixel Grid” behaviour for this exercise.
It’s useful if Smart Guides are turned on.
Don’t be distracted by colour—this week we’re only going to concern ourselves with the basic shapes. Before you draw anything, tap D on your keyboard—ensuring that we are going to use the fill/stroke defaults—and then making sure that the fill is in front in the toolbox, hit SLASH (/) to remove any fill. These steps will make it easier for us to draw at the moment.
Draw the Face Shape
Select the Polygon Tool, and draw a hexagon in the centre of the document; a hexagon is the default shape but if you’re getting some other shape, then use the up/down arrow keys on your keyboard to change the number of sides as you draw; before you stop drawing, hold down SHIFT to constrain the hexagon to laying flat. Next, tap R on your keyboard to activate the Rotate Tool; hit RETURN type 90 and hit RETURN again, to spin the rectangle around.Activate the Direct Selection Tool by tapping A on your keyboard. The Live Shapes feature will engage and you’ll see small corner widgets appear at the corners—drag them inwards a bit to get this sort of shape:Staying with the Direct Selection Tool drag a selection across the top six anchor points (as shown below); once they’re selected drag downwards with any one of the corner widgets until they reach their maximum radius:
Leave the points selected and tap S (Scale Tool). The transformation point will by default be in the centre of the selected points; move your cursor away from the shape and then click-and-drag to the left, and the points will be moved inwards:
Like so:Now we’re going to add some guides to help us visualise the basic form of the face. Tap the BACKSLASH (\) key to access the Line Tool and draw two straight lines like so (Hold down SHIFT before you stop drawing to keep them perfectly straight):Switch back to the Reshape Tool (you’ll find it nested with the Scale Tool in the toolbox) and drag downwards with the horizontal line to give it a bit of a curve:
Switch back to the Selection Tool and select both lines. Use the shortcut CMD-5 to turn those lines into guides (or if you want to take the long way around, View > Guides > Make Guides; this will help us to position the face elements.
Add The Nose and Mouth
Make the nose by drawing a shallow ellipse. Position the cursor at the intersection of the guides, hold down ALT (to draw from the centre) and create the ellipse. Pick up the Direct Selection Tool, select the bottom anchor point and drag it downwards like so:
Using the Selection Tool select both of those curves; tap O to activate the Reflect Tool and then ALT-click the anchor point that is on the vertical guide—this sets the reflection point and simultaneously the Reflect dialog will open; if it isn’t already selected, select Vertical from the options and then—holding down the ALT key—hit RETURN; you’ll get reflected copies on the other side:Immediately select the two big curves and hit CMD-J to join them. Now tap A and select the middle point; use the corner widget to add a bit of a curve here:
Select both the ellipse and your curved “smile” line, then hold down SHIFT and tap M on your keyboard to activate the Shape Builder Tool; move the cursor over the top section of the ellipse and holding down ALT, click to remove that section:
Create the Ears
- Select the Polygon Tool and draw a triangle; tilt it at a slight angle to the head as shown
- Hold down CMD and round off the corners using the widgets
- Hold down SHIFT and tap R to activate the Warp Tool; reshape the ear as shown
- ALT-click inside the shape towards the bottom (as in the example) and enter a value of around 80 in the Uniform field; hold down ALT and hit RETURN to make a copy
- Select the two shapes created, hold down ALT and click on the centre-line of the head; as the axis shouldn’t have changed from vertical, ALT-RETURN to create a reflected copy
Create the Basic Eye Shapes
- Using your guides as you will have done in previous steps, draw a large ellipse from the centre-line; draw another ellipse that will become the eye (we’re finishing the eyes in the second part of this tutorial); rotate the second ellipse around a few degrees as shown
- Select both ellipses; hold down SHIFT and tap M to activate the Shape Builder Tool; hold don ALT and drag across the intersecting area of the two ellipses into the larger shape to remove them
- Once this is complete and if you’re happy with the shape/size—I resized the eye on mine first a bit as I felt it was too small—just as with the ears in the previous step, create a reflected copy
Create the Mane
We’ll make the mane in two stages—an “outer” mane for the bulk of the shape and then a forelock for the front. There are dozens of ways we can do this, but here I’ve chosen to use the Pen Tool (P) then just to click around and create the shape, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to tidy up afterwards. Before drawing my “outer” mane, I created an elliptical guide (just as we did with the lines at the start) so I didn’t go too far off course. I used the corner widgets to round off the top two points on the mane and you could of course use other tools and create the shape you want.
Draw the forelock so that it covers the gaps where the ears would meet the head, and add a couple of cheeky points to add some character; I gave the forelock in my example a white fill just so you can see the shape that I drew for mine, more easily.
Wrapping Up (for now)
Make sure that your work is saved, if you haven’t already! In the next post, we’re going to be drawing the remainder of the lion, adding some colour and a background—all using another bunch of time-saving techniques.
One More Thing… How Long is n Minutes, Anyway?
For me, it’s around the 5-6 minute mark for the stages described above. I have posted a real-time demonstration of this on my Youtube channel that is a couple of seconds under 7 minutes, but once you have these techniques nailed, it’s easy to trim a minute or two off of that time—I had to slow it up for the text overlays describing the steps.
The video is silent—when the whole tutorial is complete I’ll be posting a complete, narrated version.