Tut: Draw This Cute Lion and Sharpen Your Drawing Techniques (Part One)

step8In 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 I read lots of tutorials and see all-too-many outdated techniques being used, that while they do still work—no arguments there—aren’t the best use of the super-amazing-awesome-powerhouse that Illustrator CC is.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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Getting Started

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

STEP1Select 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.step2Activate 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:step3Staying 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:step3a


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:step3b

Now drag across the “middle” two points and then use the corner widgets to just round-off that angle:step3c

Like so:step3dNow 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):step3eSwitch 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:step3f

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.step3g

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:step3h


With that done, we’ll draw the muzzle shape. Select the Line Tool and draw a diagonal line as shown below; make sure that the line finishes at the central guide:

Now switch to the Reshape Tool and drag out a curve from that line:Create another line at the apex of this line and repeat the previous process, so you have half of a nice “cheeky” mouth: step3k

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:step3m

To build the mouth we’ll use an ellipse. Tap E on your keyboard to choose the Ellipse Tool and holding down ALT to draw from the centre, draw an ellipse as shown here:step4


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:step5

The Knife Tool (nested with the Eraser Tool) will make a nice little tongue for us, simply by dragging across the remaining section of our ellipse, as shown here:step6

Create the Ears


  1. Select the Polygon Tool and draw a triangle; tilt it at a slight angle to the head as shown
  2. Hold down CMD and round off the corners using the widgets
  3. Hold down SHIFT and tap R to activate the Warp Tool; reshape the ear as shown
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. Complete!

Create the Basic Eye Shapes


  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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 copystep7c

Create the Mane

step7dWe’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.step8

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.

Catch Up: Sharpen Up! Camera RAW’s Detail Tab for Sharpening

With more and more designers discovering Camera Raw, and using the Camera Raw filter (in Photoshop CC) to gain access to those fine controls, one of the most frequently-asked questions that I come across relates to sharpening in the Detail tab in the ACR—Adobe Camera Raw—dialog. In this post we’ll take a look at sharpening in the detail tab and if you’re also a Lightroom user, then this applies to you, too!Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 14.05.36

So in the image above I’m not actually using a Raw file but a JPEG in Photoshop, converted to a Smart Object (not a necessary step, but it’s always wise to do so) then selected Filter > Camera Raw Filter…  and performed a few adjustments to the tones before moving to the Detail tab. In the sharpening section, we have four sliders:

  • Amount
  • Radius
  • Detail
  • Masking

Before we look at these here are a trio of a handy tips:

  1. Make sure that you are viewing the image at a zoom level of at least 100%. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a note to this effect but it’s sometimes/often/frequently (as applicable) overlooked.zoomLevelChange your zoom level with the keyboard CMD | CTRL + | – or use the controls on the bottom left of the dialog
  2. It isn’t necessary to click-and-drag on sliders in the Camera Raw dialog—simply mouse-down on the associated word and drag left/right to change the values
  3. Holding Down the ALT key while dragging gives you a better preview (as you’ll see below)


This is—as you’d probably expect—how much sharpening is applied; the range is 0 to 150. Maxed out, you’d probably see your image waaaay over-sharpened, but as the other controls fine tune the amount, it is actually possible to go this far. Holding down the ALT key gives you a greyscale preview that eliminates the distraction of colour.amount


Imagine you have a garden, your fence needs some repair and it’s going to be necessary for you to work on both sides of the fence—in your neighbour’s garden. Someone you live with is very precious about your garden, and this is echoed by your neighbour. Between the three of you, you come to an agreement that your work can be done with any shoring-up not being greater than two metres into each garden; that’s essentially what radius means. OK, using a garden analogy may-or-may-not sit well with you but it is an easy way to explain that sharpening is essentially modifying the contrast of edges—in Photoshop/Lightroom where dark pixradiusels neighbour light pixels—and determining how many pixels either side of that edge will be affected. The values range from 0.5 pixels to 3 pixels and holding down the ALT key exposes the radius halos around the edges.


This control—ranging from 0 to 100—tunes the halos in a sort-of-contrasty way. Maxing out the slider gives a result very similar in appearance to the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop; moving the slider to the left dampens the halos. Holding down ALT allows you to preview this more easily.detail


Camera Raw can create an edge mask on-the-fly, that reduces the sharpening of non-edge areas, concentrating it on the edges, and you can tune the mask with this control. Holding down ALT gives you a preview of the mask.masking

You can achieve some fantastic results with this filter, even if you don’t perform any other adjustments it’s a lot easier to preview than some of the other sharpening filters in Photoshop. If you have a smart object to start of with, you can also change the blending of the filter on the object. Try it out—it’s a great technique to have in the bag.

Tut: Use Adobe Shape CC to Create Screen Print Art from Your Photos

Shape CC is one of my favourite mobile apps to demo and play with. When I’m showing the capture apps—the small family of apps that includes Color CC, Brush CC, Shape CC and now Hue CC—it’s the one I leave for last like the main act in an evening’s entertainment. Actually, it’s easier to say that Shape CC is my favourite capture app to demo—that way I can now say that Comp CC is my favourite ideation app to demo, so I’m not forcing myself to choose!

Anyhooooo… back to the tutorial. We can use the output from Shape to make some screen print style graphics—all we need to do is create a range of “exposures” and blend them together in Illustrator.

Start in Shape

If you don’t have Shape yet, it’s available on the App Store and for a good few weeks now on Google Play (Min. Android 4.3 required).

Get Started

Once you’ve launched the app—if it’s the first time you’ve used it you’ll need to sign in with your Adobe ID (it also asks for this every now and then, too)—and Shape will engage the device camera (you only need to allow this once as the device remembers your choice).

Create a Library

We’re going to set up a Library first so we need to back out of the capture screen; tap the X next to the slider and you’ll be taken back to the library screen. At the top of the screen is a drop-down that says “My Library” by default—we’ll set up a new library for our tut—so click on the drop-down and choose the Create New Library option and give it a meaningful name.Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 19.35.40Processed

Check Settings

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 19.36.28ProcessedNow we have the library, we just need to make sure that Shape will also add anything we capture to the device camera roll, as we’ll need to use the same image a few times. Tap the Shape logo icon at the top of the screen to access your settings options—make sure that Save Images to Shape Album is enabled so that an album will be added to your camera roll. Tap < Back at the top of the screen to return to the library.

Capture or Choose Your Image

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 19.36.45ProcessedTap the + at the bottom of the screen to select an input for your shape—you’ll see that you can use the camera, your camera roll or even your Creative Cloud files. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to use, go ahead and capture it, you can tune the “threshold” using the slider in the capture screen and at any time tap on the image to see a shape preview.Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.21.59ProcessedOnce done, hit the big, green button and you’ll be taken to the refinement screen:Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.22.23ProcessedHere you can brush away stuff you don’t need. If you make a mistake, just hit the add/subtract toggle at the bottom-right and brush it back in. Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.26.44ProcessedHit the tick at the bottom when you’re ready to make the shape.Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.24.19ProcessedDepending on the complexity of your shape you can wait anything from a few seconds to nearly a minute (or more) for Shape to create the vectors. When it’s done, you’ll be prompted to name the shape and then save it to the library.Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.24.38ProcessedNow repeat a few more times—how many is up to you—and use different levels of threshold, as well as using the dark/light background toggle at the bottom-right of the capture screen. I’ve gone for four different versions:Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 20.31.59Processed

Composite in Illustrator

In Illustrator, make sure that you can see the Libraries Panel and from the drop-down in the panel, select your shape library (although it’s quite likely that it’ll already be selected).Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 21.00.18All you need to do now is drag the shapes to your document (or right-click on each version in turn and choose Place Copy) then apply different colours, opacities and blending modes to each one, then stack them together. Don’t be too precise—the misprint effect will only add more charm!


  • You can also use the Eraser Tool and Blob Brush Tool to make extra refinements
  • Use the layers panel to quickly target your individual shaoes when they are stacked Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 21.13.21

Have fun!

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