by Sharon Milne
Creating a Manipulative Cat Illustration in Adobe Illustrator CS5
In today’s tutorial I’m going to show you how I created a manipulative cat illustration using Adobe® Illustrator® CS5.
If you’ve lived with cats before, you’ll know they are masters of manipulation and can turn a little scratch into a major incident! I know this from recent experience with my own cat, who felt sorry for herself for two weeks while healing from a “broken nail,” which is very common with cats. Don’t worry; she’s completely fine and fully recovered!
In this tutorial I’ll show you some interesting things with Art Brushes, as well as exploring Color Guides, sketching in Illustrator, and how I render fur in vector. So let’s jump straight into it!
First create a New Document. From the main menu, select File > New, and in the New Document dialog, select New Document Profile = Print, Number of Artboards = 1, Size = A4. This will set the document color mode to CMYK and the Raster Effects = 300 dpi.
Double click on “Layer 1” and rename it to “Reference & Sketch” and click on Ok.
Go to Image > Place to put your reference image onto the canvas, and use the Free Transform Tool (E) to rescale it. The reference image I’m using in today’s tutorial can be found here.
I’ve sketched out the different elements I want in the illustration and given them different colors for each of the areas. The general concept is that the cat is hurt (bandage on the tail) and is manipulating its owner to get more fish! The scene would work with or without the bandage, as by default dogs have owners, cats have staff, or so the saying goes.
I Group (Ctrl + G) each of the elements with their corresponding colors, with the exception of the stack of plates and the single plate with the fish bones. This will make it easier to move the elements around to a composition I feel more comfortable with.
I’ve decided to move the cat to the other side of the canvas and have the plates arranged around her more to make the scene look more connected. You can use the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) to remove some of the lines, which are overlapping.
Lock the “Reference & Sketch” layer and then use the Artboard Tool (Shift + O) to modify the orientation of the canvas. Along the Control Panel at the top of the Illustrator interface, you can change the orientation to Landscape and you can move the artboard around.
Unlock the layer folder and then Select All (Ctrl + A). Go to View > Show Artboards to get the edges of the artboard viewable again. Using the Free Transform Tool (E), hold down Shift + Alt and rescale the whole composition evenly within the artboard boundary.
Now that I’m happy with the idea for my vector illustration, I organize my Layers panel. The first step is to Create a New Layer and rename it “BG.” Within this layer I add a Rectangle (M) with a white fill and change its Opacity to 40% via the Opacity menu in the Control Panel.
Next I Create New Layers for the “Background,” “Plate Stack,” “Plate & Fish,” and “Cat.” By creating a layer for each of the elements, I can easily hide and unhide elements as I’m working.
I start drawing the base shapes for the cat using the Pen Tool (P). The reference image I’m using isn’t at the right perspective in relationship to how I imagine the plates should be, as it would block the view of the plates. So I draw in the initial shapes for the cat. I’ve put a stroke on the shapes and they have a blue/grey fill of C=40, M=35, Y=40, K=5.
I keep the cat’s head in the same place, as I will need the reference as a guide for the features, but the other shapes I can move around. By bringing the front and back paws forward a bit, I can change the perspective slightly.
For the tail, I draw a 20pt, Round Cap line using the Pen Tool (P) to keep it uniform. Then using the Width Tool (Shift + W), I alter the width at the base of the tail to around 55pt. To prevent it looking like a tapered line, I adjust the width of the line to around 30pt further down.
Then use Object > Expand to convert it from a line to a shape. As there are many points for this simple shape, I’m going to use Object > Path > Simplify… to reduce the amount of points used. This will help reduce the file size.
I use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw in the background in shades of grey. I’ve not yet decided on the color scheme, so a neutral color such as grey is a lot easier on the eyes to work with rather than white. Then I Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste in Front (Ctrl + V) the plates and fish to the corresponding layer folders so I can view the whole composition with the “Background” layer folder visible.
It’s time to start working on the fur. I use a graphics tablet to create the fur, as it’s a lot quicker and more organic, but it can be done using a mouse with a lot of patience. If you look at the diagram below, I use a sweeping action as if I were painting on a traditional canvas.
I use the same grey/blue shade set to 70% Opacity, Stroke Weight of 1pt using one of my Width Profile 1 inspired art brushes using the Paintbrush Tool (B). I’ll use this brush for all the drawing of fur. These strokes are going to be around the base shapes to create a furry edge.
When finished, Group (Ctrl + G) all the strokes.
I begin building up darker areas of the fur by using transparent radial gradients with a brown shade (C=55, M=60, Y=60, K=35). These are set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 15%. I then use the Gradient Tool (G) to modify the shape and placement of the gradient within the shapes drawn with the Pen Tool (P).
To break up the hard lines of the gradients, I draw some strokes with the base grey/blue shade with the Paintbrush Tool (B) set to Opacity 70% with a Stroke Weight of 1pt. As with all the different sections of fur, Group (Ctrl + G) them once done.
The basic technique of rendering the fur is to gradually build up darker and lighter strands of fur. This is a similar process to that used in digital painting, and works well with this style of vector graphics. I’ll use the Paintbrush Tool (B) again, with a 1pt Stroke and with the grey/blue shade which used for the base. The darker strokes are done with Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity to 15%, the lighter strokes are set to Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity 20%.
Now I add thicker strands of fur to help build up the texture. However, these strands will be of a lower opacity. The general rule is that the thicker the strand, the lower the opacity. I use the brown that was used in the transparent radial gradients.
The first strokes are the darker ones, set to a Stroke Weight of 3pt with Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity 5%.
The next are lighter strands with a Stroke Weight of 3pt, Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity of 15%.
I add some 1pt Stroke Weight strands of fur, but this time changing the Blending Modes. Using the brown previously, used I’ll first add dark strands with Blending Mode = Color Burn and Opacity 15%.
Then with highlights using Blending Mode = Color Dodge and Opacity 30%.
Create a New Layer above the “Cat” layer folder and rename it “Eyes.” Using the Pen Tool (P), I draw the eyes and then use the settings shown below in the Appearance Panel. I’ve used colors from the default CMYK palette and then use varying Opacities and Blending Modes to create the effects I want.
To add detail to the eyes, I first add dark brown (C=55, M=60, Y=60, K=80) circles using the Ellipse Tool (L). Although the stock image has much smaller pupils, cats always seem cuter with bigger pupils. These circles will be set to Blending Mode = Multiply. Then I darken around the eyes with the same dark brown. These shapes will be set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity 20%.
Using the same dark brown, I create a transparent radial gradient and apply an Ellipse (L) behind the orange filled eyes to darken the surrounding further. Set this to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 70%.
Then with a light grey transparent radial gradient (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=5), I add a gradient over the eyes for a slight shine. However, if you look closely at the screenshot, you will notice this shape doesn’t cover the entire eye. This is because I want to show some sort of shadow along the top. These shapes are to be set to Blending Mode = Screen, Opacity 75%.
Now I add some highlights with the same gradient in the corner of the eye and along the water line. These will be set to Opacity 70%.
I use the same light grey transparent radial gradient to add reflections of light onto the eye, set to Opacity 70%.
I now Create a New Layer and rename it “Nose.” The nose is made up of a base shape of dark brown and then layering of shapes with a dark brown transparent radial gradient fill. The one in the background, which also adds shadow to the mouth area, is set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity 15%, and then the smaller shapes are set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 75%.
Using the same radial gradient, I add a highlight to the nose. This will be set to Blending Mode = Screen and Opacity 75%.
Now I Create a New Layer and rename it “Bandage.” Although I want the illustration to maintain some sort of realism, I add elements that are exaggerated for comic effect. The first will be the bandage on the tail. I don’t want the injury to the cat to look like a bad one because the viewer may be too sympathetic to his character, which is against the concept I want to achieve.
The bandage itself is made up of Rectangles (M) with the settings shown below in the Appearance panel. You can get the “Sticks” texture by selecting the Swatch Libraries menu in the Swatch panel, and choosing Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. You can add the Round Corners by clicking on the “Add New Effect” button at the bottom of the Appearance panel, and choosing Convert to Shape > Rounded Rectangle. Here I have rounded the corners by 3px.
Next I use the Pen Tool (P) and the Ellipse Tool (L) to build up the shapes for the bandage. I make sure that the knot is on top of the other areas of the bandage.
Now it’s time to reorganize my layer folders. I drag and drop all of the cat-related folders within the “Cat” layer folder. I try to keep as few layers as possible and keep an organized sublayer and group system. This makes it easier and quicker for me to modify sections should I need to later on.
I lock all the sublayers, except the “Fur” sublayer.
If you zoom into the bandage area, you can see that some of the strands of fur are sticking out. I want to erase those. I do this with Eraser Tool (Shift + E). Because all the other sub layers are locked, the Eraser Tool will only remove shapes from the unlocked sublayers, so in this case the “Fur” sub layer.
Now I Create New Sublayer and rename it “Whiskers”.
Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the Profile “Width Profile 5”, Stroke Weight of 0.25pt and Stroke color of dark brown, I draw in the whiskers. Remember to add whiskers to the brow bone area. Set the Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity 50%.
Once done, Group them (Ctrl + G).
Now I get to work on the plates within the “Plate & Fish” layer folder.
I’ll use the 3D Revolve effect for the plates. The best way to think of how to use this tool is to imagine working on a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel, and how you’d manipulate a shape by modifying the clay as it spins.
With this in mind, I use a line for the plates. Imagine cutting one plate into a pie quarter (from the center) and then looking at one of the edges and what you’d see. This is the line you want to draw to create a plate. I’ve used a 5pt, Round Cap line. Use a Mitre Join to ensure there aren’t any curves towards the center. I’ve colored the line blue so it’s easier to see, but I will be using a light grey (C=2, M=0, Y=2, K=2).
With the line selected, go to Effects > 3D > Revolve and use the options shown below. To access the lower half of the menu, you’ll need to click on “More Options.”
Duplicate the initial plate and create a stack with six plates. Move some of them slightly to the side so the plates look uneven.
I’ve used a mid-grey transparent radial gradient, set to Blending Mode = Multiply, to create a shadow under each of the plates and the cat. Make sure below each of the plates there is a gradient to ensure they overlap correctly.
Since I’m going for an exaggerated style, I create a comic style of fish bones to represent what the cat has consumed. However, though I can draw the fish from an aerial point of view, it isn’t the angle I’m wanting. So here is a great tip on how you can get around this.
First of all you need to draw the object from an aerial position. I’m going to recreate this later on, so I don’t worry about how tidy it is.
Group the shapes used to create the skeleton (Ctrl + G) and then while selected, go to Effects > 3D > Rotate. Select Preview so you can modify the angle of your fish and see if it’s the correct angle in comparison to the plate. Click OK once you’re happy with your guide.
You can then use this as a guide for your fish knowing it will be at the correct angle!
I’ll now create an Art Brush from a mixture of elements. This will show you how complex and versatile they can be in an illustration and probably why they are one of my favorite features in Illustrator.
I create a Rounded Rectangle with the shape tools so the ends are almost circles on each end. I’m going to use two shades of brown for this. For the strokes C=25, M=25, Y=40, K=0 and the fill C=3, M=3, Y=15, K=0.
Next I duplicate the rounded rectangle and null the stroke. Then I reduce the Opacity to 0% and then duplicate it again. Using the Free Transform Tool (E), I decrease the size and change the Opacity to 100%. Select both shapes and go to Path > Blend > Make (Alt + Ctrl + B) and then go to Path > Blend > Blend Options and change it to Specified Steps with the value “5”. Change the Blending Mode of the Blend to Screen via the Transparency options panel.
Finally, using the Width Profile 1 art brush, use the darker brown (C=25, M=25, Y=40, K=0) to draw a line along the bottom of the shape with a Stroke Weight of 0.5pt. Set the Blending Mode to Multiply.
Once done, Group all the elements (Ctrl + G).
So here we have a shape that contains a Blend with various Blending Modes as well as an Art Brush within a Group. While the group is selected, click on New Brush, create a New Art Brush from the dialog and select OK.
I’ve reduced the Width to 50% and then changed the Brush Scale Options to Stretch Between Guides so it doesn’t stretch the end rounded caps, only the center of the shape. Click on OK once you’re happy with the options.
Now it’s time to play with our new Art Brush! I’m going to use it to create a dashed line for the spine of the skeleton. Within the Stroke options panel, you can set the size of the segments on the Dashed Line, in this case 10pt, and then take away any gaps by changing the gap value to 0pt.
Then use this dashed line to create the main bones of the fish and apply a Profile to them. You can change the direction of the Profile by clicking Flip Along just to the right of the drop down menu.
I’ve drawn a line with the art brush for the head of the fish, but then use the Width Tool (Shift + W) to modify the Stroke Weight of the line at different parts of the line!
I’ve added some smaller bones set to Stroke Weight 0.5pt for the bones in the tail and then added a pink to yellow linear gradient to the tail set to Opacity 40%.
I’m going to give the fish an eye. I’ve done this by using the Ellipse Tool (L) to create two circles. With this I’ve added a subtle radial gradient for the fill on the larger circle.
And then given the smaller circle a larger Stroke Weight in comparison so it stands out more. As the fish is a small detail of the illustration, you won’t need to go into too much detail with the eyes.
I’ve added a mid-grey transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply underneath the fish to complete this element.
Now I want to duplicate the fish on the composition to show the cat has had more than one fish. Using copy and paste will make the fish look identical and may look sloppy. To get around this, create an Art Brush of the entire fish! However, first remove the gradients before creating an Art Brush with the fish. Everything else can remain.
So select the fish and then as before, Create New Brush and select Art Brush and use the settings shown below.
Then, using the Paintbrush Tool (B), draw strokes to create your smaller fish in different directions. Don’t forget to add some transparent radial gradients underneath each fish for the shadows. There we have an Art Brush, within an Art Brush, within another Art Brush!
Create a New Layer above the “Cat” layer folder and rename it “Bell.”
I’ll create the handle for the bell first by using the Ellipse Tool (L) and then using Pathfinder > Unite to combine them. Then I cut away half and then remove the bottom using Rectangles (M) and then Pathfinder > Minus Front.
To add a groove into the handle, cut away some pointed shapes from the handle as shown below, again using Pathfinder > Minus Front.
The actual bell itself is created in the same way as the plate, with a Round Cap line of about a Stroke Weight of 4pt. Then Group this shape with the handle (Ctrl + G).
I’ll use the 3D Revolve effect again, however this time using the Surface option “Plastic Shading,” and changing the Shading Color to Custom with a dark chestnut brown. This will give a more golden appearance to the bell. If you select Preview, you can place the bell at the correct angle in the cat’s paw.
Duplicate the 3D bell and then Object > Expand Appearance and then Object > Expand. Then use Pathfinder > Unite. This is so you have a shape which covers the enter bell. This will be perfect to create a Clipping Mask in the next step.
However, as you’ve probably noticed in the screenshot above, there are too many points to this shape. To reduce the amount of points to the shape, you can go to Object > Path > Simplify as shown below. If you notice, the original amount of points was 1697 and by adjusting the settings you can bring them down. I’ve managed to reduce the points to less than 10% and now it has 114 points!
I’ll add a more organic, subtle wooden effect to the handle. This is with the Chalk — Scribble art brush, which is in the Default CMYK Brushes panel and is with a golden stroke color (C=25, M=40, Y=60, K=0) and is set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity 50%.
Then add darker strokes with the same stroke color, however set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity 15%. When done, Group the strokes together (Ctrl + G).
I want to add more of a shine to the bell itself. This is going done with the light gray transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode= Screen, Opacity 25%.
Then add a band around the bottom of the bell with a medium grey brown on a transparent radial gradient. This will be set to Blending Mode = Color Burn, Opacity 50%.
Before I add everything to a Clipping Mask, I’m going to use Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove the shape of the paw away from the bell, so the cat looks like he is holding it.
Now Group all the elements for the bell (Ctrl + G) and add them to a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7).
Time to work on the background. First I apply two linear gradients to the skirting board. The first is to give a subtle shadow from the bottom of the skirting board. The second is slightly slimmer to give a 3D effect. It also has a slight change in color from the top and is set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 60%.
I’m going to add color to the background and carpet. I want the colors of the eyes to “pop”, so I’m going to get some help from the Color Guide panel. First I’m going to change the color of the background to the same color of the eyes, which is an orange shade.
Within the Color Guide panel, you can then use the drop down to see collections of colors with your selected color in common.
From this, I’m going to select the “Left Complimentary” Harmony Rule. When you select any of the collections, it will then give you a variety of shades and tints containing those colors. I don’t want the more vibrant color, so I selected more of a tint of the green/blue shade as shown below. This will be my base color for the background, and as you can see it makes the orange in the eyes stand out more.
I keep the background selected and go back into the Color Guide. This time I want to look at “Monochrome” colors for the green/blue shade. This will help me with creating gradients for the Appearance options I’m going to set.
I’m using the options shown below in the Appearance panel to create the wallpaper. The pattern I’ve used can be opened via the Swatches panel. From the Swatch Libraries menu, seelct Patterns > Decorative > Decorative_Geometric 1. I’ve selected the “Hexagon Chinese Color” pattern.
The wallpaper is looking a bit too perfect…especially for a household that seems more concerned with the happiness of their cat! So I’m going to make the wallpaper look a little messier. So first of all, I’m going to add lines along the bottom of the wallpaper where it meets the skirting board and some vertical lines. This will be with 2pt stroke weight lines with the base color of the background using the Line Segment Tool (\).
Group the lines together (Ctrl + G) then change the Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity to 30%.
To make the wallpaper seem more flawed, I create a “peel” effect at the bottom corner of one of the pieces of wallpaper. The height of the cat on the right and the peel will be on the left should balance out the content in the composition.
First I draw a triangle and fill it with a linear gradient with the dark part of the gradient being where the fold would be.
Then duplicate the shape and flip it by selecting Object > Transform > Reflect and selecting to reflect it vertically.
I use the Warp Tool (Shift + R) to slightly distort the folded-over wallpaper. First I double-click the Warp Tool in the Toolbar to bring up the Warp Tool Options dialog. As I’m working on a small area, I’m going to modify the Global Brush Dimensions to a Width and Height of 30pt.
Then I use the Warp Tool at the top and the bottom of the fold to create this slightly distorted effect. I’ve filled it with a light green/blue linear gradient to match the wallpaper, with the darkest part near the fold.
Now to add a texture to the floor. I’m going to use patterns to create a rough texture, similar to cork, perhaps. These can be found by going into the Swatches panel, select the Swatch Libraries menu and select Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. I’ve used the “Sticks” and “Stippled Irregular” patterns with the following Appearance panel settings.
I draw a horizontal line with the Line Segment Tool (\) with a 5pt Stroke Weight and dark brown Stroke Color. This will then be set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 15%. It’s placed so it overlaps the skirting board and the floor to give it more definition.
As I’m coming towards the end of my illustration, I’m just going to tweak some of the elements. First I modify the plates slightly by adding some perspective to them. As the 3D Revolve effect is a live effect (meaning you can modify it at any time), I’m going to click into it in the Appearance panel and modify it from there.
I then use a darker grey/near black for the shadows to increase the contrast, so it balances better with the rest of the illustration.
After taking a step back from the illustration, you may see that the fur along the paws and bottom of the cat is too light, considering it’s in shadow. So I Create a New Layer and rename it “Finishing Touches.”
First I add some dark brown strokes of fur to the cat, focusing a lot in the areas where the fur is supposed to be in deeper shadow. These strokes are set to Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 30%, using the Width Profile 1 brush.
Then add much lighter strokes to increase the contrast. These aren’t as spread out as the previous as the highlights should more focused along the edges. These are filled with a light grey and are set to Blending Mode = Screen, Opacity 50% with the same brush.
Now for some alternations now around the eyes. First, move the position of the iris so it appears the cat is looking up at its owner, rather than to the viewer. He’s manipulating them, not us!
Then use strokes with the Width Profile 1 brush set to Stroke Weight 5pt and Blending Mode = Multiply, Opacity 30%. This is to define the mouth area further and add some subtle eyelashes to the top of the eyes.
Back to using the Artboard Tool (Shift + O) to ensure it is clipping the correct area. I needed to move it slightly more to the left to ensure I have all the fish included in the composition.
Finally, Create a New Layer and name it “Shadows.” This is to be placed below the “Plates & Fish” layer folder.
I’ve created three Blends (Ctrl + Alt + B) with an off-black fill color. The larger shapes are of 0% Opacity and they are Specified Steps of 10 to create a smooth transition. With the shadow under the cat, I’ve drawn a shape with the Pen Tool (P) and then duplicated it and enlarged it with the Free Transform Tool (E). These blends are then set to Blending Mode = Multiply and Opacity 50%.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial and can take some of the techniques used into your own illustrations. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!