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How to Create a Happy Drummer Using Adobe Illustrator and VectorScribe Plugin

In this tutorial we will learn how to create a vector character using the Pen Tool, linear and radial gradients, Art Brush, Pattern Brush and Blend Tool. For manual tracing I used the VectorScribe plugin tools. Undoubtedly, this can make the job easier and accelerates the process of creating of a large number of vector objects. After installing the VectorScribe plugin to my computer I never part with its tools in my daily work.

Step 1

Before starting the work, I made a pencil sketch with thin lines. Then, with the help of the liner pen I outline the pencil sketch.

Happy Drummer Pencil Sketch

Step 2

Scan the sketch, print it and color it in order to determine the color scheme of our artwork.

Happy Drummer Color Sketch

Scan the color sketch and save the file in bitmap format.

Step 3

Launch Adobe Illustrator and paste both sketches in the workspace (File > Place). The line sketch will be used for manual tracing; color sketch will be used as a visual aid to help orientation, and later in the coloring of vector objects. Lock the layer with the sketches in the layers palette so as not to move them in the process of manual tracing.

Paste both sketches in the workspace

Step 4

Create a new layer above the first one; in this layer we will create all the vector elements of our character. Manual tracing is a meticulous process that takes a lot of time and I will give you tips that will save you time and will teach you how to organize work in a right way. Try to stick to the following rules:

  1. First create objects that will be below all the objects so that you will not have to constantly move them up or down the stack searching for the right position.
  2. Color objects in different arbitrary colors, it will allow you to see the boundaries clearly.
  3. Group the elements that are located in the neighbouring sublayers (object stack) and belong to the same object; it will organize your workspace in the right way in the layers palette. This is especially important when working with a large number of objects, as it is in this example.
  4. Select a direction for creating objects; I'm used to going from top to bottom. I think it's unreasonable to jump from one part of an image to another, constantly zooming and panning the workspace.
  5. Use different tools (not just the Pen Tool) which will speed up your work and make your job easier.

Step 5

So, let's start with the head. Below all the objects there are ears on the drummer's head, so let's start from here. I will be doing the manual tracing of the sketch with the help of the VectorScribe plugin. After installing it to my computer I cannot part with its tools in my daily work. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a basic closed path setting points at the bends of the ear.

Pen Tool (P)

While tracing, I create objects with no fill and pick the thickness of the line, so that it does not totally cover the sketch lines. Open the PathScribe panel (Window > VectorScribe > PathScribe Panel) and select all the points of the path by clicking on the appropriate button on this panel.

PathScribe panel

Now convert all the corner points to smooth ones by pressing the Smooth Point in PathScribe Panel.

PathScribe panel

Using PathScribe, select a single point on the closed path and start controlling the handles of the points to reshape the outline to be closer to the underlying sketch. Alternatively, using PathScribe, it's possible to drag any point any a segment to distort it more naturally (see this video for further details:

Direct Selection Tool (A)

This technique was used for tracing of all the elements of the image; of course, there are some nuances which we will discuss later.

Step 6

Create the upper part of the ear. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a basic path of a different color as it is shown in the figure below.

Pen Tool (P)

Use the technique described in the previous step.

PathScribe panel

Points 1 and 2 must be converted from smooth to corner ones. Select them using the PathScribe or Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on the Convert to Corner Point from the PathScribe Panel PathScribe panel button. Alternatively, it is possible to hold down Opt+CMD (Mac) / Ctrl-Alt (Windows) and start to drag a smooth handle using the PathScribe tool to automatically change it a corner handle.

PathScribe panel

Now, operating handles of the points bring the contour to the shape shown in the figure below.

Direct Selection Tool (A)

Step 7

We just need to trim the created outline to the shape of an ear. If you work in Adobe Illustrator CS5, do this with the help of the Shape Builder Tool. Select both outlines and holding down the Opt/Alt, click the tool on the protruding part of the green contour.

Shape Builder Tool

Shape Builder Tool

In earlier versions of the software you will need to do the following: copy the ear outline and paste it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + C; Cmd/Ctrl + F); select the shape of an ear and a green outline, click on the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder).

Pathfinder palette

As a result, we got the same result but in more steps. Here, perhaps, is all that you need to know for basic shaping in this work.

Step 8

Beginners often try to do tracing only by using the Pen Tool (P). Of course, I do not mind, but why do make life so complicated? We can use other tools, such as Art Brush. Let's see how I created a shape inside an ear. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a curve shown in the figure below.

Pen Tool (P)

Create a shape for Art Brush. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle of arbitrary size.

shape for Art Brush

With PathScribe, move the right point to the right of the circle and convert it from a corner to a smooth one.

shape for Art Brush

Now scale down the shape so that its height is comparable to the size of the object being created.

shape for Art Brush

Open the Brushes palette (Window > Brushes), and save the created shape as Art Brush.

Brushes palette

Adobe Illustrator CS5 allows to set the guides between which the brush will be stretched. Apply the created brush to the path.

Art Brush

I usually substitute the outline stroke with fill in order to monitor the correct objects location. Select and group up all the elements of the left ear.

left ear

In a same way create the second ear of the drummer.

Step 9

Our artwork contains a lot of objects, and describing the creation of all of them it is not possible in the format of this tutorial. My task is to describe the principles of work, so then I'll show you the phases of work and cover new techniques.

Create elements of the bandana on the head of the drummer. Use the Pen Tool (P). Round off sharp corners with the VectorScribe Studio Dynamic Corner tool.

Elements of the bandana

Dynamic Corner Tool

Create the shape of bandana with highlight and shadow areas.


Step 10

By following the principles described in the beginning of the tutorial and techniques described above, create the rest of the remaining elements of a drummer.

Vector drummer

Step 11

I will be more specific on the technique of creating a chain around the neck of a drummer. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a link in the chain lying in the top view.


Now take the Pen Tool (P) and create a horizontal line; this will be a chain link in the side view.


Select both links and go to Object > Expand.


Take the Eraser Tool (Shift + E), holding down Opt/Alt, erase the left side of the side view link.


Step 12

Select the side view link and go to Object > Transform > Reflect …, select the Vertical option in the dialog box and click on Copy.

Gold Chain

Move the obtained object horizontally to the right, as shown in the figure below.

Vector Gold Chain

Copy the three link shapes and paste them back (Cmd/Ctrl + C; Cmd/Ctrl + B) and fill them with another color.

Vector Gold Chain

Group up the created objects.

Step 13

Open the Brushes palette (Window > Brushes) and save the group as a Pattern Brush.

Vector Gold Chain

Take the Pen Tool (P) and create the right part of the chain, apply the created brush to this path.

Vector Gold Chain

Perform the same actions to the left side of the chain.

Vector Gold Chain

Step 14

Now, when shaping is complete, you can proceed to coloring the objects. Before coloring, you should always determine the position of the light. In my example, I already determined this at the initial sketch stage where the light source was located top left.

coloring the vector objects

Now we have to fill all the created objects with gradient fill from light tone to the color of the object, adjusting the gradient direction with the direction of light from the light source.

coloring the vector objects

Use linear and radial gradients, depending on the surface on which light is distributed.

Step 15

Objects whose shape has been built with the brushes should be converted into regular vector objects before filling. Select such objects and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

coloring the vector objects

Step 16

After working with a gradient fill of the objects the drummer looks as it is shown below.

vector drummer

You can create glares on the objects using Blend. Let's see how it's done…

Create a circle on the nose of the drummer with the Ellipse Tool (L). This circle should be located at the area of the greatest light intensity, according to the direction of light.

Creating vector glares

Below the circle create another circle which will limit the glare of the light.

Creating vector glares

Set 0% Opacity for this circle in the Transparency panel.

Creating vector glares

Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and set the number of steps of the blend – for example "35". Next, select both circles and go to Object > Blend> Make.

Creating vector glares

Step 17

Take a look where I have used this technique on the nose of the drummer and in other places of artwork.

Nose of the drummer

vector glares

Step 18

Of course, you can use this technique for the creation of shadows. That's how I created a drop shadow from a drum and leg on the sand.

vector shadow

vector drop shadow

Step 19

I just need to create the background. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle below all the objects of the composition. Fill the rectangle with radial gradient from blue to white.

vector background

Vector Happy Drummer


Friends, I am ready to help you with any issues related to vector graphics. So do not hesitate to ask questions in the comments to this tutorial, below.

Download the Happy Drummer Adobe Illustrator artwork

Click here for the original Illustrator vector file (for Illustrator CS3 and above) which should help you to further understand the details of this tutorial.

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