Adobe Illustrator

New Vectors


I love Adobe Illustrator. As well as being one of the primary tools for my commercial work as a graphic designer, I still play around with it for my own amusement. I know, I should get out more. This is the first of a series of illustrations of classic mid-century design objects entirely created using vector software.

For those of you unfamiliar with this, vector images are made up of many individual, scalable objects. These objects are defined by mathematical equations rather than pixels, so they always render at the highest quality. Objects may consist of lines, curves, and shapes with editable attributes such as color, fill, and outline. Because they’re scalable, vector images are resolution independent. You can increase and decrease the size of vector images to any degree and the lines will remain crisp and sharp, both on screen and in print.

However, most people are more familiar with bitmap images – also known as raster images – which are made up of pixels in a grid. Each pixel records a tiny portion of colour so if you keep increasing the size of a bitmap image, you will soon see the pixels:


One of the other benefits of working with vectors is that files sizes are much lower. This is because they do not have to record information as individual pixels, but simply reference points, their relationship to each other and their attributes.

For those who are interested in what this means, if I was to save a copy of this file to TIFF format it would occupy 12.3MB of memory to store it. By contrast, the original vector file is just 3.8MB, even if it was enlarged to the size of a house. If you work digitally, this makes a big difference.

Here is a view of the vector lines that form the structure to the illustration:


For those who are interested in the chair, this is a moulded plastic armchair by Charles and Ray Eames, originally designed in 1950.

Note to self: get out more.

Adobe Illustrator, drawing


After the initial stages I sent a comprehensive image of the Moriarty’s Men logo to the men themselves:


They were interested in seeing other fonts for the ‘men’ and asked for much more complex styles, to which I convinced them that a more complex font would be (a) much less legible and (b) would not add anything of value to an already complex design. Nevertheless, I showed them a few alternatives:


They opted for the bottom font, and also asked for the scroll/banner to be roughened up a bit…


So the final design is…


There are several variations for a variety of applications…

lestaret-moriarty-23 lestaret-moriarty-24lestaret-moriarty-29lestaret-moriarty-30

Just as soon as they have everything set up, I’ll post links so you can download their music, buy their ‘merch’ and generally start the next big ‘Beatlemania’ thing. Ok?

Adobe Illustrator, drawing

Elementary, my dear Moriarty…

Last week I posted a teaser photo of a small project I’ve been working on. I promised that there would be more to come and I consider myself a man of my word.

lestaret-moriarty-20A short while ago I was contacted by my old friend Ross, who asked if I was interested in putting together a logo for his new musical project called Moriarty’s Men. They wanted something with a skull, so I was definitely up for it! After sharing some internettery images between us it was established that a ’19th century rotten bastard’ character was required along with some appropriate typography, and the possibility of including guns, daggers and a cut-throat razor for good measure.

Starting with the skull and working from suitable reference, I got a decent line version  down in order to scan and use on the composition development. I also did this with sunglasses (classic Ray-Bans, of course!), a stiletto dagger and a cut throat razor, along with a variety of moustaches…


The smaller ‘stache was likened to a ‘Tom Selleck’ and was quickly dispatched in favour of a more luxuriant handlebar…

lestaret-moriarty-3 lestaret-moriarty-17

I then switched over to look at the text. We were looking for something with the exuberance of the late 19th century and after looking at some great modern examples, opted to head back to the source.

When I looked through my fonts folder I realised that I didn’t have much in there to use a frame reference, so did a trawl through the free font sites to see if there was anything that could be utilised as a starting point. Boy, there is a lot (and I mean A LOT!) of crap out there – after looking through thousands of poorly drawn, badly observed and clumsily composed fonts (I’m sorry, but there it is – free fonts are free for a reason!) but I did find a couple that looked promising…

Each was redrawn and modified to see how they behaved and then I added some embellishment to suggest style.


These stages were shared with the band to gauge their reactions and seek confirmation before undertaking any serious detail work. The next thing was to add the second word, which I had planned to include within a scroll or banner:


And finally sketching out a composite image with some detail.


The reaction was very positive at this point and the additional elements (razor/dagger) were left out. Now it was time to get serious. I needed a good quality ink drawing of the skull and decided to add some of the detail too.



This was now ready for scanning, so it was on with the lettering. The drawn versions had been radically altered in places, so I needed to create accurate vectors of each glyph and allow for drop shadows and spacing etc. This was done in Adobe Illustrator and went through a number of versions until I had all the details resolved.


The obvious elements here are the ‘ri’ ligature and the ‘y’ which was completely redrawn  but the ‘M’ and ‘t’ required a fair bit of modification. More subtle mods were made to the ‘a’ and the ‘s’. I then added an outer stroke to create the first part of the lip.


I wanted to create an inner shadow that would be shallower than the main drop shadow, so made a white fill and drew a shadow at the same width as the outer lip.


The lined fill was tricky in getting everything aligned, but after some careful manipulation and a clipping path, all was eventually wrestled into place.


The addition of a deeper drop shadow now made the lip effect work. Result.


The scroll/banner was scanned and used to trace a clean line version, being careful to make sure it curves to match the baseline of ‘Moriarty’s’.


Once the shading was complete I added the lettering in Copperplate Gothic as a starting point – this needs to be a much simpler style to prevent it getting lost in the overall complexity, and a couple of fleur-de-lis to the curved banner and nestled it all up the the main text:


So now it’s off to the the Men themselves to see what they make of all this, then onto the final drawing…

Adobe Illustrator

Even More Super!

“…And at the end of this session I have a fairly convincing image emerging”

Another session, another day. The handle of the Super 8 is covered in a textured plastic veneer for extra grip, so I needed to create a quality randomised texture, which means making my own rather than relying on any of the preset textures, which are small sections repeated and fairly obvious about it too.

I begain by rooting through my collection of stock images. I do have images of leather grain, but they do not have the contrast I need for the next stages. What I used was a large image of gravel which was placed into Illustrator without any editing.

Using the Livetrace tool, I opted for ‘one colour logo’ from the options menu and expanded it to create the vectors:

I then selected the whole block and dragged it into the swatches palette. The handle shapes were then filled with a dark grey. The texture fill was also applied and a little fine tuning with the opacity settings I got the effect I wanted:

The right side of the camera is now complete:

The left side involved a fair amount of copying and reflecting, with some small adjustments to some of the gradients, and now needs its unique detailing…

And here it is in it’s final state. Click on it – it’s quite big.

I’m am pretty pleased with the result – there are no special tricks here, just close observation, and using the right tools for the job. A true orthographic would also have a plan and bottom view, but these did not add anything new to the image, so I decided to omit them.

Copies of this images (along with a whole lot of other stuff) will be available to purchase at the Leeds Print Festival in January – more of which very soon!

Adobe Illustrator, Vectors


After all this ‘proper’ drawing mularky, I felt the need to do some vector work! Inspired by this Sankyo Super CM 300 ( – a super 8 – just repaired and awaiting for a roll of film to test it!) I made some reference photographs and decided to begin with an orthographic projection – sides, top, bottom front and back views, and possibly a three-quarter view to follow.

I began by taking a few measurements and drawing the outer shape:

Like the body, I used the shape tools – rectangles and ellipses and the pathfinder tools. I decided to add a little curvature here – a true orthographic projection would show the lens side on – without any angle, but I guess a bit of artistic licence can be taken here – I can always change it later if it doesn’t look right.

All the main parts and the key lines of the details were created using the same process:

Untill I finished up with a decent line image.

I think that the lens works well too. There is a little unfinished area around the push button on the handle. This has been deliberately left to be resolved later – I will be making a handle up/down illustration and need to keep this area flexible enough for when I assemble all the parts together. I can use much of this drawing for the other side – reflecting it horizontally and replacing the details.

And now its time to get the details sorted and refine the line qualities.

I couldn’t help getting carried away into the tonal work though. Just a test for now as I may find better ways as I work on the other views…

A couple of days have passed since I last worked on this illustration and on reflection I was a little premature with my tonal work. I had worked purely in shades of grey without really thinking but on closer inspection there is more warmth overall, and some variations between the different metals and the plastic.

The next attempt was on a side view, and I ended up over-compensating the colour – this looks far too rich on the lens, but I can tone it down as I build up the tones elsewhere. The lens has gained the illusion of form through the careful use of gradient fills:

Even the screws got the full treatment!

And then onto the detail panels, which were built up in stages…

I am very pleased with the results – as well as using the photographic reference, I was also studying the camera itself and made quite a few small adjustments get the details just right…

And at the end of this session I have a fairly convincing image emerging:

Adobe Illustrator, Vectors

Who Lives In A Pineapple Under The Sea?

As the father of two, Spongebob Squarepants has featured heavily in my life over the past few years. I have to confess that my morning routine includes an episode of Spongebob & co. whilst chewing through my morning muesli. I have been known to watch it at the weekend when the kids are still in bed! This is my homage.

This is not a ‘How To’ guide, just a look behind the scenes…

I had already explored using the pen tool to trace over a wallpaper image (the livetrace tool being somewhat lacking!) and decided to go for a 3D style look without keylines. I have always enjoyed seeing cartoon characters given 3D properies, like Homer Simpson in one of the Treehouse of Horror episode.

I began with the extrude and bevel tool with a fairly extreme perspective. I then mapped some ‘sponge holes’ onto the front. This took a few attempts to get right – if you are not familiar with this software, you have to make this part separately, with any active properties (blending, blur etc) and make it into a symbol before this stage can happen.

As you can see on the next image, I had applied a very slight blur to the sponge holes and this made the edges of the main form look too sharp (for a sponge!)

A two pixel blur was added to the whole form, just taking the edge off the hard vector forms:

The holes on the side were added separately after experimenting with the mapping tool. I had many problems with this as I think the surface area was too complex for the mapping tool. These are just overlayed with a multiply blend. I intended to distort them to fit the contours of the sponge but decided that it looked ok without.

Squarepants. Square. Pants. Squarepants. I used a combination of the extrude and rotate tools, as well as a couple of gradient overlay panels:

Mr. Pants legs were simply four short lines with a revolve applied…

The shoes were not so different, although made of separate pieces…

Back to the body, and then a few trials to establish how to make the arms (not as easy as the legs as they are curved). In the end I used five separate pieces for the right arm. I had spent a while trying the get the gradient tool to to work in a number of ways, but elected to use separate gradient filled shapes with a multiply blend to get the finger shapes to show. The Pathfinder tool was absolutely essential for this.

The left hand was made in a similar way as the exploded image below shows…

The sleeves were simple white shapes revolved:

So onto the face details. I drew out the eyes as concentri circles first and was going to add a radial gradient to them some depth, but then opted for a tricoloured line and a revolve:

I also added a small drop shadow to enhance the 3D effect:

The eyelshes were made in the same way, but each one had to be individually rotated…

For the cheeks I used two ellipses, each with a radial gradient fill. The orange layer on top was set to multiply in order to give it tranparency and interact with the yellow below – this gives is a gentle pink tinge.

The nose? I had to use the mesh tool here, adding highlights and shadows to the vector points around the top and bottom:

At this point it is probably worth having a look at what I have done so far…

The body parts are assembled and given some further accessories (collar & tie) and a paralellogram shadow.

And then the  face begins to emerge…

The screenshot above shows that Spongebob is really coming together – another cheek, and the all-important mouth, and then finally, a Krabby patty!

The mouth was fairly straightforward; mainly gradients, inner glows, dropshadows and the mesh tool on the upper lip…

Then it was off to the galley for some vector cooking!

Again, this was quite straightforward – lots of combined use of the 3D tools with a few overlays, gradients and drop shadows.

I struggled with the lettuce and decided to make use of the Livetrace tool for this part…

And finally, Mr. Squarepants in all his vector glory!

I need to get out more…