Paint with Vectors in Illustrator 8

Fish thumbnail See "Paint with Graphics" for ideas on using different graphics as a brush.

As Adobe invented the fixed-width stroke, it's only fitting that Adobe Illustrator 8 provides a way to escape it. The program's new Brushes palette lets you create strokes that change in response to variables such as stylus pressure and path direction. But by far the most interesting type of new brush in Illustrator 8 is the Art Brush, which lets you stretch a collection of shapes along the length of a path. The result is a new class of graphics that you can bend and distort by manipulating a central spine.

The Art Brush's underlying concept dates back to MetaCreations' Expression (see Reviews, March 1997), which serves as the vector equivalent of Painter, MetaCreations' natural-media painting program. The idea is that by taking a graphic that looks like a dollop of paint and fixing it to a path, you create what appears to be a traditional brushstroke (see "Create Traditional Brushstrokes"). But because you're working with vectors, you can edit the brushstroke after you paint it.

And the benefits of Art Brushes don't end there. Like Expression, Illustrator 8 lets you take any graphic or piece of clip art and turn it into a brush. This means that you can distort an image or adjust its size and shape via the image's central spine. Text can also be a brush, going beyond the usual text on a path to where letterforms fold and splay as they round a curve (see "Make Flexible Type").

Once you define a brush, you can paint with it using the paintbrush tool or apply it to a path you've drawn with the pen or pencil tools. Then, rather than rendering the brushstroke into its myriad shapes–as Illustrator 7 did with path patterns–Illustrator 8 converts PostScript info to screen QuickDraw and presents only the spine for editing. Simply reshape the spine, as you would any path, to change the angle and sway of the brushstroke. You can also scale the brushstroke's width or flip the brushstroke along its spine to reverse its direction.

The creation of more-intuitive tools to make vector drawing more responsive to the natural habits of artists and designers is a welcome development. And although Adobe can't take credit for inventing the vector brushstroke, the simple structure of Illustrator 8's Brushes palette makes the feature very accessible. Brushes represent vector drawing as it ought to be–applicable and fun.

Real World Illustrator 8

March 1999 page: 97

Painterly brushstrokes are hardly what you expect to create in a vector-based drawing program. But while I wouldn't go so far as to recommend Illustrator 8 for creating a full-blown painting, it's ideally suited to the occasional swash or two. This is because paint in Illustrator is forever wet; after you apply a brushstroke, you can modify its angle and direction, change its color, and even swap it out for a different brush's stroke. The following steps show how to make a brush in Illustrator 8, apply it to a path, and adjust the brushstrokes to achieve a desired effect.

  • Start by drawing your brush outline. It should look like a natural paintbrush stroke, heavier on one end where the brush first contacts the surface and feathered on the end where it's whisked away. Making a believable brush outline takes a bit of practice, but the key is to be sloppy–nature is random, so you should be too. Scribbling with the pencil tool usually delivers the best results. When you're done, fill the brush outline with 50 percent black–this makes it easier to color later.
  • Select the path, and drag and drop it onto the Brushes palette. In the New Brush dialog box, select the New Art Brush option and click on OK. In the Art Brush Options dialog box, select Hue Shift from the Colorization Method pop-up menu. This colors the brush according to the standard stroke color specified in the Toolbox. Click on OK to add the brush to the Brushes palette.

    TIP If you want your new brush to be available inside all new illustrations, copy the brush outline, open the Adobe Illustrator Startup file found in the Plug-Ins folder, and paste. Then drag the outline into the Brushes palette as directed in step 2. Finally, press command-S to save the Adobe Illustrator Startup file.

  • Using the pen or pencil tool, draw paths you want to paint with your new brush. Then select the paths and click on the brush in the Brushes palette. Alternatively, you can paint directly with the active brush, using Illustrator's paintbrush tool. Because you selected Hue Shift in the previous step, the brush automatically subscribes to the stroke color (the fill color should be set to None).
  • To edit the appearance of the brushed paths, click on the Options Of Selected Object icon along the bottom of the Brushes palette, second from left. In the Stroke Options dialog box, you can change the width of the brushstrokes by entering a new Width percentage value (the example here shows 200 percent). You can also flip the brushstroke on the path.
  • As with tile patterns, gradients, and other automated effects, the intensive use of brushes can render an illustration too complex to print. To simplify your illustration, select the brushed paths and choose Expand from the Object menu. Illustrator converts the brushstrokes to filled outlines.
  • In a drawing program, text becomes a graphic. When you apply text as a brush in Illustrator 8, the letters are editable as shapes but not as ASCII characters. This means that you should know exactly how your text should read before you create the brush. While it's not impossible to correct the spelling of a word, it's not exactly convenient either. But in return, you'll get unique effects that you can't achieve any other way.

  • I wanted to create a radically wavy logo featuring the words Circus Arts. If I created the type along a curve, the type would look fine along the soft curves but would separate and gap around bigger curves. Distorting the letters would fill those gaps, and the only way to distort type on a curve in Illustrator 8 is to make it a brush.
  • After entering Circus Arts with the type tool, I cloned the type to have an editable version as a backup. Then I converted the words to a path outline by selecting the type and choosing Create Outlines from the Type menu. Then I filled the outline with 50 percent black so that I could color it more easily on the fly.
  • So long as Illustrator forces users to work with text as a graphic, I thought I might as well take full advantage of it. I added a drop shadow and filled the type with circles of lighter gray, using the Intersect option in the Pathfinder palette. The result is a logo that would be impossible to attach to a curve using anything but a brush.
  • After dragging and dropping the type into the Brushes palette (see step 2 of "Create Traditional Brushstrokes"), I assigned the brush to my wavy path. Then I changed the stroke to red to color the logo.

    TIP To change the text, edit the backup text and option-drag it onto the old brush in the Brushes palette. In the dialog box that appears, click on Apply To Strokes to update all paths painted with the brush.

  • Illustrator painted my circles the same shade of red as the text, but luckily I could change this without making a new brush. I clicked on the Options Of Selected Object icon in the Brushes palette, and in the Stroke Options dialog box selected Tints And Shades from the Colorization pop-up menu. This told Illustrator to lighten and darken the color according to the gray values, bringing my circles to life.
  • A brush in Adobe Illustrator 8 doesn't have to be a brush –it can be any graphic you want to repeat, distort, or twist.

    Fish step 1

  • Start by drawing a graphic–in my case, a small sea bass. A piece of clip art will also do fine. Fill it with 50 percent black, and then make it into an Art Brush by selecting the path and dragging and dropping it onto the Brushes palette. In the New Brush dialog box, select the New Art Brush option and click on OK. In the Art Brush Options dialog box, select Hue Shift from the Colorization Method pop-up menu. This colors the brush according to the standard stroke color specified in the toolbox. Click on OK to add the brush to the Brushes palette.

    Fish step 2

  • Now start drawing with the paintbrush tool. Set the fill color to None and experiment with stroke colors to color your graphic. Note that my fish were applied upside-down and backwards, even though I drew my original fish facing leftward. Because I'm left-handed I brush from right to left, which sets the nose of the fish to the right and the tail to the left when I paint.
  • To flip the fish, I clicked on the Options Of Selected Object icon in the Brushes palette. Then I selected both Flip Along, which flips the fish nose-to-tail along the spine, and Flip Across, which flips it up and down across the spine.

    Fish step 3

  • Illustrator stretched and squished my fish according to the length of my paintbrush paths. Unless something's wrong with your diving mask, this isn't a look you see in real life. To scale each fish uniformly, I selected the Proportional check box in the Stroke Options dialog box.

    Fish step 4

    Fish step 5

  • You can make your graphics elastic by editing their spines with the Direct Selection tool (white arrow). Deselect the spine, select and drag individual anchor points and manipulate control handles, and your image bends in kind.

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