string art in Illustrator

Another one of those “I answered this on /r/AdobeIllustrator and thought it would make a good technique post” things.

How to make a cute little string-art effect.

1. Draw some lines
2. Use the Blend tool to click on the end of the first line furthest away from the next one
3. Repeat until you run out of lines
4. object>blend>blend options to bring up the number of steps
5. to fix that one line you clicked wrong on, select it and do object>path>reverse path direction.

If you wanted it to really look like the nail-and-string-on-a-board kits I remember doing in the seventies, you could maybe add a highlight and a shadow by putting extra strokes on the whole blend:

Adding nails is left as an exercise for the reader.

Suggestions: dotted lines, custom arrowhead, custom art brush with a nail at one end and the “stretch between guides” scaling option in its settings, a custom art brush that’s *just* a nail plus some blank space and the “stretch between guides” scaling option applied to the whole blend as a new path atop the appearance stack shown here – maybe with a low level of effect>distort & transform>roughen applied to mimic the look of nails hammered in unevenly?

stylized gradient trick #67

Here’s a little stylization trick.

It kinda falls apart on anything besides rectangles; here’s some extra magic to fix that. With slightly different colors because I closed the file and wanted to play with it a little more.

The tilted rectangle on the lower right lacks this extra magic.

The fill is offset by enough to hide the ugly white edges; the stroke is the same width as that offset, and is offset by half its width. Making the stroke 0% opaque and turning on ‘Knockout Group’ makes it work as a built-in opacity mask for this shape – an ugly, but very useful hack. You could also just have some really thick outlines instead, or build a lot of clipping masks; both of those feel like Work to me and I’m generally allergic to that.

The rasterize effect is set to add 0 points around the path, which varies from my usual Document Raster Effect settings of adding about 35 points to give me room for most blurs I’m likely to use. You can also change the resolution, the tilted rectangle’s at a lower resolution than the rest of the shapes.

I might have to try doing some art with this look.

Copying complex objects between Illustrator documents

Illustrator Tip #856t292: Copying complicated stuff between documents.

A lot of the time, when you try to copy from one document and paste into another, Illustrator will decide to expand complex appearance stacks and bitmap effects into something completely uneditable. You can get around this by opening each document in a separate window and dragging the objects from one document to the other.

Thankfully, this will respect Paste Remembers Layers if you’re copying really complicated stuff spread out over multiple layers.

It will not copy over any Graphic Styles you may have used. I’m not sure if that is preferable to AI’s tendency to create duplicates of Graphic Styles when cutting and pasting stuff around

Elements That Cannot Be Used In A Brush

So there you are, working away in Illustrator, making something that you want it to repeat a whole bunch of times for you. You drag it to the Brushes panel and you get something like this.

Perhaps your first instinct is to start searching for what elements can’t be used in a brush, and then object>expand all of those parts into things that can be used in a brush. But, you know, that starts to feel like work or something, and if you’re at all familiar with the way I use Illustrator I’m all about skipping those parts.

So instead of doing all that work, how about making Illustrator do it for us? Ever since 17.0/CC, Illustrator lets us put bitmaps in brushes. And there’s nothing saying we can’t generate those bitmaps directly in AI.

So: select all the stuff you want to turn into a brush, then do object>group, then do effect>rasterize. And now you can drag this into the Brush palette.

Looking at it up close you can see a tiny bit of pixelization going on. If that bugs you, then select your original group and visit the Appearance palette to change the settings on that rasterize effect, then alt-drag it on top of the brush in the Brush palette.

You will want to save a copy of your original art somewhere in your drawing. I usually put it on a layer named something like “construction” that I keep hidden most of the time. If you try to access the original art by dragging the brush thumbnail onto the canvas, you’ll just get an uneditable image.

fill doodles/cheap illustrator puppetry

Now and then I go through the Adobe Illustrator subreddit and answer some questions nobody else has had a good answer to. Usually this means I am procrastinating.

One person wanted to know how to draw a thing and kinda do puppetry with it.

I usually do stuff like this this way:

  1. Draw your limb.
  2. Select it and drag it into the brush panel. Make an art brush.
  3. Choose “scale proportionately” under the brush scale options.
  4. Draw some lines with this art brush. Maybe hit the “options” button in the brush pane and turn on “flip across” if needed.

If one part ends up way off-center as a brush, try this:

  1. drag the brush to an empty part of the artboard (do not drag it over a shape, if you do AI will try to apply it to that shape, even if it’s on a locked layer)
  2. view>outline
  3. notice the big invisible rectangle around your shape? Drag it out (using shift to constrain the drag) until its center is pretty much on the center of your shape.
  4. select all the stuff that makes up the copy of the brush you just dragged out, including the invisible rectangle, and alt-drag it over the brush in the brush palette. (Mostly I don’t draw limbs with this to be honest – I use this for a lot of repeated details in my comics like tattoos or logos on clothing.)

With everything selected, you can see that the arms and legs on those two dudes at the bottom are just simple lines, quickly drawn with the pencil tool. I grabbed the point at right elbow of the running dude and moved it around until the elbow roughly aligned; originally the big elbow bump was very definitely not on the joint.

(Also this way of drawing elbows is totally based off of the way Fred Hembeck draws knees. Because it made me laugh, and whenever I do images to explain or work out something asked on a forum, I always try to make them funny.)

You could easily do full-color art for your puppet parts; I didn’t feel like bothering. Also there is the new Puppet Warp to fool with; this way is a lot easier if you’re gonna do a lot of re-use. I don’t use it for puppet parts, but I do use it for repeated stuff in my comics – logos on clothing, tattoos, whatever.


And then here is some abuse of pattern fills.

“use pattern fills full of whatever” was one of two and a half ways I gave someone who wanted to duplicate an image that was made of two colors: white, and a big bunch of smeary painterly color swirls.

  1. Draw your thing in B&W
  2. On a new layer, make a bunch of multicolor stuff that more than covers it. Probably just draw some semi-transparent shapes with gaussian blurs applied. Or whatever.
  3. Select all that stuff from step 2 and drag it into the Swatches palette to make a pattern fill.
  4. Turn off that layer.
  5. Select all your black stuff (select>Same will help here). Apply your new pattern swatch.
  6. With everything still selected, hold down the `/~ key while using the Selection, Direct Selection, Scale, or Rotate tools. This will affect only the fill pattern’s location. (The Free Transform tool will not do this. Use the older, separate tools.)

(The half a way was to use a global swatch to draw your stuff, then alt-drag the pattern swatch OVER the original swatch. And the other way involved putting your B&W art in a layer’s transparency mask, then drawing a bunch of colorful stuff on the layer. I’m sure I go into that in more detail somewhere in the Illustrator posts on here.)

I didn’t save the source of the puppetry piece but here’s the fill pattern’s source.

How To An Illustrator: sharing stuff across files when cut-and-paste breaks down.

Sometimes, when you want to copy a complex appearance between two documents, Illustrator will decide it wants to expand the effect instead. This is rarely a thing I want – one easy-to-edit path can become many complicated paths.

Here’s a way to work around it.

  1. Open the document with the path whose style you want to clone into the new document.
  2. Select that path and create a new Graphic Style from it.
  3. Save the document.
  4. Open the document you want to bring the troublesome style into.
  5. Hit the ‘library’ button at the lower left of the Graphic Styles palette; choose “Other Library…” at the bottom, then use the file requestor this invokes to select the file from step 1.
  6. Double-click the style to bring it into your document’s Graphic Styles. Or just select it and draw a shape, that works too.
  7. Keep on drawin’.

 

You can use this trick to clone brushes, palette swatches, and symbols from other files. Maybe for some other stuff, too; Illustrator has a ton of palettes and I might be forgetting something! For multi-file projects it can be very useful to have one central file where you store all of these kinds of things.

You can also make your libraries show up in the ‘User Defined’ submenu by putting them in a certain place in the filesystem – check the manual for that, it’s a different place for each class of palette on OSX and Windows. The “Libraries” palette is, I think, supposed to make this easier and to sync between computers, but I’ve never played with it.

How To An Illustrator: shitty printing

Because sometimes you want things to look like a crappy, blown-out xerox. Or at least one person on /r/adobeillustrator did.

  1. click on the circle to the right of the layer with your b&w image to target the whole layer for effects
  2. open the appearance palette
  3. effect>sketch>reticulation
  4. effect>stylize>inner glow (set it to white, 100%, probably a pretty large blur)
  5. effect>sketch>photocopy
  6. click on the effect names in the appearance palette to edit them

If you don’t want texture in black areas you’ve drawn over white areas then do a bunch of Pathfinder to make it just white shapes.

Illustrator experiments: the chiseled look

So today BoingBoing posted some work by a Russian illustrator named Maxim Shkret.

I’m pretty sure his work is done in a 3D program. But I asked myself “how could I get something like this in Illustrator?” and fooled around a little bit.

After some fiddling with needlessly complex setups that didn’t work anyway, I realized I could do it pretty simply: tell Illustrator to draw two variable-width strokes, one for each side of the line, each in a different gradient.

The above screengrabs are for one of the six related styles I made while experimenting; I’ve got it at different stroke weights (3/6/9pt), and with one of the gradients reversed. The lips are also done with double-gradient strokes; the other shading is simple blurred shapes.

The fun part here is that the hair can be knocked out super quickly with the pencil tool. I could very quickly draw some chunky, super-stylized plastic-looking hair.

It still looks interesting with different colors, too. I may have to experiment with this further and try to do a piece using this. I’m not sure what kind of looks would go well with it.

Anyway. I thought I’d share this little experiment.

How To Write Gooder

A while back someone on Tumblr asked me how to get better at writing. This is what I replied.

It’s been sitting in a text editor window ever since. I decided to post it here before closing it and consigning it to the aether forever.

—-

Read.

Read great stuff. Read garbage. Read stuff everyone says is garbage even though they sell a ton. Read stuff everyone says is great that you think is garbage. Read stuff everyone says is garbage that you think is great. Read your favorite genre. Read other genres. Read that tedious shit they put in the New Yorker where nothing ever happens except for some white people not quite getting a divorce. Read stuff you think is great now that you’ll think is garbage in ten or twenty years.

And don’t just read it. Think about it. Ask yourself why the stuff you think is great is great, why the garbage is garbage, what appeals in the terrible best-sellers, what appeals in the great best-sellers. Develop a sense of what makes writing, plotting, characterization, and storytelling good or bad. Then apply that sense to your own writing. If a piece doesn’t pass that test then fix it until it does, if you think there’s something worth salvaging in it. If you don’t know how to fix it then ask how one or another of your favorite authors would fix it.

Read that book you loved ten years ago and read every few years and still love. But don’t just read it. Get a paper copy of it and start *dissecting* it – take notes in the margins. This bit supports this major theme of the story. That bit is an awesome grammar trick you didn’t notice until the third time you read it. This bit is just fucking amazing writing. This bit touched something important in your budding pre-teen sexuality. This bit contradicts that other bit (intentionally?). Here’s a major turning point in the story; here’s a major turning point in this particular character’s story. Flense the story’s skin and muscle off its bones, think about how one supports the other and how badly it would work without some part.

(Doing that is why the last third of Rita is shaped the way it is – I picked up *Use Of Weapons* to re-read as a way of saying goodbye to Iain when he died far too early; I started asking myself how and why he twisted the timeline into knots in that story, and what he had to do to make it work, then applied that to my own story.)

There’s lots of books on How To Structure A Story. Some are shit. Some are great. Read some of them. Personally my current favorite is the one Film Crit Hulk wrote a while back. Be warned: if you’re reading screenwriting manuals, do not try to fit your seven-act story into the Procrustean bed of a three-act screenplay. Let your story be the shape it needs to be. (But keep in mind Vonnegut’s dictum to respect the reader by starting the story as close to the end as possible; you have to *earn* the reader’s attention if you want to tell the six hundred years of Madeupistan history leading up to the point you want to make.)

Do not get lost in “worldbuilding” and “backstory”. Do not skip it, either. Stories and characters grow out of them. But it doesn’t all need to be on the page. I’ve seen the metaphor of an iceberg: maybe 10% of the shit you come up with for a novel ends up on the page. The rest? Save it for the RPG worldbook.

Getting lost in TVTropes is part of your job. It’s a great resource of common building blocks of stories. But you can’t just mindlessly put tropes together; think about which ones work, which ones you should bend, which ones you should avoid entirely, in service to the *theme* of your story and the *characters*.

Having a theme helps a lot too. Whenever you’re stuck for the next thing to aim the narrative at, you can ask how you can bring the theme(s) back to the fore.

The hardest part: figuring out how people act. I mean fuck I’m an involuted freak who spent twenty years of her life hiding from any and all social interaction and learning how to draw and program. The best background is nothing without characters, full of dreams and goals and successes and failures and foibles. Give them things they want, put obstacles in their way, and then story occurs.

Some people will divide writers into “planners” and “pantsers”: one makes elaborate plans of how the whole plot will unfold before they write a single paragraph, the other just starts writing shit and just goes where instinct takes them. Personally I tend to go back and forth; it’s worth noting that both Stephen King and George R R Martin describe themselves as firmly in the “pantsers” camp, and they’ve sold a fuckton more books than I’m ever likely to. Pantsers tend to be about dropping a bunch of characters into a situation, and seeing how they work their way out; this can involve going down a lot of dead alleys as the characters try things that don’t work out.

Personally, Rita started very pants-y: here’s this robot lady infiltrating a building, why? An assasination, apparently. She’s talking to someone, who? Carol. What’s their relationship? I had some vague ideas for visual tricks I wanted to pull with the multiple-story trick but no real clue of the story; it didn’t really start to come together until a random obstacle I dropped in to stop a Relationship Conversation from going on forever opened his mouth and said he was Rita’s psycho ex, and shattered her reality for her. Then I knew a lot more of how it was going to end; once I knew that, I could say “okay, I’m here, and I want to get here – what’s a midway point?” Then repeat: what’s about midway from the latest page to that midway point? To there? Eventually I get down to having a handful of sentences describing what needs to happen in the current chapter, then to what needs to happen in the next page or two, and then I just start plopping words and doodles onto the page in Illustrator. Absinthe’s been similar, albiet much slower. Parallax is super-planned – we’ve turned to TVTropes, we’ve got a list of Common Star Trek Episode Types we made, we’ve spent a whole year kicking back and forth a framework for a multi-season TV show.

It’s okay for first drafts to be terrible. Now you have something to fix, and that’s a lot easier than having the story burst forth fully-formed like Athena from Zeus’ brow.

If you find someone who you collaborate well with, hold onto that for dear life. I would not be half the writer I am without Nick there to help me. We broke up during Absinthe, then got back together during Rita, and now we’re collaborating both on Parallax and Absinthe. Having another pair of brain hemispheres to toss ideas back and forth is wonderful; they’ll bring in a similar-but-different set of references, loves, inspiration, and knowledge.

But mostly: read a lot; turn off your internal censors and write some absolutely terrible stuff. Then either fix it, or write some more terrible stuff until you have something worth fixing.

Also: go ask someone who knows more about writing than me, 99% of my longform writing output is volleying crazy smut fantasy paragraphs back and forth over a furry muck until someone came, fell asleep, or had to go to work the next morning. honestly I’m not sure they’ll have that much more to say, I mean King’s “On Writing” is basically him saying “read a ton, good and bad, and write a lot while applying the critical eye learnt from your wide reading to your own stuff” plus an assortment of anecdotes from his much longer writing career, just do it again and again until people are willing to pay you for it or you give up.