paintbrush full of stars

what’re you up to peggy? oh nothing much, just getting stoned and making a pressure-sensitive star brush out of Astute’s Stipplism effect and their Dynamic Sketch tool

not shown: stroke is a circular gradient fill set to go along the path via the path-alignment controls in the gradient window, from (cyan at 100% opacity) to (cyan at 0% opacity).

if I turn off the stipple effect it looks like this:

so all these stars are coming from a few quick vector lines that I can easily push around in a bunch of ways

and I think that’s pretty cool


anyway back to being stoned and drawing <3

morning exercise

Dang, I haven’t done this one in ages.

I see a lot of tips full of stretching exercises for artists flow across the Internet, but I feel like I never see the other important kind of exercise: ones to get good habits embedded in your reflexes, ones to train your form so that you’re less likely to injure yourself in the first place.

This is a thing I did to start every day at one of my first animation jobs: slap a piece of paper on the pegs, draw a quick circle in the upper left corner. Don’t worry if it’s shitty, don’t try to make it perfect. Just try to make the next one better. Because you are going to draw another one just to the right, barely touching it. And another, and another, until you’ve filled up the whole page. And you are going to do this by coordinating the muscles of your entire arm so that most of it comes from your shoulder and elbow, with finesse added by the fingers; the wrist should remain perfectly straight because bending it while drawing is how you summon the Carpal Tunnel Injury Fairy. Eventually you should aim to do all your drawing this way; this exercise is great for learning enough control to be able to do this.

If you start doing this, it is interesting to save your first few and compare them. Your first efforts will be frustratingly messy, but you’ll probably see some improvement over the course of a single page.


The Breakup Bees: A Relationship Technology

Some time ago, Nick and I went to Archie McPhee and got the usual sort of stuff one gets there: tiny plastic lizards, pens shaped and scented like strips of bacon, action figures based on famous philosophers, etc. Goofy novelty stuff. Cheap, silly trinkets.

I don’t remember everything we got on this particular trip, but one purchase ended up being unexpectedly life-changing. One handful’s worth of bee finger puppets, their injection-molded faces set in eternal, happy smiles.

As we wandered around Seattle on that sunny summer day, we made a decision: Any attempt at a breakup must be performed via these bee puppets. Why? Mostly because it sounded funny at the time. Condemning our future selves to the punishment of having to waggle finger puppets at each other when they were angry was an absurd image.

The bees ended up on my bookshelf after that. Sitting in a line in front of books. In sight, but out of conscious thought. When we left Seattle for New Orleans, they came along; not long after I had bookshelves, the breakup bees were hanging out on one shelf again. The magic books this time. Which seems appropriate because they kind of turned into a little bit of relationship magic; it turns out that they work pretty damn well at defusing a lot of the tension that’s been built up by whatever’s driving one of us to threaten the other with the Breakup Bees.

We now have this way to unambiguously say, this thing you are doing is going to ruin this relationship if nothing changes. And that’s valuable. And it’s also a really silly way. We’re waving a bright yellow smiling finger puppet at each other to do it; while things can remain surprisingly tense for a bit, the bee still brings a powerful note of comedy to the whole affair, even before we get to the point of expressing our displeasure in the high-pitched buzzy voice appropriate to speaking through the puppet.

And we have a way to measure our displeasure. There’s five of them; obviously all five only come out for a serious, full “we are breaking up right now” moment.  There’s a big jump from no bees to one bee, but there’s also a good way from one bee to five. So far we have never had to deploy more than one bee at a time. I really can’t imagine what it would take for us to have two or three out, let alone the whole five.

We have expressed the seriousness of our desires for each other to change some behavior as “one bee’s worth”. I have been lectured on doing an unpleasant financial matter I was avoiding through the medium of a plastic bee breakdancing and singing a song. If something’s stressing one of us out while the other’s gone, we can take a bee and leave it in each others’ work areas, with the option of putting it back on the shelf before it’s seen. This impulsive joke has turned out to be surprisingly effective.

They don’t have to be bees – find something that works for your sense of humor and your significant others’ – but I heartily recommend this as a way to keep your relationship healthy. 3-10 absurdly cheerful-looking tokens of we need to talk.

gator gator gator gator

How to quickly make a repeating pattern brush from a long image, without wasting your time swearing at the Pathfinder palette.

  1. Draw a funny little alligator. Or a pickle. Or a snake. Or an abstract pattern. Whatever.
  2. Make two duplicates of the whole gator, and the rectangles you want to crop it with.
  3. On the first gator, delete the left and right rectangles. Then select the whole gator and the center rectangle, and do object>clipping mask>make.
  4. Select the now-invisible clipping mask. Copy it. Deselect all. Edit>Paste in back.
  5. Select the clipping mask, its contents, and the invisible rectangle behind it. Make a pattern from it.
  6. On the second gator, do steps 2-3, except keep and duplicate the leftmost rectangle. Make another pattern.
  7. Third gator, third rectangle. Steps 2-3 again.
  8. Make an art brush using all gator part patterns.
  9. Enjoy your gator brush.

(Or make an art brush directly from the art in step 4 instead of making the pattern, set the Brush palette to List View, then alt-drag the front and back parts of the gator into the appropriate slots in the brush instead of making patterns.)

The secret sauce here is the invisible rectangle behind everything. If you have one of these, then Illustrator will use this as the boundary of an art/pattern brush. If you don’t then it’ll use the bounding box of everything, including the hidden clipped parts – make another three copies of the gator and skip step 3 to see this in action. Without the clipping mask it’ll still work but you’ll get the whole gator image drawn along the path, overlapping.

In general I recommend staying the fuck away from the Pathfinder palette, it rarely behaves like you expect it to and will make you swear for hours on end. Use clipping masks/Draw Inside, pattern fills, or opacity masks instead.

Here’s an Illustrator file demonstrating this:

frizzly hair

“What tools are good for drawing kinky hair in Illustrator?”

Here’s an Appearance stack that I whipped up in like ten minutes that’s a good start.

kinky hair – open up the Appearance and Graphic Styles palettes to explore just what I did here, click on some effect names and play with the settings, find something better than I did in ten minutes.

It could use a lot of refinement and maybe I’ll do that sometime soon. But this is a decent start IMHO. One major refinement could be to make an art or scatter brush with some squiggles, and add that as a stroke on the “kinky hair” style.


I just put together a little Automatic Kirby Krackle style that I’m pretty happy with. It could be better and maybe it will be by the time I’m done with the drawing I’m doing it for, but it’s more than good enough right now.

The top is the lines I drew, the bottom is what Illustrator turns it into when I use the following Appearance stack:

The magic here is in setting the “coruscation” scatter brush stroke to 0% opacity, and turning on Knockout Group for the whole path. This makes the brush’s clearness punch through everything applied to the path, instead of overlaying it on top of whatever other strokes and fills are applied below it.

And to give you a start on this, here’s the current brush settings. If I really wanted a serious Kirby Krackle I’d probably have two or three copies of the brush, one for big balls closer to the edge of the shape, one for smaller balls that go further in, and maybe one somewhere in between.


(Why has this been sitting in my drafts for a month and a half, this looks perfectly postable…)

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.