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Illustrating with Adobe Illustrator CS3

This is aimed to guide High School Students in Mr. Levin's Digital Art and Design Course through the Illustration Proces
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16,589 students enrolled
Created by Jonathon Levin
Last updated 12/2013
  • 1.5 hours on-demand video
  • 2 Articles
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion

This is aimed to guide High School Students in Mr. Levin's Digital Art and Design Course through the Illustration Process. You will walk through some of the best practices for working with layers, tracing and outlining an image and then explore some ideas for colors, fills and special effects.

Who is the target audience?
  • High School Students
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What Will I Learn?
By the end of this course you will be able to trace and color an existing image using the Pen Tool In Adobe Illustrator.
View Curriculum
  • Access to Illustrator (Videos are based on Version CS3)
  • You should already know the basic operations of File Management and the Pen Tool in Illustrator
Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 20 Lectures Collapse All 20 Lectures 01:17:06
1 Lecture 01:35

This is an overview of the process we will go through as we start with a sketch, identify the components of the image, trace the outlines using complete shapes, stroke and fill with colors and add effects.

C11 - Learning to Draw in Illustrator
8 Lectures 34:26

You will need to download the start file (Below).

This video will walk you through

  1. Setting up your Work space
  2. Saving and Renaming your File.
  3. Selecting Fill and Stroke Colors and Brush Styles
  4. Setting up your Layers like the image below.
  5. Saving your file before moving on to the next video.

Setting Up Your File, Colors, Brushes and Layers

In this Video you will:

  1. Use the rectangle tool to draw on your background layer.
  2. Use the Pen tool to create the Snowbank (And rename the layer)
    1. If it is really difficult to use the pen tool, you can use the paintbrush for this one, JUST MAKE SURE THAT YOU CLOSE THE SHAPE (by creating the rectangle around the bottom of the image)
  3. Tracing the stars with the Pen tool
  4. Cloning/Copying the Stars

When finished, your project should look like the Screenshot below.

Need the start file? Go to the previous lecture and it will give you the file and show you how to set up the layers!

Outlining the Background, Snowbank and Stars

In this video you will create the moon by:

  1. Drawing two circles
  2. Adjusting/Moving the Circles using the Selection Tools (arrows)
  3. Experimenting with the Pathfinder window to create the crescent moon shape.

When you finish, your image will look like the screenshot below. (The dark colors are all that will show, the brown layer guides do not actually impact the image).

Creating the Moon from Two Circles

Illustration Quick Check
1 question

In this Video you will:

  1. Use the Pen Tool to Outline one of the Snowflakes on the Snowflake Layer

When finished, your snowflake outline should look like the Screenshot below.

Tracing the first Snowflake

In this Video you will:

  1. Use the Selection tool while holding the ALT key to clone the snowflake so that all 8 are outlined.

When finished, your snowflake outline should look like the Screenshot below. Note: All of the snowflakes are outlined in black.

Cloning the Snowflakes

In this Video you will:

  1. Outline the different parts of the penguin starting with the feet, then working your way up the layers.
  2. Make sure each shape is on the appropriate layer so that they stack appropriately.

Having Trouble? If you need more practice with the Pen Tool there is a SEPARATE activity attached below. (Click for Original Source)

When finished, your snowflake outline should look like the Screenshot below.

Tracing the PENguin (using the PEN tool)

In this Video you will:

  1. Use the Pencil or Paintbrush Tool to add details to the penguin on the final top layer.

When finished, your details should look like the sections in red. (They don't need to be red though)

Adding Details with the Pencil/Paintbrush

For LHS students only:

Export your image as a.jpg (and save as a .ai file)

Create a New Post in Wordpress

Title: C7 - Drawing in Illustrator

Add your Outline jpeg as media into the post.


  1. What was challenging for you?
  2. What are you proud of?
  3. What will you need to remember when you go through this process on your own?
Publishing your Outlines to a WordPress Blog (Optional)
C12 - Coloring In Illustrator
6 Lectures 29:11

In this video you will re-save C7 under a new name (C8) so that you can add strokes, colors, fills and effects without risking your original outlines.

AWMS: New File Name: C12_Illustration_YourName

If you were unable to complete the Penguin file or transferred into the class after we had already started you may start with the file here instead. However you will not get credit for C7 if you use the monkey outlines, as they have been completed for you.

Saving a Copy

In this Video you will:

  1. Use the layers window to select all of the objects and adjust your stroke color and texture.
  2. Go layer by layer to add color fills to each individual item in the image.

When finished, your project should look similar to the screenshot below. (However you are encouraged to use your own color and style schemes)

Strokes and Fills

In this Video you will:

  1. Identify the light source for your image.
  2. Use the gradient mesh tool to add gradients to some of the objects in your project.
    1. Copy the original image before adding the gradient.
    2. Use the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) to add in different shading styles.
      1. Note: for complex items (like the snowflakes) Illustrator may be unable to apply the gradient mesh tool.
    3. Paste back the original image and clear the fill in order to keep the outline visible.

When finished, your project should look similar to the screenshot below. (However you are encouraged to use your own variations)

Lighting and Gradients

In this video you will:

  1. Use Effects --> Stylize to add Drop Shadows and Outer Glows to different objects in your image.

When finished, your project should look similar to the screenshot below. (However you are encouraged to use your own variations as my effects are exaggerated to be easier to see. Examples: Stars Glow and Penguin has the shadows)

Adding Effects - Glows, Shadows and More

Have you saved your work recently?
1 question

In this video you will

  2. Use Effects --> 3d --> Bevel and Emboss to create a 3d effect on the moon.
  3. Experiment with other objects that you can add 3D effects to. Such as the Snowbank!
    1. Be careful, complex objects will process slowly and/or crash your computer.
  4. Save often!

When finished, you should have a 3d effect on at least one object (the Moon) in your image. You can have more. Your ending image should look like similar to this:

3D - Moon

Make sure that you address all of the criteria.

Features Checklist
5 questions

Save as a .ai file

Export as a .jpg

New WordPress Post: C8 - My First Illustration

Insert the jpeg image file into the post


  1. What is one thing you are proud of in your project?
  2. What is one thing you want to improve on when you complete your choice illustration?

Use the Questions tab above to post a link to your WordPress Blog! Or Anywhere that you published your final illustration. Then others can leave comments and suggestions.

Posting to WordPress (Optional)
C9 - Choice Illustration Project
3 Lectures 11:10

For this section of the Illustration process, you will repeat the process you practiced above using an image of your choosing.

Choice Illustration Overview

A quick review of the entire Illustration Process:

After creating a new Illustrator file (File --> New)

  1. Import your template image
  2. Save your File
  3. Create your Layers – from back to front
  4. Make your Outlines
    1. Use complete shapes as much as possible.
  5. Fill in your colors
  6. Add Gradients and effects
Setting up your file

C9/C13 - SubmissionInstructions (Optional)
C9B - Live Trace and Live Paint (Extra Challenge)
1 Lecture 00:18
  1. Click here for the sample file
  2. Click here for the Instructions – You can skip to step 5.
  3. Experiment with the image to make it as unique and interesting as possible.
  4. Post to WordPress

Title: C9B – Live Trace and Live Paint

Add your completed image to the post.

Caption: Answer the following reflection questions through a paragraph:

  • What was did you prefer about using the live trace and live paint options?
  • What is easier working through the longer Illustration process?
  • Which would you rather use in the future?
  • How could you use elements from both strategies?
Live Trace and Live Paint (Extra Credit Challenge)
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About the Instructor
4.4 Average rating
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16,589 Students
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Digital Art and Design Instructor

This online course is meant to supplement and support the Digital Art and Design high school curriculum but also function as a stand alone for individuals who may want to go through some of the same exercisizes and projects that we do in our class.

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