Defining Shapes

Lines:
Some may think that illustration is all about the lines, search website comics and other art styles may give this impression. I use line-work in most of my illustration styles, though not always black lines. If you do not use lines in your work, you use color or some other means of creating contrast between forms and objects. It is this contrast between colors or light and dark values that produce the lines we think we see everyday in the world around us. We will discuss the use of line-work and contrast to properly define shapes using light and shadow.

Comic artists may use line-work, but on closer inspection we find that those lines do a lot more then just define the shapes of the drawing. The line weight varies as it contours each element. This line variation builds the foundation of the form which gives the illusion of dimension. As you can see with the simple line drawing below. The drawing on the right has more depth while the left circle looks more like a cave drawing.

Digging A Little Deeper:
We realize the purpose of the varied line is a representation of light and shadow. Back to the basics of the shaded sphere and cube we did in grade school. Remember how the light source and the direction of light determined where our shadows fell? The division of light and shadow is what defined the primitive and produced what others may consider lines.

Think of it as taking 20% to 70% of the tonal value away and making everything else 100% black and white.

Figuring out all the tones and dimension of each object is the most fun part of illustrating for me. It’s like a puzzle figuring out how light reflects off each form to cast shadows. Thickening lines here and there, it’s exciting to see each shape pops and become more dynamic.

Basic Line Work:
In the previous post we talked about outlining and uniting strokes to produce an inked line effect. By copying a shape, then pasting behind the shape we just copied, we can add a stroke, then offset that stroke downward to simulate a thicker line at the bottom. This produces a nice inked line look without drawing extra lines.

For more information on this technique, see Illustrating in Illustrator Better Faster, The Happy Frog (a video tutorial).

For illustrations in a style that does not use line-work as a framework, we use gradients, blends and other shapes to represent light and shadow. These techniques can be combined with line-work, or not, depending on the style you are trying to accomplish.

To Gradient or Not to Gradient:
One trademark of vector graphics is gradients. This can be good or bad. Frankly, I feel gradients are over used. Gradients are beautiful when used properly, but when not used properly they can soften your work and make it boring. Remember contrast is what pops objects, gradients and blends can dilute that contrast. When the percentage of color does not change more then 20%, consider using straight solid colors instead.

Creating Effective Shadows.
Basic shadows are produced from the eclipse side of and object, often times creating a silhouette of the object on the background or foundation surface. Do not be afraid to layer on shadows when needed. After our basic layer of shadows are complete we can go back and find where ambient shadows might exist. These are areas where light might reflect causing secondary shadows to be produced, casting in a new direction. This reflected light gives us a good excuse to add a softer rim light to areas of our work that need a little extra pop or definition. Reflected light can also bring color into our shadows adding even more dynamics.

Where Do I Go From Here:
Using sketches, grids, line-work, light and shadow, you should be able to create dynamic illustrations. The only thing left now is practice, practice and more practice. Do not worry about colors yet, master your tonal values in black and white first, then start to introduce color. The next in the series will talk about tips for adding color to our illustrations to make them even more dynamic. Stay tuned and happy illustrating.

Next – Illustrating In Illustrator 101 Part 4 of 5: Color

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