Origami Cupcake

The Origami Cupcake Tutorial: Part 2 Linework

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In my previous post I gave an overview of the entire illustration process. This post covers Step 1: Creating your linework.

How do you turn a messy sketch into a finished artwork? For me the key is using reference images and working my way slowly from rough drawings to a really neatly inked drawing.

Working in such a methodical way takes time, but drawing the linework is by far the most important stage of creating your artwork. I’m building the image up in layers, and this is my foundation. It wastes a huge amount of time if you try to make changes to the image once it’s been colored, I so tend to go slowly and be extra critical of myself.

1. Draw a paper sketch

Before you start drawing on your computer you need something like this, a rough sketch. I only work roughly  on paper because I don’t have easy access to a scanner, so I’ve gotten used to drawing directly with the tablet. Since I trace my reference material anyway, drawing an elaborate pencil sketch would waste time.

However drawing is a great tool to get your brain working. Despite my messy sketches, my final illustrations and drawings always manage to resemble each other, because during sketching I make important decisions about the composition of the work. And I’ll often draw and redraw a scene many times before it feels right.

Looking at the image below you can see that virtually every element of the finished work is present in the sketch: the mirror balls, the mushroom table, flowers on the dresser and a satchel on the floor.

The transition from sketch to inked work:


2. Use the right tool

This might be basics, but Illustrator gives you many different ways to draw:

  1. The Blob Brush
  2. The Pencil Tool
  3. The Paintbrush Tool

When I first began working in Illustrator I used the Blob Brush for everything  (my illustration above, Fairy Tale, was inked entirely using Blob Brush). This is because when Blob Brush is set to be pressure sensitive, this tool feels close to natural drawing. But this tool also has a major downside, because it doesn’t have the flexibility of the Pencil Tool or Paintbrush Tool.

Blob Brush works by creating a shape path as you draw. Take a look at these example lines. The Blob Brush and Paintbrush Tool are both using the same pressure sensitive brush, so the lines look very similar. But when you select the image you can see that the line made by the Blob Brush is not a line at all, it’s a single shape. In comparison the lines created by the Pencil Tool and Paintbrush Tools are strokes that can easily be edited.


The difference between the Paintbrush Tool and the Pencil Tool lies in how their default settings differ. The Paintbrush Tool draws with the current Brush applied. The Pencil Tool won’t, unless the current Appearance includes a Brush and the New Art Maintains Appearance button (in the Appearance palette) is on.

What this means is that while how the Paintbrush and Pencil Tools usually work differently, their strokes can be edited the same way, by changing options in the Brushes and Stroke windows. The options you’ll need to change the most frequently are the stroke weight and profile, but there are also a lot of other options worth experimenting with. When you decide on what you like you can save your settings in the form of a Brush, (I always work with the same round, pressure-sensitive Brush).

You can also create really complicated lines using Pattern Brushes. Check the Adobe Hep Section on Brushes for more information.

  • In the first column the line width varies because the Paintbrush Tool was set to be pressure sensitive, increasing or decreasing the stroke weight doesn’t change this.
  • In the second column I changed the stroke profile of an even line to create variations in line width.
  • In the third column I changed the line completely by applying different Pattern Brushes.


Take note that you can also change the Paintbrush Tool Options by double clicking on the tool icon. Changing these settings changes how Illustrator interprets the information sent from your tablet, and turns that drawing into a stroke. You can  change settings such as smoothingfidelity etc. Try experimenting with a few different setting before you begin drawing.


3. Let’s get Started

Now let’s looks at how I use these different tools in practice. I often use Blob Brush for my rough work because it’s quick and easy to use.

The initial rough sketch of the composition:


After drawing my rough composition I trace a rough outline from my reference images:


I redraw my traced image a few times to add details such as hair and clothing. I also exaggerate my figure’s proportions, to give them longer limbs. Photo’s of dolls are used as reference for the faces:


Here’s another example:


When I’m happy with the rough line drawing I redraw it as neatly as possible using the Paintbrush Tool. My brush is set to be pressure sensitive, so I can vary the line width as I draw.

After drawing the linework I edit the appearance of my strokes by changing options in the  Brushes and Stroke windows.

I can also use Simplify to remove unnecessary points, and I can manually remove and edit points. If you’re not used to working directly with anchor points the Adobe Help section on drawing has a lot of useful information; including Drawing with the Pencil tool,  Drawing with the Pen tool, and Editing Paths.

The rough sketch redrawn neatly with the Paintbrush Tool:


4. Drawing the Face

To draw my faces I like to combine reference images of real people with dolls and manga.

For this work I began by working with a photo for reference:


But the expression seemed wooden, and it even though the reference I had was of a woman, my figure looked very masculine. These later images were based on images from manga of a cute girl screaming. The result is an image that’s slightly exaggerated but doesn’t look unnatural:



I usually have to spend a bit of extra time duplicating and redrawing the face until I’m satisfied with the expression:


It can also be helpful to draw in some rough shading so that you can see the contours of the face clearly:


5. Cleaning up the Linework

When I’m satisfied with the neat sketch I select all my linework and use outline stroke to turn my linework into a shape path.

This allows me to do a few things:

  • I can fine-tune the linework by adjusting the individual anchor points manually.
  • The Pathfinder window gives you a bunch of different tools for manipulating shapes.
  • I can re-size the image without affecting the line weight.

As I work I make sure to change the colors of areas I’m done with to help myself keep track of my progress. Which means that I can use Select Similar to easily select and deselect either area.

The cleaning work in progress:


The finished linework:


Let me explain more clearly what I mean when I say “fine tuning”

This is the my (relatively) neat drawing, done using the pressure sensitive Paintbrush Tool:


As you can see each line is a single stroke:


In comparison this is the finished linework after outlining the stroke and editing. The differences are:

  • I’ve erased any accidental overlaps.
  • Lines are smoother because I’ve removed unnecessary anchor points.
  • I’ve also manually corrected areas where the line width wasn’t correct, such as the line of the wrist which was too thick.
  • My lines end in corner points, which makes them look beautiful.


Let’s take a look at the process on a single line on the palm of her hand:

This is stroke as it is after being drawn with the Paintbrush Tool. Notice that the black line doesn’t follow the blue stroke exactly, this is because Illustrator smooths the line a bit to help you.


After using outline stroke the stroke is changed into a shape path:


To create a corner point at the top and bottom of the line, I drag an anchor point over to “fold” the line.


I then use unite from the Pathfinder to create a compound shape of the area. This cuts the line into separate shapes along the folds.

Notice how new corner points have been formed at the fold:


Using the Direct Selection tool I select the new shapes at each end and delete them:


The finished line:


Since I’m done with this area I change the shape color.


Now repeat by a thousand until you’re done.


6. In Summary:
  1. The rough trace is drawn using Blob Brush.
  2. The image is redrawn neatly using the Paintbrush Tool.
  3. After using outline stroke and cleaning up the image I’m finished.



7. Drawing the background

While drawing freehand is definitely the best for figures, backgrounds often have a lot of geometric shapes. These can be drawn using the Line Segment Tool, and other shape tools like the Rectangle and the Eclipse Tools. Illustrator also has a Perspective Tool that can be useful for this, although personally I don’t use it much.

Drawing the geometric background:


The image after erasing the excess lines:


While the previous image looks okay, the lines are rigid and look a bit mechanical. To make it match the rest of the hand-drawn linework we can cheat by adjusting the stroke width and profile settings to makes the lines taper naturally:


Here’s a close-up of how changing the stroke profile changes a geometric shape:

…And you’re done ^_^

More or less, because while it’s not necessary to do the same fine editing with the background, I still use outline stroke on all my finished linework. This is because I need my linework as a shape path for Step 2: Basic Coloring.

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