Argh, the lines! Why won't they go like how I want them?!
May 2, 2008 3:45 PM   Subscribe

How should I get started in vector drawing? I'd love to be able to produce those smooth, clean scalable drawings someday.

It's something I've always wanted to do. There's no community college classes on vector art around here, and I've tried just grabbing Illustrator and trying to make stuff in it, but that approach didn't really get me anywhere and just left me frustrated. I ended up forcing out a bizarre-looking Mega Man and some awkward dinosaurs, and I didn't really feel like I understood vector drawing any better than I did before.

How did you guys get started? Should I just keep pounding away? Any recommended books, methodologies, or web sites? Most of the books I've looked through seem to chiefly focus on particular tools, not underlying concepts. What are the fundamental things I should focus on initially?
posted by ignignokt to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A fairly useful method for learning vector drawing is to import a bitmap image into Illustrator, then trace it as faithfully as you can. Through repetition, you learn how to create curves efficiently, and you'll have a practical application for skills that otherwise feel pointless to use.

(Plus it looks nice at the end.)

I love Veerle's Blog. She absolutely walks you through everything step by step in a very conversational tone.
posted by reebear at 3:56 PM on May 2, 2008

The way I started out was learning the pen tool. Theres a good tutorial here.After you get the hang of it just try importing pictures into Illustrator and then tracing them with the pen tool it will give you a lot more practice and show you how things are put together. Its going to take a lot of work and practice and patience to get what you want. This tutorial will also help get some different shapes and putting them together to make something.
posted by lilkeith07 at 3:59 PM on May 2, 2008

What reebear and lilkeith07 said. The pen tool is your most powerful tool. Once you're comfortable with the pen tool you'll be able to illustrate up a storm. Use it to trace an image you've scanned or a photo you've taken, etc. Starting from scratch (not tracing anything) can be frustrating if you're confined to a mouse, so you might want to look into a Wacom tablet or similar pen-style input.
posted by lekvar at 4:15 PM on May 2, 2008

When I started out, i hated Illustrator.

I learned on CorelXara (now Xara Xtreme). Its by far my favorite vector drawing program. Very easy to use and learn. I still havent learned Illustrator (but by no means am I a professional artist).
posted by wongcorgi at 4:55 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you draw on paper as well? Like others have said, it's much easier if you have something to trace. Especially if you're using a Cintaq and photos you took yourself and have talent.

If you're just fucking around, like me, I had luck with tracing scans of my most simplified character designs, the squares+circles+rubber hoses cartoons. Draw some AWESOME dinosaurs. Think about the curves and angles that you're laying down, and whether they'll be super finicky to adjust point by point by point. Simplify and economize. Don't underestimate yourself, but don't get hung up trying to perfectly outline the tiny dip in the inside corner of someone's eye at insane magnification.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:16 PM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: If you want the theory, the keyword you're looking for is: Bezier Curve. Also, Illustrator was originally basically just a graphical way to write postscript - a simple language that was created for telling a printer how to draw circles, lines and curves. As a result, Illustrator still expects you to think about bezier curves and such, instead of more intuitive and natural drawing metaphors.

That said, I was always annoyed at how it was get proficient in Illustrator, but then Flash showed me that there are far worse ways of approaching the problem!

My survival tip in Illustrator is to select the regular pen tool and then use the control/command/option/shift keys to switch to related modes. (Or at least memorize the keyboard shortcuts for switching between the modes.) You need to change to different tools quickly in order to get flexible in Illustrator.

Also, try it out with a Wacom tablet. That can make a huge difference (although ironically perhaps more with Photoshop where people typically do more 'airbrushing' type work.)
posted by kamelhoecker at 6:59 PM on May 2, 2008

Agreeing with kamelhoecker here. IANAArtist at all, but I fake it sometimes. Bevier curves are exactly why I felt so comfortable with Freehand, and not so much with Illustrator when I first started working in DTP (get off my lawn).

I just got a fancy new Wacom Intuos tablet at work, so I'm re-learning drawing in Illustrator with that -- basically, I'm in the same boat as you. My one piece of advice is to make sure and TURN OFF the variable pressure setting at first, after spending hours Fscking with a drawing done *with* the pressure setting on.
posted by liquado at 9:56 PM on May 2, 2008

Specifically for Illustrator -

Beginner level: Adobe Illustrator CS3 Classroom In A Book covers most basics. Basics are really good to know with such a complex program.

If you have some money to spend, the online training programs may be for you.

Intermediate-advanced: The Wow! book, which has been around (for each Illustrator version) for years, is also worthwhile to take things further, especially for seeing how pros tackle specific problems. Since each Wow! book features different projects it's even worthwhile to get used copies of previous editions, even though the tools are a bit different.

For casual learning, Bert Monroy, who is an old school master of Photoshop and Illustrator, has a great video podcast called Pixel Perfect with tutorials for using both programs individually or together.
posted by thread_makimaki at 5:10 AM on May 3, 2008

You might start with cleaning up the autotrace of a bitmap...
posted by Pronoiac at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2008

Are there decent open-source alternatives to Illustrator?
posted by lukemeister at 8:19 AM on May 3, 2008

> Are there decent open-source alternatives to Illustrator?
posted by alikins at 9:19 AM on May 3, 2008

alikins, Thanks!
posted by lukemeister at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2008

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