One of the handiest features in Adobe Illustrator is it’s built in shape tools (such as squares, circles, stars, etc). However, it can take time and practice to realize their full potential! Beginner illustrators tend to rely heavily (often too heavily!) on simple geometric shapes to create their compositions, but this can appear amateurish and unpolished. We’re here to show you how to use simple shapes as the basis of a more sophisticated, less ‘circle and square’ based icon of a snarling panther.
Working from reference… Sort of.
Now, we don’t actually have a panther in front of us to base our illustration off of! But we do have our favorite roomate, a black cat known as ‘Kitty’ (don’t give me a hard time, I didn’t name her! I just can’t think of a more suitable name!):
Of course, Kitty doesn’t look remotely like a panther. But she’ll still make a great reference because the structure of her skull will be similar to a panther. The big difference will be the size of the panther’s muzzle, nose and teeth, which are naturally much larger and more aggressive looking than my little puff of fur.
Starting with the skull shape
We’ll start with a slightly flattened circle shape to create the shape of our panther’s skull. Go to your toolbar and click and hold on the Shape Tool button until a shape tool menu pops out. Select the ‘Ellipse’ tool, then click and drag your mouse over your artboard to create your shape:
Comparing this perfectly round circle to our Kitty, we note that the top of the skull should be rounded, but the bottom will be somewhat flatter. Bring up your Direct Selection arrow (the white arrow: hit ‘A’ on your keyboard to get to it), and click-drag over the bottom most point of your circle. With that point selected, hit the ‘Up’ arrow on your keyboard a few times to create a slightly flat-bottomed circle:
Now for some ears. We’d like our panther to look super fierce, just like Kitty does in the photo above. Notice the ears flatten out on top and point outwards away from the face. What we’ll do is draw another circle, then copy-paste it in front of itself (command-C command-F on a Mac, or control-C control-F on a PC). Then move the second circle up and to the right of the first using your keyboard’s arrow tools. You can also select the top shape with your Select Arrow (the black arrow: hit ‘V’ on your keyboard to bring it up), then move it around:
We’re looking at the curved shape that’s happening on the bottom, outside of where the two circles overlap. It looks like a half moon. We can tell already that this ear will be a bit too curved for our tastes, so we’ll select both shapes (command-A on Mac or control-A on a PC) and hover our cursor over the edge of the bounding box that appears over both shapes. When the cursor turns into a little double arrow shape (<–>), click and drag to the right to stretch out the circle shapes:
Still looking strange. Let’s move the top circle to the left and stretch it out as well to create less of a severe curve:
Looks good! With both shapes selected, click the ‘Minus Front’ button in your Pathfinder Palette to trim away the top circle shape:
Using our pen tool, we’re going to create some definition inside of our ear shape. You could also use the previous method of copy-pasting a circle on top of itself and then using Pathfinder’s Minus Front, but we figured it was time to try something new!
Highlighting the ear
Bring up your Pen Tool (‘P’ on your keyboard). Near the center of the ear’s left hand point, click once to start your path:
This looks weird but don’t worry, half of this ear shape will be hidden in behind the skull of our panther so no one will ever see it! Now move your pen tool over to the middle of the shape and click again, this time holding down the mouse and dragging out to the right. This will create a nice curve handlebar for us to play with:
Click on the point you’ve just made. This will remove the second handlebar so that your next point will start with a nice sharp corner (for more information on using the pen tool, check out this tutorial!). Click again a little ways below your point to create a new corner point.
Now hover your pen tool over the first point you made. You should see a little ‘o’ appear under your pen tool cursor. This means you’re about to close your shape! Click on the point and click-drag upwards to create another nice curve. Play around with the handlebars until it matches nicely with your first curved line:
Select the ear and the highlight and group them. Copy-paste the ear shapes on top of themselves and with the top shape selected, go to ‘Transform > Flip Horizontal’ in your Transform palette. Move the ear over until each ear is positioned roughly like so behind the head shape:
Yes, this looks truly bizarre, but just trust us 😉
Drawing a jaw
Now let’s add our snarling panther jaw. The jaw will be open very wide. To make this easier, and to ensure the shapes are still symmetrical, we’re going to draw one half of the jaw and then flip it horizontally to join the shapes. This saves us trying to match up 2 sides of the same drawing (something that is very difficult with vectors).
We’ll add a guideline to the center of our illustration. To add a guideline, bring up your rulers (command-R on Mac, or control-R on a PC). You’ll see you get a nice set of rulers added to the left and top hand side of your illustration window. Click on the right hand ruler and drag your mouse over to your artboard. You’ll see you now get a nice light blue line like so:
We’ll bring up our Pen Tool again (P on your keyboard). We’ll draw in the left hand side of our jaw first, adjusting our curves until we’re happy with the result. Don’t worry about closing your shapes, we’ll take care of that later:
Select the jaw shape we’ve just drawn and copy-paste it in front of itself. Open your Transform palette and make sure the bottom left hand square is highlighted: This ensures that when we flip the object over, the bottom right most corner of our shape will match up exactly. With your shape selected choose ‘Flip Horizontal’ from the drop down menu:
Voila, we have the beginnings of a jaw. Now to close our shapes. Click-drag over the bottom most point of both jaw shapes using your Direct Select arrow (‘A’ on your keyboard). Hit Command-J (mac) or Control-J (PC) on your keyboard. This will bring up a small dialogue box. Make sure you select ‘smooth’ here so that your handlebars stay intact:
Now click on each of the points at the top and repeat the Command-J (Mac) or Control-J (PC) command to close these two points as well:
Adding a nose
Let’s add a nose. Draw one large oval, then two smaller ovals on either side like so:
With your pen tool selected, hover over the bottom most point of the largest oval. You’ll see that your pen tool cursor changes into a ‘V’ shape. When this happens, click on the point. This will change the curved point into a sharper corner point, which is more of what we’re looking for:
Merge all of these shapes by selecting them all and hitting ‘Merge’ in your Pathfinder palette. Now draw one more flattened oval across your nose shape. Use ‘Horizontal Align Centre’ in your Align palette to make sure the shapes are perfectly in line with each other:
Select both shapes and hit ‘Minus Front’ in your Pathfinder palette to trim away any overlapping shapes:
To add some depth, we’ll use our pen tool to draw a shadow over half of our nose shape. We’ll also draw some highlighting shapes around the top of the nose, as though it’s crinkled up (like the panther’s snarling). Here’s where we’re at so far with some fill colors added (in black and white):
We’re going for a very simple, bold, graphic style here to help these shapes read at small sizes. Now let’s add the eyes, which will be a main focal point in this illustration!
Creating the panther’s eyes
We’ll start by drawing a horizontally flattened oval shape:
With this new oval selected, hit ‘P’ on your keyboard to bring up your Pen Tool (you can also click on the Pen Tool icon in your toolbar). Hover the cursor over the left hand point of your oval while holding down the ‘Option’ key. You’ll notice the cursor changes into a small ‘V’ shape: this is our anchor point conversion tool, meaning this tool will change a curved point into a corner point. Click on the point and this is what you get:
Repeat this with the point on the other side:
Now let’s rotate the shape a little, since eyes generally angle upwards towards the outside of the face. With the shape selected, type a number (in this case we used 5) into the rotate field of the Transform Palette:
To add pupils and an iris, bring up your Ellipse Shape Tool and while holding down ‘Shift’ on your keyboard draw a circle. Holding down ‘Shift’ will make your ellipse into a perfectly round circle:
With this circle selected, copy and paste it in front of itself (Command-C Command-F on Mac, or Control-C Control-F on a PC). Holding down Option and Shift on your keyboard, resize the new circle with your Select arrow (black arrow) so it’s smaller than the first:
Holding down ‘Option’ while resizing objects will ensure the shape is sizing from the center as opposed to the corner, which is handy! ‘Shift’ makes sure that the shape doesn’t warp vertically or horizontally.
We’re going to add a little highlight in our eye. Click on the center shape and hold down ‘Option’ while dragging to the side. This copies our shape. Holding down ‘Shift’, we’ll make our new circle a little smaller and we’ll move it to the side:
Now group the pupil, iris and highlight and place it over our eye’s base shape. We’ll also continue adding those ‘frowning’ lines, coloring them white. It’s important to note the thickness we’re using for these highlight shapes: they’re nice and chunky and won’t vanish if this cat is printed at a tiny size. We’ve colored our eyes yellow with a thick black outline, and then copied the eye and rotated it horizontally (don’t forget to move the highlight to the right side on your copied version!):
Finishing off the mouth
Now for the snarling mouth. We’ll use a rounded rectangle shape to create the teeth, and drawn the curved canine teeth by hand. We’ve added some definition to the mouth by drawing a highlight on the bottom and top lips, and colored the inside of the mouth a bold, angry red. Here is our finished panther!
© 2009 Jennifer Borton