Illustrator tutorial: Drawing a Dragon

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By Mihaly Varga

In this new tutorial you will learn how to create a cute dragon character using mainly the Freeform gradient in Adobe Illustrator.

Follow this tutorial and learn more about the new gradient available in Illustrator called Freeform Gradient which allows us to create natural and realistic gradients. It is useful for everyone from beginners to experts, very easy to use and saves you a lot of time. Let’s see how it works while drawing a cute dragon character.

Tutorial Details
Program: Adobe Illustrator CC 2019
Estimated Completion Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate

Step 1
Launch Illustrator and open a new document. Type a name for your file and set up the dimensions then select Pixels as Units and RGB as Color Mode. Next, go to Edit > Preferences > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1 px and while there, also go to Units. These settings will help you throughout the drawing process.

Step 2
We will start with the head of the dragon. Gran the Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape similar to the one below. You can adjust it at any time by moving the anchor points and their handles.
While the shape of the head stays selected, go to the Gradient panel and choose the third option under Type which will activate the Freeform gradient. There are two available options: Points and Lines and in this tutorial we will focus on the Points option. Click on the shape anywhere to add a color stop and continue to add as many as you need. All points can be moved and adjusted and you can double-click on them to edit the colors. You can delete existing color stops by dragging them outside the object or press the Delete key on your keyboard while they are selected.
Choose lighter shades where you want to add highlights and darker shades of a specific color where you want to create shading. In the image below you can see the list of colors that I’ve used and the position of the color stops. Do you like the Freeform gradient so far?

 

Step 3
We will continue with the eyes of the dragon. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw two ellipses one in front and one behind the head. Distort the front eye shape a little and make it flat at the bottom. Fill both shapes with a radial gradient from white to light gray and also apply a 2 pt green Stroke.

Step 4
Draw two ellipses filled with green inside the eyes followed by two smaller ones filled with black as the pupils.
To add a few sparkles in the eyes, draw three tiny circles on the pupils filled with a radial gradient from white to black. Set the Blending Mode to Screen (black becomes transparent).

Step 5
Use the Ellipse Tool (L) again to draw a circle as the cheek of the dragon. We will use the Freeform Gradient to color this shape as well. Add six color stops and you can see their position along with the corresponding color in the image below.

Step 6
Draw two ellipses as the nostrils. The one in front is bigger that the other. Color them with green R=7, G=112, B=64.
Draw a smaller ellipse inside each nostril and use the Freeform Gradient to color them. This time, add only three color stops and use a darker shade of green to add shading in the right side of the shape.

Step 7
We will continue with the mouth of the dragon. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape of the mouth filled with black and the shape of the tongue as shown in the image below. Use the Freeform Gradient to add three color stops on the tongue and choose a darker shade of red to color the one at the bottom in order to add shading.
Continue to draw two triangle-like shapes as the teeth and color them with white. Don’t worry if you go over the edge of the mouth because we will mask everything in the next step.

Step 8
Select the shape of the mouth and then Copy and Paste in Place (Shift-Control-V) to make a copy of it in front of everything. Set this copy to fill-none. Now, select the tongue and the teeth along with the copy of the mouth and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7).
Next, draw the outside part of the tongue as shown in the following image. Color it with red R=227, G=27, B=31.

Step 9
Let’s add some detail lines around the mouth. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a curved path above the mouth and another path between the mouth and the cheek. Give them a 1 pt dark green Stroke and select the Width Profile 4 in the Stroke panel.

Step 10
For the ear, draw an elongated triangle-like shape but rounded at the base. Use the Freeform Gradient to color it and you can see the colors of the stops in the image below. After you are done, draw a similar but smaller shape inside filled with black. Send both shapes behind the head.
Make a copy of the ear or reflect it vertically to get the other one in back.

Step 11
Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw two short curved paths above the eyes as the eyebrows. Give them a 3 pt black Stroke and select the Width Profile 5 in the Stroke panel.

Step 12
We will continue with the body of the dragon. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape like in the image below and use the Freeform Gradient to color it with plenty of shades of yellow for a more realistic look.

Step 13
Still using the Pen Tool (Paste (Control-V)), draw four curved path on the belly. Give them a 2 pt Stroke using the Width Profile 4 and the linear gradient shown.
Copy and Paste in Place (Shift-Control-V) the belly shape and set it to fill-none. Keep this copy selected along with the four lines and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7).

Step 14
It’s time to draw the back and the tail of the dragon so use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape similar to the one below. Use thee color stops and three shades of green to color this shape with the Freeform Gradient.

Step 15
Draw a circle as the leg of the dragon and use the shades of green and yellow to color it using the Freeform Gradient as you did so far.

Step 16
Next, draw the shape of the foot and color it with dark green R=12, G=61, B=33. Continue with the three claws. Color them with the linear gradient shown and also apply a 2 pt Stoke using the same shade of green as the foot and the Width Profile 2.

Step 17
Group (Control-G) all the shapes that make up the front leg. Create the back leg in the same way or you can make a copy of this one to finish faster.

Step 18
We will continue with the arm. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape like in the image below and use the Freeform Gradient to color it. Choose lighter shades of green for the color stops at the top and darker shades of green for the color stop added at the bottom.
Next, draw a small hand with three fingers and color it with dark green R=12, G=61, B=33. At the tip of each finger, draw a small circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) and color them with the same dark green.

Step 19
Select the arm, the hand and the circles and Group (Control-G) them. Make a copy of the arm to obtain the other one and send it behind the body by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift-Control-[).

Step 20
Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape of the wing like in the following image and after that, draw an upside down W-like shape on top of it to define the sections of the wing. Color it with the linear gradient shown at a 90 degrees Angle. Send both shapes behind the dragon.

Step 21
The back wing is not really visible so you only have to draw a triangle-like shape. Use the three color stops to color it and after that, send it in back.

Step 22
No dragon is complete without the back spikes so use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a bunch of triangle-like shapes but rounded at the tip next to each other. Make them bigger on the back and smaller as you go towards the end of the tail. Color the shapes with red R=227, G=27, B=31; then Group (Control-G) them and send them in back.

Step 23
At this point the dragon character is ready. As a final touch, let’s add a shadow under it.
Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw two ellipses of different sizes over the feet of the dragon like in the next image. Fill both shapes with black but set the Opacity of the bigger one to 0%. While both shapes stay selected, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and choose 20 Specified Steps. Hit OK and then go back to Object > Blend > Make (Alt-Control-B).
Send the resulting blend-group in back by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift-Control-[). To make the result smoother, go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 5.5 px.
Finally, change the Blending Mode of the blend-group to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 24% but this depends on the background color we choose.

Awesome work!
Here is the final image of the dragon character. I hope this tutorial made you understand and love the Freeform Gradient and you will use it in future projects.

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