Illustrator vector tutorial: Fish character

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In this new tutorial you will learn how to create a beautiful fish character in Adobe Illustrator.

If you love character design and want to improve your drawing skills, then this tutorial is for you. Learn how to create a beautiful fish character using the Pen Tool, and how to use different gradients and blending modes to create details, shading and highlights on the fish. You will be able to apply these techniques for other cartoon characters in your future projects. Let’s start!

Tutorial Details
Program: Adobe Illustrator CS6 – CC 2017
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 body of the fish. Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape like in the image below as the body. Switch to the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and add a couple of extra points in the right side of this shape; then move them and distort the path with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A) until you define a small mouth.
Continue to draw the shape of the tail in the bottom left side of the body with the Pen Tool (P). After you are done, select both shapes on your artboard and press Unite in the Pathfinder panel to merge them into a single shape.

Step 3
Fill the newly obtained body shape with the radial gradient shown and use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust its position and angle like in the image below. Also, apply a 1 pt Stroke using the exact same gradient and make sure that Apply gradient within stroke is selected in the Gradient panel.

Step 4
Now, use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape of the dorsal fin and color it with a purple to blue radial gradient. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust the position of the gradient and then, also apply a 1 pt Stroke using the blue to green radial gradient shown in the image below.

Step 5
We will continue with the eye of the fish. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw a round shape and color it with the light gray to light blue radial gradient shown. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust it so the light blue color falls in the bottom right side as a highlight.
Next, draw a smaller circle on top and color it with a teal to blue linear gradient at a -90 degrees Angle. This will be a part of the iris.

Step 6
Still using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw another circle a little smaller than the previous. Select bright blue as the fill color; then go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and apply the settings shown to give some dimension to the iris.
To create the pupil, draw another circle even smaller and color it with a dark blue to dark green radial gradient.

Step 7
Now, zoom on the eye as much as needed and draw a slightly bigger ellipse than the first one. Make sure to send it behind the eye in the Layers panel. Color this shape with a white to green linear gradient at a 90 degrees Angle; then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%. This will create a shadow around the eye of the fish.
Let’s complete the eye with a sparkle. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw a small ellipse in the upper right side of the iris having a white fill. Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 2 px to make it smoother. Reduce the Opacity to about 60%.

Step 8
Let’s continue with the other eye. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a half circle shape and then send it behind everything by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift-Control-[). Color it with a purple to blue radial gradient and use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust it so the blue color falls at the bottom.
Continue to draw another half circle shape, slightly smaller than the first and color it with the light gray to light green radial gradient like the first eye we already made. Adjust the position of the gradient so the light blue color falls only at the bottom as a highlight.
Next, draw a shape like in the image below at the top of the eye and make sure to send it under the white part of the eye in the Layers panel. Color it with a white to green linear gradient at a 90 degrees Angle; then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%. This will create a shadow at the top of the eye.

Step 9
The iris is made of two ellipses of different sizes. Color the bigger one with green R=38, G=164, B=141, and the smaller one with bright blue R=44, G=21, B=255. Next, go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and apply the settings shown to give some dimension to the iris.

Step 10
Just like you did for the first eye, draw a smaller ellipse as the pupil and color it with the same gradient. Finalize the eye by creating the sparkle in the upper right side. Color the small ellipse with white and then apply a 4 px Gaussian Blur to make it smoother.

Step 11
We will continue with the mouth of the fish. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape of the lip like in the image below and color it with a blue radial gradient.
Continue to draw a similar but smaller shape at the top as a shadow. Color it with the linear gradient shown; then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%.

Step 12
Draw an elongated shape between the eyes up to the mouth using the Pen Tool (P). Color it with a linear gradient from blue to black at a 90 degrees Angle. Set the Blending Mode to Screen to obtain a highlight.

Step 13
Focus on the fish’s body and draw a thin and tapered shape in the left side of the eye. Color it with a teal to white linear gradient at a 90 degrees Angle; then change the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%.
Next, draw a similar shape in the right side and color it with a linear gradient from black to blue. Set the Blending Mode to Screen (black becomes transparent) to obtain a highlight.

Step 14
Let’s create shading on the body of the fish. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape that covers the left and bottom area of the body and also a small part of the tail. Once done, fill it with a green to white linear gradient at a 90 degrees Angle; then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%.

Step 15
Now, focus on the belly and draw the shape of the pectoral fin like in the image below. Give it a purple to blue radial gradient fill and use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust the position and angle of the gradient.
Next, draw a half ellipse shape at the base of the fin and make sure to send it under the fin in the Layers panel. Fill it with the white to green gradient that we used before and apply the same settings to create the shadow.

Step 16
Still using the Pen Tool (P), draw a shape that covers the base of the fin and color it with a purple to blue radial gradient. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to adjust the gradient so the purple color is in the left side and the blue color is in the right side.
To add details on the fin, start by drawing a shape with three spikes on top. Color it with the same green to white gradient and apply the same settings as before and you will get the shading details.

Step 17
Let’s continue with the other pectoral fin which is simpler. Draw a claw-like shape and make sure to send it under the body of the fish in the Layers panel. Fill it with a blue to green radial gradient and adjust it using the Gradient Tool (G). Next, draw a shape that looks like three spikes and apply the same appearances as before.

Step 18
Now, we will add the same details on the dorsal fin as well. Draw a shape that looks like thin stripes on top of the fin and apply the same gradient and appearances to obtain the shading.
Still using the Pen Tool (P), follow the top edge of the fin and draw a thin border as in the next image. Color it with the linear gradient shown; then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 75%.

Step 19
Focus on the tail now. Draw a similar tail shape on top but make it slightly smaller. This way we will recolor the tail with a purple to blue radial gradient.
Now, follow the bottom edge of the tail and draw a shape like in the image below. Fill this shape with a teal to light blue linear gradient and then set the Blending Mode to Multiply and 75% Opacity.

Step 20
Add the stripe details on the tail just like you did for the dorsal fin earlier and apply the same appearances.

Step 21
In the following images we will add different kinds of highlights on the fish to make it shine and stand out more.
Start by drawing two shapes on the dorsal fin and on the tail like in the next image. Color both of them with a linear gradient from black to purple; then go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and apply a Radius of 4 px. Set the Blending Mode to Screen so the black color in the gradient becomes transparent and we get highlight shapes.

Step 22
Next, draw a thin tapered shape following the belly of the fish. Fill it with a linear gradient from black to light green and then set the Blending Mode to Screen as you did before.

Step 23
Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an ellipse on the tail and another one at the top of the dorsal fin. They should be above the bigger highlight shapes we made earlier. Give them a white fill color; then go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and apply a Radius of 3 px. This will give them a not so sharp look.

Step 24
Still using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw an ellipse on the base of the pectoral fin and another one at the top of the body. Give them a white fill; then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 3 px, respectively 5 px to make them smoother.

Step 25
We are almost done. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw an oval shape at the top of the body and color it with a black to blue linear gradient at a 110 degrees Angle. The black color in the gradient should be at the bottom. Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a Radius of 1.4 px to make its edges smoother. Set the Blending Mode to Screen so the black becomes transparent and we get a highlight shape.
Awesome work!
Here is the final image of the beautiful fish character. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you learned new things today. You can now apply these techniques in future projects and improve your character designing skills.

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