When it comes to the Adobe Illustrator Paintbrush, there are many more options than you might expect. Artist Joyce Hoeven (aka @joycehvn) shows you how to use the numerous brushes to help create texture, depth, shadows and more – opening up a whole host of possibilities.

What you'll need

Set up your project

Open up the files you want to work with, including a colour palette. You can use Joyce’s practice assets to get started. First, find the Paintbrush on your left-hand toolbar. You’ll also need your Brushes panel for this tutorial, so if it’s not already on the right-hand side, head to Windows > Brushes.

Get to know the Brush Library

Go to the menu icon in the top right of the Brushes panel and select Open Brush Library. There are a number of brushes for you to choose from – select one and it will bring up a range of options. The two arrows at the bottom allow you to easily navigate through your Brush Library. Select one, then make a stroke with your Paintbrush. There are lots of cool options, so have a play before you start working on your design.

Apply it to your illustration

When you’re ready to start, use the Eyedropper tool on the left-hand toolbar to pick up a colour from your palette. Then click on a brush and make a stroke anywhere on the canvas. Select and drag it over your illustration and, if you like, you can use the Selection tool to change the size and shape of the stroke by moving the anchor points.

Blend it with your background

With the brushstroke selected, go to your Properties panel on the right and click on Opacity. Bring it down to a level you’re happy with to make it blend in with your background. Create depth by adding more strokes on top of this one and play with the Opacity to overlap different colours and textures. Keep on adding brush strokes and trying different ones – you can get some great effects from a little experimenting.

Try the Transparency panel

An alternative to using Opacity is to use the Transparency panel (Windows > Transparency). With your stroke selected, click on the drop-down menu and change Normal to any of the other options. Joyce recommends Multiply for shadowing, Screen for highlights or Overlay for textures. Try them all to see what they do. This panel can often be preferable to using Opacity as it better blends the layers into the background and allows for more of the detail to come through.

Complete your illustration

Use the techniques you’ve learnt to add texture to your entire illustration, to a level you’re happy with. Then marvel at the before and after transformation.


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