Illustrator Tutorial: Making of an Abstract Artwork

How to make an abstract illustration using basic shapes and the Live Paint Bucket Tool in Adobe Illustrator.

This tutorial shows you the creative process of Freedom (deviantART), and the principles of using the Live Paint Bucket tool, and what can be achieved with this great innovation in color management by Adobe in Illustrator CS4, which saves time, and may be used in countless sorts of project from character design to abstract Illustration.

Here is a preview of what we’ll be designing:

Final Result Image

(click for larger image)

About the Author

Rodrigo is Brazilian, born in April 8th, 1990. He’s always been the drawing kind of kid, he first got in contact with digital arts while he lived in the United States for a 3-year period. Self-taught until mid 2008, has completed his first semester in UCG Design School, Brazil. As of now, he’s available as a Freelance Designer and Illustrator.

Step 1

First of all, we should understand how the Live Paint Bucket Tool works, and its limitations…

The live paint bucket tool only works with “collections of paths” as the actual software refers to it. By that, the software means that your paths, or lines, should all intersect, or actually connect, making a closed path, since the Live Paint Bucket tool only paints inside closed paths.

Step 1 Part 1

This is the message Illustrator gives when you select a collection of paths, which will not work with the Live Paint Bucket tool.

Below is an example of how you should have your paths so Live Painting works the right way.

Step 1 Part 2

Again, the above is merely an example, you may use the Live Paint Tool on any form and shape you create.

Another feature of the Live Paint tool is that after you choose the path collection, and paint it with the Paint Bucket tool, you may still edit or expand the Paint Group you’ve just made. Editing will help in the development of our final product here, editing the paint group saves time, and money (think like a professional! Time is money!).

As shown below, you may connect the “flowing” lines…

Step 1 Part 5

And along with other tools, you may keep editing as you like.

When expanding the live paint group, you should have it selected, then go and hit the Expand button, as shown below.

Step 1 Part 3

When you do that, as the highlight says on the screenshot, you will convert the Live paint groups into individual paths, so strokes and fills will be separated, then after you do that, you may ungroup them until you are able to move them around separately.

Step 1 Part 4

For our final purpose, this will not be very useful, but it’s always good to know everything about the tools you’re using!

Step 2

Start by defining background, in this case I chose a Radial Gradient with the following CMYK Colors.

Step 2 Part 2

This is the result I obtained. You can now go ahead and lock the Background layer, so when we add more elements to the illustration, it will not interfere.

Step 2 Part 1

Step 3

Now it’s time to remember what was explained in Step 1.

Create a new layer, so we can develop the illustration in a very organized way, helps a lot in those times when you need to find something, and the file is all mixed up in a single layer.

First thing is I choose the hexagon as my base shape. Now I can start overlapping them, not hesitating to vary size and rotation!

Step 2 Part 3

Step 4

Now it’s time to fill in our first set of overlapped polygons.

We should first Select the polygons, then with the Live Paint Bucket Tool, click on them to make it a live paint group.

Remember that you could either fill the groups with: solid colors, gradients and empty fills, I used more polite colors for starters, we will use more vivid and harsh colors later on.

This is the result:

Step 3 Part 1

From now on, you should always remember of some other software features, such as Layer and Object Transparency, as well as layer Blending modes, these features add a lot to our final product.

Step 5

Now I keep adding more elements to the piece, and again don’t hesitate to experiment with other shapes, now I will create a triangle overlap, then again, use the Live Paint Bucket tool to start coloring! Attention to spacing, try not to get a messy and overcrowded look to the composition.

Step 4

You can go around “stamping” your Paint Groups, simply Hold Alt + Click on the Group and drag it to where you want it, and an exact copy will be made, try varying size when you do this, so the composition does not get repetitive.

Step 6

Remember to keep creating Paint Groups! Stamping them makes the process faster, but as a matter of fact, its gets repetitive!

Step 5

Step 7

The composition might start to look as if it were glued on there, no depth nor perspective feel at all! It’s time to make overlaps with smaller elements, so its feels as if they were farther, deeper than the rest!

Step 6

As shown above and below:

Step 6 Part 2

By now you should start to see its getting more complex, more detailed in its composition, the size variation is what gives that depth feel we talked about before.

Step 8

Now you will start to notice the result, of what I told you to remember about.

All of might have already worked on Adobe Photoshop, and from its birth, one of the differentials of its image editing, was how image could be blended and tweaked.

Blending modes and opacity levels are also present in Illustrator.

Let’s make another Live Paint Group, this time only with hexagons. Remember, you don’t have to fill them all with solid colors or gradients, you may empty them up, which gives you an infinity of new shapes, which were brought to you by the overlapping!

Step 7 Part 1

Now go ahead and color it, this is my result:

Step 7 Part 2

You can see that when I fill it up, it takes a lot of space, and goes against what we talked about before. Our eyes are sensible, we should always please them with gorgeous sights! :D

Step 9

Its time to play with Blending modes! I set my Blending mode to Darken, which we may supposed by its name, will darken out our selection over what what is under it.

Step 8

Step 10

Create other paint groups, and carefully repeat what you’ve done on the last step.

Step 9

Step 11

It’s time to work out the rest of the image, in other words, expand our horizons.

Make another overlapped painting group, and again paying attention to depth. Our final product is intended to be abstract, but a planned and detailed abstractionism.

Step 10 Part 1

Always use the benefit of empty filling, and don’t hesitate to add more colors to your palette, and this is my result:

Step 10 Part 2

Step 12

Add a few more overlapped painting groups:

Step 11 Part 1

Color them and this is our result so far:

Step 11 Part 2

Step 13

It’s time to add a more planned detail to our illustration, and by that I mean that we should add elements that will stand out from the rest of the piece, as it may seem crowded, we need to clean our eye sight! :)

Again, use blending modes and opacity variation. The asterisks point where I added solid colored polygons to break the rhythm between shapes and colors!

Step 12

Step 14

Next we fill those shapes with more complex shapes, composed by gradients. We’ll be making a pyramid and a cube in perspective, which will fit in exactly in those solid color fills we just added.

Here’s how I created the objects:

Step 13 Part 1

Below are the CMYK Colors I used for the gradients:

Step 13 Part 2

Step 15

Before adding those elements to the composition, we will use another great feature in Illustrator, the Blend Tool. Create a new file so can manage better the tool.

This is how it works:

Step 14 Part 1

Now before blending the strokes, set the stroke weight of Stroke 2, to zero,as shown below:

Step 14 Part 2

By doing that, when you add a blend effect, it will do so, from the thicker stroke to zero, or nothing as you may want to say it.

Once you have selected both the strokes(you set Stroke 2 to zero, but its path is still there), go to Object > Blend > Blend Options, and click on it as shown below:

Step 14 Part 3

The following dialog should come up:

Step 14 Part 4

Those are the settings I used for this specific blend. The spacing options may be Smooth Color,
Specified Steps(is the one I used), and Specified Distance. As for Orientation, I set it to align to page (first one).

You may change values and settings to suit your needs and liking, of course.

This should be the result:

Step 14 Part 5

Step 16

In this step, we will add those blends and then later on, the cube and the pyramid we created.

As to the blends, I used blending modes to enhance their look. I copied and pasted them on top of each other, then set the Blending mode of the top one to Color Dodge, and the Bottom one to Soft Light, with a 30% opacity fill.

Step 15 Part 1

You may group both blends for better management, ( to group: select blends and hit ctrl+G).

Now I copied that group and rotated it, for positioning it in an other place.

This is what I got:

Step 15 Part 2

Step 17

Now, let’s get on to adding the objects we made in Step 13.

We can rotate and resize those objects to suit our liking. I also added my logo to one of those solid color shapes, which i pointed out in Step 12.

Here’s how i managed them on my composition:

Step 16

Next up are the finishing touches of our Illustration!

Step 18

In this case, I added my logo to 2 places in the image, along with some typography. You might do that as well, but be careful with where the writing is placed, pay attention not to place it on a crowded place. It wont be good for the message you’re trying to transmit, and for those trying to read it, since readers wont be able to actually read without having to stress out.

Another small detail, which adds a lot to our composition is a color scheme column, or something which makes reference to the colors used in the composition. Like I did, you can simply make a column of squares and color them in, each with your desired color from the image, I tried setting it up so they are in color palette order.

Step 17

Play around with positioning and size. This is the result of our walkthrough on Abstract Illustration, and a few zooms on our final product:

Illustrator Tutorial: Making of an Abstract Artwork

Zoom 1 Final Result

Zoom 2 Final Result

Zoom 3 Final Result

Zoom 4 Final Result


We have just finished making an abstract illustration, using only Adobe Illustrator. The techniques shown in this may be used in countless kinds of illustrations, character and cartoon, editorial, typography and however you want to use them! Experiment, play around!

Thanks for taking your time to read this walkthrough! Please leave your comments below.

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  1. Max said at 9:34 am on January 16, 2009

    Great Tut, Some cool stuff in your behance as well.

  2. Kayla said at 12:34 pm on January 17, 2009

    Very neat tutorial, a lot of interesting effects.

  3. kuldeep baliyan said at 2:35 pm on January 27, 2009

    thanks sir it is a great site
    i like is

  4. Jim Webb said at 1:12 am on February 1, 2009

    Thanks for the tutorial. Very nicely done. Does anyone out there know where I can find some good tutorials on Drupal? I found those on under the Tutorials link, but I was looking for even more than this. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

  5. Maninder said at 1:34 am on February 2, 2009

    Thanks Sir, Thanks a bunch for sharing… it clears so many things. Thanks a lot.

  6. Dave Gilligan said at 11:22 am on February 6, 2009

    Love your style, it brightens up a winters day.

  7. Sina said at 4:39 am on February 8, 2009

    This is a great looking tutorial, and I love the outcome.
    It’s great since even beginners with no illustrator background can understand it. I can only imagine that this is a time consuming process if you don’t copy/paste most of the shapes.
    Keep up the nice work.

  8. chris said at 9:57 am on February 15, 2009

    i’m haveing a huge irritation useing illustrator cs4 live paint bucket because i can use everything else apart from the paint bucket which should be the easyiest tool to use sometimes it works with the white arrow sometimes it doesnt i sometimes get this below message

    “the selection contains objects that cannot be converted. live paint groups can only contain paths and compound paths. clipping paths are not allowed”

    the lines which i have drawn are connected which i believe have to be in order to use the paint bucket and i have no clipping paths so i am am baffled

  9. Ameerx said at 4:34 pm on July 17, 2009

    Great Job :).. been away from Ai for a while
    its good to see some great assistance like this one :)

  10. miki said at 7:45 pm on July 27, 2009

    Everything was great, but I can’t seem to get the blend options to work with the lines… I am using CS4… but all in all a really nice easy tut… thanks !

  11. Lonely said at 4:33 am on March 11, 2010

    Você é um fi dun a égua! :)

  12. PsdDude said at 10:03 pm on May 17, 2010

    The result is very nice … a lot of work but beautiful art work !

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