Creating Leaf Brushes in Adobe Illustrator | Stacy Mitchell | Skillshare

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Creating Leaf Brushes in Adobe Illustrator

teacher avatar Stacy Mitchell, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Creating Leaf Brushes in Adobe Illustrator


    • 2.

      Creating a Simple Leaf Brush


    • 3.

      Creating a More Complex Leaf Brush


    • 4.

      Creating a Two-Toned Leaf Brush


    • 5.

      Leaf Brush Class Project


    • 6.

      Bonus! Examples of How I Use Leaf Brushes


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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to create custom leaf brushes in Adobe Illustrator. Through step-by-step instructions, you will discover the process of creating and using leaf brushes to enhance your designs. From simple leaf shapes to more complex leaf brushes, you will learn techniques to make unique and reusable brushes that can be used in your future projects. By the end of the class, you will have a solid understanding of the art brush tool in Adobe Illustrator and be able to create stunning leaf effects with ease.

We'll create three brushes in this class to help you understand the art brush settings in Adobe Illustrator:

  • a simple leaf shape
  • a more complex outlined leaf
  • a two-toned leaf

Even if you've never created a brush before, I'll take you step by step through the process. We'll explore the different setting available when creating an art brush from our leaf shapes and learn to manipulate the strokes that use the brushes. 

Once you've completed the class, you will have the skills you need to create your own library of brushes that you can use in your own design work.

As a bonus lesson, I show you some samples of my work that incorporate some of the leaf brushes I've created. Using my own brushes saves me time and allows me to easily manipulate the size and position of the leaves. And I'm all for saving time and making my design process easier!

If you enjoyed this class, I'd appreciate it if you would leave a review!

Adobe Illustrator is either registered trademark or trademark of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Meet Your Teacher

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Stacy Mitchell

Artist, Author, Entrepreneur


Hi! I'm Stacy Kenny Mitchell, artist, author, and entrepreneur. A life-long artist and crafter, I create patterns and designs for embroidery, fabric, home goods, and accessories. I love to help other crafters learn new skills.

I love to create stuff in a variety of ways: painting, drawing, knitting, quilting, embroidery... you get the picture! You can read about my deep-rooted need to create on my blog. 

As much as I love to create, I also enjoy teaching and helping others to tap into their creativity - hence my classes here on Skillshare! I also teach at my local community college, as well as offer workshops on a variety of topics for companies and organizations. 

Like the scarf I'm wearing? You can learn to make that in my Kni... See full profile

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1. Creating Leaf Brushes in Adobe Illustrator: In this class, you will learn how to create custom leaf brushes in Adobe Illustrator. Through step-by-step instructions, you will discover the process of creating and using leaf brushes to enhance your designs. From simple leaf shapes to more complex leaf brushes. You will learn techniques to make unique and re-usable brushes that can be used in your future projects. By the end of the class, you will have a solid understanding of the art brush tool in Adobe Illustrator and be able to create stunning lethal effects with ease. 2. Creating a Simple Leaf Brush: I'm going to start out by creating a new document. I'm going to work on a twelv by 12 inch artboard. But you can use any size art board that you want because we're gonna be creating brushes and not really going to be exporting any assets. I'm gonna be working in RGB color mode, but you can certainly work in CMYK as well. But just go ahead and open up whatever size art board you typically use. Now that I've opened a document, I'm going to go ahead and create a simple tear drop shape. You can do that by going over to your tools bar. And if you click and hold down than a little menu will pop out and you can click on the Ellipse tool. The keyboard shortcut for that is the letter L. Now I'm just going to go ahead and draw an elongated ellipse like that. Then you're gonna go back and select my selection tool, which is shortcut, keyboard shortcut V. And then I'm gonna go ahead and recolor my oval here. So I want to make it green. I don't want it to have any stroke. So I will turn that off. Now I want this to be more teardrop shaped. So I'm going to edit the anchor points on that. So I'm going to hit a on my keyboard, which will open up the direct selection tool. I'm going to select this very bottom anchor point and bring it up just a little. I'd like to make this one be pointy so I can click on that and come over here. I can convert the anchor point to a corner, but I'm gonna go ahead and select that anchor point again and drag it upwards. If I hold the Shift key, then it will stay in alignment. And that's pretty good. Now hit V on the keyboard again, that's going to be my selection tool. And I'm going to click off for a moment. So there we have a very simple teardrop shaped green leaf. Now I'm gonna go ahead and move that over to the corner. And I'm we'll just go ahead and make it a little bit smaller. That's pretty good. Now when I go to draw or use the paint brush to paint these leaves onto my canvas. I'm going to be starting at the base of the leaf and drawing out towards the point. That'll become pertinent in just a moment. I'm going to select the green leaf. Go over to my brushes window. If you don't have the brushes window available to you, you can just simply go to Window and select brushes. And then click the little plus down here, which is going to give us a window to determine what type of new brush it is. There are five different types of brushes that you can create or use in Illustrator. And we're gonna be working with the art brush in this lesson. So select art brush and then click Okay. And new dialog box appears. We can give our brush and name. I'm going to call this one green leaf. I am working with a mouse and on my trackpad, not with a stylus. And so therefore, the width is fixed and I'm going to keep it at 100%. So you won't need to change any of that. The scaling options, it defaults to stretch to fit stroke length, and we're going to leave it at that direction, is determining which way the brush stroke goes. You can go from right to left, left to right, bottom to top, and it defaults at top to bottom. But as we mentioned earlier, we're gonna be going from bottom to the top. So I just want to click on the appropriate arrow. Right now we're going to leave the colorization at none. And we're not going to choose any of the other options. Click, Okay. And you'll see that the brush has been added to our window of brushes. I'll click on that brush ups. I always do that. I'm going to hit Undo, which is Command Z or Control Z. Because that was selected, it applied that brushstroke to my little shape, and I didn't want it to do that. So making sure nothing is selected. Now I will choose the green leaf brush. B on my keyboard is the shortcut. Or you can come over to the toolbar and choose the brush tool. And then I'm just going to create a stroke. On my canvas, actually several strokes. Going to hit V on my keyboard again, so that I'm back to my direct selection tool. And if I hit Command Y or Control Y, I will change mode to see what the outlines are. And you can see all those strokes are simply lines. Command Y or Control Y again, will take you back to senior actual shape. What's really cool is that you can click on any of these strokes. I'm going to change the color of my layer here because it's currently light-blue and it is very difficult to see it against the green. And to do that, I'm just going to double-click on the little layer icon. And let's change it to orange. Much easier to see. Now, if I select a on my keyboard, I will change modes to the direct selection tool. And I will be able to see that this stroke is made up of two anchor points. I can move them around. I can use the handles to manipulate how I want the leaf to go. And I can do that for all of them. Now, this particular leaf, there are three anchor points. And I find that with this leaf shape, it sometimes is awkward. And you get weird things that happen where that middle anchor point is. So I usually remove those. If you hit the Minus key on your keyboard, it will change to the subtract or delete anchor point. And I click on that and it deletes. It hit a again to go back to the direct selection tool. And I'm back to selecting that I can still get interesting shapes. But I just don't want that extra point in there. This one has quite a number of little points here. So let's hit the Minus and take those out. There we go. Hit a again. To come back. We have our array of little leaves here. Now if I want to change the color, let me change back to our selection tool, which is V on the keyboard. And I go to my Color Window and make sure that I'm on the stroke. And let's say that I wanted to make this an orange leaf. It didn't change. Well, that is because our original leaf is green and we set the color mode to none. So no matter what color I change the stroke to, this leaf would stay green. In a later lesson, we'll be able to change the color. But for now, what you can do is select a leaf, go to Object, Expand, Appearance. This now changes it from a stroke to a shape. And to see that I'm going to hit command Y. And you'll see that we have no longer have a stroke. We have a shape, just like we have a shape with our original brush. Command Y again to come back. Now that that is a shape, I'm going to come over here and I'm going to change too. Fill color. You can also do that by hitting X on your keyboard. And now if I want to make that leaf orange, I can, I can make it any color that I want. But only because it's expanded. And now that it's expanded, if I hit a for the anchor points, you can see there are a lot of anchor points. If I go to move any of them. They will do weird things like that, which could be helpful. But at this particular moment, not so much, I'm going to undo that. Now one of the things that I like to do after I expand the shape is go to Object, Path. Simplify. I use this so often. I've created my own shortcut for it. Now when I hit a, you see it has simplified it down to four points. Not necessarily in the best position, but it's a lot less than the ones that they had before. Alright? Now what else can you do while you're leaf is still in a stroke? You can use some of these stroke tools to change how it looks. So right now, our stroke is one point. And if I make it a two-point stroke, it broadens the leaf. I can continue doing that and it becomes the crazier. But actually two points. It looks pretty good. I think we'll keep that. Let's take this leaf over here. Will also make that two points. Sometimes when you do that, you'll notice it gets a little bit funky shaped. And I can manipulate that again. Oh, I have extra anchor points in there. We take those out. That's a little helpful. But notice as I change the handle around, I get some interesting shapes. Contours. This way we have a nice round curve here, but a more pointed curve there. I can continue to manipulate this. But very quickly, I had a bunch of different leaves that I can move all around. That took a lot less time to create than if I had to draw each individual shape by itself. I love being able to use the handles to manipulate the leaf into exactly the shape and position that I want. And it's much more difficult to do that with a shape, even when you've gotten it down to just four anchor points. Because now they all have to move in conjunction with each other. So this is drawing a simple leaf and some basics and manipulating that. 3. Creating a More Complex Leaf Brush: In this lesson, we're going to make a leaf outline that can change color based on the stroke color we select. Will also learn to expand the brushstroke to further manipulate the leaf. Let's get started. First thing I wanna do is make sure that I have no fill and that I am going to use a black outline. Color wise. In RGB, that is, zeros, zeros, zeros, zeros, zeros, zero. And you could also click on the black right there. Now, there's multiple ways that you can draw your leaf. I'm going to use the pen tool which can be found in this fly-out. And it is keyboard shortcut, the letter P. Now I'm on my MacBook Pro using Trackpad to draw. I'm just going to draw basic little leaf like this. I could actually stop right there and mirror what I have, but I want my leaves to be a little character to it, so I don't want it to be an exact mirrored image. With that last one, come down here. I'm gonna hit V on my keyboard, which puts me into the Select mode. And there's a few little points that I want to clean up. I want this bottom to be more curved like that one. So I'm going to hit a, which is the direct selection tool. And now I can use the handles to manipulate any of the anchor points. What I drew with the pen tool earlier. Alright, that's acute, quirky little leaf. Let's make me move this over. Slightly. Perfect. Alright, well, since we're just doing an outline, this is the perfect opportunity to add a little, little more details to our leaf. So again with the pen tool, and that was just P on the keyboard. Or you can find it over here in your menu bar. I'm just going to click two spots. I'm done with that. So I'm gonna hit V. That just selects it. That gives us a little bit of a stem. And again with the pen tool. And I'm going to make some more details of the veining and the leaf, just some simple ones. And every time I'm done with the pen tool, I just hit V and that caps off the pen. Alright, there we go, our cute little leaf. So I'm going to select everything just by clicking and dragging over all the parts and group that together, that is Command G or Control G on the keyboard. You can also group by going to Object and selecting Group. I've already grouped it so I can't group it further. But that's where you would find it. Alright, now we're gonna turn this into a brush. I'm just going to move it off to the side and I'm going to make it just a little bit smaller. I'm holding Shift as I'm dragging through the corner there to keep it in proportion. That way we have plenty of room here to play with airbrush once we make it. So selecting our leaf, I'm going over to the brushes tool. That menu will fly out and I'm going to hit the Plus to create a new brush. It wants me to select the type of brush, and that is going to be an art brush. And click. Okay. So here our art brush options pop up. We're going to give it a name, this one I'm going to call outline leaf one. The width stays fixed because I am just using my trackpad. Mouse. If you're on a desktop computer and if you're using a tablet that had a pressure-sensitive pen, then these options would be available, but they're not. So we'll just leave that for right now. I am going to leave it to stretch to fit. Stroke length will leave that as is. That's the default. The direction I want to draw my leaf from the stem out toward the tip. So I'm just going to change the direction, that's the direction of the line. And for colorization, I'm going to change the method to tints. Now I've started with black, which will be key to getting the color that I think I'm going to get. When I change it, and then click Okay. Now we're gonna go head to my color swatch. And let's make a nice fall leaf and a bright orange. So I've changed the stroke color to orange. Then I'm going to, oops, I still had my original leaf selected there. So let's unselect that. Nothing selected, select orange as my stroke color. The leaf brush is already selected, but if it was not, I could select it from the menu here or from the brushes menu here as well. Then I'm going to use the brush tool, the paintbrush tool, which is over here. The shortcut is the letter b, which is what I'm going to use. And then I'm just going to draw a line and a leaf. And then anytime I change the stroke color, so let's make a reddish leaf here. Then the new leaf is in that color. There we go. So you can see that There's pretty much look the same and of course it acts like a line. So I can use the direct selection tool, which is a on the keyboard. And I can grab an anchor point and I can stretch it further. And of course I can manipulate the anchor points. Anyway, I want this one has three, I'm gonna go ahead and delete one of those. I just find that for these types of brushes, it's usually easier to just deal with two anchor points. We'll make this one a little bit shorter, squatter ear leaf here. My stroke is at the default of one point. If I make it two points, you can see it makes the stroke, or in this case the leaf wider. It doesn't make it any longer. But I could stretch it to make it a super big leaf to go back to one point for that. So it's really fun to be able to fill up your page full of these stretchy leaves. You can see that the line weight of the stroke of the leaf, not the stroke that we drew is consistent through all of them. And that is because they're all the same. Stroke. When I do increase the stroke weight than it does increase the weight of the line that makes up the leaf. I want to show you what happens when we change one of the brush settings. I'm going to pull up our brushes menu and double-click on our outline leaf. And that brings up our options. And this time I want to scale proportionately. That's the only thing I want to change. I'm going to click Okay. Now it will come up and asked me if I want to apply it to the strokes that I already have using this brush or just leave those strokes as is, I'm gonna go ahead and hit Apply. We can see what changes happen. Now you may remember that this leaf was long and skinny. But now it has just gotten proportionately bigger. So all of the leaf sizes are proportionately the same. It isn't stretching and elongating the leaf. I'm going to undo. So you can see, say here's how it was skinny. This one was short and squat. And that is when we change to have a proportional stretch. It keeps the proportion of the original outline and just makes it bigger. But you can also see by Zoom in here that this line weight is heavier than It's a little Swati, leave. So you will get variances that way, even though all of these are still at one point for our line weight. So let me go ahead and change the stroke weight of this one. And you can see it's still just gets wider. And if I, let's go to this leaf, if I move any of the points, the whole leaf gets proportionately bigger. So that is scale proportionately. I'm gonna go ahead and change it back to stretch to fit stroke length. And apply that to all the strokes. Now I'm back to short squat leaves and long leaves, which I think have more character and nicely all have the same line weight. But what happens now if I would like to fill in the color of the leaf? Well, I can't do that because illustrator thinks these are just lines. I've just changed my view to the outline view using Command Y or Control Y. Change it back here. And you can get to that as well from the view menu, changing it to outline. So if I want to actually color in this leaf, then I need to expand it. So I've selected the leaf, I'm going to go to object, expand appearance. And you can see that it has changed some. And if I hit Command Y again to go into outline mode, you see leaf and no longer see just a line. Now one of the things that I like to do after I have expanded a shape is to simplify the number of points. Because if you can see now that this was a relatively straight line here on this vein, but it has five anchor points. That's just not necessary. So I go to select that, go to Object Path, Simplify. I use this so often I've created my own shortcut for it. And now it has gone down to 22 points. You can always click on the little ellipsis there to see what it was. It was originally 74. It's now 22. And if I move it over here, I could make some adjustments. But I'm pretty happy with how that looks. So I'm going to click, Okay, so now that it's a shape, it's still showing that they're the outline is orange. And if I change the fill to say a darker, let's go with a lighter orange. There we go. Then you get a little bit of a funky thing there. You see how, because it's filling all of the lines. So I'm going to undo that. What this is actually made of is a group of lines. So if I select it and come over here to my layers panel, you'll see that it's actually made up of four different paths. So this bottom path is the leaf, it's self. And that one. Then I can go ahead and with just that one selected, I can choose my fill color for that. And then these others are just lines. I don't really want to fill them. So now I have this cute little leaf and maybe I do want to change the fill color or the stroke color and make it a little darker so it's a little more obvious what's going on. And maybe I don't want a stroke color around that, the actual leaf shape. So again, I'll select just the leaf shape and I will select no stroke. I like that. So there we go. But now I could even go and manipulate these lines that are part of the leaf. Let's change the stroke weight of that up to one, so it's a little more defined. I'd like it to have rounded caps. Not very noticeable at such a small scale, but that's just the way I like the, the ends of my lines to be wouldn't be even more fun if it was tapered. And this line was little narrower here at this point of the leaf and a little wider down here. So first, making sure that I'm selecting just that line because this is grouped together. I'm gonna go ahead and double-click it to put me in isolation mode. So now when I click on any one of these items, it will select just that particular path. So I'm still on the main stem. I'm going to change that to two points. And then in the variable width profile, I'm going to change that to this sort of triangular profile, but it's skinny at the wrong end. So all I need to do to change that is go to Object Path, Reverse Path Direction. Much better. Alright? So this is one stroke here and I'd like each end to be skinny. And then get a little wider as it approaches the main vein and then get skinny again. So I can't use the same profile. I am gonna go ahead and change it to two points that might be too much. And this one, I want it skinny, wide skinny. So that's profile 12 points is a little much, so. Make it down to one point and change the profile. I need to change the stroke weight. Let's see what two points it looks like there. Not too bad. Actually, one-and-a-half points might be good. So I'm going to come in here and just type in hit Tab. That's much better. That's a much more dynamic leaf. So to leave isolation mode, I'm going to double-click. It takes me back out. So now we have this leaf, but I can no longer manipulate it as a line the same way that I can these leaves. Because now this is a shape. 4. Creating a Two-Toned Leaf Brush: In this lesson, we're going to create a multi-color leaf. So we're going back to that very first leaf that we drew in the first lesson. That's a simple tear drop shape. But we're gonna go ahead and make it two colors. So I am going to draw a rectangle, and I'm going to draw it in a different color. Let's make it a lighter green. And I'm aiming for covering about half the leaf. So I've drawn my rectangle. I used m as the keyboard shortcut. But you could have also gotten to the rectangle from the toolbar. Once I've drawn that, I'm going to select both shapes. And I'm going to use the shape builder tool, which can be found here on the toolbar. Or you can use keyboard shortcut Shift. Now I had already selected both shapes. And really what I wanna do is get rid of this extra piece here. You can see that my cursor has a little plus next to it, which is that it will add the shape. If I hold down the option key on my keyboard, that will change to a little negative sign. And now when I click on that shape, it disappears. And really that's all that I wanted to do. I'm going to hit V, which is the select tool. And now I have a two toned leaf. By the way, there is more than one way to create that too toned look. When I had the rectangle, I could have also used some of the Pathfinder tools. I personally love the shape builder tool. I feel it gives me the most control to get exactly what I want. Alright, now that we have our two toned leaf, I'm going to select both pieces and group them together. That's Command G or Control G on the keyboard. And you can also find that under Object Group. I'm going to go ahead to my brushes menu here. Click on the little plus to add a new brush. This is an art brush as we've been doing this whole time. Click, Okay. And I'm going to call this two toned leaf. Or width is fixed because we're just using our mouse. We're sticking with the stretch to fit stroke length. I am going to change the direction so that I go from the base to the tip of the leaf. Then this is where we're going to learn a new colorization method. So if I chose none, which I will do here for a moment so you can see what happens and click Okay. Then just like in that first leaf, any leaf that we make will look like that regardless of the color of the stroke. So if I change the color of the stroke to a reddish color, use the brush. It's still those two shades of green. But I would like this leaf to change color depending on what color I start with for my stroke. So I'm gonna go back up to the brushes menu. I'm going to double-click on the two toned leaf so that we get to edit it. And I'm going to change the colorization to Hue Shift. Now it needs a key color. And here it has chosen the darker shade. And I'm okay with that. Let's, let's see what happens. I'm going to click, Okay. I'm going to go ahead and apply it to strokes. It's probably not going to change too much of those original ones. But that last one I drew with the red stroke. Let's see what happens. Well, it did change these and it definitely changed that red one. So let's play around with some of the colors. So this was a light green leaf. If see if I make it up using the original green color, then indeed it would look like the original. If I make an light orange leaf, we kinda get an orange and a peachy color here. Let's try purple leaf just for fun. There we get purple and blue. So the hue shift takes your original color, the key color, which you can determine in the brush panel, and then the color other colors that you have are in relation to that color. So this is a lighter shade and a yellower shade. So it is moving on the color wheel. Likewise here we have this as our breadth stroke. And this is a color the same distance that these two greens are from each other. And lighter. So you don't always get what you think you might. That's why it's always fun to play around with those, but you do get some really interesting color combinations. Now if I wanted to change my color, I'm going to go into isolation mode by double-clicking on our original brush here and choosing this lighter green. I'm going to make it the same color as the other half of the leaf. And then I'm going to go into my color guide. And I'm going to just go ahead and move it down two tenths. So it's within the same color. It's just had some white added to it. Now, let's go back to our brushes and let's select this again, will make a whole new brush with our new coloring here. Our brush. We'll call this two toned. Two will still stay with stretching, will change the direction. We'll go with huge shift again. We still have the key color. If I wanted to change the key color, I would just click on the eyedropper and then click on which color I wanted. I do want the darker color because that's sort of our base color. And then we just lightened this second color. Now let's click Okay, and let's try this red leaf. And we're going to just change that. And you see, it became a lighter shade of red into a pink. And our orange leaf becomes later. And our purple leaf indeed becomes a purple shade. So you can use it for totally different colors as this one is. Or using a shade or tint. And in this case we did the tint. Alright, let's do one more. Let's just go with a totally different color here, not even a shade of green. Let's go with yellow. I'm gonna go ahead and create a new brush once more. So I had my brush menu. Click the Plus art brush. I'll call this two tone. Three. Change our direction. Change the hue shift. I'll stick with the green. We'll click Okay. And now let's see what happens. Let's pick our orange leaf here. And now we're getting a peachy pink or purple leaf. It gets a teal color. And our Redleaf gets a purple color. Here. It's just shifting along the color wheel. The same distance between this green and this yellow. Hue shifts for a brush can be really fun. But just know that you might not always get what you expect. Of course, in the end, you can take your leaf. You can expand it, going to Object, Expand Appearance. And now you have two shapes grouped together. Enter into isolation mode. And then you could go and you could color them. However you wish. 5. Leaf Brush Class Project: The project for this class is to create three different leaf brushes. Start with a simple solid shape leaf brush. Then try one that's an outline of a leaf with some details. And then a leaf brush with at least two colors. Once you have your brushes made, create an illustration or pattern that incorporates the brushes. You don't have to stick to the types of brushes that we made in class. Feel free to use your imagination and come up with different leaf shapes. I can't wait to see what you come up with. 6. Bonus! Examples of How I Use Leaf Brushes: I have a library of leaf brushes that I call upon when creating illustrations and all over patterns. This little three leaf brush appears frequently in my work, sometimes as the star and sometimes in a supporting role. It makes creating my designs much more efficient as I can easily manipulate the stroke to position the leaves exactly as I wish. So give it a try. Create a series of leaf brushes that you can incorporate in your own design work.