Guide to Illustrator's Pathfinder Tool: Drawing Butterflies | Daniela ⚘ Usurelu | Skillshare

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Guide to Illustrator's Pathfinder Tool: Drawing Butterflies

teacher avatar Daniela ⚘ Usurelu, Quirky Sewing | Surface Pattern Design

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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.

      Class Preview


    • 2.

      Getting Started with Pathfinder


    • 3.

      Shape Dynamics


    • 4.

      Creating Motifs


    • 5.

      Creating the motifs embellishments


    • 6.

      Wrapping Up


    • 7.

      Thank you


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About This Class

Guide to Illustrator's Pathfinder Tool: Drawing Butterflies from Simple Shapes and Pathfinder Tool

Learn to build shapes in Illustrator with the Pathfinder Tool, as an alternative tool to the Pen Tool. We'll draw simple shapes and combine them with the Pathfinder tool to create complex shapes, we'll work with  the Alignment tool and the Reflect tool and we'll be adding embellishments in this easy to follow Illustrator class. In this beginner class we'll use basic shapes to design symmetrical butterflies to get you comfortable designing simple and complex characters. 

Key lessons include:

  • Using the simple shape tools (ellipse, rectangle)
  • Using the pathfinder, alignment and reflect tool
  • Creating butterflies from simple shapes
  • Tips and tricks to streamline your design process


  • Minimum basic Illustrator skills
  • Illustrator (Daniela is using CS6)


  • design butterflies
  • put together an illustration or pattern

Let's get creative!

Daniela ⚘

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Daniela ⚘ Usurelu

Quirky Sewing | Surface Pattern Design



1. NEW CLASS PUBLISHED: Join my class "Guide to Illustrator's Pathfinder Tool: Drawing Butterflies" to learn to build shapes in Illustrator with the Pathfinder Tool, as an alternative tool to the Pen Tool. We'll draw simple shapes and combine them with the Pathfinder tool to create complex shapes, we'll work with  the Alignment tool and the Reflect tool and we'll be adding embellishments in this easy to follow Illustrator class. In this beginner class we'll use basic shapes to design symmetrical butterflies to get you comfortable designing simple and complex characters. 

2. SURFACE PATTERN DESIGN CLASS: Join my latest class "Design an Art Deco Pattern in Illustrator" and learn how to create an Art Deco repeatable pattern, how to save the ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Class Preview: Hello, creative friends. I am Daniella from [inaudible] , and I am a surface pattern designer from Bucharest, Romania. Whether I have the green thumb or not, is debatable. But my love for illustrating flowers and designing procure flora patterns is not. I draw inspiration from nature, my travels, folklore, books, and I love designing patterns of fauna and flora. In this class, we'll turn our heads towards the animal world, and we will be drawing butterflies using illustrators, basic tools and shapes, such as the Pathfinder tool. You'll learn how to simplify a complex object and construct it using only basic shapes and certain alterations. By going through the project and designing butterflies in Illustrator, you will learn how to use alternative tools to the pen tool, such as building shapes with the Pathfinder tool. We'll draw simple shapes and combine them with the Pathfinder tool to create complex digital drawings. We'll work with the alignment Blend tool and the Reflect tool. It is easy to follow illustrator class. We will start by going through all the options of the Pathfinder tool and see how they work on simple examples. We'll continue by gathering inspiration and analyze the shape dynamics of a butterfly. After learning how to break a complex object into simple shapes and recreate those with simple illustrator shapes and tools, we'll dive in and create our motifs and embellishments using the Pathfinder tool. Finally, we'll put everything together and design a digital illustration or repeatable pattern as the class project. I hope this sounds exciting and I hope you'll join my class, a guide to illustrator's pathfinder tool, drawing butterflies. Where I show my method of easily creating shapes in Illustrator and tips and tricks to make surface pattern designing so much easier and fun. 2. Getting Started with Pathfinder: Thanks for joining my class. A guide to Illustrator's pathfinder tools, drawing butterflies, where we'll be designing butterflies. During this class, I'm demonstrating how you can build motifs using simple shapes in combination to the pathfinder tool. I'm keeping to a minimal the use of the path tool or the shape builder tool, and focusing on building shapes with the help of the pathfinder tool. The skills you learn during this class, you'll be able to apply to various projects and design a multitude of motifs from simple to complex. Some of the tools we'll be using during this class are the basic shapes, the pathfinder tool, the blend tool, the alignment tool, and the reflect tool. Let's get started by opening up Illustrator and setting up our art board. If you're starting a project from scratch, open Illustrator, and create a new document by going to file new. Set your number of art boards. I'll start with one art board and increase as needed. Set the width and height of your art board. I usually work with the square art board of a 1000 by 1000 pixels. Then red vast set the color mode and DPI, depending on your project scope rate. We will be working a lot with the pathfinder tools and the alignment tools, so make sure you have these panels open. If you don't, go to Window and open them. The pathfinder is a tool you'll be using a ton today. Let's go through the basic functionality before applying the tool. I'll start by drawing three overlapping ellipsis. I'll give each ellipse a different fill, copy the shapes. That's Control C on your keyboard, because we'll use these three shapes to try out all the pathfinder's options. Let's start. Select all three shapes and hit Unite. What this will do, is, as the name goes, it will unite your three shapes into one single shape that you can modify, and altar as a whole. The fill of the new shape is the fill of the top most object. You can see the order stack by going to layers. Put it aside, and hit the Control F to paste in front, the original artwork. Minus front will subtract from the bottom shape the shapes that are on top. To see which shape is on top of what, open the layers panel. So this ellipse is at the bottom, while these two are on top of it. When using the minus shrunk option, these two ellipses, which are on top will be subtracted from the ellipse at the bottom. Put it aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original shapes. Select the shapes and hit Intersect. With this layout the operation did not produce any results because the ellipsis don't all overlap, but if we select just these two ellipses which overlap over here and hit Intersect, we'll get this shape. Reverting to our original three ellipses, so Control Z on your keyboard to undo. I'll make this ellipse larger, so they all overlap in this area here. If we hit the Intersect option, we indeed get this shape, where all shapes overlap. Put it aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original shapes. Select all shapes and hit Exclude. This option will actually prefer the exact reverse of the intersect tool. Instead of ending up with the overlapping shapes, these are actually subtracted. If you ungroup the objects or go within the group by double-clicking the shape, you can independently alter its shape. Put it aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original artwork. Select all shapes and hit Divide. This option will break the shapes into individual components, including each overlap. Go within the group and you can see, you can alter independently each shape that makes out our original artwork. Put it aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original shapes. Select all shapes and hit Trim. This small ellipse is in front of this one, so you trim the shape below. The same here. This option will yield different results depending on who's on top of who. I'll demonstrate. Put it aside and hit Control F to paste in front on the original shapes. Select all shapes and hit Merge. In this case, it yields a similar result to trim. This happened because all the three ellipses had different fill. So merge, merges any adjoining or overlapping objects filled with the same color and trims the rest. I'll demonstrate. Change the color of the ellipses and set them onto the same fill color. In this case, it behaved similar to the unite option, uniting or merging all three ellipses into a single shape. Hit Undo and let's change the color of this ellipse here and hit Merge again. This time it moist the objects with the same fill and trim the rest. This option is basically a combination of unite and trim. It behaves differently depending on the color of your shapes. Put it all aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original shapes. Select all shapes and hit Crop. This divides the artwork into its components and then deletes all the parts of the artwork that fall outside the boundary of the topmost object. Also notice that no field, no stroke shape that doesn't get deleted. Put aside and hit Control F to paste in front the original artwork. Select all shapes, and hit Outline. This will divide the artwork into its component lines, segments or edges. Go within the group, and notice you can alter each segment independently. Put it aside, and hit Control F to paste in front the original shapes. Select all shapes and hit Minus back. This operation subtracts all overlapping shapes from the topmost object, which is the ellipse over here. Again this option yields different results depending on the stock order in the layers panel. Now that we've gone through all the options of the pathfinder tool, let's draw some butterflies. If you'd like, you can first start by sketching some ideas on paper and bringing those in Illustrator. As you can see, I did. I scanned the rough sketch and opened it in Illustrator, and I will be referencing to it during this class. See you in the next video. 3. Shape Dynamics: A rose by any other word, would smell as sweet. In graphic design, butterflies are easily identifiable. Be the complex drawing or a doodle, an abstract or a literal representation to tweets very basic symmetrical shape. What makes a butterfly a butterfly? When we think of a butterfly, we commonly think of wings, antennas and the body arranged in a very symmetrical fashion. When it comes to inspiration or observation, I most often turn to Pinterest. All of the images that turned out for butterfly design. Wow, such a beautiful butterfly logo on this one. The butterfly was constructed from simple and complex geometrical shapes. But the end result is easily identifiable as a butterfly, isn't it? I love this crusher track. Such simple shapes but such a stunning design and unquestionably a butterfly. Oh my gosh. I love this embroidery. See how simple the butterflies are. The butterfly motif is as a simple shape as it gets. But it's such a delicate design and so very recognizable. This one, this design, how pretty. Simplicity at its best. Abstract, simple or highly detailed butterflies are the perfect shape to start learning how to deconstruct and construct shapes in Illustrator. Observe the shape of this butterfly. A real life butterfly has lots of details, but simplify and abstract the size, the shape of the insect and you are left with two symmetrical wings. The shape of an oval or maybe two overlaid ovals. Grab paper and a pencil and observe the shapes of these butterflies. If you were to simplify and use simple shapes to draw these insects, what shapes would you most commonly use? 4. Creating Motifs: Welcome back guys. As you can see, I played around with some ideas. First, I drew them on paper and scan those ideas and then put them in the illustrator. Then I worked on some motifs that we'll be using as guides throughout this class. What's awesome about drawing butterflies and one of the reasons I chose them as the class project, is that butterflies have a beautiful and symmetrical shape. What that means for you, is that it will cut in half your workload, as we'll only draw one side of the butterfly. Like in here, one wing and then reflect it to the other side. Let's get started. I hope this will work, we will experiment with basic shapes, and the Pathfinder tool, to draw the wing of the butterfly. One wing, and then we'll duplicate it to the other side, we'll draw the antennas and then the body. Let's take this first example. To recreate this shape, draw a perfect circle. Grab the Ellipse tool, that's "L" on the keyboard, and draw a circle by holding the shift key. Next, draw a square, that's "M" on the keyboard for the rectangle tool. Draw a square, from the center of the circle by holding the shift key, until you intersect the anchor points over here, the margins of that circle. Now select both shapes, and hit "Unite". You've got one single shape, you can rotate it. If you hold the Shift key, you're going to rotate it at a fixed angle, mine is set to 45 degrees as you can see. Move it again. Moving on to the next example. This shape over here, is similar to the previous one. But it has a pointy corner over here and over here. To recreate it, draw a circle like we did before, and then draw two squares. From the center, holding the Shift key, until you hit the margins of the circle. That's one, and then again from the circle, replicate it to the other side. Select "all shapes", and hit "Unite" again. To draw this shape over here, draw two circles. The Ellipse tool that's "L", on the keyboard as a shortcut. Draw two circles, holding the shift key. One bigger and one smaller, place them one under the other. Great. Now, to fill in this gap over here, let's draw a rectangle, that's "L" on the keyboard, sorry, that's "M" on the keyboard. That's "M". Draw a rectangle, go through the margin over here. It goes through the first circle, and through the center of the smaller circle. It's something like this. You've got a beautiful rounded arc here, and over here. But you filled in this gap over here as well. Now, select "all shapes" and hit "Unite", perfect. To get a shape similar to this one, we're going to start from the shape we drew at step 2. I'm going to copy this shape in place, I'm going to make it bigger so you can see better. I'm going to use the Arc tool. This one over here, to cut this shape in two shapes. Starting from this anchor point at the bottom, drawn an arc going all the way through this anchor point at the top. Grab your Selection tool that's "V" on the keyboard. Now select both shapes, it's this shape, this red shape over here, and the arc tool we just drew, and go to divide. At first glance, nothing happened, but as you can see, this is a group. Now ungroup it, and you'll notice, you have two different shapes. I'm going to hit "undo" a couple of times. You can use the shape as it is, and use two different fills for the wing. I need to have a film of the stroke, or you can delete this part over here, and you're left with this shape. Never underestimate simplicity. Most often, simple clean shapes make beautifully intricate designs. Now that you have learned how to deconstruct complex shapes into simple ones, and replicate them using basic illustrator tools and shapes, let's add some "Zazing" to our design by adding embellishments. 5. Creating the motifs embellishments: We can use the Pathfinder Tool to create beautiful embellishment, to decorate our shapes, and add character, and jazzing to our design. Let's start by creating some borders that will later on apply to our rings. Start with drawing a rectangle. Now grab the Ellipse Tool, and draw a circle starting from the corner of the rectangle holding both Shift, and Alt. Now duplicate the circle to the other side of the rectangle, so at the two circles, and using the Blend Tool will draw circles throughout this whole side of the rectangle, so select the two circles, and hit CTRL, ALT, B that's the shortcut for creating a blend, so CTRL, ALT, B. You can use the shortcut, or you can go to Object, Blend, and Make blend, so CTRL, ALT, B is the shortcut. Now to adjust the blend, go to Blend Options. First make sure previous is enabled, then go to specified steps, and I'll increased number of steps because I want to have an overlap between each two circles, so five should do the trick, great. Now hit "Okay" with the blend selected go to Object, Blend, and make sure to expand the blend. Let's now create our wavy borders by selecting both the blend, and the rectangle, and going to pathfinder minus front, so it's this one over here, great. Depending on the shape that she used to subtract from the rectangle, we will get different types of borders. For this one I just used a simple circle, for this one I used two concentric circles, so a one larger, and one smaller in the middle. For this one I used a pointy shape like this one, over here I used a triangle, and these two are variations of these ones over here I use the Warp Tool to create a slight bend. Now that we created our borders let's use them to decorate the wings of the butterfly. This is one style I'm going to make it larger for you to see, so I just applied the border to the wing. Here I applied at add an angle at 45 degrees, and over here not sure if you can notice it but I'm going to demonstrate it later. Here I used the Warp Tool to create a band for the border, so it's not straight as this here. I am going to move on to our board over here I'm going to copy, and bring in my hear wings that we created in the previous video, and I'm going to show you how to apply the borders to get this effect for our butterfly wings. First, let me save a copy of these shapes because I'm going to demonstrate all three example, now just to make sure we don't delete them. I'm going to apply this border to the wing here. Going to cut it, so simply place the border where you want it to be. You can make it smaller, larger, yeah depends on how you like it you can have it cover more of the wing. Now select both shapes click "Divide", and go within the group to clean up, so I'm going to delete this shape, great. Duplicate this wing over here, so I'm going to delete this one, so that's the first way to do it, the first style going to put it aside, and let's continue. Here I will add the border at the 45 degree angle, paste it, rotated it holding the Shift key. Again I'm going to make the border wider, this doesn't need to be extra precise because you're going to clean up later. Again position it as it falls right select both shapes, and hit "Divide", clean up give it a different fill, perfect. I'm going to clean out, and duplicate this wing on the right side as well, so this is the second style put it away, and our third the copy for this one I'm going for this type of style. I want to have a bend, so it's this one over here I want to have a bend for the border. You can achieve these in so many different ways but the easiest, and the I prefer is by using the Warp Tool. Select the border, go to Effect, Warp, and choose Arc make sure preview is enabled, great. It's arc, choose horizontal, and then play around with the bend looks good hit "Okay". Now make sure to expand the shape. Because before you use expand the Warp effect is live, and can be edited anytime as can the object the effect is applied to. Let me demonstrate, so you see you didn't rotate the shape itself but you also applied it to the Warp effect as well. I'm going to hit "Undo" a couple of times, so now go to Object, and Expand, and now if you rotated it see, so the Warp effect is in place, it's permanent, and you can adjust the shape, and the angle of the object. Hit "Undo" again, great. Now placed the border on top of the wing, and adjust accordingly, then we bring it to front, I'm going to make it larger, go isolate the wing place it in front adjust, so I want more details but I also need more space of here. I'm going to choose my Direct Selection Tool, and I'm just going to drag the path downwards, great. Again it doesn't need to be precise because after you use divide you will clean up. Select the two shapes this one, and this one, and hit "Divide", cleanup, and add a different fill so you can notice the effect, perfect. Now notice our border has a slight curve, super that's nice. You have played around with these three types of borders, and of effect. To achieve this effect over here, so these stripes give different colors stripes. You can go in, and do it in so many different ways in Illustrator, so grabbed the Arc Tool over here, so the Arc Tool make sure you give it a stroke. I'm using a darker color, so it's more noticeable zooming in. Draw arcs from the bottom anchor point, and going all the way through the wing until you intersect the path here, so the margin of the wing. Again, draw as many, or as little lines as you'd like, so from the anchor point here until you intersect the path. Again anchor point, and path, great. One more, and I think there's room for yet another one over here, great. First I'm going to save a copy because I'm going to use the line work later on. Now select the wing, and the line work, and hit "Divide", perfect. Now using the Eyedropper Tool, and the shortcut for this one is I on the keyboard, and give a different fill to each of the stripes, super, looks great. Delete the right wing going to duplicate this wing on the right side, awesome. Now I'm going to put it aside, and coming back to this example. I love using line work in my designs. I'm just going to make a slight alteration here. I'm going to select just the lines, and I'm going to stroke, and from the cap menu over here I'm going to choose round gap. I also like it when the line work does not align perfectly to the design, so I always make some more alterations no something like this, looks great. Now delete the right side, we select the left one, and reflect it, awesome. These are the styles you played around today, and now as you know, and I probably mentioned it a couple of times during this class, and during all my classes is that practice makes perfect, so make sure to practice this borders, and styles, and also come up with your own style. 6. Wrapping Up: What I love about Illustrator is the fact that you can do things in so many different ways to achieve the same goal. You can use the battle for drawing shapes. But not so many people find it easy and intuitively to use. But a lot of time creating more complex shapes from simpler shapes can be easier than trying to create them with drawing tools like the Pen tool. In illustrator, you can combine vector objects in different ways. The resulting parts or shapes differ depending on the methods used to combine the paths. In this class, you explored how to draw complex shapes, starting from simple ones in combining them using the Pathfinder tool. Other methods include working with shape builder tool or creating compound parts. But these are topics for another time. Let's now put everything together. As we mainly drew only one side of the butterfly. So it's now time to reflect our work on the other side and add final touches. First, let's add antennas to our butterflies. You can use the spiral tool as I did over here. You can go for a minimalist look using the line segment tool or you can go for a more hand-drawn field and use the pencil tool like I did with these two antennas. I played earlier with some shapes for the body of the butterfly. So I have here 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 different shapes for the body of the butterfly. I just started from this ellipse over here. With basic alteration. So just maneuverings slightly the anchor points. Using the Pathfinder tools for this one, I got nine different shapes and they all have different effects. When I'm going to combine them with the butterfly wings. They will all look different. So they will all have their own personality. So I'm going to demonstrate how I achieve this, so from one simple ellipse, I got the other eight chips. So grab your ellipse tool and draw an ellipse, now duplicated. Grab your direct selection tool that's on your keyboard. Select the anchor point at the top and convert it to corner. Now, duplicate the shape again. Again, grab the direct selection tool and convert to corner the bottom anchor point. Duplicate these two shapes. Direct selection tool and then a play around with the middle anchor point. So if I slightly drag downwards, I end up with different shapes. So it's basically the same shape but with a slight alteration and getting a totally new effect. Let's now play around with the Pathfinder tool. So I'm going to duplicate again the first ellipse. Let's draw a rectangle. Let me zoom in. I'll change the color of the rectangle so we can better see it. So first I'm going to draw a square, rotate it 45 degrees and place it over here until you intersect the shape of the ellipse. Now, make it smaller until you intersect the other side of the ellipse. Great, select both shapes. Divide. Zooming out. Now, go within the group and clean up. Select these two shapes and unite. Grab your Direct Selection Tool and drag these three anchor points downward. Duplicate the shape. Again, play around with the anchor points to get different effects. You can make further alterations and get different types of shapes. Say like this two anchor points and I'm going to convert them to smooth point. So I'm getting a different effect. I guess like this anchor point then convert it to corner and get something like this. So basically, with simple alterations of the anchor points. So all I did was to convert mental point from smooth to corner and the other way around. In combination with the Pathfinder tool, we got from one basic shape. So these other variations. So that's pretty cool. Playing around with the techniques that I showed you and the Pathfinder tool these are the motifs that I ended up with. So as you can see, these are pretty basic shapes. Just small alterations here and there. In some line work as embellishment. At this point, you can play around with colors. So I've used this colors because they popped very nicely on the screen and its easy for you to follow along. But they are also mine here my to go colors maybe not the red, but the gray and the blue. That's definitely my here to go color palette. If you want to change the colors of your motifs, you can play around with the recolor artwork tool. If you're new to the recolor artwork tool, browse through my other classes. In my class, baton toolbox is a way to recolor patterns. I'm teaching how you can use a recolor tool to make fast and intuitive color adjustments. 7. Thank you: Thanks for following along. At this point, I'm sure you've drawn beautiful butterfly motifs. Keep working to redefine your shapes and play around with embellishments. Put it all together in the form of an illustration, or create a repeat using your motifs. I hope you enjoyed this class, found it easy to follow a learned a thing or two. If you have any questions, drop me a line in the community area below. Practice makes perfect. So take the time to complete the class project. I am eager to see what you come up with, so make sure to share with me and the rest of the community the great work you design. I want to see your sketches, the ideas you played around with, show me your work in progress, as well as your final motifs and of course, your illustration, or better. If you liked the class, give it a thumbs up rating, and follow me or Skillshare, to find out when new classes are coming up. See you later guys.