Saturday, June 11, 2011


I am a big fan of Adobe Illustrator, the vector-based illustration software. I have been using it a lot lately and am reminded of what an incredible program it is. It is expensive, but you can buy older versions, which are pretty great, on eBay. CorelDraw is very similar and slightly less expensive than Illustrator, but for the money I think Illustrator is superior. Want to see what you can do with it?

I took this photo out in my yard a couple days ago. It is an Oregon Iris, a wild variety that grows in the Northwest. I love these flowers and was so thrilled to find one in my yard. Coincidentally, it was that same day that I went to hear Jane Sassaman talk and see her marvelous quilts. She stylizes flowers  for many of her quilts and this iris seemed to lend itself beautifully to interpretation.

I started by opening a new page in Illustrator and then placed my photo on the page.

Using the pen tool in Illustrator, I started tracing the outline of the flower on a separate layer. Tracing with the pen tool is an acquired skill. You need to learn to understand how bezier curves work. Sometimes black lines are hard to see when tracing a photo, so I often use yellow or another color that will show up well against the photo.

When I had the simple outlines of the flower, I moved the photo to one side. (I still wanted to look at it for details) and changed the line color to black.

This would provide a nice, simple line pattern if I wanted to make a quilt duplicating my photo. I was more interested in a stylized, symmetrical pattern, so the initial line drawing was just a start.

I started by taking individual elements from the line drawing to begin to make symmetrical parts that can be assembled later. Illustrator will copy and mirror image anything you draw, so it is easy to create a totally symmetrical design. 

I started adding color to the pieces and moved them into place. Each petal, as a separate graphic can be moved, rotated and placed in front of, or behind, any other piece.

Now it was time to add leaves. These, too, were copied, reflected, sized to fit and moved into place. Here is my stylized graphic of an Oregon Iris, created in Illustrator. Here's another cool tip—I drew one leaf, then copied, flipped, rotated and resized to create all the others.

You can do a lot with this graphic. It can be turned into a line drawing to use for a pattern.
 The very nifty thing about vector graphics (as opposed to raster images like Photoshop images) is that they are infinitely scaleable, which means you can make them as large as you wish, with no loss of resolution or image quality. You can easily use them to create repeating patterns.

Neat, huh?
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Adobe Illustrator, just a devoted fan.


  1. Very lovely Iris. Not having a great deal of money to spend on software and since many of our home computers do not run MacOS nor Windows, I use the opensource software "Inkscape". As with many graphic design programs there is a learning curve, but once you know how to use one, it is far less difficult to learn the next.

  2. Wow Terry! Thank you so much for demystifying Illustrator! I knew it was good but I really didn't know where to start - it will be play time tonight after dinner!



  3. Anonymous9:47 AM

    After taking a Jane Sassaman class quite a few years ago, I was inspired to try Illustrator for a quilt. It was wonderful fun to design, but when it came to making it, all the design decisions were made and it wasn't as much fun making it. So, I never did again, but I still use Illustrator to wok out design concepts. It's a great tool. You can see the quilt on my Flickr site It's called Hosta Dance
    Janet Windsor

  4. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Terry, you make it look so simple... I have Photoshop and still can't use it to my satisfaction. Thank you for this sharing...

  5. Impressive technical skills! I'd love to have some "software money" in my budget. Thanks for education us.

  6. What a great program for applique. Hummmm!!! I will have to look into that. It is interesting to see all that you have done with that beautiful Iris. Thank you for the info.

  7. Linda Forey4:07 PM

    I've been using CorelDraw for years, but recently got a Mac and had to swop to Illustrator. I'm gradually getting the hang of it, and your example was really helpful - thanks. It seems to do more than Coreldraw, and I've always preferred vector drawing programmes to raster based ones, but I'm having to 'unlearn' Coreldraw as I go, which is taking almost as long as learning Illustrator! Can you recommend any good books or sites for lessons??

  8. Do you have a Mac? About how long did it take you to do all that? I am not very patient at the computer, but I know there are lots of possibilities there.

  9. Great design, Terry! I'm a big fan of Illustrator too!
    Thanks for sharing that.

  10. All of your design are really good! Terry.. you did a great job... there are so many wonderful things in your post.

  11. My computer engineer son (in CA) works with the guys who created Adobe Illustrator. Do you know that none of them can or do use the program? They built it in separate segments but have no idea how it works in real life, all together.

    Photoshop is the same. I asked for clarification of certain elements of Photoshop and none of them could answer the question as they haven't ever seen the program working.

    Code writers are a whole different breed.

    I love the work you are doing with Illustrator. And I can see that a career in graphic design was never in my genetic make up. I like pencils and pens and wobbly lines because I am messy by nature.

    Please do this again sometime as now that I know how these graphic designs are created, I will look at them more closely and admire them for the creative work they contain. And the time and effort.

  12. Very nice explanation/exposition - and a great job with the dreaded Bezier curves (yes, practice would help cure my frustrations with them.)

  13. Thanks so much for this Terry. I have Illustrator in CS3 but have not used it much. I upgraded Photoshop to CS5 but kept Illustrator as is. I am so pleased to see some instruction about how to use the program. Adobe's products are not cheap but they are amazing !

  14. I just completed a class taught by Michael James at QSDS on digital fabric design using PS and AI. Your explanation was very clear and straightforward.

    Thanks for expanding on this in a way that is understandable. You may have a gift for this kind of teaching.

  15. What an excellent tutorial! Thanks, Terry.

  16. Very cool. Thanks for posting! Love your designs!