Play With Blends and Image Trace to Create a Simple Cat Scene in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
Those who follow my tutorials will know there are three common themes: portraits, cats, and silhouettes. In this tutorial, I'll be creating a simple, Pen Tool-free sunset cat scene, using Blends and Image Trace. If you're using a version of Adobe Illustrator older than CC, Image Trace will be known as Live Trace with more or less the same settings, so don't worry, you can join in!
This one is perfect for beginners, so let's get stuck in.
In order to complete this project, you'll need to find an image of a walking cat. If you're not using your own cat, I recommend using the following stock image which you can purchase from PhotoDune:
Once you've created a new landscape document in Adobe Illustrator, let's create four rectangles with the Rectangle Tool (M). I've created the first rectangle and then copy and pasted it in front, used the Free Transform Tool (E) and reduced the height of it and changed the colour. Then I repeated the process for the other two rectangles. This is so they keep the same width and are all aligned to the bottom of the initial rectangle.
I've used the following colours:
  • Yellow: #f7931d
  • Red: #be1e2d
  • Blue: #262261
  • Blue/Black: #0d0d12
Create four rectangles
Select all four rectangles and create a Blend by going to Object > Blend > Make (Alt-Control-B). If you've not gotten a smooth gradient of colour, then keep the Blend group selected and go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and change the Spacing to Smooth Color.
create a Blend with the four rectangles to create a gradient
Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a long, thin rectangle at one side of your artboard. Then duplicate it and move it to the other side. If you've got Smart Guides (Control-U) enabled, then you should be able to line it up. However if this isn't the case, select both objects and go into the Align panel and select Vertical Align Bottom.
create two rectangles either side of your artboard
Select both shapes and create a Blend with them (Alt-Control-B). This may create the result shown below, but don't worry, I'm going to show you how to correct it in the next step.
create a Blend from the two rectangles
To change the Spacing of the Blend, while the Blend group is selected, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options and change the Spacing to Specified Distance and change the unit to 25 mm.
change the Blend Options
I want more of a picket fence look, so in order to do this I'm going to need to alter the two shapes in the Blend. With Smart Guides enabled (Control-U) and using the Pen Tool, I'm going to add points at the top middle of both rectangles in the blend. Now don't worry, we're only using the Pen Tool to add a single point on each of the two shapes.
add a point to the fence shapes
Remember to add the points to both the rectangles and in the same place to ensure you've got a smooth blend.
Then use your arrow keys to nudge the point upwards, an equal number for each of your posts, to create a triangle top to your pickets.
the completed blend
To hold all of the pickets together you'll need to create a couple of railings. So with the Rectangle Tool (M), draw two long, slim railings as shown below.
create two railings
There's one issue here... the fence is floating above the surface of the floor. We're going to have to turn some of these pickets into posts that are stuck in the ground.
In order to amend some of the pickets to be posts, we're going to have to change the length of some of the shapes. In a blend, you can only change the shapes creating the blend and not the shapes created by the blend. So to access the shapes we need, we're going to have to Expand the blend.
Do this by selecting the blend, then going to Object > Expand and ticking all the settings, then clicking OK.
expand the blend
If you were to use the Free Transform Tool to extend the length of the posts as they currently are, it would distort the triangle/pointed top of the pickets. They wouldn't all be uniform. So what you'll need to do is use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the bottom two points of your posts, then use your arrow keys to nudge them down.
turning pickets into posts
I've made every fourth picket a post.
every fourth picket is a post
It's time to add a cat casually walking along our picket fence. You can use your own cat for this or draw your own, however I've opted for a stock image of a cat.
What makes this image especially good is that it's on a nice clean background, and of course the cat itself is black. This makes it a purrfect candidate for Image Tracing (see what I did there?).
stock image of a cat
Go to File > Place and locate your cat image and place it onto your artboard. You're going to need to resize the image using the Free Transform Tool (E), so the paws are touching the pickets. To do this accurately, change the image to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 100% and hide the sky background. Then you can line up the image.
lining up the stock image on the fence
Now that your cat is lined up, let's select Image Trace from along the top bar. There's a button you can select which will give you the Image Trace options, and you can use the settings below to give a textured outline to the shape.
Image Trace your cat
The eagle eyed of you will notice that with the picket fence and cat on top of the sky, there's a slight grey outline. This is because vectors are anti-aliased to a pixel screen. So those pixels overlapping onto the background are lower opacities of black set to Blending Mode Normal. This creates this halo effect around the shape.
As we're working with black filled shapes we can set these to Blending Mode Multiply to get rid of the halo effect. You can see the difference below.
remove the halo effect
To create a star, you're going to need to draw two circles with the Ellipse Tool (L), with the outer circle set to Opacity 0% and filled with off white. This is so the blend changes from 100% in the middle to nothing on the outside to give a glowing effect.
However, when you create a blend from these shapes you end up with a different result than you usually do when you set it to Spacing: Smooth Color.
create a star from two blends
This is because both shapes are of the same fill colour, so there's no change! The only thing that is changing is the Opacity, so there's no smooth progression in colour. To get around this, you need to change the Spacing to Specified Steps and enter a value to create a smooth transition in opacity. I've used 20 Steps here.
change the Spacing to Specified Steps
The glow from this star isn't that "realistic"... so let's add an additional shape inside the blend. In the Layers panel, go into your stars group and duplicate one of the circles. Then with the Free Transform Tool (E), make it just bigger than the smaller group. This shape should be sandwiched between the other two circles.
Then change the Opacity to 30%. This then alters the transition in opacity and creates a more star-like glow effect.
create a more realistic star glow
Now you could duplicate this star across the canvas and alter the shapes in size, which would be the easiest thing to do... not the most effective though. However this is a tutorial and I want to show you how to do this via a Scatter Brush.
With the star selected, go into the Brushes panel and select New Brush. In the pop-up, select Scatter Brush and use the settings below, then click on OK.
create a Scatter Brush
Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), add three scribbled lines in the sky to create your stars.
add stars to the sky
Then alter the Opacity of the strokes to vary the brightness of the stars. The lowest line is set to Opacity 30% as the sun is still setting and the visibility of the stars will be faint.
alter the Opacity of the stars
Let's finish off our scene. The first thing we're going to do is add a vignette effect. We could do this with a gradient, but since this is a tutorial based on blends, let's use those instead.
A vignette effect will darken the edges. In order to do this, we need to create two circles with the Ellipse Tool (L) and make the central shape white and the outer black. Then create a Blend (Alt-Control-B).
create a white to black gradient
The set the blend to Blending Mode Multiply. This will make the white shapes transparent, thus creating a transparent radial gradient effect. You can then go into the blend and adjust the size and place of the shapes.
set the blend to Blending Mode Multiply
To make the cat more visible, go into the blend group for the sky and simply adjust the height of the blue rectangle to allow a lighter transition in colour behind the cat.
adjust the sky blend
You're now done! As you've placed your sky within the boundaries of your artboard, don't worry about the overlapping shapes.
Happy Halloween and I'll catch you in my next tutorial.
Halloween Sunset Cat


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