How To Design Your Own Valentine’s Day Heraldry Illustration
Happy Valentine’s Day! In celebration of the day of love (even corporate, over-sentimentalized love) here is an Adobe Illustrator tutorial in which we are going to look at how you can create your own Valentine’s Day heraldry Illustration.
Of course, if you’re not interested in the whole Valentine’s Day thing, that’s okay too. The techniques we are going to be learning here don’t necessarily have to be applied to just a mushy, sentimental illustration. You could easily take pretty much everything that I am going to outline below and use it create your own heraldry illustration with a completely different theme (Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up too!).
I should probably also note that this particular tutorial does require a certain degree of competence with pencil and paper, since several of our elements will start with some basic hand drawing. Now, let’s get started!
Before undertaking any kind of illustration, it’s always a good idea to get out the old sketch book and pencil and just start drawing. This can really help to formulate your ideas, and inspire your imagination. In this instance, I already had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do, so my sketch was really, really basic with virtually no detail (you can also see a bit of my eventual wing drawing showing through on the scan; also, I apologize for the mis-spelling of “happy”).
This drawing basically just outlines the general composition that I am looking to achieve for this illustration. I can promise you that the final image is actually going to look quite different than this (just skip to the bottom of the article for proof)! Still, it provides me with a basic reference and helps get what’s in my head out on paper. I also made a list of the five basic elements that will compose this illustration, these being a prominent heart, a star-burst to go behind the heart, a pair of heraldic unicorns, some wings and a banner for some text (though we won’t actually put any text in).
If you’re coming at an illustration project with a completely blank slate though, this sketching step can be even more critical. This is where you can really just let your imagination run wild, and experiment with all sort of different concepts and ideas. You might also want to consult some heraldry resources, just to get some inspiration.
Now it’s time to open up Illustrator. Let’s start by creating a new document, with dimensions of 800 x 800 pixels. Also, since we already know the various elements that we will be working with for this project, let’s go ahead and set the document up with several layers to accomodate for the various elements. Create the layers in the following order: Banner, Unicorns, Heart, Wings, Star-Burst and Background. This will allow us to turn certain elements on and off as we need (or don’t need) them. Your layers palette should now look something like this:
Now, let’s create a simple background for our illustration. Select the Background layer and the Rectangle Tool. Draw a box to the exact dimensions of the artboard and fill it with a grey, radial gradient, like so:
Now, hide the Background layer for the moment. We will be turning it on and off throughout this tutorial, so it’s important to get it done now.
Let’s start by creating our heart. Often, heraldic illustrations contain some form of shield, usually with a pattern or design on it. For our purposes, we will use a bright pink heart as our “shield”. Creating a heart in Illustrator is a really simple process when using the Pen Tool. So, select the Heart layer from the layers palette and choose the Pen Tool from the toolbox. Now, draw a hear- like arc similar to this:
If you start from the top and draw downwards, hold the Alt key and single click bottom-most anchor to transform it into a corner. Then, still using the Pen Tool, draw a line staight up to the first point to complete the shape.
Now we have a nice half-heart. Increase the size of it a bit and select the Smooth Tool, which you can use to fix up the curve of the heart. I adjusted mine to look like this.
At this point, I usually take the two right-most anchors and make sure that they have the exact same X coordinate. This will help to create a nice, straight vertical line, which will be important for what we’re going to do next. Duplicate the half heart, then reflect it vertically. Adjust the positioning of this reflected element that it completes the heart shape, like so:
Select both of the halves, then open the Pathfinder palette and choose the Combine option to fuse the two halves into one. We now have one complete heart!
With our completed heart shape now in place, it’s time to make it look a bit more interesting. Let’s start by turning the background back on an selecting a nice pink gradient for our heart. Have the gradient move from a darker rose colour at the bottom left of the heart to a brighter fuchsia towards the top right.
Duplicate the heart and set the fill colour of this new shape to a much lighter colour of pink.
Next, use the Elipse tool to create a circle. Set the fill to a radial black and white, with the white in the middle. Position the circle over the top righthand portion of the heart, like so:
Select both the circle and the lighter pink heart. Open the Transparency palette, click the drop down menu and select the Make Opacity Mask option. This will turn our lighter pink heart into a soft lighting effect.
Finally, we want to add just a little bit more depth to the heart. With the our lighing effect still selected, choose Effect » Stylize » Inner Glow from the menu. Set the blending mode to multiply and select a dark, dark pink colour. Leave the opacity at 75%, increase the Blur to 26px and make sure that Edge is selected.
In this step we are going to add a simple metalic looking border around the heart, to help it look a bit more like an actual shield. First, duplicate the original heart shape, remove the fill and move it to the front of all the other elements on the Heart layer. Next, set the stroke colour to a medium grey and the stroke width to 3. Also, change the stroke alignment to the inside of the shape.
You will find that the stroke kind of cuts off at the inner point of the “bump” of the heart. To fix this, we are simply going to expand the stroke by selecting it and choosing Object » Expand Apperance from the menu. This will change the stroke into an actual filled object. Then, just zoom in to the flat part of the “stroke” and use the Pencil and Smooth tools to transform it into a point that matches the shape of the heart itself. We will now refer to this as the inner stroke.
Now, duplicate the original heart again, and set this duplicate behind the original in the Layers palette. Set the stroke colour to a lighter grey, the stroke weight to 20px and the stroke alignment to outside.
Now we have the oppsite problem that we had with the inner stroke, with the bottom point of the heart. Let’s fix it again. Expand the appearance, but this time just use the direct selection tools to drag the anchors into a basic point position. If necessary, you can also use the Smooth tool to soften the edges a bit.
This will be called our outer stroke. We’re almost done here. Now, select the outer stroke and fill it with a gradient of various greys.Then, select the inner stroke and apply the exact same gradient as you did to the outer stroke, except this time you will need to set the angle to 180°, essentially flipping the gradient. The two gradients will contrast nicely against each other, creating a nice bevelled effect.
You will probably want to play with the settings of the gradients in order to get the shading to properly reflect the curves of the heart itself. You may also want to add a few more lighting effects to really help bring out the look of the “metal” border.
Now that are finished with the heart, we are going to create our star-burst element, so go ahead and hide the heart layer and reveal the Star-burst layer. This is actually a really easy effect to achieve, and basically just involves a bit of simple math.
First, select the star tool and click anywhere on the artboard, this will bring up a dialogue box. Set Radius 1 to 300 and Radius 2 to 10. Set the number of Points to 8. Press OK to create the star and set the fill colour to white. Select it and use the alignment tools to center the star (vertically and horizontally) on the artboard.
Now, repeat this process again, adjusting Radius 1 down to 250. Once you’ve centered the star, rotate it by 22.5° to create something like this:
Repeat the process a third time, adjusting Radius 1 down to 200 and the number of points up to 16. Center the resulting star again and rotate it by 11.25°.
With all three star elements selected, either group them all together or click the combine button in the Pathfinder palette (it’s really up to you). Now, reveal the heart layer again. I found that the star burst was a little small compared to the heart, so I increased the size by about 115%, and brought it a little bit north of center, so that more of the star-burst showed above the heart itself.
The next thing that we are going to tackle in our illustration is the two unicorns rearing (in classical heraldic fashion) on either side of the heart. Really, we only need one unicorn, we which we can just replicate. It’s now time to turn back to our pencil and sketchbook. I’m not all that great at whipping up animal anatomy from scratch, so I used a couple of images of horses in heraldry as reference for my hand drawing.
Both of these images came from www.fleurdelis.com. I used some concepts from both of them and fused them together with my own ideas to create this basic sketch.
You’ll have to forgive the quality here. When I draw I do tend to really smudge the graphite with my hand, and the fact that I did this all with a cheap mechanical pencil only made it worse. Fortunately it’s no big deal, since we will be vectorizing this one for use in our illustration. Let’s start by scanning in the unicorn and opening it up in Illustrator.
Next, use the pen tool to trace the outlines of the unicorn. I would suggest setting the stroke colour to white, so that it will contrast well against the scanned image. Once you’ve completed the full outline, you can then just flip the fill and outline colours to make the entire unicorn white.
There are a couple of cut out areas in the original drawing, such as the eye and a simplified strand in the tail. To get these, hide the vector unicorn that we just created and trace these additional parts on their own. Fill them with white and the unicorn with black, to create the proper contrast. Now select the simplified strand and the unicorn body and press the Minus Front button in the Pathfinder palette. This cut the shape right out of the unicorn itself. Repeat the exact same process with the eye.
Now that we have our unicorn, turn all of the layers back on. Resize the unicorn a bit and position it to the right of our heart.
Next, change the fill colour to a medium grey-to-white gradient. The grey I chose was about 65% black. Then, set the stroke colour to a medium grey, with a thickness of just 1px. We’re also going to apply just the faintest of drop shadows here for a bit of extra depth. With the unicorn select, choose Effect » Stylize » Drop Shadow from the menu. Set the opacity down to 40%, the X Offset to -4, the Y Offset to 4 and the blur to 8.
This will give a really nice, faint drop shadow like this:
Now, duplicate the unicorn and reflect it vertically. Holding the Shift key, move the unicorn to the left of the heart, lining it up the same approximate position as it’s counterpart. I used the part of the mane that is just touching the edge of the heart as a reference.
If you look at the concept sketch that I did for this illustration, you will see that the original idea for the wings was to have them stretch out in the classic “spread eagle” like formation. When searching for some inspiration for the actual design of the wings, however, I came across this image of an angelic statue over at stock.xchng:
I was really inspired by the shape of the wings in this one, which are significantly different from the shape that I had originally envisioned. As a result, when I went back to the sketchbook again, the wing that I actually designed ended up having a vastly different shape than my original concept sketch.
Regardless, the next step is to place the scanned pencil drawing into the Wings layer. In keeping with the feel of the heart, starbust and unicorns so far, we are going to concentrate more on the shapes in the wing rather than on the line work (even though I really like the line work too). To start, just trace the shape of the bottom most feather and apply a basic pink gradient to it, along with a medium pink stroke.
Slowly, start to build the wing by overlapping the feathers in a manner that mimics the implied depth of the drawing. Here we have the wing about half finished.
After completing all of the shapes, here is the final wing.
Notice that we are using the darker part of the gradient to create the illusion of shadow, which helps give the various feathers a nice degree of depth and keeps the shapes separate. To achieve this effect, you will probably need to go in and manually adjust the gradient angle on each feather.
Once we are completely finished, group all the feathers together and reveal the other elements. Because we have been working on the Wings layer it will automatically fall behind the heart and our unicorns, which is exactly what we want. Now, simply move, resize and rotate the wing so that it ends up being positioned like this:
Then, of course, the next step is to duplicate the wing group, reflect it vertically and position it on the right side of the illustration, in perfect symmetry.
The last element that we need to create is the banner. We can do this easily enough with the Pen Tool. Start selecting the Banner layer in the Layers palette and drawing the main shape of the banner. Don’t worry about being perfectly symmetrical right now.
As you can see, my banner is certainly not symmetrical at all. Fortunately, we can deal with this easily enough. Use the Rectangle tool and draw a square over the right portion of the banner shape.
Select both the banner and the rectangle and press the Minus Front button in the pathfinder palette, effectively cutting away everything that was beneath the rectangle!
Next, repeat the same process that we used when creating the original heart. Duplicate the half-banner, reflect it horizontally, and line it up with the other half. Select both halves and press the Combine button in the pathfinder palette.
Now, there is a slight indent in the middle of the resulting banner. To get rid of this, select the Delete Anchor Point tool (located beneath the Pen tool) and simply delete the middle anchor. This will cause the “bump” to dissapear, leaving a nice smooth curve. Next, fill the banner with a balanced blue gradient. Make it lightest in the middle, and then darker at the sides, to help simulate a shading effect.
Notice that the gradient is more severe as we get closer to the edge. This helps to create a more authentic curve effect for the banner.
With this front part of the banner finished, go ahead and draw in the shapes for the rest of the banner. You can be as simple or as complex as you want here. I chose to go with a relatively simple design, with just two quick folds on each side.
Again, I used the same colour of gradient to create the necessary shading, just adjusting the gradient angle as required to get the proper effect.
Finally, replicate these parts on the other side of the banner to complete the design of this element!
The last thing that we want to do, of course, is turn all of the other elements back on! When we do, we should get a finished illustration that looks like this:
And that’s it! You could probably go in and tweek a few things here or there, such as adding a few more lighting effects. You could also add some text onto the banner or some other design element floating over the heart (crowns are a popular choice in heraldry). Still, this will form the basis of a pretty cool Valentine’s Day heraldry design!
Get the AI File
Well I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. As always, the original source file is also available for download. You can also consider this as a freebie too! Download it to either function as a companion document to this tutorial, or as an element to use in your designs!
Either way, please enjoy responsibly.