I have been drawing for most of my life. Pen, marker, or pencil I have been able to use those tools, since childhood, to make something that people are able to recognize and understand quickly.
I have been using Adobe Illustrator for digital drawing for a very long time, but I still remember what it was like using it for the first time.
I wanted to make a digital logo for my new freelance business, halftank studio. Yes, all lower case, it was the late 90s, after all.
By that time I already knew the basics of HTML and CSS and I was able to use code to make web pages look readable, if not exactly works of art. At that time, graphics and photos on websites were minimal; for example, in many cases back then I had to have low-resolution photos in addition to high-resolution photos, so a user with a modem would be able to see something. Good times.
So when I wanted a logo, I knew that I wanted a simple red and black drawing of a jerrycan to use as my logo because I could make a drawing into a tiny downloadable GIF (hard g, please). Again, this was the late 90’s.
(also, why is that thing called a jerrycan? That word has an interesting history)
I already used Photoshop quite a bit in college, so I thought that Adobe Illustrator would be a lot like Photoshop.
Digital drawing is not paper drawing, sorry
RGB or CMYK, what was that? What was dots per inch? And why does Illustrator need to know all of these things before I even drew a damn thing? And that pencil tool isn’t doing what I thought it would do, and that pen tool, what the hell was THAT?
I got what I wanted in the end, but it was a struggle and it took longer than I expected it to take and in a couple of years I knew that logo I was so proud of at the time was complete trash.
Even though I could draw something on paper super-fast, making that drawing digital was another thing entirely. I wondered if it was at all possible to be creative when, say, you had to know before drawing things like what size the final product would be? It was a completely different way of thinking of creating for me.
So this was the beginning of my hate-to-love relationship with Adobe Illustrator, so what changed?
Well, we both did. Illustrator got a little easier to use (thanks Adobe), and I committed to learning how to use it better as part of a job that I had where I had to make charts and graphs often and Excel wasn’t getting me what I wanted.
How did I learn? Because I was making charts and graphs, I was using simple shapes on a regular basis. From that repetition, I got the confidence that I needed to make Illustrator into my instrument.
After all, design is a performance and our computers are our instruments.
A simple way to learn your instrument
I learned an important concept from one of my mentors, years ago: most shapes that you draw are simply altered versions of more simple shapes. This lesson has stuck with me as I transitioned to creating user interfaces for applications. A must-have element in those interfaces are icons, used often in toolbars and menus. And icons are interesting, as they depend on both simplicity and the ability of the user to instantly know what the icon stands for.
That simplicity make icons an ideal way to start drawing, in a meaningful way, with Illustrator. Drawing icons is a great way to get confident in the basics.
Originally from MaryLovesIllustrator.com in a different format.