Zen Of The Pen

Vector pen tool icon artSharon Steuer’s free “Zen Of The Pen” PDF is an excellent introduction to the inner mysteries of the vector pen tool in Adobe Illustrator.

Update: Sharon has kindly asked me to remove the link to that PDF, she’s working on an updated version. I highly suggested you head over to her website and sign up for updates. Sharon is the mastermind behind the excellent Illustrator WOW! vector tutorial books for Adobe Illustrator.

The pen tool is one of those obscure graphics programs tools that everyone tries once, and then gets so confused by that they never get any further with it. And understandably. It looks like a fountain pen, but it doesn’t act like one. Click and “draw”, you get weird “handles” sprouting out from a dot. Ignore that, and some annoying rubber band line gets stuck to your pen tip, all distorted out of — not even a straight line! Right there most Illustrator users think to themselves “this program sucks”.

But they couldn’t be further from the truth…

The vector Pen Tool — once harnessed — is one of the most powerful resources in your digital illustration graphics software arsenal, and not just in Illustrator (think: clipping paths in Photoshop). But in no way is it intuitive. For starters, just forget what the icon looks like — it’s not a “pen” in the sense you know one, and nothing like the fountain pen the icon is based on.

A super-quick tutorial to learn Illustrator’s vector Pen Tool: figure out how to draw the letter “S” freehand with the Pen Tool. The letter “S” has pretty much every variation of vector paths and anchor points you’ll use the majority of the time, all combined into one shape.

For a more in-depth exploration and step-by-step walkthrough of all the functionality of the Pen Tool however, I direct you to Sharon Steuer’s “Zen Of The Pen” (PDF link). I first encountered Steuer’s “Zen Of The Pen” in the Adobe Illustrator 8 WOW book (a how-to book on Illustrator going past the basics and more in depth on vector image creation techniques and effects). Finding it available for free online was a nice surprise that I thought I would share.

“Zen Of The Pen” will walk you through exercises on the creation of increasingly complex vector paths and shapes. Once you’ve gone through the exercises, you should have a solid understanding of how the vector Pen Tool functions and be well on your way to vector path enlightenment. Ommmmmmmm…

4 thoughts on “Zen Of The Pen

  1. I Couldn’t agree more, George. The pen tool is valuable once you figure it out and “Zen of the Pen” is a great step to figuring it out.

    Kevin Spear

  2. As geeky as this sounds, I’ll never forget when the pen tool “clicked” for me. It was the same as when I finally understood how the Pentatonic scale patterns on a guitar neck looped/locked together.

    One of those “Eureka!” moments for sure. Took some time and I had to stick with it through many, many frustrating hours, but that month of constant practice has paid off an infinite amount of time over.

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