A reflection on my time with the pen tool

1 Mar
In 2006, I was only using the pen tool to stroke my line art.

In 2006, I was only using the pen tool to stroke my line art.

I think I first started using the pen tool when I was around fourteen years old. At the time, I had already been using Photoshop for a couple years for illustrations and was frustrated with the less-than-perfect look of hand-drawn outlines I drew with my Wacom tablet. I wanted the line art to be pristine and perfect.

In 2007, I was using the pen tool in a different way, but still only for line art.

In 2007, I was using the pen tool in a different way, but still only for line art.

I searched online for line art tutorials and came across one that introduced the pen tool. I recall being incredibly confused by how it worked since I was only used to drawing in the traditional sense. I started experimenting with it and eventually got the hang of it. I initially only used it to stroke lines, but transitioned to filling paths to achieve the varied stroke weights I wanted. Looking back at my old work, it’s obvious that I was oblivious to more technical details. Furthermore, I was only using the pen tool for the outlines of my illustrations. I was still using the brush tool to color all of my images.

In 2012, I started using using the pen tool with vector masks for greater flexibility.

In 2012, I started using using the pen tool with vector masks for greater flexibility.

It was only a year ago that I started putting the pen tool’s potential to work by abandoning the brush tool all together and using it to make vector masks in Photoshop. Up until that point, I never had any need to resize my images because I rarely did anything with them once they were finished. When I started wanting to do more with my illustrations, it became painfully clear that I would need to be able to resize them and alter them.

When I finally got myself a copy of Illustrator this past November, I couldn’t help but kick myself for not taking notice of all it had to offer earlier. Everything was just so much easier and faster.

Several months ago, I started using Illustrator and the pen tool has never been better.

Several months ago, I started using Illustrator and the pen tool has never been better.

For the most part, I learned the pen tool through practice. I made more drawings that I could count. It really is one of those things that you can’t master unless you physically experiment with it and devote time to. For more nitty-gritty details, I found the book Vector Basic Training by Von Glitschka to be very informative. I have to say that the biggest help has definitely been the Xtream Path Illustrator plugin. It makes the whole process fast and intuitive, and allows for greater control over your paths. After the 15 day free trial, I had no regrets about spending the $140 for it.

I guess the reason I’ve never declared to hate the pen tool like so many people is because I felt it was the only way I could accomplish what I wanted to. I never spent time trying to resist it. I poured lots of time and energy into it, and I think it’s paid off immensely.

Be sure to check out my pen tool tutorial site.

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