In this tutorial, we're going to learn how to create a botanical lettering illustration in Adobe Illustrator (and have Illustrator do most of the work for you). This tutorial includes finding inspiration, constructing letters and script lettering, and adding botanical elements to your vector art including branches and leaves.
01. Gather inspiration and Sketch Out Illustration
Pick a word or phrase to illustrate and gather inspiration. The Lettering Library Mega Bundle is my go to for typography and lettering inspiration.
Sketch out your word or phrase and add embellishments and details. I found a sampling of unique letters, used some of the characteristics to inspire the letterform.
I added spurs to each side of the letter to mimic the growth of new branches, and varied the type styles to add interest.
Since you can resize easily in Adobe Illustrator, intricate details can be sketched out larger and separately for the main sketch as I did along the bottom of my sketch. It is also easier to illustrate them in Adobe Illustrator.
02. Setting Up Your Sketch and Layers in Illustrator.
Open up an illustrator new file and set up a series of layers. I used the following layers to make my work flow more efficient and effective—access the Layers Panel (Window> Layers).
From the bottom to the top: Sketch Layer, Guide Layer, Background Layer, Lettering Layer, Detail Layer. Scan or take a picture of your sketch and bring it into the sketch layer and lock it.
I find that having a separate layer for unlocked guides is more beneficial to my workflow than manually using hot keys to lock, unlock, and hide guides.
Additionally, pick a color palette to work with. In this sketch, I used four colors, but I often switch out colors as I illustrate my design so I tend to gather more colors than I plan on using.
03. Setting Up the First Letter
Set up a guideline for the base and top of the letters.
Since we are going to take advantage of the tools in Adobe Illustrator to do most of the work for us in building each letter, pick a letter to start working with and place a guideline on each side of the stem of the letter. In my sketch, I chose the letter ‘E’ to start with.
04. Breaking Down the letters into Pieces
In this step, we’ll break down the letter “E” into pieces and build each piece separately then use the pieces to make other letters I need.
I’ll start with the stem of the letter and use the Rectangle or Marque Tool ( hotkey ‘M’) see (fig.a), to make the stem of my letter.
Next I’ll make a copy of the stem and place it on top (hotkey ‘command + C ‘ to copy and then ‘shift + command + v’ to place on top).
Change the color of the top rectangle and using the select arrow (hotkey ‘v’) to drag the top of the bounding box down to make the top rectangle layer shorter.
I also used the Rectangle or Marque Tool (hotkey ‘M’) to make the bottom arm of the “E” (fig.b.)
05. Making Curves
Next, I’m going to make the spurs, and since the bracket serif for the letter using a quick and easy trick.
Using the Pen Tool (hotkey ‘P’) I’ll make a triangle next to the stem and right on the top of the arm; I’ll demonstrate in an alternate color, and then change it to the color I need (fig. c).
Next, use the Anchor Point Tool (hotkey ‘shift + c’) and pull down on the angle of the triangle with the Anchor Point Tool (fig. d).
This will add handles to the anchor point, move each handle parallel to either the vertical or horizontal perspective shape (fig. e) shape.
06. Making Spurs and Serifs
We’ll use the same method as in step 5 to make the serif, except adding an additional point to the serif and adding a curve to make it a bracket serif, see (fig. f).
Using the Anchor Point Tool (hotkey ‘shift + c’) pull down on the angle to form a curve, and then move the bottom handle parallel with the horizontal line and the top right handle down and vertical with the stem,( see fig. g).
The contrasting spur on each side of the letter is done in a similar way as the serif.
The beak of the “E” is done in a similar way, making a triangle with an extra anchor point and using the Anchor Point Tool (hotkey ‘shift + C’) to make the curve and add handles to maneuver.
Use the direct select arrow to move the anchor point handles to finish making the curve. Select the spur and with the Reflect Tool (hotkey ‘o’) and reflect the spur to the opposite side (fig. k).
Hold down the Shift Key and the Alt/Option Key before releasing to make a copy of the spur for the other side of the stem.
Change it to the contrasting color of the upper part of the stem and send it to the back (hotkey shift + command + right bracket)
Using the Pen Tool, add to the spur on the right side of the stem to make the arm of the “E”, (fig. l and fig. m).
The top spur and arm of the “E” is done similarly as the other spur and arm with the Pen Tool and Anchor Point Tool and making each piece separately so it can be used to make alternate letter (fig. n, o, p)
06. Duplicating letters to make other letters.
Now that the “E” is made and piece together, select the entire letter using the Selection Tool (hotkey ‘v’) and while sliding it horizontally, hold down the Shift Key and the Alt/Option Key.
Upon release of the letter and then the keys, it will make a copy aligned with the first “E”. (fig.q & r)
Since the letter was pieced together, the individual pieces can be reflected and deleted depending on the new letter being constructed.
In this case, the letter “E” is very similar to the letter “L”. By removing the extra arm pieces on the middle and upper arm, the letter “l” is almost completely formed (fig. s).
Using the Selection Tool, select the top spur and use the Reflect Tool and plot the anchor in the middle of the letter stem and reflect the spur over the other side of the stem, hold down the alt/option key before releasing to make a copy of the spur on the opposite side.
Since I need another “L” to make the word “HELLO”, select the “L” with the Selection Tool and while holding down the Shift Key slide the “L” across horizontally, hold the Alt/Option Key down before releasing to make a copy.
Select each letter individually and group it (hotkey ‘command + g’).
08. Script Letters
I used a script letter for my “H” and “O”. The Lettering Library Mega Bundle is filled with script typography inspiration, I made a variation of a style I liked from one of the resources. I used the Pen Tool to draw the letters.
09. Drop Shadows
Select the three middle letter and group them together (hotkey ‘command + g’) Copy and Paste in Back (hotkey ‘command + c’ for copy and ‘command + b’ for paste in back).
While the new back set of letter is still selected, change the color to the background color and use the Arrow Keys to move the back letters to the right and down.
Repeat the again but change this group of letters to one of the colors used in the letters (fig. u).
10. Branches, Leaves, and Pears
Lock the letter layer and make a layer above the letter layer. With either the Pen Tool or the Blob Brush (hotkey ‘shift +b’), make the branches.
I sketched a pear and leaves separately from the branches. I used the Pen Tool to draw a pear and a few different leaves.
I made a copy of the Pear and used a vectorbrush from the RetroGrain brush pack in a contrasting color to give the pears more depth. After applying the RetroGrain vectorbrush texture, expand the brush stroke, Copy and Paste the pear in front.
Using the Selection Tool, select all three layers, and make a clipping mask (hotkey ‘command + 7’) and then trim the excess invisible texture by clicking on Trim in the Pathfinder Panel.
I used this same technique on a leaf and pear blossoms. On the other copy of the pear, I used the Blob Brush to draw some ornate details. I used this same techniques for a few leaves too (fig. v)
11. Adding the Pears and Leaves
I made a few copies (hotkey -Alt/Option) of each leaf and pear I made and using the Scale Tool (hotkey ‘s’) scaled them in different sizes.
I continued to make copies of the various leaves and pears to fill in amongst the branches.
I used the Rotate Tool (hotkey ‘r’) to rotate the leaves and pears in different directions.
12. Final Lettering Detail
After adding and arranging the branches, leaves, and pears; lock the layer and unlock the lettering layer.
With the Pen tool on stroke, make a vertical line on the lower stem of the “E”. Next, use the Width Tool (hotkey ‘shift + w’) and in the middle of the stroke, and pull outward to widen the center of the stroke.
The circle details were made using the Ellipse Tool and hold down the Shift Key while dragging the Ellipse Tool out and up.
Make two more copies of the circle and with the Scale Tool (hotkey ‘s’) scale two of them to different sizes.
Expand the stroke that was widened with the Width Tool (hotkey ‘shift+ w’) and group it with the three circles—(hotkey ‘command + g’) to group.
Select the detail and while sliding the horizontally, hold down the Shift Key and the Alt/Option key to keep it aligned and make a copy. Repeat for the next letter.
To finalize the illustration, unlock the background layer and use the Marque Tool (hotkey ‘m’) to make a rectangle larger than the typography illustration with the background color.
About Erica Ilene
Erica has a degree in graphic design and computer graphics and freelances illustration and surface pattern design. She also teaches Adobe Illustrator on SkillShare. See more or Erica’s work on her Instagram and her website.