Adobe Illustrator

If you've been following my blog, you'll already know that I recently acquired Adobe Creative Cloud. I'll be honest, even the name 'Illustrator' turned me right off. I am notoriously bad at art. Many years ago, when I was a childminder, I would draw basic shapes - stick men, house, tree - and small children would screw their faces up, look utterly baffled and exclaim, "What is it?"

Illustrating is never going to be my forte! I'm not being negative. I just can't draw, or paint, or do many things that are arty farty.

What I can do, is use a computer and learn to use new software. So I decided to find out whether Illustrator could maybe bridge the gap for me... give me some artistic skills that are otherwise lacking. And I was pleasantly surprised!

The first surprise was that, for the first time in my life, I found myself enjoying art. My last art lesson (at age 13) was marked by the teacher, who may have been a trifle drunk (this was the 1980s) throwing his trainer at me and telling me (with some rather foul language) to go and find a chemistry lab where I'd be happy. For the first time ever, I opted for instant obedience!

Back to Illustrator...

I was pondering what to create. The lovely Welsh guy in the video tutorials supplied his listeners with a rather scary looking picture of a skull to work with but skulls are not my thing. So I watched his videos (which were excellent) and then applied the knowledge to my own projects. The one thing that I can't stand, is the current wheelchair icon. It might be a black and white icon but to me it looks like a very grey NHS wheelchair. It looks heavy and negative and boring, when in reality, my wheelchair is comfy and sporty and energising! I also have a mountain trike, a kind of off-road wheelchair that I operate with levers and it is seriously cool! And I have my trusty assistance dog, Liggy, who comes everywhere with me, and loves our mountain trike hikes. So that was my inspiration... some new icons that represent my disability.

Mountain Trike

Let's start with my first masterpiece, which my youngest son swears is a Penny Farthing. I created it just using shapes... mainly rounded rectangles. I played with the stroke and fill tool to get the basic shapes to look something like. Here's my icon...

A black icon of a mountain trike

Then I thought, one of the cool things about the mountain trike, is that I can go up hills... even steep hills, without tipping over backwards or having to lean so far forwards that I look like I'm about to be sick. So I rotated my icon and added a bit of flooring (two overlapping triangles) to make an uphill version...

Icon of mountain trike going up hill


I know icons need to be generic but it's tough luck! My assistance dog icon, is definitely Liggy. This was a much harder project, as I couldn't make her with shapes. I used an image to help me get her basic shape, putting it on a locked layer and setting the transparency to 20%.

Then I used the pen tool (because I wanted a vector image) to mark points around the outline of her body. Unfortunately, the only side view photo I have of her, she has a frisbee in her mouth and this distorts her face somewhat, so I left the head until last.

Having marked the anchor points around her body, I then used the anchor tool to make them into nice smooth curves. It was actually quite a bit easier than I expected doing this. Then I looked at lots of face photos to get an idea of the shape of her nose and mouth. It took a while of adding extra anchor points and smoothing them out to get a shape I was happy with.

I toyed with the idea of leaving the icon as a black dog but then, how is that any different from a normal pet dog? So I decided to splash a bit of colour and give her a collar and jacket. So now, I think she looks like an assistance dog.

Icon of my assistance dog with a purple collar and working jacket

Putting them together

I could use my icons separately and I have exported them all as individual assets in png format. However, I wanted to put them together and have Liggy with me and my trike. Yes it is me in the trike, though I may have lost some weight! I decided to put Liggy behind the trike so that she is walking on the heel side rather than the side side (maybe only other Canine Partners will actually understand that). Heel is left; side is right. Then, because Liggy is always excited to be out hiking, and is keen to be on the move, I put her slightly further forward than she maybe should be.

Combined icon with mountain trike and assistance dog

This may have been a relatively simple project but it got me started with Illustrator and creating vector shapes. I have definitely learned a lot from doing this and feel inspired to keep playing!


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