The Designmark Graphics blog
Quality tutorials for Inkscape and GIMP
This is a simple tutorial that uses Inkscape to create a cute cartoon sheep with some basic light and shadow to give him a bit more depth and likeability. I'm not going to assume too much prior knowledge in this tutorial but you should familiarise yourself with the two main selection tools in the Inkscape utility panel (F1 and F2 on the keyboard) and know how to create circles using the ellipse tool (E) by clicking and dragging out shapes. Also you should know how to move shapes around and rotate them by clicking on an already-selected shape when you've got the Select tool active. If you can do all that, you should have no problems here.
Here's what we'll be aiming for out of this tutorial:
Skills you'll be developing in this tutorial
- Joining paths together using Path -- Union in the Path menu or Ctrl and + on the keyboard
- Using the Difference path operation -- Difference in the Path menu or Ctrl and -
- Basic use of opacity to control light and dark shading
- Stacking objects so that they affect each other in the way you want
Step 1 - Set up the document ready for use
Create a new Inkscape document and bring up the Document Properties window by going to File --> Document Properties in the menus or by hitting Ctrl + Shift + D on the keyboard. Set both the document's width and height to 600 pixels. It's going to help if you also have a box grid visible, which you can either do here in the Document Properties window under the Grids tab, or by closing this window and pressing the # key when you're back looking at the page. The default settings should be fine.
Step 2 - Draw the sheep's head and face
We'll start by drawing the sheep's head. Select the ellipse tool (E on the keyboard). Draw a tall ellipse - mine's about 70px wide and 100px high - and fill it with a black, or near-black, colour, like R = 13, G = 13, B = 13. We don't want an outline stroke to this shape, so switch that off by using the X on the Stroke tab.
Then copy and paste (Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V or use the copy and paste icons) your ellipse so that you've got three altogether. Move two of them so that they partly overlap to give a nice, chubby head outline, and put the third one in the centre to cover up the join at the top.
Select all three of your ellipses, which you can either do by clicking and dragging a box around them when you're using the Select paths tool (F1) or the Edit Nodes tool (F2), or by holding down Shift and clicking each object you want to select. When you've got all three selected, head up to the 'Path' menu and select 'Union', or press Ctrl and + on the keyboard, which does the same job. We use the Union function to join simple paths together into more complicated shapes that you can then manipulate as a single object.
That's joined all three circles into one shape. Check by pressing F2 and you can see how the nodes (points around the edge of the shape) go all around the edge of your sheep's head.
Now to add some features, so let's start with eyes. Grab the ellipse tool again and draw three that are slightly taller than they are wide. Make the largest and smallest of them white, and the middle-sized one black. You may find you need to re-arrange them to get them stacked in the right way (ie. white, black, white). Do this by clicking on the object you want to move above or below the others, then pressing PageUp or PageDown to go up or down one level, or use Home and End to send your shape to the top or bottom of the pile directly. There are menu options to do this too: under the Object menu you can Raise, Lower, Raise to Top or Lower to Bottom. Arrange them so you get an eye outline, pupil and shine, like this:
Select all these shapes using your preferred method, then move them into position towards the top of his head, slightly to the left of centre. Leaving all of them selected, let's Group the three shapes into a collection so we can adjust the position of our sheep's eyes more easily without having to try and pick three objects up at once. Do this by pressing Ctrl and G, or by going to the Object menu again and choosing Group.
Switch to the Select tool on the left-hand side or press F1 so we can move the eye around easily, then copy and paste a second eye so now we've got two. Flip this horizontally either by using the Object menu and selecting Flip Horizontal, or by pressing the H key on the keyboard. Move the second eye so it's level with the first, and positioned to the right of centre. Quick tip here: by placing the eyes quite close to each other we can make our sheep look slightly stunned and generally cute.
Time to add ears. Draw an ellipse and rotate it so that it's nearly, but not quite, horizontal. Copy and paste this shape and move them into position on either side of our sheep's head at about the same height and distance from the main part. You can join these to the rest of his head using the Union function like we did before if you want. Alternatively you can use Group to temporarily join the ears with the rest of the head if you think you might want to move them around again at some point. Either method will make it easier to move everything together later on.
Now create two more ellipses, again slightly taller than they are wide: about 10px wide by 15px tall . Make one a dark grey (I've used R=89 G=89 B=89), and the other white.
Arrange them so that the grey one is at the top, with the white ellipse underneath it. Position them so that the white ellipse is just a couple of pixels below the grey one, and change the opacity of the white one to 70%. Like before, select these two shapes and, once you've grouped them together, copy and paste them to the other side of the sheep's face to give him some nostrils to breathe through.
Step 3 - Create the sheep's body
Time to make the sheep's body. This bit's fun: draw lots of circles and ellipses that overlap to give you a curly-edged body shape. Make sure the overall outline is quite a bit wider than our sheep's face, and a fair bit taller, too. Then select them all and join them together doing a Union join, like before. Send this to the back of our drawing by pressing End, and move it behind our sheep's face. Set the body's fill to white, and the Stroke to black. On the Stroke Style tab, set the stroke width to something fairly broad; about 9 pixels or so:
Duplicate this shape twice, using Ctrl and D or Edit --> Duplicate from the menus. This gives us a stack of three identical shapes directly on top of each other. Select the topmost copy and nudge it up by a few pixels. You can either click and drag, or I prefer to use the keyboard and press the up arrow a couple of times, eight keyboard presses works for me.
In order to keep any niggly shapes we don't want later on spoiling the show, make the top shape wider in both directions using the Select Tool again and stretching it while holding down the Shift key; this will make it widen in both directions while remaining centred over the first.
Then with that shape still selected, hold down the Shift key and click on the next copy you can see underneath. In the Path menu click Difference, or press Ctrl and - on the keyboard. Set the fill to a dark grey, and change the opacity to something really low, maybe just 8 or 10 percent. If there's still a stroke on your shape, turn that off in the Stroke tab.
Step 4 - Add legs and other details
Creates a nice effect, doesn't it? Using solid shapes we've added a shadow first to the nostrils, now to the body, to really add some fizz to our illustration. It's a useful ability: overlaying a white or black shape and giving it a low opacity can add an impression of light or shade to your drawing.
All that's left is to add some legs to our sheep and we're more or less done. Let's draw them now, with the rectangle tool. Draw one and fill it with the same black we've been using up to now (use the Dropper tool to duplicate the fill), then copy and paste it onto the other side to even things up (after all, we don't want him to fall over in the field, do we?).
With your sheep character done, what you do next is entirely up to you. Maybe give him a field to stand in using the Ellipse Tool again to draw a nice green meadow in the background, or maybe you could turn your individual sheep fellow into a flock, if the fancy takes you.
And to finish the job it's always nice to add a suitable backdrop for your ovine creations. I haven't pulled any tricks here that we haven't already covered, namely joining ellipses for the clouds, then using duplicates moved off-centre from each other to leave the shadow shape at the base of each cloud. Ditto the sun in the corner.
Well done! Did you get a good result? Have you enjoyed this tutorial? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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