Create a Cute Baby Seal with Illustrator

“…a fur trapper had the unmitigated audacity to jump up from behind my igloo and he started into whippin’ on my favorite baby seal with a lead-filled snowshoe…”

Thus recites Frank Zappa‘s “Nanook Rubs It” from the album Apostrophe (‘). Inspired by that line I put together a simple tutorial to teach you how to create a super cute baby seal.
It will then be your job to protect it from the evil fur trapper!

Final result

This is what we will create, a baby seal in a familiar environment.
final

Soundtrack: Nanook Rubs It

Let’s finally listen to “Nanook Rubs It” to put ourselves in the right mood for creating the baby seal.

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Step 1: The eyes

Open a new document and set the artboard to whatever you want, I used 600px by 400px.
Let’s draw the eyes.
Draw the outline.
01-eye

Let’s add an ambient highlight. Make a copy of the eye shape then draw a big ellipse over it. Select both objects then click on Minus Front in the Pathfinder palette. This subtracts the big ellipse from the eye shape, leaving a moon-shaped swath. Make it white and lower the Opacity to 30%.
02-draw-amb-highlight

Now go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose 3 px.
03-blur-highlight

Let’s add the main highlight. Just draw a white circle in the upper right corner of the eye.
04-highlight

Now draw a small black ellipse above the eye and to the right: it’s the seal’s funny looking eyebrow. Blur it a bit too.
05-eyebrow

The eye is done so copy and flip it over to the right. The main highlight must be moved back to the right of the eye of course. Also draw a vertical guide to mark the center of the seal’s face.
06-copy-eye

Step 2: The nose

Draw the right half of the nose, snapping it to the guide.
07-half-nose

Copy and flip it over to the left side, joining the points on the guide so you have a single path.
08-copy-nose09-join-nose

The nose has a highlight too. Draw a big circle on top of it then combine it with a copy of the nose, like we did for the eye’s ambient highlight. This time, though, use Intersect instead of Minus Front. Only the overlapping shape will be left.
10-nose-highlight

Finish the highlight off by making it 40% transparent and by blurring it a bit.
11-highlight-transparent12-blur-highlight

Step 3: The muzzle

Now for the muzzle we want a comics feel to the lines. I have a tablet so I’ll use the Brush Tool and control the brush’s diameter with the pressure.
13-set-up-brush

If you don’t have a tablet just use a brush tip that tapers to a point or create your own (I’ll cover custom brushes later in this tutorial). Or you can simply draw a path that ends in a point. Draw the lip as a simple arc then copy and flip it to the other side of the guide.
14-draw-lips

Create the mouth by drawing a circle on top of the lips. Use the Scissors Tool to split it where it crosses the lips, then discard the unnecessary segment.
15-draw-mouth

The mouth must be a closed path, though, so duplicate the lips and split them where they meet the mouth. Then join the three paths into a single one.
16-close-mouth

We can now fill the mouth with a simple gradient.
17-fill-mouth

Finally let’s draw the lower lip with a half-ellipse tapered at the ends, filled with black. Add a Drop Shadow effect too.
18-lower-lip

Step 4: The whiskers

Draw a bunch of black circles or ellipses. Arrange them in a grid or some other pattern you like.
19-dots

Now create a rectangle on top of them and fill it with a white-to-black gradient.
20-draw-opacity-mask

Select both it and all the dots then click on the upper right corner of the Transparency palette and choose Make Opacity Mask from the drop-down menu. The opacity mask will make the dots fade out from the lip.
21-make-opacity-mask

Copy and flip them to the other side.
22-copy-dots

I think we should scale down the muzzle to make the seal look more like a baby.
23-scale-down-muzzle

Let’s create a custom brush to paint the whiskers with.
Draw an ellipse then hit Shift+C to select the Convert Anchor Point Tool and click on the far right point.
24-draw-ellipse

Move the top and bottom points over to the left. This is the shape of our brush: it starts round then it tapers to a point.
25-brush-shape

Drag the shape into the Brushes palette. From the pop-up dialog choose New Art Brush and set its properties like in the next image.
26-art-brush

With this brush you can paint the lips in the previous step if you don’t have a tablet. Now use it to paint whiskers growing out of the black dots. Variation is good, don’t make them symmetrical.
27-draw-whiskers

Step 5: The head

In this step I’ll introduce an easy technique you can use to quickly render round objects when realism isn’t the priority. We’ll use it to shade the head, the body and the flippers.
The head is a simple ellipse. Fill it with a vertical, medium-to-dark gray linear gradient. We make the top lighter because it’s lit from above.
28-draw-head

Now create a smaller copy and fill it with white. Apply a generous amount of Gaussian Blur and voila: instant shading. As you can see the bottom of the head is darker than the top to imply shadows. This is very basic shading but it gets the job done.
29-complete-head

Step 6: The body

With the method explained above draw and shade the body.
30-draw-body

The head casts a shadow onto the body.
Make a copy of the head’s bottom ellipse, the dark one, and select Send To Back from the Object > Arrange menu (Shift+Cmd+[). Move it down and to the right by a small amount. Blur it then set it to Multiply mode, 75% Opacity.
31-head-shadow

Step 7: The flippers

Draw and shade the flippers with our quick method. The seal is finished. Isn’t it cute?
32-draw-flippers

Step 8: The environment

Now that the seal is complete you can finish the illustration off by adding an Arctic environment of your choice. I won’t give you detailed instructions here because I want to leave you some creative freedom. If you work in a design agency I know you need it real bad!

Here’s an overview of how I created my (admittedly simple) environment anyway.
The ocean and the sky are created with linear gradients, the floating ice platforms are simple white paths. Their thickness is filled with horizontal white and blue gradients (white where the ice is lit, blue where it’s in shadow). The iceberg is a simple white path with blue patches to simulate cracks and crevices. All reflections are created by duplicating the items, flipping them vertically and lowering their opacity. That’s it.
final

Conclusion

We have created a fun character using very basic techniques. Sometimes that’s all you need.
You can download my source file (AI CS4 format) to take a peek at how I did it. Play around with it and maybe give our baby seal a proper family!
As usual fire away any questions in the comments. Praise is welcome too…
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