Drawing Shapes Instead of Lines: 8 Exercises for Filled Stroke

If you haven’t tried the Concepts Filled Stroke tool or aren’t sure what it’s supposed to do, these exercises will get you going. And if you’re not quite confident that this tool can enhance your workflow, we can sharpen your skills. If you happen to adore the Filled Stroke tool like many of us do, you’ll appreciate remembering just how versatile, fun and useful it is, and go back into a Filled Stroke frenzy.

As a designer, the Filled Stroke tool gives you a fast way to define shapes and spaces without extra linework.

Quick bedroom concept using Filled Stroke with the Shape Guides.

As an illustrator, the “brush” has a smooth, contemporary feel while giving you complete control over the details.

Scarlet Ibis, by Erica Christensen.

The Filled Stroke tool is a unique kind of brush that allows you to create any kind of filled space using your hand or stylus as the control. It’s different than a traditional bucket fill, which fills a pre-defined, closed area. The Filled Stroke tool follows your stylus’ motion on the canvas and fills any positive space inside it, from the moment you touch your stylus to the screen to the moment you take it away.

Each of these shapes are one stroke.

“Positive space” means an area filled by your motion between the start and end points that is not crossed over within the same stroke. If the area is drawn over a second time within the original stroke, it becomes “negative space” and is not filled. Of course, if you cross over it a third time, it reverses again and becomes positive.

If you pick up your stylus before reaching the original start point, it will connect your points for you with the shortest possible line between points: a perfectly straight line.

What this means is that you can visualize in shapes instead of just lines. The world is made of shapes, in all types and sizes, all around you. The leaf in this photo is a simple shape, with contrasting color and textural shapes ingrained in it.

You can recreate these shapes with the Filled Stroke tool just by outlining them with your hand. Using this photograph as inspiration, let’s get warmed up.

To start, let’s configure your Filled Stroke tool. Tap a slot on the tool wheel and then tap again to find this guy.

You can see there are options for opacity and smoothness presets in the Brushes menu. Since you define the size of your stroke by drawing it, there is no size option. Choose a color and opacity for your tool.

But don’t set your Filled Stroke to 100% smoothness or you’ll never see the stroke you make. Smoothness shortens the overall distance between start and end points. A 100% smooth line will be the shortest line possible between points, or a straight line; a 100% smooth shape will be the smallest shape possible no matter how giant your stroke appeared when you drew it — a point. It will disappear. Best to keep your smoothing to a reasonable level.

For a drawing using all fill, I set every tool to Filled Stroke with its own color and setting as I draw, so it’s a fast tap to toggle. But if you have other tools you want on hand, you can also use the presets and color picker for quick changes.

Exercise 1

Define a simple background by drawing a large, relaxed shape. No expectations.

The color you choose sets the emotional tone. Pick something you’re in the mood for.

Exercise 2

In a new layer, try drawing the outline of the leaf. Go upward from the stem and trace the general shape. Then without picking up your stylus, parallel that line and come back around.

Add a few more lines. You can keep your line smoothing at 0% for a raw, textured feel (above), or set it to around 30% for a smoother line (below).

Exercise 3

Create a new layer between your outline and background, and trace the full shape again to fill in the outline.

Awesome. Now that you’re warmed up and have a feel for the tool, let’s go a little deeper.

Exercise 4

Let’s add some detail to the leaf using smaller, organic strokes, some layers, and different colors. Feel free to experiment with each of these elements. You don’t have to stick to the photograph unless you’d like to. Take your time and enjoy the flow as you draw the shapes.

The light yellow pops with the red tones.
See how random and squiggly you can get? No leaf is ever the same, so give it some character and uniqueness.

I like to use the analogous colors palette in the color mixer to choose darker or lighter tones of the same color. (Tap it in the dynamic palettes section of the colors menu to activate it.) If you’re going for a true representation of the leaf, you can import the photo straight onto your canvas and use the color picker to extract the exact colors from the photo.

Looking closely at the leaf, there are dark blotches all over it. I’m adding them in.

Exercise 5

Now let’s create some depth. Study the photograph and see where the light illuminates the color tones. Or you can imagine your own light source and apply highlights where it hits the surfaces of the leaf. In a new layer, using a white fill at ~15% opacity, draw in those lighter shapes.

Can you see the sheen? I’ve kept to the upper edges of the leaf where I’ve imagined the light spills over, leaving the lower edges alone for shadows.

Now create one more layer and set a black fill to 12% opacity. Look at the photograph or imagine in your universe where both the full leaf and more specific areas of the leaf are darker. Draw the shapes in, layering the strokes on top of each other and paying attention to your contours.

Allow the light and the dark to balance each other on either half of the leaf. Don’t be afraid of contrast — bring it out to give your object life.

Mission accomplished! Are you feeling more comfortable with this tool? Let’s try a few more exercises to stretch you a bit.

Exercise 6

Take a photo of something interesting to you, and try using only a 12% opacity black fill to draw the object.

Define the full shape first, as most objects have a little bit of mass and the outermost edge will be the lightest. Then study the shapes of the shadows, and use the fill to draw only these. Layering them on top of each other will create contrast and a sense of solidity.

As we draw, we tend to think about the positive shape of an object, like what a feather looks like, or a wing. Drawing only shadows forces you to think about the negative space, instead. In this case, I’ve started by defining the line of feathers, but then pulled the shadow down beneath them.

Exercise 7

Try creating a topographical map. In a similar manner with a single color, or using gradients of solid colors, use darker saturations to represent deeper areas. You can also create a dark base shape and use a low-opacity white fill to create the upper contours of the map. Remember to vary your shapes some to give them a true, organic feel.

A map from my imagination, but it works great for landscape plans to show grading differences, too.

Exercise 8

Use Filled Stroke to reimagine an existing space. Take a photo of a room or outdoor area and paint right over the top. You can apply the Filled Stroke with the precision guides for fast, perfect shapes with crisp edges. And if you select the shape once drawn, you can tap a control point or two and skew it to fit your perspective.

This is what my house looked like a couple months ago — torn apart, no kitchen, ceiling or floors, and a very dated stair rail we left to keep the little ones from falling over the edge. I needed to order a new one but was having a hard time deciding what I wanted — the old rail sucked my imagination away.

I snapped a photo with my phone, framer included, and roughed in my vision straight over it. From there, I was able to add measurements, finalize style choices and make the order.

Great work! You are now a Filled Stroke master. I hope you’ve learned to see and sketch shapes a little better, and can appreciate how versatile the tool is for creating anything you’d like to imagine.

Do you have other ways you like to use this tool or techniques you’d like to see? Share your work in the comments or email us at concepts@tophatch.com, and tell us what else you’d like to know. Thanks!

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Written and illustrated by Erica Christensen, designer at TopHatch.

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