Illustrator Tutorial – Create a Gang of Vector Ninjas

It can be quite tricky getting the hang of Adobe Illustrator, but if you take a step back and concentrate on the basics there's a range of options for creating great looking images. In this tutorial, we'll take a look at constructing a group of cool vector ninja characters using just the basic shapes and a variety of simple tools, making it a good start for Illustrator beginners.

Vector Ninja Characters
After opening up Adobe Illustrator, create a new document. For a fun project the size of the document doesn't matter, Illustrator has a vast area of artboard beyond the document edges that can be used. I personally use the CMYK color mode out of habit and the ease of managing blacks, but a wider range of colours are available with RGB. The choice should really depend on the final outcome of the project; print or web.

Depending whether your Illustrator software has the default settings, you might want to check the options for the scaling of strokes and effects, this little option could save you a headache layer down the line.

Grab the Circle Tool and draw a shape on the artboard, hold the SHIFT key to create a perfectly equal object. By default this will have a white fill and black stroke.

Select the Square Tool and draw another shape on the artboard, position this to overlap the original circle. Use the Align Palette to centre the two shapes horizontally.

From the same menu, use the Rounded Rectange Tool to draw a small leg. Adjust the roundness of the corners with the keyboard cursor keys until the ends are completely circular.
Zoom in and position the leg exactly in relation to the edge of the square body.

Duplicate the leg and move into position for the remaining limbs, for the arms rotate the shape by 45 degrees. To position the shapes behind the other objects, press the CTRL + [ and CTRL + ] keys repeatedly to adjust the stacking order of the selected objects.

Draw another perfect circle onto the artboard, and beside it a much larger oval. Overlap the two and use the Align Palette to position exactly.

With the two shapes selected, click the Subtract from Shape Area option from the Pathfinder palette. Click the Expand button to refresh the bounding box of the shape.
By using temporary shapes as tools along with the Pathfinder options, a range of custom objects can be created.

Position this semi-circular shape within the large circle of the character to represent the facial area. Draw in a small circle as an eye, fill this with a black swatch and clear any stroke. Copy and paste in front (CTRL + F), then move horizontally to the side (hold SHIFT to constrain the axis)
Grouping any pairs of objects, such as the eyes and arms will allow them to be centralised with the other objects using the Align Palette without being moved individually.

With the complete line-work character laid out and aligned, draw a selection around the complete object and copy and paste a duplicate. Move a copy off to the side as a backup.

With all the objects that make up the torso and limbs selected, chose the Add to Shape Area option from the Pathfinder tool and Expand to merge the shapes into one.

Fill the body elements with a very dark grey (95% black) and add a 4pt stroke aligned to the outside at 100% black.

In the Appearance Palette, click the small options arrow and select Add New Stroke.

This time, add a 4pt stroke aligned to the inside, with a lighter, 93% black. This multiple use of strokes is a technique I've come to use in my character designs which really helps lift the colours by adding a little depth and variation.

Select the facial area and fill with a pale skin tone, add a slightly thinner stroke at 3pt aligned to the outside using the 93% black.

Add a New Stroke through the Appearance Palette and give this line a slightly darker tone, aligned to the inside of the shape.

The basic version of the character is complete, ready for some stealthy ninja action.

Copy and paste multiple variations of the original line-work character. Adjust and rotate the limbs into a range of scary ninja combat positions, adjust the stacking order of the arms to in front or behind the body to give different effects.

With each individual character, repeat the process of merging shapes and colouring the objects to produce a group of cool ninjas. However, no ninja would be complete without combat accessories…

Create a staff using a long thin rectangle, fill the object with brown while adding a black outline.

Create a pointed object using the Star Tool, using the Direct Selection Tool select each of the points of the path from each arm of the star.

Upon selecting the Rotate Tool, the point of origin will automatically default to the centre of the object. Click and drag to adjust the overall shape of the star.

Draw a solid circle in the centre and fill the death star weapon with a metal like grey. Add a black outline and a secondary inner stroke with a slightly darker grey.

Using the same colour scheme, draw a triangle by dragging a shape with the Star Tool and pressing the downwards cursor key to reduce the number of points. Grab the upper most point with the Direct Selection Tool and drag vertically.

Select and drag the middle two points to squash the lower half into a sword like shape. Finalise this with a small brown rectangle, remember the majority of the handle would be concealed by the hand so only a small section is required.

Use the Pen Tool to neatly draw in a three sided shape to represent the chamfered finish of the sword blade.

Create two Nunchuk handles and the beginning and end points of the adjoining chain. With both chain elements selected head to Object > Blend > Make

Go back to Object > Blend > Blend Options, enter 5 under the Specified Steps option to alter the type of blend to give a line of individual items.

Use the Pen or Pencil tool to draw a temporary line to symbolise the desired route of the Nunchuk chain, with this and the blend selected, go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine.

Group each individual weapon and move into place on the various characters, completing the group making them ready for action!
Vector Ninja Characters
Using basic vector shapes, a stylish and fun image can be created using just the basic functions of Adobe Illustrator.

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Mongolian officials had called for a halt to the sale of the 24-foot-long and eight-foot-tall "Tyrannosaurus bataar" (a smaller cousin of T. Rex) on Friday, as USA TODAY reported earlier, citing concern that it had been exported illegally from their country.
The 75% complete fossil skeleton, "has sold for $1,052,500, contingent upon resolution of a Texas state court proceeding," Heritage Auctions of Dallas announced on Sunday. The sale proceeded although Mongolia, acting through its attorney, Robert Painter, had convinced a Texas District court judge to issue a restraining order stopping the sale on Saturday.
"The proceedings were not without event, however, as Mongolia's Texas-based attorney, without authority from the New York judicial system, tried to interrupt the auction," the auction house noted in a statement on the sale. According to Painter's law firm, the lawyer stood up at the beginning of the auction with the Texas judge on his cell phone and noted the restraining order. He was asked to leave and the auction proceeded.
"I am very surprised that Heritage Auctions, Inc. knowingly defied a valid court order, particularly with the judge on the phone, listening and ready to explain his order," Painter says, in a statement.
The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, has quoted David Herskowitz, director of natural history at Heritage Auctions as saying "The specimen was found over 10 years ago in the Gobi desert and is owned by a fossil collector from Dorset."
Auctions of dinosaur fossils has long excited controversy, with paleontologists decrying their loss to scholarship in private hands and the possible spur to looting that they represent. The $8.36 million sale of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ("Tyrannosaur Sue") lead to lawsuits, legal raids and charitable giving to scrape up funding for the winning bid from Chicago's Field Museum.

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30 Essential SEO Resources for Beginners

For many bloggers, SEO seems like some kind of black magic that only super technical people can ever get the hang of.
I’ll admit, starting out with SEO can be very intimidating.
The massive amounts of information (and misinformation) is enough to send any blogger into a state I like to call “information paralysis”, where they are unable to act.
I’d like to alleviate some of that today.
Below I’ve outlined some of the most essential and trusted SEO resources, from blogs, to tools, to guides, to forums and conferences: it’s all here.
Dive in below, and don’t let the fear of learning something new stop you from utilizing this great inbound marketing aspect.

SEO Blogs

It’s always good practice to keep updated on the world of SEO with the top SEO blogs.
Below I’ve outlined a few of my personal favorites, covering search engine news, tips, and algorithm changes.
  • Search Engine Land – One of the biggest blogs on search engine news and information.
  • SEOmoz – One of my favorite SEO blogs, I’m also a contributor, split between the main blog and the YouMoz blog, filled with good SEO articles.
  • SEO Book – Aaron Wall creates some truly great articles, love him or hate him, you should be reading his blog.
  • Matt Cutts – Head of Google’s webpam team, you should probably listen to him or something.
  • Search Engine Journal – Great blog for link building, PPC, and optimization information.
  • Google’s Blog – Google’s main blog, not much on SEO specifically, but it’s good to know what Big G is up to.

SEO Guides

Blogs can be an incredible source of information.
Unfortunately, for the newbie, they are too split up: info is spread throughout hundreds (or thousands) of posts.
These complete guides offer a more thorough offering on learning SEO.

SEO Tools

SEO can be an immense time sink if you aren’t careful.
Definitely check out a few of the SEO tools below that can save you countless hours and a ton of frustration.
Just be sure not to spend too much time playing around with the tools instead of actually using them!
  • Google Keyword Tool – If there is one “getting started” tool that you must learn about, it’s this one. Know it well, you’ll use it forever (or at least as long as Google is around).
  • SEOmoz’s Tools – A comprehensive suite of tools that I’ve started to fall in love with. It’s paid (and a premium price), but very useful.
  • Google Webmaster Tools – If you are going to play Big G’s game (whitehat style), you need to use their tools.
  • Open Site Explorer – A individual SEOmoz tool that’s perfect for checking competitor’s backlinks, as well as other metrics. More comprehensive if you’re a pro user.
  • Serp IQ – One of my recent favorite tools to emerge on the market, tons of great uses from competition analysis to keyword discovery, this tool is insanely fast and has a ton of great features.
  • Scribe SEO – A super useful tool (especially if you are focusing on WordPress SEO) because it breaks down keyword density to perfection.
  • SpyFu – Great for spying on your competitors, specifically their advertising.
  • Wordtracker Keyword Tool – A classic, must use for keyword research.
  • Market Samurai – Still one of the best keyword analysis tools on the market, perfect for checking SEO competition, although it runs somewhat slowly (Adobe Air).

SEO Forums

Although guides and blogs can offer a ton of essential information, sometimes you are going to have questions.
Forums are a great spot to get these questions answered.

Conferences

A bit advanced for most, but a great way to really dive into SEO is to know about (and go to) the many search engine related conferences.
  • SES Conference – SES is the leading global event series about search and social marketing, with a focus on tactics and best practices.
  • Blueglass – BlueGlass’ Internet Marketing Conferences have quickly become known in the web marketing circles as being premier events for learning the latest strategies, interacting with the speakers and networking
  • Search Marketing Expo – Another leading search engine conference.

The 5 Deadly Sins of Blogging (And How to Avoid Them)

A lot of beginner bloggers do a heavy about of sinning when they first start out…
I’m not saying they’re bad people, it’s just that they are committing nearly all of the deadly sins that bloggers need to look out for.
“But wait, aren’t there 7 deadly sins?”
In the religious context, yes, but as a blogger, there are really only 5 sins you need to worry about

1.) Gluttony

“What does gluttony have to do with blogging?”
Simply put: when you “consume” too much and don’t create some kind of output, you are being gluttonous.
For bloggers, this comes in the form of information rather than things like food.
The over-consumption of information is dangerous, it leads to someone who is always out on the prowl for the newest trick or tactic, but who has never put them into practice.
This is especially important if you read a lot of “blogging about blogging” blogs (hey, I’m just being brutally honest, as usual).
It’s not that they don’t provide value, it’s that they can get you captivated in the “ooh shiny” mentality, getting caught up in the so called ‘latest and greatest’ when you should be busy implementing a solid foundation of techniques that work, including things like creating great content and writing guest posts to promote that content.


2.) Greed

A lot of bloggers are susceptible to this sin, hell, even established bloggers are suspect.
So, what is it about greed that can really hold a blogger back?
First of all, greed often has people putting up invasive advertisements & promoting crappy products, all the while not maintaining a focus on building a thriving audience.
Your readers are not commodities, they can be loyal customers if you treat them well, and brand advocates if you treat them very well.
They are also people, would you want to be treated in misleading ways on another person’s website?
Of course not, so don’t promote filth with an affiliate link just to make a quick buck, and don’t throw up advertisements on your second week blogging: build an audience, build an email list, and treat people with the courtesy that they deserve, there’s much more to blogging than making a quick buck.

3.) Pride

This sin is a surefire way to failure.
“My content is so good, I don’t have to promote it, the quality will do the talking!”
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but here’s two things why that won’t work:
  1. You are probably overrating how good your content is (it’s your “baby”, you’re bound to see it differently)
  2. There is a ton of great content on the web now, businesses often have content strategists that work on just their blog (like I with my posts on the HelpScout blog)
The overall point: It’s a competitive market; scratch that, a hyper competitive market, in almost every niche!
There are people who are paid to do what you are trying to succeed with, how can you hope to compete?
Great content is now the price of entry, NOT the defining factor for a successful blog.
So, how can you market your content without being a sleazebag?
You’re reading a method right now: write for other blogs in your space, that one should be obvious to you if you aren’t totally new.
You also need to be creating content that’s easy to plug into conversations.
You needn’t be afraid of emailing people about a new piece of yours if it relates to them in some general way, such as if they are in the same industry.
Want to know how I got Neil Patel, a guy with 100,000+ follows, to tweet about my article?
I asked him!
Crazy, ain’t it?
I told him that I had this planned as a guest post for his site, but thought it went with my brand better.
I also (via email, the best social network) asked if he wouldn’t mind sharing the piece if he enjoyed it.
He tweeted it within the hour, he’s a nice dude!
You shouldn’t be badgering the same people every time to you post something new, but reaching out to new folks from time to time will do amazing things for your blog’s promotion, trust me.

4.) Sloth

Oh man, this one can get a lot of people.
I’ve had people email me about their struggles with their blog, and when I got to visit it, they haven’t posted in 2 months!
That’s an extreme example, and sometimes it’s more insidious: people who are posting regularly, but doing nothing to market their content.
Sometimes, it might even be necessary to have a “1:1″ ratio for posts, or an “80:20″ ratio for marketing vs. posting.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I’m saying that posting 1 guest post for every post on your blog can be the ideal way to actually build an audience.
I’m also saying that, in some cases, spending upwards of 50, 60, 70, or even 80% of your time marketing your posts can be the way to go.
As a new blog, you should be focusing on creating a unique angle and outstanding content: don’t worry about posting once a day, that’s a load of bull.
Instead, create posts that are worthy of promotion, and spend the next week promoting the hell out of them (and your blog in general) with guest posts, emails, networking, etc.
Sounds goofy, but people far more experienced than me will tell you the same thing.
People like to think great content promotes itself, and that’s true, but in such a crowded place as the internet, who’s going to get the ball rolling?
The answer: you.

5. Envy/Lust/Wrath

I’ve combined the last 3 sings because they all relate to one thing (in my eyes)…
Caring too much about what other’s are doing.
It’s easy to get envious of others reach & audience, lustful of their income, and even angry that you cannot seem to do the same.
But such is business, and such is life.
Everybody has to start from square one in some fashion or another, and worrying about others does nothing for your own projects.
It’s okay to “observe” others; learning from people who’s advice you actually trust is a great way to skip having the same failures as them.
Be wary though: in the world of online marketing, there are some seriously shady characters.
What to be weary of: “Quick” fixes to anything, bizopps that target people who are total beginners in business, software that promises the world, people selling shady SEO techniques, anything that makes a process you know to be a lot of work (like building a successful blog) look easy; if it looks too good to be true, it’s a scam.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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