Discover the power of compound shapes

Using compound shapes is one of the easiest ways to create illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. You start by drawing basic shapes and then use the Pathfinder palette to combine them in different ways. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to add and subtract shapes, as well as how to use the Layers palette.

Draw a series of overlapping ellipses.
First, click the Default Fill And Stroke button in the toolbox. This sets the fill to white and the stroke to black. Then select the Ellipse tool, and drag to draw a series of overlapping ellipses.
To move an ellipse, select it with the Selection tool and drag it to a different location. When you’re satisfied with the placement of all the shapes, drag around all the ellipses to select them.

Add the ellipses together.
If the Pathfinder palette isn’t showing, choose Window > Pathfinder. Then click the Add To Shape Area button in the Pathfinder palette.
You just created a compound shape (a shape that consists of two or more objects). You can verify this by looking in the Layers palette. If the Layers palette isn’t showing, choose Window > Layers. Then click the triangle to the left of Layer 1 to see the listing for the compound shape.

Subtract a rectangle.
Select the Rectangle tool and draw a rectangle that overlaps the bottom of the compound shape. When you’re finished drawing, use the Selection tool to select all the shapes. Then click the Subtract From Shape Area button in the Pathfinder palette.
It may be difficult to tell what changed while all the shapes are selected, so click anywhere on the artboard to deselect them. Now you can see that the rectangle has been subtracted from the ellipses. If you look in the Layers palette, you’ll see that Illustrator created a new compound shape containing the rectangle and the first compound shape.

Rename the compound shape in the Layers palette.
Double-click the words “Compound Shape” in the Layers palette. Enter a more meaningful name for the shape, and click OK. We named our shape “Cloud.”
The Layers palette is very useful for keeping track of the objects in a document. In addition, you can use it to select objects by clicking in the selection column between the circle and the scroll bar. (See About the Layers palette.)

Draw three nested circles.
You’ll use the circles to create a sun, so draw them in proportion to the cloud. Start by selecting the Ellipse tool, and Shift+dragging to draw the outer circle. Then position the pointer over the center of the circle, and Shift+Alt+drag (Windows) or Shift+Option+drag (Mac OS) to draw the middle circle. (Holding down the Alt or Option key lets you draw the circle from the center outward.) Repeat again to draw the inner circle.
We named the circles “Outer Circle,” “Middle Circle,” and “Inner Circle” in the Layers palette.

Create the sun’s rays.
Select the outer circle and choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Select Preview, and adjust the values for Size and Ridges Per Segment. When you’re satisfied with the results, click OK.

Make the sun a compound shape.
Select the outer circle, then hold down Shift and select the middle circle. (Holding down Shift lets you select multiple objects.) Click the Subtract From Shape Area button in the Pathfinder palette to combine the two shapes. Hold down Shift, select the inner circle, and click the Add To Shape Area button in the Pathfinder palette.
We named the compound shape “Sun” in the Layers palette.

Move the sun behind the cloud.
Select the sun, and choose Object > Arrange > Send Backward. Then use the Selection tool to drag the sun behind the cloud.
Notice how the sun is now listed below the cloud in the Layers palette. This is because the Layers palette reflects the stacking order of your artwork. You can change the stacking order by dragging objects up or down in the Layers palette.
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