Option Bar Basics…REALLY Basic

option bar

The option bar is directly related to the object you have selected. It gives you…wait for it…options for the object.


For example, if you have a text box selected, you would expect to be able to change the font, text size, text orientation, color, etc:

Option bar with text selected


If you have a shape selected, you can change the fill color (inside), the stroke color (outline), or perhaps the opacity:

Option bar with shape selected

If you have an image selected, you will be given options for it’s placement on the page:

Option bar with image selected

This is an easy one to understand. Just remember that it changes with the object you have selected and it will give you specific options based on what the object is.

Again, this is a VERY QUICK outline for the tools. These are the things I wish I knew when I was getting started.


If you want a more comprehensive rundown, check out my free Graphic Design in Illustrator introduction video tutorials.

Did I leave anything out? Is there anything that is confusing you? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Tools to Get Started in Illustrator


The tools panel is what controls everything you do in Illustrator.


Just like you wouldn’t be able to use a hammer to screw in a screw, if you don’t have the right tool or don’t know how to use the right tool in Illustrator, you will be unable to do achieve the effect that you are looking for.


When looking at the tools in the toolbox, I like to start with the most simple of tools. No matter what version of Illustrator you have (mine is CS6), your version will have these simple tools:

  • Selection Tool (Black Arrow): This tool allows you to move things (objects, text boxes, or images) around and resize them.
Selection Tool
  • Pen Tool: Truth be told, this tool takes some practice to get it figured out. I plan to have a more in depth discussion on it at a later date. But basically, it is a very precise line tool. You can make curves or straight lines in one fail swoop!
Pen Tool
  • Type Tool: You guessed it…you type with it! You have two options when using the type tool, you can either single click and then your type will continue on one line forever. Or you can click and drag to make a box. If you do this then your type will stay inside the box you draw.
Text ClickText Box
  • Shape Tool: There are a number of shapes that you can whip out in Illustrator. I am not going to get in to specifics here, but if you click and hold on the shape tool, you can see the default shapes. Once your shape is selected, just click and drag your curser to create your shape.
Shape Tool
  • Color Picker: The color picker is important not only to select the color of the shape, but also to select the stroke (or outline) of the shape. Simply select the object you want to recolor, then double-click the color picker to change the color. If you double-click the solid box you will be changing the fill (or the inside of the shape) and if you double-click the box with a square cut out of the middle you will be changing the stroke (or outline).
Color Picker


Again, this is a VERY QUICK outline for the tools. These are the things I wish I knew when I was getting started.


If you want a more comprehensive rundown, check out my free Graphic Design in Illustrator introduction video tutorials.


More Illustrator run-down to come next week! But in the mean time, what did you think? Did you think there are any tools I left out?

1 Minute Illustrator Overview


Don’t make Adobe Illustrator this big ugly hard thing that you can’t do because you don’t understand it. Like all things worth learning, it is going to take some time to learn all the nuances of the program.


But here is a quick introduction to help you on your way that may make the learning curve shorten a bit:

  1. Tools - The tools are the core of the Illustrator program. The tool that you choose will determine what you are going to do on your open document. When something is not working the way you think it should, check the tool that you have selected. When you find a white line across the middle of your design, it may be that you have the Eraser tool selected when all you were trying to do is move an object from the left to the right of your document.
  2. Option Bar - This is related to the object that you have selected. For example, if you have a text box selected, then the option bar will give you options to modify your text (i.e. font, size, alignment, etc.). If you have a shape selected, then the option bar will give you options to modify your shape (color, stroke or outline, opacity, etc.).
  3. Palette - Think of the floating palette as a painting palette, only this one is customizable. Instead of just finding and selecting colors, you can also control stroke size, make gradients, store brushes and specific colors you are working with, and much more!
  4. Menu Bar - The menu bar is similar to the menu bar in many other software programs. This is where you go to open, save, and create new documents, but you can also find many of the same functions that the floating palette or option bar hold. Illustrator (and PhotoShop) tries to make it easy on you by having about 20 different ways to complete any given task you are trying to accomplish.


In the weeks to come, I will be diving into each of these topics in greater detail, stay tuned for more great content!


What do you think? What is confusing you about Illustrator?

IT'S HERE!!! High School Graphic Design in Adobe Illustrator Video Tutorial!!! FREE!!!


Disclaimer: This is an old post. If you are interested in graphic design lessons, go to the "All Lessons" tab to preview my lesson resources. Thanks!


They are finally finished!

Sign up for my email list below (or in the side bar) to try them out TODAY!

These videos outline the elements of design as the students learn Adobe Illustrator. It's like killing two birds with one stone! The lesson outlines line, shape, color, value, space, and texture. It also takes the students through the basics of using the Illustrator program: opening a page, adding new artboards, using specific tools, etc.

If you like these videos, you can pre-order my nine-week lesson plan pack which will be ready by the New Year (2016). These lessons include video tutorials, lesson plans aligned to the National Core Arts Standards, PowerPoint presentation, detailed Examples, and more!

If you try these video tutorials, let me know! I want to know if you like them or if there is anything which could be done better! Thanks in advance!

3 Reasons Why Illustrator is the Best Tool for Budding Graphic Designers

For someone who has never used it, diving into Adobe Illustrator can seem like diving into the middle of the ocean without a life vest. Eventually, you just get tired of treading water and find yourself sinking.


I vividly remember this feeling when I first began teaching design. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Of course, quitting wasn’t really an option for me. I couldn’t just quit teaching in my 3rd week.


So, I trudged through it and after making many, many mistakes, I found some good solutions to the problems that I came up with.


I have been working on a video series called: “Learning Adobe Illustrator AND the Elements of Design”. In it I will be walking you (and/or your students) through the Illustrator program and exploring the elements of design.


I will be releasing this video series at the NEXT WEEK (I'm pretty excited!). For now, however, I just wanted to briefly talk about WHY Adobe Illustrator is the best place to start when learning graphic design.


  1. It is what the experts use. It may not be the least expensive digital program on the market, but whenever I go to graphic design websites I constantly hear designers talking about using AI (Adobe Illustrator) and a starting platform. Especially when they are talking about logos or graphic posters.
  2. It is design friendly. Unlike Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator is forgiving when it comes to designing. If your line or shape isn’t exactly right, you don’t have to erase it completely, you just need to adjust it a little or rearrange your designs.
  3. It uses vectors instead of bitmaps. I won’t get into deep detail on the difference between the two, but a vector is preferable to a bitmap when it comes to design. A bitmap is basically a picture made up of thousands or millions of little colored squares, if you zoom in too far your details will look “pixelated” or blurry. Whereas a vector will never be distorted, no matter how much you enlarge the design.


Again, I will be releasing a video series on Adobe Illustrator at the beginning of November. I really like to start my graphic design off right when it comes to these digital art programs and I feel that my video series will be a step in the right direction.


Sign up for my newsletter! My video series will be out soon, be the first to try it!

Adobe Illustrator...scary or fun?


One of the more challenging aspects of my job has been introducing new digital art programs. When I started teaching 4 years ago, I was literally one day ahead of the students.

Not only that, but I would also be teaching the Adobe Illustrator (or Photoshop) program and constantly have to stop to help students with technical difficulties.  I felt like a chicken with my head cut off for the better part of an hour whenever I had to introduce the Adobe programs to students. I found myself dreading teaching new techniques in any digital platform.

This is no longer the case today. I don't credit myself as an expert; there are still aspects of all the digital programs I use that I continue to tweak and change year by year. However, I have found something that I think you will find truly helpful, especially if you are just starting out.

In that first year, there was one thing that became obvious to me: YouTube had become my best friend. I truly do not know how anybody taught without it. There is a YouTube video out there for everything! The tough part is finding the right YouTube video.

After a few years of muddling through the internet, I finally decided to make my own instructional videos. This decision became a necessity when I was preparing for maternity leave and found that there were no ready made videos that taught exactly what I wanted to teach.

I wanted a video series that would teach not only the Adobe Illustrator (and eventually Photoshop) program, but also taught the fundamentals of design, or the elements of design.

I soon found that the students not only responded better to this method of teaching, but they actually enjoyed the learning process. With these videos, I could introduce to the topic, have a short discussion with the students, and then let them loose on the series.

This meant I was free to roam around the room and answer questions as they arose, instead of making the whole class wait for one or two students who were having issues. Students could work at their own pace and they learned the material much more readily.

I am working to make this series available to you. FOR FREE. I want your feedback. I want to know what you like, what you don't like, what you think should change.

At the beginning of November, I will have a FREE Adobe Illustrator video series. In this series, I will be teaching how to use the Adobe Illustrator program and use the elements of design. This is unique to anything that I have found online.

Click the link below to sign up for my email list to be informed of the release of my FREE video series.

Bridge the Gap Between Sketchbook and Digital Media


A few weeks back, I wrote a post on "Using Sketchbook to Balance Digital and Physical Art”. Mostly I wrote about how to use the sketchbook as a spring board to creating art or publications in computer graphic design classes.

In the coming weeks I will be discussing the use Adobe Illustrator to help students learn the elements of design. As students travel through the Adobe Illustrator journey, I want them to find visual examples of the terms we discuss in class.

This is ANOTHER OPTION for introducing the elements of art through the sketchbook which I discussed in my “Elements of Art and the Sketchbook” post.

Basically, I have them find visual examples of each element from magazines and paste them into their sketchbooks. Then, they briefly describe how they know that an element has been used.

Below are a few examples:

 Color 1Line 1Texture 1

I feel that it is just as important to teach them how to SEE the elements of design, as it is to USE them in their own designs. Too many times I find myself just letting them work on their own art and they lose the opportunity to learn how to see!

This cut and paste option may not allow the students to show their creativity, but it does allow them to recognize good design when they see it. And I believe that is a very valuable trait in a budding designer.

Do you do anything like this in your classroom? Comment below and share your thoughts.

5 Tips to Keep the Sketchbook Alive

In a perfect world. I would have no problem getting kids to do their sketchbook assignments done and every assignment would relate to what I am teaching in the class and it would all be perfect…


However, being that I teach at a public high school, I know that will never be the case. So as per my experience over the last four years I have come up with some tips to using the sketchbook as a tool, but also having assignments that the kids are, for the most part, willing to do and some even enjoy doing.


  1. Keep on a schedule. This is something that I have always tried to do, but have not always been successful. I try to give the sketchbook assignments on Tuesdays to be turned in the following Monday so that they have the whole weekend to work on it if they wish. By doing it every single week, the kids are never surprised by the due date and they can always assume that they will have something to turn in every week.
  2. Do (at least some) of the assignments with the students and have several examples (either yours or a previous student's example). Nobody knows better than a teacher that there is really no time to be spared. Somehow there always seems to be something to do. However, by completing a sketchbook assignment with the students, they somehow feel that you are not doing something unpleasant to them, rather, you are giving them something worth doing.
  3. Give them some class time to work on it. In my first few years of teaching, I thought that the sketchbook assignments should be done outside of class because I needed to give them homework. Most of the time, they do need to work on it at home, but by giving them time to work on it in class, they at least have a start on the assignment, and they know exactly what you want them to do. What you don’t want to do is give them a five minute description of what you want them to do at the end of the hour and expect them to complete it the way you want it done. That just doesn’t work.
  4. Don’t expect the kids to do every assignment. Unfortunately, I have found not all students love art. Some of them are there for an easy A and some of them are there for the course requirement. Don’t give up on them, but keep encouraging them to do the assignment. But whatever you do, don’t have pity and extend the due date. You know the saying, “Give a mouse a cookie, and he’ll ask for a glass of milk."
  5. Don’t give up! I believe that the sketchbook is an essential part of the art teacher’s arsenal. It allows students to explore their skills and allows the teacher to hone skills as they complete projects given them.


I love the sketchbook, and I love seeing what the students can come up with the prompts I give them. I wish that they would all develop a love for sketching out their thoughts and that they would desire to create something new and exciting, but I have to settle for what I can get. Some will, some won’t. I just need to be consistent and do what I can to inspire those who will be inspired and not give up on those who will not.


If you find these tips helpful, or if you have some to add, leave a comment below and let me know!

Elements of Art and the Sketchbook

The first thing that I do in my classes every year is introduce the elements of art. I used to have the students take notes on the elements and then do projects based on each element. However, I have found that students seem to grasp the concepts better if they are introduced to most if not all of the elements first, then be expected to use them in a project that I set out for them.

For my traditional art class, I give the students a short introduction to each of the elements of art, and then have them do a short activity in their sketchbooks. For my graphic design class, I have the students do very similar activities in the Adobe Illustrator program. These activities generally take a class period or so to complete, and they are as follows:

Line: A line can be very expressive! Draw 20 different lines, all must look different. Once finished, go back and name each of them according to what they look like.

Elements of design sketchbook activity

Shape: Geometric vs organic. Divide the page into four squares. In the first two, create some kind of composition with only geometric shapes. In the last two, create a composition with only organic shapes. 

Elements of design sketchbook activity 2

Value: Create a value scale. Draw a rectangle that is 1” x 7”, then divide it into 7 parts. Using drawing pencils, black out the last square with the darkest pencil (6B or ebony). Then move to the 1st square and use the lightest pencil to make the lightest gray possible, moving the pencil in cross hatching marks to make the grey lineless. Then move to the other square, making each a bit darker than the previous. When finished, hold it out to arms length and make sure that each square looks different than the previous one.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 4

Form: Set a circular form on the table (in the past I have used balls, light bulbs, or pairs). Set a light on one side of the form so that there is a definite highlight on one side. Draw. Note that there are highlights and shadows and that all of the values from the scale on the previous page ought to be represented

Elements of design sketchbook activity 5

Texture: Use different colored crayons or colored pencils to rub textures around the room, outside, or in the hallway onto a plain white piece of typing paper. Cut these textures out and make some kind of composition on the sketchbook page. 

Elements of design sketchbook activity 3

Space: Cut out magazine images that represent each of the following techniques for showing depth: overlap, diminishing size, position, and linear perspective.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 7

Color: Make a 12 piece color wheel using quality colored pencil that will mix well (I use Prismacolor). ONLY use the primary colors, this way students need to actually mix to find the colors.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 8

As a last hurrah to the elements unit, I have the kids create a color wheel using colored icing and Nilla wafers. It may be a little juvenile, but most students enjoy the unexpected treat in the art room!

How do you teach the elements of art? Comment below!

Binder Ring Spine Sketchbook

This is the one I am going to try this year. I think that it combines the pros of each of the previous designs. Give me a few months and I will tell you what I think after the kids have had a chance to try them out.

(And by that I mean shove them into lockers, kick them across the floor, forget them on the school bus, or whatever else happens to anything that has touched a high schooler’s hands.)



MATERIALS:Binder clip spine sketchbook 2

  • Copy paper (or drawing paper cut to 8 1/2” x 11”)
  • (2) 8 1/2” x 11” sheets Cardboard or scrap Matt board
  • (3) office binder clips (at least 1”)

TIME: two 50 minute class periods


  1. Cut parts.
    • You can do this or you could have your students do this part. I like to let the students do it so that they have more ownership in the project.
  2. Punch holes.

    • Assemble.Binder clip spine sketchbook
      • Open the binder clips, place the cover face down to the left of each clip. Add the paper, then the backing, then close the clips.
    • Decorate.
      • Give those students a chance to show their creativity!
    • Add a rubber band around the cover if desired.


    • Pros
      1. Time. Very easy and fast to assemble.
      2. Versatile. Easy to add extra paper and worksheets.
      3. Durable. As long as the covers are nice thick cardboard or matt board.
    • Cons
      1. Cost Effective. It is not a major set Binder clip spine sketchbook 5back, but it does require the purchase of binder clips.

    This is the last sketchbook intractable that I am going to do at this point, if you try one out or if you have any suggestions, please comment below!Binder clip spine sketchbook 6