Deke’s Techniques: The Illustrator Challenge Winners!

Who the hell told you that you were any good at Illustrator?? Well, if you entered Deke’s Techniques: The Illustrator Challenge, whoever they were, they were right! In fact, as a whole, the 11 entries we received for The Illustrator Challenge were even better than those we received for The Photoshop Challenge. Which is saying a lot. As I plowed through the movies, it seemed like each one just kept getting better than the last. Which made for some very difficult choices.

But as usual, I had my crack team of illustrious judges to help me out. And as a team, we came up with the following winners.

Grand Prize: Monogram Snowflake

Coming in at Number One is Deanne Topping (pingtop), who will receive $63 in prizes, including Creative Suite 6: Design & Web Premium. In her honor, I employed her technique, "Monogram Snowflake," to render my own swirly rune. My one addition was to reverse my first initial from the center of the snowflake. (Or perhaps it’s in honor of Deanne? I’ll never tell wink

The Illustrator Challenge presents the my personalized monogram

Why did she win? You mean, in addition to the fact I could do that with her idea? Well, I’ll tell ya.

Deanne is obviously skilled at Illustrator, as well as skilled at sharing her skills. She visually highlights what she does and condenses her presentation into a kind of thread-bare but solid punch of information. (At :55, the Link check box selects itself and she says, “Mine mysteriously appears.” Both efficient and deadpan.) Deanne starts with text set in the most regular of old-school DTP fonts possible: Times. And then she magics the hell out of it with a series of quick-fire steps that come so fast and furious, you have to back up and watch them again. At 7:5, she introduces a hint of math, which I have to admit, made me slightly weak at the knees. Plus, the final product is a terrific design!

Of Deanne’s video, judge and one-time Illustrator product manager Mordy Golding extols, "This technique is INSPIRATIONAL. The use of texture is wonderful. And, wow, using a stroke profile on a stroke that’s applied to text; I had never thought of doing that!" Bert Monroy writes, "A well thought out and professional presentation. Deanne has obviously seen many training videos and learned how to teach." Colleen Wheeler says, "I love how every time I wondered why, she would answer. Yet I could still hear the steps despite the helpful elaboration. Meanwhile, her initials are DT? A happy coincidence." And Russell Brown thinks, quite simply, "I liked Deanne’s approach and thinking."

Finalist #1: Smart Text

Coming in at Number 2 is Nicole Oliver (nicoleoliver). Nicole starts by adopting the spirit of Deke’s Techniques with a zesty live-action intro. Which is crafty, huh? But then she sits down and presents an outstanding technique with helpful visual overlays. Her style is so informal and personable—-peppered with phrases like "We’re going to be greedy" and "Holy cow, that stroke is out of control"—-that it’s easy to forget what she’s doing is actually quite complicated. Even the description text on her submission page is funny. I watched a lot of these movies multiple times, and I have to say, Nicole’s is the one I enjoyed watching the most. What a great combination of entertainment and education!

Judge Colleen Wheeler writes, "Hate to disagree with Deke, but this one is actually my favorite. I love the project and I love that she did a live-action Intro, DT style. Admire her energy, happiness, and comfort." Bert Monroy also liked this video: "The live-action introduction makes the learning experience more personal. Nicole clearly says and shows what she is doing. The tutorial itself is full of good information on creating a great effect." Mordy Golding says, "Nicole was soooo easy to listen to. Her enthusiasm oozed from the technique. I loved the use of effects and the enveloping of the text. It was cute, it worked, and I enjoyed listening and watching." And Katrin Eismann chimes in, "Perky—-love the visual intro! Essential skills and well presented." And John Nack writes that Nicole’s video "contains the artwork I’d be proudest to have produced myself." Wow, Nicole, you may have come in second in The Challenge, but you came in first with the comments.

Finalist #2: Superhero Text Effects

As was the case in The Photoshop Challenge, the second finalist was a closely pitched battle, with many videos receiving nods. But in the end, Dan Rodney (danrodney) won the day. And I’ll be honest, the tie breaker was me. (I mean, the guy is a crowd pleaser. He got 4.7 out of 5 stars! My job is to represent you people, after all.)

Dan does a terrific job of walking us through every step in two independent but related techniques. Not only does he present dynamic effects as well as anyone I’ve seen, but he makes a clear case for why and how you should use them. His application of the Appearance panel is first-rate, and he comes up with a great reason for introducing transparency into a gradient. Some might argue that he cites his references to my movies rather tenuously (#127, for example, is a Photoshop technique), but that was always my idea for how this thing should work. Plus, I was so taken with the gradient stroke demonstration (CS6 vs. CS5) that I’m going to rip it off in a future Deke’s Techniques. Hope that’s okay, Dan.

Katrin Eismann is on my side on this one, and with high praise: "This guy is a natural teacher! He doesn’t take anything for granted and as a viewer I was engaged to the end." Dan is a hit with Colleen Wheeler as well, who writes, "As an Illustrator misfit, I appreciated the setup, the pacing, and the way Dan shows how the text remains editable right up front. I was also quite amused by the tenuous connection to the various Deke’s Techniques as ‘inspiration.’ Easy to follow, nice results."

Honorable (No Prize) Mentions

A near finalist is our Grand Prize winner from The Photoshop Challenge, Robin Schneider (desdiner) with her superb movie "A Pattern Emerges." Bert Monroy is a fan: "It is obvious Robin has done this before. Great presenter! The techniques are flawless and extremely useful." Russell Brown writes, "Robin is smart and knowledgeable. I liked her presentation style.” Another is "Tribal Art Vectors" by Chris Klongpayabal (resdog). Mordy Golding says, "I loved this technique because it was quick and simple. Chris proves you don’t need to be over-the-top or go crazy to create a relevant piece of artwork that others will want to follow along with as well." Russell Brown adds, "I actually give Chris the award for the most enthusiasm and energy. He reminds me of myself, and that is scary."

And one more from me: Watch "I Love You!!!" by Natasha and Bill and try not to say "awww" out loud at least once a minute. Meanwhile, it’s a solid, well-presented technique. Good job, Natasha (and Bill)!

In fact, good job everyone. Congratulations to the winners. And don’t neglect your duties for the final challenge, Anything Goes, with prizes amassing to more than $1,, including your last chance at Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design & Web Premium, an annual subscription to, and the biggest of the Wacom Intuos tablets! Plus, there will be three Finalists instead of the usual two. So get to work!

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 86: Creating the Perfect Facebook Cover in Photoshop

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 85: Designing a Seamlessly Repeating Hex Pattern in Illustrator CS6


  • Congrats everyone!

    There were some really cool tips and techniques in every tutorial submitted. Congrats to the winners. You deserve a big hand!

  • Using my technique

    Sure you can use my gradient stroke technique. It would be cool to be mentioned in a Deke’s Techniques video, so I’d love it if you’d say where you heard it smile

  • I’d totally mention you, Dan

    I’d kinda be a dick not to. grin

  • Thanks for being a great sport, Vectorgeek

    Your textures were great, and your tracks smoked mine. In fact, I might put a pin in watching your movie again someday.

    Same to everyone else as well. The videos have been great! Such a blast to watch them.

    You know, maybe I should open up part of the site to folks who just want to share a video technique every once in a while. They’re a lot of fun. Thoughts?

  • D minus

    Don’t torture yourself Deke. I gave myself a D minus on production value. My daughter was laughing while I recorded it for the 20th time so she’s a pretty good judge. She told me, “Dad, you say ‘uh’ a lot” grin I told her it was just my brain trying to catch up with what I’m doing!

  • Great Idea!

    I’ve been watching the ‘Deke’s Techniques the Challenge’ entries and they have been amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the entries for the final challenge.

    I think opening the site for others to publish techniques is great way of sharing the pool of creative talent (might even give you a little break wink ).  Maybe turn it into some sort of guest blog spot??


  • This challenge rocked!

    The judges were so encouraging and supportive, I’m totally floored. And I learned something from all these tutorials! They are not an easy task to put together though, Deke. I think we all (at least those of us who hadn’t tried screencasting before) respect all the great stuff you bring to us that much more after this challenge! Thanks for doing what you do!

  • They are not an easy task to

    They are not an easy task to put together though, Deke. I think we all (at least those of us who hadn’t tried screencasting before) respect all the great stuff you bring to us that much more after this challeng.

  • Liked all the tutorial

    Liked all the tutorial

  • Monogram Snowflake

    Outstanding !

    I love this design

  • fantastic idea

    I, unfortunately am a learner, not a teacher. But I think it would be awesome if you opened up a “forum” style part of the site where people can post their tutorial videos. I love learning new stuff smile

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