Making Your Own Luck: My Hunt for a Suitable Four-Leaf Clover

My lucky dekeRechauns. This week, I’ve been searching for a four-leaf clover—ostensibly in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, but mostly because I needed to think of something to write about for today. And I couldn’t think of a suitably graphical project centered around the Ides of March.

My journey took me through dozens of Fotolia stock photos, the cache of prefabricated Photoshop shapes, and hours if not minutes of Deke video training on Adobe Illustrator. Eventually, I used the last of these to create my own personal lucky four-leaf clover that combines the whimsy of Colleen-O-Vision, the spirals of Irish Neolithic art, and an adaptation of one of Deke’s infamous pirate-themed projects:

You can easily adapt my method (which is really just an adaption of Deke’s method) for your own. So put down your disgusting green beer (for St. Patrick’s sake, just grab a Guinness) and let me share my tale.

I started out searching through the stock images in the Fotolia Image Library. There are some wonderful St. Patrick’s Day-themed graphics there. But if you want to skip the Lucky Charms-inspired cartoons, I suggest the keywords “clover” and “carpet.” That’s how I found this gorgeously lit image by Carly Hennigan (Fotolia image #33180070):

However lovely this photograph is and however much it makes me want to grab my own Guinness and lie down in a bed of clover, I don’t see any four-leafers in the frame. So my next stop was Photoshop:

Often, when you need a fairly standard shape—like a shamrock, for instance—you can find it in Photoshop’s custom shape collection. After choosing the Custom Shape tool, I clicked the down-arrow next to the custom shape preview in the Options bar, and faith n’ begorrah (bet that phrase is as authentically Irish as green beer), there it is:

Unfortunately, the built-in Photoshop shape creates a seriously ugly shamrock. I think the asymmetry of the leaves is supposed to look jaunty, but I find it depressing:

After staring at Carly’s photo some more, I realized I wanted my leaves to be very close to heart-shaped. Just so happens that during the last graphically relevant holiday season, Valentine’s Day, I happened to have used Deke’s Techniques 193 to make a heart in Illustrator. With a couple of transformations (you can see the original heart path in yellow and the Transform Effects settings I used below) and a hand-drawn stem, I arrived at this innocuous specimen: 

Despite my use of an authentically jaunty angle (8 degrees) and a scandalous offset of 1 and -2 points for the Horizontal and Vertical move, I’m still not feeling the festive. Of course, nothing says “fun” like one of Deke’s pirate themed exercises. And lost in the annals (aka Chapter 23) of his Illustrator CS5 One-on-One: Mastery course, I found a recipe for this clover (that still works in CS6):

Deke’s system involves using the dynamic Transform effect in a fairly clever way that allows for the overlap of the heart-shaped leaves. It requires having half a heart to start with, so I went back to the heart shape from Valentine’s Day, deleted the left side and gave it a green fill and stroke.

But if I’d started spinning this shape around with the Transform effect, I’d lose the whimsy of Deke’s original. So the next step was to sass it up. First, I added a pre-made spiral shape in honor of the Neolithic peoples of Ireland who built Newgrange. Of course, they made perfect spirals in stone with rocks for chisels, but I used the mathematical precision of Illustrator to totally warp my design until it looked like the lost ear of Vincent Van Gogh’s leprechaun. No one can say this doesn’t have personality:

The key to Deke’s trick is not to immediately reflect the half-hearted shape across its own vertical axis, but rather to reflect it across the X-axis and turn it 9 degrees with the reference point set to the lower-left corner. You’re still making one quarter of your clover, but you’re making two halves of two different leaves, thus allowing for this delightful overlap effect:

Next, following along with Deke’s plan, I applied another Transform effect. This time, I copied the piece above three times, at a 9-degree rotation, and with a 3-point Horizontal Move to bring the two lost halves together completely. (The reference point matrix is still set to the lower-left point.)

Finally, following Deke’s lead, I turned my creation 45 degrees with yet another Transform effect application. Deke also suggested reversing the overlap (by turning on the Reflect X checkbox) and I think he’s onto something:

Here’s the final effect: off-kilter and organic yet still somehow evoking the land from whence it came (on my mother’s side, anyway).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, my dear dekeO’maniacs!

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