1 person found this helpful
Illustrator is a vector drawing program, not a painting program. In Illustrator, each object act much like a layer does in Photoshop. If you were to draw a rectangle on Layer 1, then each line across it on its own layer, you'd have the same trouble using the bucket to fill it. Layers in Illustrator are more like the folders in the Layers panel in Photoshop.
You can achieve some of want you're after by selecting multiple objects and making them into a Live Paint group. Then you can fill distinct areas with colour or gradient or pattern swatches. The paint is "Live" because if you move or resize the objects, the painted area moves with it, so long as you don't make or remove areas by moving stuff around. If you fill the overlap of two circles with red, then move one circle completely off the other, there goes the red intersection.
You sound like you have experience with graphics programs and many of Illustrators tools. But you need to understand the structure of the files it creates. Think of each object as a piece of construction paper. Stack them up, spread them around, push them against one another. You have a picture, but the pieces of paper don't mix or interact to make new shapes. That's only a basic explanation of how a simple vector drawing program works. It's not a fair description of Illustrator because, as I explained above, there are ways to get the pieces of paper to affect one another. But it is a good square one for getting your head around it.
Amazon is a good place to get more help on this. The Visual Quick Start series is especially good at holding your hand without being patronizing. There's stuff in there for just about every user. $20 or $30 on a book will save hours of frustration. It's a no-brainer.
Thanks for your clear explanation, it's as I thought then. I have the QuickStart by the way, but it doesn't address this question directly, making an analogy like you did. It just tells you how to draw, using the pen, for example, and then how to change the fill once you have a fill. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something obvious and which was similar to what I already knew how to do in Photoshop or Flash. Sometimes there are many different ways to do something with a software and a beginner guide doesn't explain everything!