In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a Christmas card using digital illustration and digital painting techniques. I will begin by first showing you how to draw the card’s main character and typography. Then, I will show you how to add color, lighting, and final details. Let’s get started!
To complete the tutorial you will need the following assets:
1. Create the Document
Create a New File by going to File > New (Command/Control-N). In Preset select International paper and set the size as in the image below.
2. Drawing the Girl
Let’s start by drawing the girl. Add a new layer (Shift-Command/Control-N). For sketching, I like to use a small semi hard brush with Pen Pressure and Transfer Mode. At this stage, I use loose strokes, and created the basic shapes of the doll.
This doll is a kind of a “Chibi” Doll so it has a little boy’s exaggerated proportions: The trunk of the body is about the same size as the head and half the head is for the forehead.
These are the proportions I used for the face and the “alien eyes.” Eyes and nose are framed between the ears, The lachrymal is in a straight line to the corner of the mouth, and the eye ends in the top of the ear.
In the same layer, start to define a some of the shapes.
Lower the opacity of the layer and add a new one to draw the girl following the previous sketch and add details. I have only made one eye, then duplicate it (select with the Lasso Tool (L) then Copy Paste, right click and Flip Horizontal) and merge both layers (Command/Control-E).
3. Drawing the Letters
Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to write each letter separately. I have used Arial Black. In this case “RR” will be lowercase, as it will be easier to redraw. Use Command/Control-T to fit the size of the other letters.
Use Command/Control-T to rotate each letter forming an arch. Select all the letters to straighten the set and resize it.
- Merge the letters by selecting them and press Command/Control-E
- Add a new layer, and redraw the letters considering that every feature of the letter it will be a wood strip.
- Delete the Arial letters; re-adjust the new letters, if needed.
- Lower the opacity of the text, add a new layer and draw the outline of the wood strips.
- Draw the wood grain.
- Finally, add in some volume for each bar.
Add some mounds of snow on the wood.
Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to write the “XMAS” word. Use any round letter you like, I have used “Chalkboard”. Use Command/Control-T to resize it.
With the Horizontal Type Tool (T) selected, click on any letter of the word. Click on Create Warped Text, and set as in the image.
Set the opacity to 0 and double click on the text layer to get the Layer Style box. Select Stroke and set as in the image.
Command/Control-click on the text layer to select the text. Use a Hard round brush without pen pressure to make the stripes in a new layer. Lower down the opacity. Add a new layer to draw the mistletoe.
To make the snowflake:
- Draw a line with two circles at the ends.
- Duplicate it and rotate it.
- Duplicate both layers and merge them, rotate like in the image.
- Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase the circles.
- Draw small “V” form and merge all the layers.
- Put snowflakes throughout the image, varying sizes.
4. Adding Color
Now we are going to add color. First, paint each color in a different layer under the Line Layer. At this point you should save the layers in folders to keep some order. Being a Christmas drawing, better to use red and green as the predominant color.
As you add color, you may find that sometimes you need to modify them. To do this, select the layer with the color and press Command/Control-U for Hue/Saturation panel. Play around with the levels of Hue, Saturation and lightness to find the color you want.
It sometimes happens that small gaps are not filled. Simply pick the Eyedropper Tool (I), select the color and fill the spaces.
To color the line, add a Clipping Mask Layer above the Line layer. to do this, create a new layer, press Alt-Click in between the two layers. Start painting over the line. Use a darker fill color tone. This is a good moment to fix some of the lines. Click on the line layer, erase the parts you don’t like and redraw it. In this case, I have fixed the nose and the mouth.
Add a new layer in Multiply mode and place it in between the line and color layers. Choose a tone a little darker than the fill and paint the shadows. Use a round soft brush with low opacity to smooth.
Continue to place shadows and always keep the direction of the light. For instance, if the light is from above, shadows are below.
In a new layer, on top of the line, paint details on the face, such as the pupils of the eyes, lower eyelid, or mouth. Paint some highlights to define the volume and use a small brush to paint the hair with thin orange-brown lines.
Add details: to the shoes, some highlights to the red balls in the mistletoe, streaks on leaves, coat, pompons, and whatever you feel like, the more, the better. Add a thin white line in all parts from above.
Add a new layer on top in Multiply mode. Use light gray to paint shadows like in the image, then soften just a little bit with the Eraser Tool.
For blush of the cheeks and nose, use a tone of orange red with a soft brush without pressure in a layer in Multiply mode, soften a little bit with the Eraser Tool. Add a small highlight on each cheek and nose.
5. Color the Text
The process to follow is the same as with girl:
- In a layer below the line paint with brown the front face of the timber, and sides with a darker brown. Don’t forget to paint the mistletoe.
- Paint the line using a Clipping Mask. Make a little lighter on the top sides.
- Use a very light brown to highlight the lights of relief on wood grain.
- Add more brightness at the top.
- Add more detail in veining.
Turn on the opacity of the word “XMAS”, press Command/Control-U for Hue/Saturation and change the color to light blue.
Right click on the Fx icon in the “XMAS” layer and select Create Layer. This will separate all the styles into layers. Add a Clipping Mask to the Stroke layer and paint as in the image.
Create Inner Shadow to the fill of the word as seen in the image. Then add a Clipping Mask and draw the red stripes with a hard brush.
Finally, add a thin highlight to the text and paint the shadows of the snow with light blue.
Merge all the snowflake layers (save one of the biggest for later), double click on the resulting layer and choose Gradient Overlay and set a gradient from blue to light blue like in the image.
Go back to the girl line layer and delete the shadow on the ground, if you have made it.
In a new layer below everything, add a Linear Gradient from blue to none. Use Command/Control-T to adjust it vertically.
Paint the snow with white, and make some round snowflakes using a round hard brush with different sizes and opacity.
In a new layer create a small Radial Gradient from white to none behind the text. Use Command/Control-T to stretch sideways. Change the color to light cyan with Layer Style > Color Overlay
Turn Off the girl and text, add a new layer and use a Semi-hard round brush with pressure and transfer mode activated to paint half pine tree with loose strokes. Duplicate the layer and Flip Horizontal. Merge both layers and add some more details here and there. Paint the pine trunk and some more branches with a darker green too.
Duplicate the pine tree, make them smaller, and place it in the background. Use a soft round brush to softly erase the bottom.
Use white to paint snow under the pine and the girl. Also use blue to make some shadows under the girl in the ground. Soften everything with the Eraser Tool (E)
Lower the opacity of the pine layer to 64% and change the mode to Hard Light.
6. Frame and Texture
Put all the layers into a new folder. Duplicate it, merge and turn off the original folder. Use the Rectangle Tool (U) to create a rectangle smaller than the canvas, place the illustration layer as a Clipping Mask and make it fit the size of the rectangle. If you need to center the image and the rectangle, select both layers and the background layer and click on the Align Horizontal and Vertical Center.
Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill with brown the background. Add Inner shadow to the rectangle shape like in the image.
Use the Rectangle Tool (U) to make a stripe. Click on the vector mask, select the Pen Tool (P), click on the Subtract from the shape area (-) and make indentations and irregularities on the inner face.
- Use a darker brown to paint the inner face of the wood.
- Draw wood grain.
- Duplicate the wood grain, change the color to lighter brown and move it 2 pixels down, set the layer to Overlay Mode.
- Add linear gradient of brown in the bottom and top in a Multiply mode layer.
Merge all the layers, duplicate it and Flip Horizontal. Place it on the other side and redraw the wood grain a bit to make it look different. Do the same with the other two wooden boards.
Bring back the snowflake that we had saved earlier. Change the color to white (if it’s black just press Command/Control-I) and add Outer Glow and Drop Shadow from Layer Styles. Place a few snowflakes around the frame with different sizes.
Add a new layer between the frame and the snowflakes, choose a thin hard brush without pressure and draw the cord.
- In a layer, draw the bulb holder.
- In another layer, the bulb itself. Set the opacity of the bulb to 0%.
- Add to the bulb Inner Shadow, Inner Glow and Outer Glow as seen in the image.
- Paint the highlights.
Merge the lamp, duplicate it, change the color using Hue/Saturation (Command/Control-U) and rotate. Place these lamps all over the cord.
Select the cord layer and add Bevel and Emboss like in the image.
Duplicate the cord and lamps, merge all this layers, low brightness until black using Hue/Saturation > Lightness and move it a few pixels down. Then lower down the opacity and erase the parts of the cable that are within the image.
Create a New Adjustment Layer > Levels on top of the illustration layer. Raise the levels of white and black as seen in the image.
Place the texture between the illustration and frame. Open Hue/Saturation and set Saturation to 0. Put the layer in Multiply Mode and lower the opacity about 44%. Open Levels (Command/Control-L) and first, click on AUTO, and then change the levels as seen in the image.
As the girl didn’t look happy enough for being Christmas, so I decided to modify the mouth to make it slightly open and with a bigger smile, also added eyebrows and enhance the highlights of the eye.
And that’s it! You can use the result to print out your own Christmas cards or even use it in your craft projects. Hope you enjoyed the process and Happy Holidays!