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Create a 70s Diner Vector Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial, we will learn step by step, how to create a 70s inspired waitress balancing serving trays loaded with tasty summer fast food in Adobe Illustrator. Summer maybe warm, but "hot eats and cool treats" will certainly hit the spot.


1. Create a Good Skin Base

Step 1

Let's start off by creating our new project. I've personally drawn the sketch, scanned at 300 dpi, and adjusted the contrast of the JPEG or PNG to give us a cleaner line quality within Adobe Photoshop. I use this sketch as a loose guide. Since it's purpose is merely instructional, I can take more liberties but for the most part we will be following the lines we have.

This particular file was prepared at 8.5 by 11 in RGB Mode to start off. In some cases, you'll need to check your preferences by heading to the top of the bar and clicking on Document Setup > Edit Artboards or using the hot keys Alt + Control + P, where you can either manually pull the dashed lines around your Artboard to the size you require, or input the size at the top of the bar.



Step 2

At this point we're satisfied with our sizing, and can begin with the fun. Each person likes to start differently. I personally like to dive in and work on the main character first and foremost.  By doing this I can figure out the mood of the piece, and vary my colors accordingly. In this step, I've started working on the base skin tones using only my Pen Tool (P) and curves are accomplished by holding down the Alt key as points are created to form each path.



Step 3

While laying down our body colors, select the Gradient Tool (G) and while holding down the Right button on your mouse, drag across the body in a sweeping motion until the gradient is positioned according to your tastes.



Step 4

Using the exact same gradient fill, I've used my Pen Tool (P) to make my shadowing. The only difference is that I've adjusted my Opacity via the Transparency panel between 37% and 62% depending on the area being shaded. Areas under the serving tray will be darker, as well as between the thighs and neck.




2. Create Striking Eyes

Step 1

Once the skin tones have been rendered, we can move onto the eyes. One of my favorite parts to work on would have to be the face. We'll start with a cloudy grey color for the main part of the eyes. It's more of a foundation color, so done worry if it seems off.



Step 2

From here we can overlay white onto our eyes. By doing this we're giving the eyes new definition. It's a small step, but it'll look great in the long run.



Step 3

From this point, we can start working in the eyelashes. I like to go with a dark color, not completely black and something that works well with the skin color. We're working with a dark chocolate that will pick up the browns in her skin well. Use your Pen Tool (P) and hold down the Alt key as points to execute your curves.



Step 4

Using the same skin tone gradient which you can grab with your Eyedropper Tool (I), add lines to accentuate your eyelids. Add the nose in the same manner.



Step 5

Next, we will add more shading to the eye sockets. Our sketch is very stylized and cartoon like, so I took my cues from Disney movies such as Hercules and Sleeping Beauty in this regard.




3. Create Plump Lips

Step 1

The initial gradient used for the lips is a two color Linear Gradient. Following the sketch we'll shape the lips accordingly, adjusting the gradient with our Gradient Tool (G) when necessary.



Step 2

Once the main shape of the lips has been rendered, we can enhance what we've made. I doubt this particular girl would ever go out without make up, or at least without applying a nice lip gloss, so we'll add a little to her now. We're using a Radial Gradient of pure white on both sides, Opacity set to 0% on the outer side.



Step 3

The color is a bit bright, so we'll lower the Opacity via the Transparency panel to 39%.



Step 4

The face is nearly complete. We have only a few parts to work on and then we can dive into the rest of the work. It's a good habit to step back from your work to see how things are coming along. If you're too close in for too long, you could miss the big picture and whether it's progressing properly.




4. Add Further Detailing to the Face

Step 1

A girl is nothing without a little color to her cheeks. It signifies life, and vitality so let's put a little blush into her cheeks. Using a two tone Radial Gradient with a candy red on either side, lower the Opacity to 0% via the outer edge, and lower the entire Opacity of the Gradient Fill to 22%.



Step 2

For the eye color, we'll use a three tone Gradient of sandy cream, modern taupe, and dark olive. Putting these colors together gives us a green eye color that compliments the features well.



Step 3

We can now add the freckles which I personally adore. Taking my Eyedropper Tool (I), I've sampled the skin tone once again, and adjusted the gradient with Gradient Tool (G) to make them darker. Once I've finished, I'll Group (Control + G) the spots together and lower the Opacity to 17%.




5. Give Your Character Some Clothing

Step 1

We're now ready to give her a fun and summery outfit to show off to her customers. The shirt is made from a two tone Linear Gradient with a sky blue and blue navy.



Step 2

The shorts are made from a pure white Fill.  Instead of using a gradient, I thought it would be nice to have a few items that popped out. This is merely a style choice, but it's an option you might want to experiment with.



Step 3

We can now put in our fabric pulls and wrinkles. Using the same gradient as the shirt, lay in your wrinkles and shades sparingly.  The illustration has guidelines, but we can take liberties with how they are rendered. Move towards the shape of the body, and think about how the fabric wraps and pulls against the form.



Step 4

Using the same color as the shirt, I've gone into the shorts and added some much needed details. I've lowered the Opacity to about 27%  since this is a much lighter color, and this also gives us the opportunity to layer the paths in order to give us more definition using only color.



Step 5

Our socks are made from a pure white fill. It's the same color as the shorts. The stripe however is made from another two toned Linear Gradient.  I didn't put any shading into her socks since my plans are to use a background color other than white, and therefore, they will still read as socks. Again, this is merely a style choice and I encourage you to try out different options until you're happy with the outcome.




6. Give Your Character Roller Skates

Step 1

This particular waitress wears skates in lieu of walking shoes, so we'll have to fashion her a pair that will fit her style. Initially we'll just lay in the main shapes and build on top of those.  I've used a pure white fill, the same color used on the shorts, and socks to render the shape.



Step 2

I've chosen in the next step, the main detailing color for the skates. We'll go with a two tone Linear Gradient of light pink, and hot pink to create the tongue of the skates first.



Step 3

During the next step, we'll add the wheels in the same coloring. I think the color really pops so choose a color you'll be happy with as well.



Step 4

Once our big pieces are done, we can apply our lace holes and such. To make our shading, we'll be using the same color scheme from the shorts and shirt to unify the outfit.



Step 5

At this point, we can add laces, and work a little on the coloring of the skate. I felt that the coloring was a little too white, and comes off as flat so I've changed the pure white to a medium blue grey as the base color.



Step 6

From here, we can overlay our initial pure white in layers that get smaller as we go. The first layer of pure whites Opacity has been lowered to 52%, and the second smaller layer is a solid layer.



Step 7

When we're finished, we will have something like this! It's a cute look, that will pop right off the page.




7. Create 70s Style Hair

Step 1

We are now ready to move on to the hair. We'll Create New Layer and label it accordingly. We're putting this feature on a new layer and locking the other to make sure that we aren't selecting these items accidentally. It's a good practice to label your layers just in case you're file sharing or need to find and select a certain part quickly.



Step 2

Our new hair color is also made from a two toned Gradient of dark cocoa brown and a red umber. It's a warm, beach color that really hits true to the 70s theme.



Step 3

I'm usually the person to put the utmost detail she can possibly put into hair detail, but since this piece has touched on different era, I thought it would be fun to pick up a different approach.  If you're curious about the type of detail I usually put into hair, you can check out: How to Create a Punk Nouveau Mermaid. In this step, we're blocking off the hair into large chunks.



Step 4

After making the larger pieces, we can start putting in a few smaller variations of our colored Gradient, same colors but we're using our Gradient Tool (G) to adjust the look and direction.



Step 5

For the highlights, we'll be working with the Stroke rather than the Fill in a burnt sienna coloring. Change your Cap to Rounded Cap, and the Corner to Round Join in order to keep your ends curved.  The Stroke Weight is at 0.25pt.



Step 6

After we've finished the front, we'll focus on the back. Make a new layer to put behind the body layer and start with the same steps in order to achieve your flared hair look.



Step 7

When you're finished with the back, move back to the Front Hair layer. Highlight all of your pieces.



Step 8

In order to keep the newly made Strokes from changing size in the off chance that you'll need to make the overall project bigger, we'll do this extra step that I learned while working in the gaming community.  Go to Object > Expand and uncheck the Fill box and hit Enter. This turns the Stroke lines into Fill.



Step 9

Lastly, we'll give her hair a little more body by adding a little highlight to it. The color is a dark blush at an Opacity of 25%.




8. Add Her Accessories

Step 1

In this step we'll add her stationary holder. Using a two toned Linear Gradient of light khaki and light taupe, follow the lines of the sketch.



Step 2

Add the additional lines using your Stroke lines and finish off the paper with adding a brown binding at the top. Even though it's stylized, I'm very pleased with the result.



Step 3

The final touch is to add the pencils. These are made with two toned Linear Gradients and the bodies are made from a peach orange, and a burn orange.




9. Add Retro Lines in the Background

Step 1

We'll now make our 70s themed rainbow streak to really set this piece off.  For me, this is an iconic look that was extremely prevalent in the 60s and 70s.  In order to keep the lines straight, I haven't added any curves.  As you can see, I've set up my rainbow strip with angles placed conveniently so and I've started off with the lighter sunflower color.



Step 2

To add my Curves, I'll take my Pen Tool (P) and hold down Alt as I drag the handles. It's much easier to do it this way especially if you're hoping to keep a certain shape.  The first streak is set at a Stroke Weight of 17pt.



Step 3

The next step is to make a duplicate of the first streak, only this one will be a summer orange and we will change the Stroke Weight to 31pt.



Step 4

We're very close to being done with this portion, but we need to add our last two streaks. The next color placed behind will be a chili red. I really love these colors together, hopefully you do too.



Step 5

The final streak of dark cherry red is applied next. The Stroke Weight is still the 31pt, but we've moved the colors to the right in order to see them.



Step 6

Once we have the first rainbow, we need to use similar steps to apply the square. If some of these are off and they're not lining up perfectly, don't worry about it. We'll fix this very shortly. At this point we can select all of our Strokes and go to Object > Expand and uncheck the Fill box and hit Enter. Now we can take the time to move the points so that they line up with the rest of our rainbow.



Step 7

The next step is to put in our shading.  We'll use a dark berry color on both ends of our Linear Gradient, and lower the Opacity to 0% on one side.  It's a simple way to get a great effect.



Step 8

By the time that we're finished we'll have a great representation of the 70s persona.




10. Add Detailing to the Background

Step 1

We'll now apply a sunset to our project. The colors are taken from the colors we've used from our rainbow. We're using this same technique with the clouds. The sun is a solid Fill of buttermilk yellow.



Step 2

The colors maybe adjusted via the Gradient Tool (G) until you're satisfied.



Step 3

Once we have our clouds laid out, we can Group (Control + G) these together. Click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur to access the Blur option at a rate of 3.7px.



Step 4

Our sky looks great, so we'll move onto the sea water. Add a new Path with the same colors that were used for the sky and clouds.



Step 5

From here we can start to make our water shimmer. You can make these simpler, but I like to have these available for other projects. These are perfect for enhancing shiny objects so I keep them handy. These are made of a pure white Fill.



Step 6

Duplicate this object, and be generous. You only need enough to cover the area where sun meets sea, but it really makes for a dazzling accessory.



Step 7

Once we are finished, we can follow our initial sketch as a guideline and make the background elements. I've made these in pure black to create a readable silhouette.



Step 8

Though I love black, this is a bit too bold for this particular piece. Copy (Control + C) the initial background sky and duplicate it over the entire background. I've gone with a sunny sunflower color.



Step 9

Next change the Opacity of the new Path to 35%. This has toned down the colors, as well as the black and gives us a hazy summer sunset.




11. Create a Tray of Food

Step 1

We're now ready to start loading her first plate with delicious greasy foods, but first we'll need to make a new layer to work off of.



Step 2

Start by making your plates. I'm going with a red plate made of two Linear Gradients, but this will eventually change as I start working with more and more colors.



Step 3

Next we can start adding the plates and baskets that are so iconic to food served to go. I think the red really pops, and since this particular red is so vibrant it's overpowering the serving plate.



Step 4

Now that our baskets, plates, and other accessories are made we can get down to the brass tax. We'll begin to layer on the food.



Step 5

The first real piece of food will be the kebabs. We're using browns, yellows, and greens to make our meats and vegetables in two toned Linear Gradients.



Step 6

Once our kabobs are finished we can move on to our taco. The colors are also inspired by their realistic counterparts, with a little bright pop of fire red to signify the tomatoes.



Step 7

Our next food will be our fries. They are pretty simple to make, with the base being one large stylized path on top of another.



Step 8

Once our fries are made, we can drizzle a little bit of ketchup on top. I think it gives the fry basket that little bit of emphasis to carry the idea of it being a fry basket across.



Step 9

Our hot dog needs a bit of ketchup and mustard, so we'll use similar colors from the basket of fries to give us a cohesive thought process.



Step 10

Next we'll make our nachos. We can use the same colors as we've used in the taco, especially since they are similar food types. Once we've completed them, we can put them behind the basket front.



Step 11

Our next food is the burger, I'm using the same coloring from the hot dog bun, and the colors again are mostly from the nachos and tacos.  I'm not describing how to make these in depth, but they're extremely simple shapes that only involve layering. I'm following the sketch as a template, and you'll find doing so as well as easy as a piece of cake.




12. Add Ice Cream Treats

Step 1

We're now ready to make our serving plate loaded with sweet concoctions. Firstly, we'll make our plate, and cone tray.



Step 2

Add the ice cream in free flowing swirls with a color that you favor. I chose chocolate, even though my favorite is coffee because it's a great, rich color.



Step 3

The next icy delight will be our snow cone. I have a soft spot for these so I've put a little more attention to this. Start by making a Gradient with at least three colors.



Step 4

Once you're done with the Gradient, at a new duplicate layer made from a Radial Gradient with both sides in white. Lower the Opacity of the outer white color to 0%.



Step 5

As I had said earlier, the shine sparks that we had previously made for the sea water could come in handy later. I've copied a few, and can now distribute them over the frost layer we've just finished.



Step 6

We can now start by making our glassware for the other ice creams and drinks. Use the snow cone's frost Gradient, but switch the Mode to Linear. I've also added the additional Stroke line of white with a Stroke Weight of 0.25pt to give them more presence.



Step 7

We can now fill our bowls and cups with delicious ice cream. I've grabbed various colors for the caramel and fudge from the chocolate ice cream cone.



Step 8

In this step, I've added the soda, straw to the glass, and Jello to the bowl placed in the front. The colors are bright, and refreshing to me, but if you find another color combination makes you happy then by all means apply it. Adobe Illustrator is a great tool so take full advantage of it.



Step 9

Lastly, we'll add the watermelon to the package.  In order to make the rind, we can take three color Radial Gradient of watermelon pink, mint green, and hunter green and lower the Opacity of the watermelon pink to 0%. It's a very neat little trick and works well on this particular round food.



Step 10

To finish off the fruit, we'll add dark umber colored seeds, and use our frost Linear Gradient used on the glasses to give it a little more gloss.



Step 11

Once we get to this point, we can look at our plate and see how well we've followed our sketch. Everything looks good enough to eat. This is one way to make deserts, but their are so many examples of what you can do with this project. If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you might be in the mood to try: How to Draw a Colorful, Tasty, Ice Cream, Sundae in Adobe Illustrator by Mary Winkler.




13. Add a Wristband

Step 1

To finish off her look we'll add a cute little wristband. I'm using a pure white again for the initial shape.



Step 2

Using a two toned Linear Gradient of lime green and plastic bottle green, make a few racing stripes to complete the look.




14. Finish Off the Composition

Step 1

Lastly, we'll take the Rectangle Tool (M) and make a background for our project. It's a pale butter yellow that I like to think works well with the overall look.






Congratulations! You're Done.

I hope you've enjoyed this in depth look into the illustration of a 70s inspired waitress. We've covered a lot during this particular tutorial and hopefully you've found a few helpful tips to apply to your own pieces. If you're interested in other beach like scenery, I'd suggest checking out Go from Day to Night by Sharon Milne.

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