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Design

How to Create a 50s Fashion Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Grease Movie Week.
How to Create a Vintage Event Poster in Adobe InDesign
How to Create a Retro Funfair Vector in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial you’ll learn to create a vintage-style fashion illustration. The “Grease” movie with gorgeous costumes, wonderful music and a 50s atmosphere will serve as an inspiration for us. Let's fantasize together about how an ideal dress for a dance should look.

1. Make a Sketch

Step 1

Create a New document, 600 x 900 px, RGB. Change the first layer name to “sketch”.

Step 2

At the beginning, let's draw a schematic sketch using a silhouette and some attributes inherent to this period. If you need more inspiration before you start sketching, you can get lots of ideas from looking at 50s dresses on Envato Market!

I create my sketch directly in Adobe Illustrator using my graphics tablet. For the sketch, any brush from the default Brushes panel will be suitable. I chose the Oval Calligraphic Brush with 2 pt diameter, 20% Opacity.

a sketch of the character

2. Create a Brush for the Contour

Step 1

Create a New Layer for the lines. We’ll draw all the lines in this layer, because the color of all the lines will be the same.

Step 2

First open the Paintbrush Tool Options by double-clicking on the Paintbrush Tool (B) icon. Use the settings below and press OK.

paintbrush tool options

Step 3

Now we need to create a New Calligraphic Brush. Press the icon New Brush on the Brushes panel and choose the Calligraphic Brush type. Then press OK, and the window with brush options will appear. Use the settings shown below.

creation of a new calligraphic brush

Step 4

Choose our new brush, and make a few trial lines. The thickness of the line depends on the pressing force of the stylus. Try to sense the lines.

testing the brush

Step 5

It's time to apply our skills in practice. Let’s begin to create our line art.

Start drawing the face. Draw lines as smoothly as you like. Don’t worry about crooked lines, because you can always fix them using the Direct Selection Tool (A). Our mission is to draw “live” lines and imitate ink. 

contour of the face

Step 6

Now draw the hairstyle. First make just the main lines, and then add the details. 

contour of the hairstyle

At once use our brush to add some volume and deep contrast shadows to the hairstyle. 

deep shadows of the hairstyle

Step 7

Now draw the dress. Let’s start with the bodice. Draw this way, making the lines thicker on the shadowy area. The fabric on the sleeves will be transparent, so make the lines of the folds thinner.

contour of the bodice

Step 8

Next let’s draw the hands and legs. Make the lines of the body smoother. Decorate the shoes with straps.

contour of the hands
contour of the legs

Step 9

We still have to finish the underside of the dress. The skirt consists of two parts: petticoat and upper transparent skirt. We’ll draw the lower part with thinner lines to make them almost imperceptible. 

contour of the skirt

Step 10

Make the “sketch” layer invisible. Add some deep contrast shadows and admire the result. 

line art of the character

3. Create the Main Shapes

Step 1

First let’s color the contours of our character. Select all lines and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Open the Pathfinder panel and click Unite holding the Alt button. Then press OK to create one solid object.

making one solid object

Now fill the line art with Bordeaux color.

coloring of the line art

Step 2

We need to create the swatch of the main colors. I chose blue for the dress and pink for the accessories. 

swatch of the main shapes

Step 3

Add a New Layer for the background. Create a 570 x 870 px rectangle using the Rounded Rectangle Tool, and fill it with color from your swatch.

creation of the background shape

Open the Align panel and choose Align to Artboard, and then Align Objects: Horizontal and Vertical.

alignment of the background

Step 4

Now it’s time to begin painting. Choose the colors from your swatch. You can use the Pencil Tool (N) or the Pen Tool (P), whichever you prefer. The Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) can be convenient for the main shapes.

skin coloring

Step 5

Use white for the petticoat, and the main blue with 50% Opacity for the upper skirt. 

skirt coloring

For a convenient work process, we’ll create separate layers for each part of the character. Organize the layers as shown in the screenshot below.

organization of the layers

Step 6

And here’s what we’ve got at this stage.

character in the main colors

4. Add Shadows and Highlights

Step 1

It’s time to draw the beautiful face of our character. We’ll work on the “body” layer.

Let’s draw the blush first. Create two shapes: a smaller pink shape on top, and a bigger shape in the main skin color. Then go to Object > Blend > Blend Options, and choose Specified Steps: 50. And now go to Object > Blend > Make. We’ve got too bright a shade of the blush, so reduce the Opacity to 75% on the Transparency panel.

creation of the blush

This way, add some blushes to the second cheek, nose, neck and elbow. So add some blushes to the legs on the “body_back” layer too.

adding the blushes to the skin

Step 2

Let’s add some shadows to the skin. Choose the color of the contour, and reduce the Opacity to 8%. We’ll draw basic shapes on the shadowy area, using the Pencil Tool (N) or the Pen Tool (P).

adding the shadows to the skin
adding the shadows to the legs

Step 3

Now draw deeper shadows on the eyes and neck, and under the nose and lips. Change the Opacity to 20%.

adding the deep shadows to the skin

This way, add some shapes of the shadows to the hands and legs.

adding the deep shadows to the hands
adding the deep shadows to the legs

Step 4

Let’s add the falling shadows. Choose the same color from the contour, and reduce the Opacity to 50%. Draw shadows under the eyes and hair growth line, on the neck, hands and legs, and under the folds of her dress. 

adding the falling shadows to the skin
adding the falling shadows to the hands
adding the falling shadows to the legs

Step 5

Next let’s add some highlights. Select a lighter tint starting from the base skin color, and reduce the Opacity to 20%. We’ll draw basic shapes on the lightened area. 

adding the highlights to the skin
adding the highlights to the legs

Step 6

Change the Opacity to 60%, and add some bright highlights and twinkles to the outer edge of the lightened area. 

adding the bright highlights to the skin

Step 7

Now choose blue color with 60% Opacity, and draw highlights on the left side of the character.

adding blue highlights to the skin
adding blue highlights to the legs

Step 8

Now we’ll get work on the eyes and lips on the “face” layer. Draw eyeshadow using a blue color with 20% Opacity, and then add some bright twinkles with cyan color.

The left side of the face is in the shadow, so draw some Bordeaux shapes with 8-20% Opacity on the white part of the left eye.

Now add the Bordeaux shape with 50% Opacity between the lips, and the shape with 25% Opacity to the left side of the lips. In the end draw a bright twinkle on the right side of the bottom lips.

making makeup

Step 9

Let’s start coloring the hairstyle. First select the shape of the hair and fill it with linear gradient from light brown to brown.

adding gradient to the hair

Next draw the shapes of the highlights, and then select them and press Unite on the Pathfinder panel. Fill this solid shape with vertical linear gradient from yellow to orange, reducing the Opacity to 60%.

adding highlights to the hair

In the end, add some blue shapes to the left side of the hairstyle and some bright highlights to the right side. Just select these colors from the skin using the Eyedropper Tool (I).

adding bright highlights to the hair

Step 10

It’s time to add some volume to the dress. Let’s start with the bodice. Draw the shapes of the shadows, and fill them with dark blue color, 30% Opacity. Then add the falling shadows using the same color with 60% Opacity.

adding shadows to the bodice

Now draw the shapes of the highlights, and fill them with light blue color, 30-60% Opacity.

adding highlights to the bodice

Let’s add some volume to the transparent details of the bodice. First use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to choose the main color from these details, and draw the shapes on the area where the fabric folds. Then use the same colors for the shadows and highlight from the bodice to draw volume on the sleeves and neckline. Reduce the Opacity to 20%

adding volume to the transparent details

Add some blue shapes to the left side of the bodice and some bright highlights to the right side. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to choose these colors from the body.

adding bright highlights to the bodice

Step 11

Now we’ll draw the petticoat. First make the “skirt” layer invisible. It will make our work on the white part of the skirt easier.

Add some shadows using the gray color with 50% Opacity. Here you can draw the shapes not as neatly.  

adding shadows to the petticoat

Choose the color from the contour, reduce the Opacity to 60%, and draw the deep shadows.

adding deep shadows to the petticoat

Now make the “skirt” layer visible. Here’s how the skirt looks now.

look of the skirt

Step 12

We’ll draw the skirt using the same principles as we used on the transparent details of the bodice.

First we’ll draw the shapes on the area where the fabric forms creases. Use the base blue color from the dress with 35% Opacity.

making creases on the skirt

Then draw the main shadows using the same dark blue color from the bodice. Reduce the Opacity to 20%.

adding shadows to the skirt

Now add some deep shadows to the small folds using the same color with 40% Opacity.

adding deep shadows to the skirt

Choose the white color with 15% Opacity, and draw the highlights on the lightest area. Don’t forget to add some volume to the back side of the skirt.

adding highlights to the skirt

In the end, add some bright gloss to the right side of the skirt.

adding bright highlights to the skirt

Step 13

It’s time to add some volume to the accessories. Let’s start with the gloves. Choose the gray color from the petticoat, and draw the shapes of the shadows using 35-50% Opacity. Then draw the blue shapes with 15% Opacity, adding some reflections from the skirt.

adding shadows to the gloves

We’ll add some volume to the dress’s decorative elements and shoes following this method. Use the Bordeaux color from the contour for the shadows, reducing the Opacity to 50%.

adding shadows to the accessories

Use the pink color for the highlights, and reduce the Opacity to 70%.

adding highlights to the accessories

In the end, add some blue and bright reflections.

adding reflections to the accessories

Step 14

Finally our character is ready!

ready character

5. Create a Pattern for the Dress

Step 1

Create a New Layer over the “bodice” layer. Here we’ll draw a simple pattern for the decoration of the dress.

Create two circles 3 x 3 px and 4 x 4 px using the Ellipse Tool (L). Draw some simple flowers using our brush, 2 pt Stroke. Select each of them, expand and press Control-G.

drawing of the pattern

Step 2

Duplicate these shapes, pressing Alt, and place them on the dress randomly as you like. Delete unnecessary details on the creases using the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) with 2-3 pt Diameter

adding the pattern to the dress

Step 3

Select the entire pattern and reduce the Opacity to 70%.

pattern on the dress

6. Create a Simple Background

Step 1

First fill the background with linear vertical gradient from dark to light color based on the main color. 

making gradient on the background

Step 2

Let’s draw a pattern. Create a 10 x 10 px rectangle using the main color of the background.

Now create two 5 x 5 px circles, and align them using the Align panel as shown below.

creating the pattern shape

Then unite these circles, select both objects (circles and rectangle), and click Minus Front on the Pathfinder panel.

use of the pathfinder panel

As a result we’ve got a rectangle with two holes. Drag this shape to the Swatches panel.

making a swatch

Select the background shape, press Control-C and Control-F, and apply our pattern from the Swatches panel.

background pattern

Wow! We’re Finished!

I like this old fashion style so much, and I hope you enjoyed the process. Thank you for creating with me! Please, share your result!

finished illustration
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