1. Design & Illustration
  2. Chinese New Year

How to Create a Monkey Caricature for Chinese New Year

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

This year, Chinese New Year falls on 8 February—today! Traditionally, the holiday honored deities as well as ancestors. Chinese New Year is celebrated in many countries such as China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and many others! 

Customs can vary, but often families come together the evening before to have an annual reunion dinner. Cleaning the house and making room for incoming good luck is also common. Other ways this holiday is celebrated are firecrackers and giving money away in red paper envelopes. 

2016 marks the Year of the Monkey. The Monkey is the ninth of the twelve different animals that represent the Chinese zodiac. There are a lot of meanings attributed to the various zodiac animals. Some of the traits for the Monkey zodiac include curiosity, mischievousness, and cleverness.

If you're looking for Chinese New Year inspiration for your graphics, Envato Market has you covered.

Tutorial Assets

The assets you'll need for this project are:

1. Start the Base Sketch

Step 1

Create a New File, then a New Layer to draw the sketch. Start the sketch by roughly drawing in a circle for the head and two circles on either side for each hand. Then draw in a rectangular shape for the scroll the monkey will be holding.

Sketch in three circles and a rectangle for the scroll

Step 2

The monkey we are referencing is called a Rhesus Macaque, a common type of monkey native to China. They have distinctive features like large eyes, pointed ears, and human-like hands. 

Draw the monkey as you see it from the reference. Start with the brow and then add two eyes below, a few triangular shaped lines for the nose and a grin for the mouth. Even though the monkey may not be grinning in the reference, we want to draw a happy monkey for the caricature's base. Next, draw in the five individual digits for each hand holding the scroll.  

Draw in face details and hands

Step 3

Rhesus monkeys have a dome shape to their heads, so you can add this feature to the sketch. Also, they have big cheekbones and small chins. Adding all these features starts to pull this sketch together. Make sure to also draw in the pupils for the eyes.

Add in pupils mouth and face shape

Step 4

The ears of these monkeys are unique by having extremely pointy tips, sort of like an elf. Add in fur texture to the neck. 

In order to add to the expression, you can draw another line under the original mouth line to open the mouth and make for a happier face. This completes the base sketch.

Adding in the final details to the base sketch

2. Enhance the Features via Caricature

Step 1

Lower the Opacity of the base sketch to 50% or below. You still want to be able to see the lines, but they need to be faint so they are not distracting when you draw the caricature over the top. 

Create a New Layer to draw the caricature.

Lower the opacity to the base sketch

Step 2

Caricature is the enhancement or exaggeration of features. It takes a lot of forms, from somewhat realistic to cartoony to outright abstract. In this case, we are going for "cartoony realism", which is why it was important to start with the base sketch. 

For the Rhesus monkey, key features are the large eyes and expressive brows. In order to make one feature feel bigger or more exaggerated, you must make something else smaller and stand out less. Make the nose and the ears smaller in order for the eyes to really stand out. 

As well, you can push the excited expression by opening the mouth wider. Add in lots of fur around the edges of the head, face, and neck. Then add details to the hands such as fingernails and knuckle wrinkles. 

The revised caricature sketch

Step 3

In order to spot any mistakes, you can flip the canvas by clicking Edit, finding Transform, and then selecting Flip Horizontal. You will notice a difference right away and be able to correct your mistakes. 

Flip the canvas to note any changes that need to be made

Step 4

Keeping the layer flipped, add in more details like the teeth. If you see any areas that need adjustment, you can also work on them while the layer is flipped. I encourage you to continue flipping the layer throughout the process to spot any mistakes.

Adding details to the mouth and make adjustments to the eyes

Step 5

Click Edit, find Transform, and then select Flip Horizontal again. Next, lower Opacity to 50% or less. Then create a New Layer for the inks.

Reduce Opacity to the sketch

Step 6

Draw over the caricature. Pay special attention to the eyes and mouth, as those are the features a viewer notices first. Draw your lines carefully, but try to use sweeping, fluid motions. Edit Undo is your friend, so be sure to use it as necessary in this stage. 

Add a straight horizontal line to the bottom of the rectangle and two cylinders on the sides to help give an even better impression of a scroll being unrolled!

Drawing over the sketch in final inks

Step 7

Hide your Sketch Layer and leave your inks to begin the next stage of the art—coloring!

Final ink linework

3. Choose a Color Palette 

Step 1

Red is an important color in the Chinese culture. It often signifies good luck and good fortune and is very common on Chinese New Year posters and artwork. 

Select the Paint Bucket Tool and then fill in a saturated medium red color.

Fill in a red for the background color

Step 2

Colors across from each other are known as Complementary Colors. If you want a three-color pallet, you can create a Triadic Scheme. This means three colors that are equally apart from each other on the color wheel. These colors usually look nice next to each other.

Since red is such a prominent color in this piece, we will also use a light blue and yellow to complete the triadic color scheme.

4. Base Colors

Step 1

Create a New Layer and move it below your Ink Layer. Starting the first part of the triadic scheme, use the Gradient Tool to fill in a light yellow in the scroll. 

Choose a more saturated medium yellow to fill in for the scroll on the sides. Golden yellow and red are common colors in Chinese artwork.

Color the scroll a light yellow

Step 2

Next, use the Gradient Tool to fill in a light blue color for the monkey. Even though Rhesus monkeys are more of a brown color, the blue contrasts nicely against the red and makes the piece more interesting already. Call it artistic license!

Color the base of the monkey a light blue

Step 3

Select a medium desaturated green color for the eyes and use the Gradient Tool to fill them in. While the green is selected, use a lighter shade of green for the sclera or "whites" of the eyes. Keeping the eye colors in the same color family tends to make a better image with color harmony.

Use the Color Picker to select the yellow from the scroll paper and then the Gradient Tool to fill in the teeth. Choose a light shade of pink and fill in the tongue and gums. Next, use a desaturated medium pink for the rest of the mouth. 

Add green to the eyes and color the mouth

Step 4

Use the same desaturated medium pink you used for the inside of the mouth to color the skin on the face, ears and hands. Use the Color Picker to select the pink of the tongue for the nails on the hands. Using the same colors throughout the image creates color harmony and uniformity in the piece.

Add pink to the face and hands

Step 5

Select the Linework Layer and press the Lock Transparency button above the layers (it looks like a checkerboard). This will allow you to change the color of the line work without painting outside the lines.

Step 6

Zoom In at this stage in the piece to better see where the lines meet. Use the Color Picker to choose slightly darker colors than the base sketch to color in the lines. 

Pick colors slightly darker than the base colors of the monkey and scroll

Step 7

Color the fur lines on the Linework Layer slightly darker blue, the skin lines slightly darker pink, and the eyes a slightly darker green color. Keep doing this on all the areas of the line work on the monkey and the scroll.

Color the linework to achieve a less harsh effect on the artwork

5. Lighting

Step 1 

Create a New Layer and place it on top of the base color layer in order to shade the piece. Right click on the layer and select Create Clipping Mask from the dropdown menu. Then go to the Blending Mode for the layer and select Multiply from the dropdown menu.

At this point, you can select a medium blue color and shade the monkey, around the eyes, the ears, the sides of the face, neck and hands. Also you can increase the brush size and create shadows across the middle and the bottom of the scroll. As a Clipping Mask layer, your blue will not go outside the edges of the layer below it. This method is handy for creating shading and highlights. 

Add shadowing on the monkey and the scroll

Step 2

Create a New Layer and move it below the Multiply Layer, placing it between the Multiply Layer and the Base Color Layer in order to make the highlights. This may automatically make it a Clipping Mask Layer. However, if it does not, right click on the layer and select Create Clipping Mask from the dropdown menu. Then go to the Blending Mode for the layer and select Screen from the dropdown menu. This layer will be used for highlights. 

Use the Color Picker to select the same yellow from the base color layer of the scroll. Then add highlights to the top of the monkey's head, ears, nose, mouth, chin, neck and fingers. 

Add highlights to the monkey and the scroll

Step 3

Select a Fur Texture brush and add in texture to the fur on the monkey's face and body. Add the texture to the shadow and highlight layers, making sure to switch colors from blue on the shadow layer and to yellow on the highlight layer.

Add fur texture to the shadowing and highlights

Step 4

Darken some of the shadows around the eyes, nose and fingers on the Shadow Layer.

Merge the Linework Layer, Shadow Layer, Highlight Layer and Color Layer together by going to Layer, then Merge Down on each layer. 

Then select the Smudge Brush and go with the stroke of the fur and paint a back and forth motion to soften the fur texture along the outside edges of the monkey's fur.

Darken areas around eyes tail and fingers and soften fur edges

6. Scroll Texture

Step 1

Download a paper texture, and then Drag it into Photoshop. Resize it to fit completely over the scroll.

Insert paper texture for the scroll

Step 2

Set the Blending Mode to Multiply.

Apply a Multiply Blending Mode to paper texture

Step 3

Erase the paper texture from the face, hands and arms, leaving only the scroll covered in the paper texture.

Erase the texture away from the face hands and arms

7. Script

Step 1

Use the Text Tool to type out "Happy Chinese New Year 2016".  In order to fit the theme of the scroll, I chose a font that had a hand-written feel to it. Make sure the font is a dark brown color in order to match the color of the scroll.

Added the text in a nice dark brown font

Step 2

Select the Move Tool and drag the Transform Controls out so that the words reach the end and sides of the scroll.

Lengthened words to fit the scroll better

8. Add a Background

Step 1

Look at sites that allow free-use photos and select one that has a Chinese theme. The photo I used has Chinese lanterns, which are common when celebrating Chinese New Year.

Go to File, then Place Embedded. Then select your photo on your hard drive. Move the photo layer between the red background layer and the layer for the monkey. Then resize it with the Move Tool, choosing a position that highlights the composition the best. The upper left and right corners were empty, so I made sure that the lantern took up some of that space to make it more visually interesting.

Change the Blending Mode of the photo layer to Screen. This allows the red from the background layer to show through the photo. It also lightens the photo to make it less distracting.

Insert background image photo

Step 2

Go to Filter, then Blur, and then select Gaussian Blur. Move the Radius to about 13-15 Pixels. This will create a softer look to the photo and prevent it from being distracting from the Monkey caricature.

Blurred the background image photo

9. Final Details

Create a New Layer and place it above all the other layers. Add details to the eyebrows, teeth and eyes to help soften the line work and add more interest to the caricature. Keep painting until the caricature reaches the level of finish you'd like. It can help to turn the normal layer off and on again to see your progress in the painting.

Adding the final details to the Monkey

Happy Chinese New Year!

I hope you enjoyed creating your monkey caricature for Chinese New Year! 

Final caricature of Monkey for Chinese New Year
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