In today's tutorial, I'm going to teach you how to create a beautiful seasonal yin yang illustration. I'll focus on simple cheats to help you lay down a quick sketch for your painting using Adobe Photoshop and a pen tablet. Let's get started!
The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial:
What Is a Yin Yang?
According to the ever omniscient Wikipedia, a yin yang, or yin & yang, "describes how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another." A mouthful right?
In layman's terms, everything in this world is made up of both good and bad, or yin yang.
We'll use the seasons to illustrate this notion of polar opposites by focusing on two very different seasons: the beautiful frost of winter and the enchanting bloom of spring.
Set Up the Canvas
So let's begin! Set up the canvas to the following specifications:
- Width set to 3000 x 2400 pixels
- Resolution set to 300 dpi
1. Trace the Yin Yang Outline
Since there are many repetitive details planned for this painting, we'll cut corners a little and save time by tracing several references. And before you make a weird face at me―yes, tracing has its benefits. It develops muscle memory and allows you to create perfect sketches for each component of this illustration.
Begin by tracing our Yin Yang Reference using the Ellipse Tool (U) for the circle and the Pen Tool (P) for the inner curve.
Use the Ellipse Tool (U) again, to create two smaller circles for each side. You can always make sure these circles line up perfectly by keeping your Smart Guides on.
2. Trace the Rose Reference
Set your Brush settings as follows:
- Brush Color set to Black.
- Size set to 6 pixels.
- Opacity, Flow, and Hardness all set to 100%.
- Hit F5 for the Brush panel, select Transfer, and change the Opacity Jitter Control to Pen Pressure.
Hide the visibility of the original yin yang layers. Copy and Paste the Rose Reference on a New Layer and resize it with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to a generous size.
Zoom (Z) in 400% and begin tracing the rose with clean, smooth strokes. Focus on capturing the purest details of each petal and try not to include unnecessary details like wrinkling or tears.
Once you're done, your rose should like this.
3. Trace the Snowflake Reference
Before we piece everything together, the last thing we need to trace is the snowflake. Just like before, Hide the visibility of your Rose Layer. Next, Copy and Paste your Snowflake Reference onto the canvas, resize it, and begin tracing.
Since the snowflake has a lot of repetitive shapes, we can easily trace one side, and then Duplicate it several times for the other sides. Rotate the remaining duplicates into place with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
Continue these steps until the snowflake is complete.
4. Create a Custom Snowflake Brush
By turning this snowflake into a custom Photoshop brush, we can use the brush as a stamp for our next steps. To do this, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and draw a rectangle around your snowflake sketch. Then go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and hit OK after naming your new snowflake brush.
5. Stamp the Snowflake Side
Now unhide the visibility layers for the yin yang. Using your Brush Tool (B), select your new Snowflake Brush and begin stamping snowflakes along the left side of the yin yang. Erase any edges that overlap onto the background with the Eraser Tool (E).
Each side of the yin yang holds a smaller circle that represents its connection to its polar opposite. Using these circles as guides, hover your Snowflake Brush over the top circle to stamp it into place. Go to the original yin yang layer and Erase the guide so that it no longer shows through.
Add some more snowflakes and smaller circles scattered about to complete the snowflake side.
6. Create the Rose Side
Hide the Snowflakes Layer so you can work with the roses without any distraction. Next, position your rose with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
Duplicate the rose layer several times, positioning each new rose on the right side of the yin yang. You don't want this to be a perfect pattern of roses, so make some roses overlap others, or even hide them along the edges for a more dynamic composition. Erase any bits of sketch that overlap from one rose onto another, making sure to allow some room for petals to peek out nicely.
You can keep the roses as small or as big as you'd like during this process. I ended up with 19 roses that vary in size, while creating a nice transition as they get closer to the top snowflake.
Remember to create an extra Duplicate for the single rose that must sit amongst the flurry of snowflakes on the left. Use the bottom circle as a guide for resizing, and position the rose with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
Here is the yin yang with the completed rose side.
7. Flip the Sketch
It was at this stage that I realized the winter and spring sides should be switched. A quick search online also showed that yin yangs favored a position where the top curve was on the left side, not the right. Flipping the sketch is pretty easy though, so just go to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal. Once you're finished, Merge all the sketch layers together.
Here is the completed yin yang sketch.
8. Start the Grayscale Base
Starting with a grayscale base allows us to transition easily into color by establishing a solid lighting scenario. To prep for this technique, create a New Layer (Control-Shift-N) underneath the Sketch Layer. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) to trace the outside of the yin yang and Fill the selection with a light gray color. Set this base layer to Lock Transparency Pixels.
Duplicate the base layer and set it to Multiply. Hit D on your keyboard to set the Default Foreground and Background Colors to black and white. Begin Erasing any extra gray fill.
Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) , trace the left side of the yin yang. Select the Gradient Tool (G) and set the preset to Foreground to Transparent with an Opacity of 50%. Now drag the marker so that it creates a nicely blended gradient as it moves up the roses.
Repeat this process for the right side. This time create an opposite gradient effect by dragging the marker downward to create a dark to light effect on the right curve.
9. Shade the Roses
Next we'll be using the Ambient Occlusion technique to shade each rose. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to Trace and Select one rose petal. Set the Brush Tool (B) to the color black with a Hardness of 0% and an Opacity of 20%.
Now let's begin shading! Learning about Ambient Occlusion can completely transform your digital painting process. So feel free to study up on this topic before performing this step. With a Large Soft Brush, begin shading the inner part of the petal that would normally be in shadow. Focus the brush towards the inner part of the petals so that the shadows softly dissipate across them.
Not sure what I mean yet? Here's a quick animation to break it down.
Continue shading each petal for all 19 roses. This step takes the longest of any in the tutorial. Be patient and take your time, because the result will be incredibly worth it in the end.
Here is the completed rose side with shading.
10. Fill the Snowflakes With White
Filling the snowflakes with white will allow them to pop nicely against the gradient background. First, select the Sketch Layer. Use the Magic Wand (W) to select the inside of a snowflake. Next, Fill the snowflake with white using the Paint Bucket Tool (G), making sure to complete the fill on a separate New Layer.
Continue this process until all your snowflakes are complete. Finish it off by painting in white dots using a Hard Round Brush set to 100% Opacity.
11. Create the Background
Before we can officially move on to color, we have to get rid of this boring white background. Since I usually organize my layers into one massive group, I'm going to right-click to Duplicate the group. Merge all the layers together from the duplicated group. Now you should have a copy of the completed yin yang ready to resize. Control-T while holding the Shift key to use the Free Transform Tool and enlarge the second yin yang. Scale it enough so that it completely covers the white background.
Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Then go back to Edit again, to Flip Vertically.
Adjust the Opacity of the background to 38%. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 3 pixels.
When you're finished with these steps, bring the Opacity of the Sketch Layer down to 25%. Here is the grayscale painting so far.
12. Correcting the Shapes and Position
It's always good to get feedback on your work. And after a couple of rounds of feedback I change the overall position of the yin yang so that the curves hook more inward. This also means that I have to reposition the snowflake and rose so that they are parallel from each other again, since they would otherwise be forced out of alignment.
Since most of my layers are merged together by now, I simply rotate the symbol with the Free Transform Tool (U), and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to Select, Copy, and Paste, the snowflake and rose into their new positions.
Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) again, I Select, Copy, and Paste additional snowflakes and roses into place to cover up any pockets of empty space. Afterwards, I crop the image by making a selection with the Marquee Tool (M), and going to Image > Crop. Here is the final grayscale.
13. Add Color With Adjustment Layers
On a New Layer (Control-Shift-N), use a Hard Round Brush to paint the rose side with a salmon color. Set this layer to Color Burn. Duplicate the layer and set it to Screen with an Opacity of 60%.
Right-click to Duplicate this layer again, setting the third layer to Color Burn.
Now the overall color scheme looks a little too bright. Create a New Adjustment Layer for Brightness/Contrast, bringing the Brightness down to -73 and the Contrast up to 64 to deepen the colors.
On a New Layer, take a bright pink color and lightly brush it over the top roses, setting the layer to Soft Light.
Now it's time for the winter colors! Add a New Layer (Control-Shift-N) and Fill it with a blue color. Set this layer to Soft Light and use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase any roses that would be covered by the blue.
For crisper blues, add a New Adjustment Layer for Channel Mixer, and adjust the Red and Blue Channels for richer, more vibrant hues.
14. Clean Up Your Painting
Painting is like cleaning your room—you can only let it get but so messy before realizing you should clean up a bit. Luckily we've kept everything pretty neat and tidy, so there's really not too much to do. Use a Hard Round Brush to begin filling in parts of the painting where colors are missing or not blending well together.
15. Last Adjustment Layer
A New Adjustment Layer for Levels is always mandatory for that added boost in vibrancy for your paintings.
16. Add Highlights
We're closing in on the finish line! For that beautiful crisp appearance, add highlights to the roses. Use a Hard Round Brush with varying opacity to paint bright orange highlights on the outer edges of some petals. Focus only on petals that are being hit the most by light.
And We're Done!
Many beautiful symbols are rooted in international philosophies, and I really hope you've enjoyed following along this fun and colorful piece. May you always own your inner yin yang, and find beauty and peace even in rough times. Good luck!