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  1. Design & Illustration
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How to Create a Summer Lovin' Digital Painting With Natural Brushes

This post is part of a series called Grease Movie Week.
How to Create a Retro Chrome Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create the Iconic "T Birds" Jacket Logo From Grease
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

To coincide with the release of "Grease: Live" in 2016 I will be creating a piece of fan art inspired by the 1978 "Grease".

Here's what I will be covering:

  • creating a rough background to draw the focus to the characters and create a light source
  • rendering the characters using three textured brushes from the Gouache & Acrylic Photoshop Brushes
  • showing tips and tricks of blending modes, masking and layer effects
  • a little chat about colour choices and brush stroke economy—getting the brushes to do most of the work for you!

This tutorial will also include a low-resolution, smaller version of the .psd with just the flats and sketch so you can have a go on your own! 


For this illustration I will be referencing the film Grease. The assets I have used for this illustration are:

Brushes from Envato Market 

Chosen Brushes

Specifically: Sponge_Acrylic_ArtistMef hereon referred to as Brush A.

Sponge Acrylic ArtistMef

The Liquid_Acrylic_2_ArtistMef hereon referred to as Brush B.

Liquid Acrylic 2 ArtistMef

and the Medium_Dense_Acrylic_ArtistMef hereon referred to as Brush C.

Medium Dense Acrylic ArtistMef

Along with this stock image from Envato Market:

Beach Sunset from Photodune

... and this Poster Mockup set.

Poster Mockup 12 Different Images Graphicriver

1. Set Up Your Illustration

As this tutorial is about rendering using acrylic and gouache brushes and colour choices, I have prepared a sketch. This is based on the start of the film Grease where Danny & Sandy are having a romantic moment on the beach. I wanted to capture the soppiness of the moment, so I drew the couple in a heart shape—Danny's hair was a fantastic help to the composition! 

I have kept the characters and the background on their own layers so I can focus on each element independently. 

Unless you intend to use the line art in your finished illustration, this part can be lovely and loose. The whole piece should have a spontaneous feel to it, so please do not spend too long perfecting your idea!

Set your line art Blending Mode to Multiply in the drop-down at the top of the Layers panel.

Danny and Sandy Heart Sketch

The document was set to Width: 420mm, Height: 420mm, Resolution: 300PPI (Pixels/Inch) and Color Mode to CMYK (For print).

Document Setup

2. Brief Flats Overview

Flatting is a process I use for every illustration I do. I cover this in most of my Envato Tuts+ tutorials. A particularly good example is in my Create a Digital Painting of a Zombie From Scratch in Adobe Photoshop tutorial. 

For Danny and Sandy plus the sunset, I have painted the flats in shades of grey as I have not decided on my final palette. Here I have used Brush C. This is so you can make sure the shapes are appropriately defined.

Danny and Sandy Grey Flats

3. Colour Choices

Below you can see the final colour choices I went for with Danny and Sandy's moment of Summer Loving. To fill your flats, use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) set to your chosen colour, ensure that Lock Transparency is set on the layer, and simply fill by clicking your pen or mouse. 

Danny and Sandy Flat Colours

My thought process from this was to reference the feel of the scene from the film with warm tones and generally feel-good colours. I also loved the oranges and rust colours in this Beach Scene image.

Colour Inspiration

My choices for the shirts was a sky blue. Although Sandy's top is white in this scene, I made the base match Danny's blue shirt. This means as I layer highlights onto her shirt I can make it appear whiter and still feel part of the piece with a strong colour relationship to Danny's shirt. This also translates into making the couple seem unified. Although not shown here, the actors both have grey-blue eyes, so I will be picking from the blue later.

I kept Sandy's skin tone slightly warmer than Danny's, as she has blonde hair and Danny has a cooler complexion which complements his majestic black quiff.

At the beginning I like to keep my colours fairly neutral in tone, especially with hair as it's easier to paint in layers of brighter and darker hues. 

Next I will move on to my colour choices for the shadow and highlights and talk about how and why I use Multiply and Soft Light Layer Blending Modes.

4. Multiply and Soft Light Layer Blending Modes

As a rule I have found that I like to use Multiply layer blending modes for shadows and Soft Light for highlights. This can vary from piece to piece, so have a play and see what works best for you. 

The colours I will be using for this are a deep burgundy red and a cooler variant for shadows, and for highlights an orange, a warm peach and a pale yellow. Here's how the colours appear over our character colour flats. I think these will end up working great as the highlights really convey warmth and love!

Shadow and Highlight Colours
Soft Light and Multiply Demo

5. Sandy's Base Shadows

Step 1

Here we have Sandy's colour flats. Over each flat I have created a New Layer which is set to Clipping Mask and the layer Blending Mode to Multiply. For these shadows I have picked the redder purple and Brush C set to 80% opacity.

Sandy Base Flats

Step 2

On the clipping layer above the shirt, I begin to paint in the shadows of the shirt. Rule of thumb is that these shadows fall on the furthest edge away from the light source. To get a good rough texture, use your stylus lightly and build up areas. 

Sandy Shirt Shadows

Step 3

Next, to ensure I get Sandy's bone structure correct, I make her line art layer visible. Taking the same Brush C and purple, I boldly paint in strong strokes in her eye socket, below her cheekbone, under her hairline and under her chin. Be bold with your marks! It will make the most of the brushes. For the less bold, remember you can always press Control-Z to undo!

Sandy Bone Structure Shadows

Step 4

Here I add a tiny amount of definition under her lips. I set the brush's opacity to 100% as I wanted a strong contrast to draw the viewer's attention.

Sandy Lips Shadow

Step 5

On Sandy's hair Multiply layer, I have very messily painted in the dark areas. I know she looks brunette here, but bear with me. These darker tones will help her blonde really pop! 

To tidy the area up, I create a mask by clicking the Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, which is a rectangle with a circle. Here I paint out shadow from the areas that face the light.

Sandy Hair Shadows

Step 6

Next, to aid my painting later, I select all of Sandy's layers (by clicking all the layers while holding Shift) and drag them to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, which is a square with the corner turned. Next I press Control-E to merge all these layers. This is to make painting the highlights stage and doing future effects much easier, plus we have the original layers if we require them.

Copy and Merged Sandy Base Layers

Next we move on to Danny's shadows!

6. Danny's Base Shadows

Step 1

Before I get started on Danny's shadows, I need to make a slight edit to his sideburn. I felt that adding the strokes would give a funky graphic quality to his hair, but I feel it's already awesome enough so I remove them with the Eraser which is E on your keyboard.

Danny Sideburn Edit

Step 2

As with Sandy, I have Danny's shadow layers already set up. These are the layers with the blue tabs. I start off with the back of his neck, his eye socket, the edge of his nose and corner of his mouth. Remember, shadows are on the opposite side to the light source.

Danny Skin and Hair Shadows

Step 3

Even if a man's face is freshly shaven, there will be a slight bluer tone on the lower part of his face. This is due to the hair follicles under the skin. To achieve this, I paint in the stubble using grey-blue on a new clipping layer under the skin shadow layer. I want this to be messy, so remember to take advantage of the brush's texture! 

Danny Stubble Initial Application

Step 4

Our Danny is looking a little rough, so I take the opacity of the stubble layer to 29%. Looking much more cool now!

Stubble Opacity Change

Step 5

Go through all the layers, adding in the purple shadows. Keep the colour the same so the whole piece is unified. Loving the hard, graphic lines I can get with Brush C!

Danny Shadow Layers

Step 6

As with Sandy, collect all your Danny layers and drag them to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (which is a square with the corner turned). Next I press Control-E to merge all these layers.

Next, move Danny and Sandy's layers together and merge them. Select both by clicking and holding Shift, and then press Control-E to merge. 

Danny and Sandy Shadows Ready for Highlights

Here are your base shadows ready for the base highlight application. Let's start off with Sandy.

7. Sandy's and Danny's Base Highlights

For the base highlights I am using Brush C at 100% opacity and a pale yellow on a Soft Light layer. I have been bold with these strokes and focused them around where I want the viewer's attention: the gaze. I have pulled the layer's opacity down to around 80% for a less harsh effect. 

As Danny's hair is slicked back and glossy, the shadows are not too pronounced, but the highlight areas will really need to pop. Glossiness is shown by high contrast to the surrounding area with bright highlights (which we will add later). I've also painted a highlight round the back of Danny's head to show the volume of his awesome do.

Danny and Sandy Base Highlights

Here's how Sandy and Danny are looking without the line art. See how the forms are now becoming more readable!

Danny and Sandy Base Highlights No Line

8. Create the Loose Background

Now we have painted in as much as we can without having the light from the background, so let's move on to painting in that glorious sunset! 

This is our stock image from PhotoDune. I love the colours and how the sun catches the clouds and the ripples of the ocean—perfect for Sandy and Danny. 

Photodune Beach Scene - Light Source Reference

Step 1 

Here I've picked some colours from our reference image by holding Alt to bring up the eyedropper while using the brush. I've kept this rough and quick as I want the focus to be on Danny and Sandy. 

Background Flats

Step 2

On a New Layer set to Clipping Mask above the sky base layer, I colour pick some of the sea and beach colours (the purples) and brush them across the top. Brush B is perfect for this and creates a wonderful chalky, subtle atmospheric texture.

Down towards the horizon, I colour pick some of the pale yellow and tease that across the sky. 

Sky Gradient

Step 3

Now we paint the lower edge of clouds with the bright yellow bounce light from the sun. Use vertical strokes to show the light going upwards. 

Note: All these layers are set to Lock Transparent Pixels, which can be activated from the chequerboard at the top of the Layers panel.

Cloud Bounce Light

Step 4

We need a bit of ethereal glow to the clouds, so I am going to show you an easy way to do it! 

Duplicate the clouds layer and double click the bottom layer. This will bring up the Layer Style dialogue box.

Select Blending Options: Custom and set Fill Opacity to 0% and check the box which says Layer Mask Hides Effects. This is a crucial step!

Layer Mask Hides Effects - Clouds

Step 5

Next select the Outer Glow setting and set the colour to a warm orange.

Outer Glow - Clouds

This will create a solid line of glow around the cloud, which is what we do not want. On a mask layer, paint out areas where you do not want the glow to appear. This is only possible if the Layer Mask Hides Effects box is checked.

Cloud Glow Mask Paint

Step 6

Paint a slight bright-yellow gradient on the sun for heat.

Sun Gradient

Step 7

In the Outer Glow settings, click on the coloured square below Noise to change the glow colour. For the glow, pick a peachy orange.

Outer Glow Colour Selection

Step 8

Back in the Outer Glow settings, set Opacity to 95%, Noise to 0% and the Size to 169 px.

Outer Glow - Sun

Ooh, summer sun, something's begun! Check it out! Look how warm that now looks!

Sun Glow

Step 9

Next, we paint in the sun's reflection using a burnt orange over the sea layer. Make sure to paint strokes in perspective to give the ocean some depth.

Sun Reflection

Step 10

For the finishing touches, paint in some small dots and waves using the darker yellow from the sun. Next, we add some very pale yellow along the shore edge for where the waves meet the sand.

Finishing Touches to the Background

9. Create Sandy's Hair

Painting hair is a very organic process. These brushes are great as you can create large sweeps of colour. For the midtone highlights, I have used a pale yellow and Brush C to sweep colour in the direction the hair goes in. I also change the opacity to somewhere between 20-40%, which works along with the brushes' built-in pressure settings. 

I constantly change the size of my brush by pressing the [ and ] keys. As I add strong highlights to the edge of the fringe, I increase the opacity of the brush to around 80%.

For the extreme edge highlight, feel free to colour pick the brightest part of the sun by pressing Alt while you have the brush selected.

Sandy Hair - Fringe

Add in random wispy lines for fly-aways—even Sandy's hair wouldn't be perfect after a day of frolicking on the beach with a handsome young man! I love how these brushes are creating a chalky feel. Practice moving the stylus to get the most of the textures in these brushes.

Sandy Hair - Ends

10. Create Danny's Hair

Here I use narrow, bright strokes of intense, very pale yellow to create shine using Brush B. I love painting hair! You can go as crazy as you like, and I find it very soothing. 

Step 1

I've colour picked the dark of Danny's hair (by pressing Alt while having the brush selected) and I add in some dots and stray, overlapping hair onto the skin on the side of his head, his eyebrows and his sideburns. This helps to connect the hair with the head. You can also pick the skin tone from around the area and draw into the hair to break up the hard edge.

Danny Hair Highlights

Step 2

Move on to his sideburns and at the nape of his neck. Keep it rough, keep it loose!

Sideburn and Nape Details

11. Detail the Eyes and Mouths

Use browns for details such as the eyes, edges of the nose and the smile. Do not use black as that is far too harsh for the look we are trying to create. Even the pupils are not black but a dark grey-blue.

Add highlights to the underside of lashes and everything that the light hits from below. I have not used pure white highlights: like black, these will overpower the picture. Pick colours from around the scene to keep everything unified.

Sandy and Dannys Loving Gaze

12. Detail the Clothing

Step 1

The clothing does not need a lot, but the edges of Danny's collar would catch the light. Add some yellow to these and a pale yellow over his t-shirt.

Remember: Colour pick from colours already on the canvas to unify them. Introducing new colours at this stage will throw the piece off. 

Dannys Shirt

Step 2

Moving on to Sandy's top, I kept it simple and added a pale yellow streak down the front using a large Brush C. This took me a few goes to get right. In Photoshop, click Control-Z to Undo.

Sandys Shirt

13. Darkest Shadows: Illuminating Using Shade

At this point I have flattened Danny and Sandy's layers to have both of them in one layer. I did this as I wish to have the deeper shadows as a blanket layer that I then pull their features out of using a mask. I want the lighting to be soft, yet picking out key parts of their faces.

Step 1

Create a New Layer and fill it with the cooler shadow colour. Right click and select Create Clipping Mask. Then set the blending mode to Multiply.

Darkest Shadow Clipping Mask Layer

Step 2

Here I feel the shadows are a bit too cold, so I press Control-Shift-U to bring up Hue/Saturation and make the plum a more berry hue. 

Darkest Shadow HueSaturation Levels

Step 3

Here I have reduced the berry shadow colour and I am beginning to mask out areas with Brush A. This will help to give a soft, romantic feel to the edges. Notice how I have made Danny's edges sharper than Sandy's. Generally speaking, male faces tend to be more angular than female.

Berry Shadow Colour - Beginning to Mask out areas

Step 4

Here I have cheated a little and used one of Photoshop's default soft brushes in the mask to give the feeling of delicate sunlight catching their faces. I have concentrated this around their neck and lower faces—the black areas in the mask show where the light is shining through. The brush's opacity has been set fairly low at 15% so I can gradually pull out their features.

This is my preferred method for painting in light, as I feel I can control the direction more easily and create more drama. If you try this technique, please let me know how you get on!

Soft Mask - Darkest

14. Finishing Touches

The last thing I do to this piece is smooth out a section of Sandy's cheek with a Photoshop default soft brush. On a low opacity at 15%, I colour pick some of the skin tone and gently blend any harsh edges using a circular motion. 

Danny  Sandy Summer Loving

I'm really happy with how the artwork has turned out, but I feel the heart is a little lop-sided. I would prefer the heads to be a little more balanced.

Step 1

Duplicate Danny and Sandy's layers by holding Shift while clicking on the character and shadow layers. Then drag these layers to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a copy.

Duplicate Shadow and Character Layers

Step 2

Merge the copied layers by pressing Control-E.

Merged Shadow and Characters Layer

Step 3

To give us a little more room to play with, I wish to increase the size of the document by 25%. To bring up Canvas Size, press Alt-Control-C. Here I change the unit to Percent and make the width and height 125%. Ensure that the Anchor is set to the centre and click OK.

Expand Canvas Dialogue Box

This will make the document look like this:

Expanded Canvas

Step 4

Select the Polygon Lasso Tool (L) and select the whole Sandy layer. Press Control-X to Cut her out and Control-Shift-V to Paste her in place on a new layer.

Polygon Lasso Sandy

Step 5

Press Control-T to bring up the Transform controls and turn Sandy in a little, and increase her size until the couple look a little more balanced.

Turn and Transform Sandy

Step 6

Here I have changed the layer order to bring Danny to the front.

Pre-Danny Tweak

Step 7

With Danny selected, press Control-T to transform and turn him so the composition is more pleasing. Press Enter to finalise the scaling.

Turn and transform Danny

Step 8

Here a little part of the background is sticking out through the back of the characters. To quickly fix this, I create a mask on the background folder and paint black in the area I wish to hide.

Masked Background

Awesome! That's Our Summer Lovin' Illustration Completed

To give context to the final design, I downloaded this poster mockup template from Envato Market. Presenting digital artworks like this can make your work more sellable.

Completed Illustration on Poster Template

In this tutorial you have learned how to create a rough background to draw the focus to the characters and create a light source, how to render the characters using textured brushes, and how to utilise blending modes, masking and layer effects to your advantage!

I've really enjoyed painting this piece. I would love to see what you create.

Remember to check out all the fantastic Envato Tuts+ Design and Illustration Tutorials! 

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