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How to Create a Vibrant Dragon Boat Illustration in Paint Tool SAI

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we will create a bright, colorful illustration for the Dragon Boat Festival. Also, you'll see the clear workflow of making a digital illustration in Paint Tool SAI. Find your inspiration from the real photos about this holiday, and let's get started!

1. Prepare Our Sketch and Fill It With Flat Colors

Step 1

For this illustration, you can either use this sketch, which you can find in the Attachment, or start on your own. In this case, always begin with a New Canvas with about 2400 px width and 3000 px height. Use the Pen tool with a hard edge and small size for sketching.

Preparing sketch for the illustration

Step 2

Our next step is to choose the color palette for the illustration. This year's Dragon Boat Festival will take place on 9 June, so we want vibrant, bright colors for a summer feeling. Also check out colorful photos of this holiday—they are so inspiring! 

To create our palette, you can use the Color Wheel. Move from color to color to get nice variations of the opposite colors. We want to use these pairs of colors because they have great contrast and help our illustration to stand out.

In this way we got our first line of swatches for the dragon and second for the boat.

Choosing color palette

Step 3

Continue your preparations by creating clear navigation in your layers structure. Make two main groups of layers for the dragon and the boat, both of them beneath the sketch layer. Turn the opacity of the sketch to 50% and open the dragon group. 

We’ll start coloring from here, and make a new layer for every color area inside this group. Using these separate layers is necessary because we don’t want to mix them in the process. Fill the dragon with colors from our palette using the Air Brush and Bucket tools.

Layers navigation

Step 4

In the same way, do the boat, filling it with colors from the palette. Working on separate layers for every color area gives you the opportunity to change any color later on. We don’t draw a background at this stage, because it’ll be easier to add it after finishing the main parts.

The flat colors are done! Time to move on and add more volume to the dragon.

Filling with flat colors

2. Create a Complete Image of the Dragon

Step 1

Let’s start working on the shadows and lights. As we already made separate layers for every color part, this task will be a piece of cake! Just create a new layer on top of the existing layer and Clipping Group it. This way you will work only inside the chosen area. 

Take the Air Brush to draw shadows and lights, and then use the Water tool to smoothly blend them. Assume our light source is coming from the top left corner, so keep that in mind.

Creating basic shadows and lights

Step 2

After finishing with the basic lights and shadows, continue working on the values. Take the Air Brush or Pen with a hard edge and apply darker colors for the shadows, and then blend it with the Water tool. This process makes the dragon more lively and volumetric.

Hard shadows and smoothing out

Continue this process on other parts of the dragon. Don't forget about the light source.

More shadows and lights on the dragon

Step 3

Our dragon is looking good! But we can make it even better by adding details.

Now we don’t need sketch lines, so we can easily paint over them. Create a new layer on top of the sketch layer, and with the Air Brush and Pen add all the details you want, cover up sketch lines, add highlights to the eye, and so on.

Creating layer for details

Step 4

To brighten up the dragon a little bit more, make a new layer on top of others and set its mode to Overlay. You can have fun trying different colors. I usually work with beige, soft orange, and soft purple.

Notice the difference between these two drawings. Even such minor changes helped to make the picture softer and brighter—exactly what we wanted!

Brighten colors with overlay layer

You can add even more details if you want to. For example, change the contrast, draw more details for the pupil of the eye, and paint over some obvious lines. 

More detalisation

Step 5

Our dragon is almost ready! To really make this illustration vivid and bright, add soft blue lines to highlight the volume. Use a combination of the Air Brush with the Water tool to achieve better results.

 Highlighting lines

And here we have it! Our dragon in all his shining glory! You can see how much life and volume it has now compared to when we started. Nice work, but we can’t stop here, so let’s continue with the boat.

Finished dragon

3. Create a Complete Image of the Boat

Step 1

We have all the flat colors for the boat ready, but we don't have enough contrast. To fix it, go to the layer with the main boat color and change it to bright pink. Use the Bucket tool to get a faster result. Now you can see the increase in contrast. And everything is ready to begin working on shadows and lights.

Changing flats colors for the boat

Step 2

In the same way as we did the dragon, we will work on the boat. Create a new layer on the main color layer and Clipping Group it. Using the Air Brush and Blur tool, start making basic shadows and lights. Always remember where your light source comes from.

Basic shadows and lights

In the same way, work on the waves, first pointing out the main shadows and lights, and then blending them together. You’ll see how they gradually become more and more volumetric.

Adding volume to the boat and waves

Step 3

It’s time for the details! Create a new layer on top of all others and start to paint over obvious lines, adding details and improving the look of the boat.

Painting over sketch layer

Let’s make our boat more interesting with additional decorations. Check photos of the real boats to get some ideas for patterns. In this case, let’s add small dots and color border lines, but you can always have fun experimenting.

Adding decorations

Step 4

Once again, we’ll brighten up the boat using a New layer with Overlay mode. This time, try to apply soft purple, pink and orange to make a difference.

Adding overlay layer

Step 5

Finish the boat by adding even more patterns. Make sure they have good contrast and are suitable for the overall shape.

Finishing touches for the boat

4. Create the Background

Step 1

Our boat is ready to sail, but wait! We haven’t given it a background yet.

Let's fix it. Start with a New Layer beneath all of your layers, and add a circle on the back of the illustration. This kind of blue looks just fine, and gives us a sky feeling. Besides, it has a contrast with the main objects of the illustration, and contrast is always good.

Creating background

Step 2

To make the sky more obvious, let’s add small clouds to it. They are very simple and easy to make—just take the Pen or Air Brush with a hard edge and draw a few circles with different sizes, and then combine them together on the base.

Cloud pattern on background

Great Job! Our Illustration for the Dragon Boat Festival Is Complete!

We've made it through the whole process of creating the illustration, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Making a digital illustration is easy when you go from step to step, so have fun creating, and good luck with your artwork!

Finished illustration
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