Santa Illustration Demo by John Walker

When talking to clients about my work as an illustrator, one of the most frequently asked questions is how I go about painting assignments digitally. So here is a step by step procedural, taking a painting from initial drawing to fully rendered, final art.

Santa Claus has been a frequent illustration subject over the years and I have several different treatments of Santa figures drawn up in my sketchbook. I chose one of those to use as the basis for this demo.

Nearly all of my work begins with a traditional pencil on paper drawing. The drawing gets scanned into my system and opened in Photoshop, where it can be cleaned up and adjusted. I like to work on a toned background, so I import a favorite backdrop and use it as a base layer. The drawing layer, now floating above the Background, is changed to a Multiply layer style, made to look like a sepia ink drawing, and the opacity is lowered to 50%.

I move the art to Painter, which I like to use for it’s natural look and feel. I create a new layer, between the canvas pencil layers, and paint in some basic values with an airbrush tool. A background is created to give Santa an environment to stand in.

On another new layer, I begin to lay in local color. I like Painter’s Chalk and Pastel brush categories and use them often, here with Flat Cover on basic paper settings, to give a firmer edge. I like to work over the entire painting at the same time, moving between background and foreground.

Color block-in continues. I want some texture in the illustration, so I use Painter’s Square Chalk brush variant with a heavily textured paper setting on the walls. The drawing remains the top layer acting as a blueprint to keep everything on track.

When the basics are laid down I begin to refine the painting, adding color and rendering form. The moon is added outside the window as a source for some rim light on Santa.

At this point I am far enough along that I can collapse most of the layers into one. I always make a duplicate of the drawing layer first, in case I need to use it as a reference point later on. I usually work with as few layers as practical. This allows the painting tools to interact in a much more natural, traditional media, way.

A view of trees and snow outside gives Santa a winter setting, and the diamond pattern adds an Old World look to the window.

All that’s left now are a few details. Santa gets some overstuffed pockets, the wall gets a trim board, a bit of flash here and there, some minor tweaks, and the painting is complete.