How to Create a Seasonal Yin Yang Illustration in Adobe Photoshop


Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

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:
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. 
So let's begin! Set up the canvas to the following specifications:
  • Width set to 3000 x 2400 pixels
  • Resolution set to 300 dpi 
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.

The Yin Yang Base Shapes

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. 

The Final Yin Yang Sketch

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 Referenceon 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. 

Trace the Rose Reference

Once you're done, your rose should like this. 

The Final Rose Sketch

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 yourSnowflake Reference onto the canvas, resize it, and begin tracing. 

Begin Tracing the Snowflake

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). 

Position Duplicates to Finish the Snowflake

Continue these steps until the snowflake is complete. 

The Final Snowflake Sketch

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.

Create a Custom Snowflake Brush

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).

Stamp the Snowflakes onto the Yin Yang

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.

Separate One Snowflake from the Rest

Add some more snowflakes and smaller circles scattered about to complete the snowflake side. 

The Completed Snowflake 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). 

Place the First Rose with the Free Transform Tool

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. 

Make Several Duplicates and Position into Place

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). 

Position the Single Rose into Place with the Free Transform Tool

Here is the yin yang with the completed rose side. 

The Yin Yang with the Completed Rose Side

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 toImage > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal. Once you're finished, Merge all the sketch layers together. 

Flip the Yin Yang Sketch

Here is the completed yin yang sketch. 

Final Sketch for the Yin Yang Illustration

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. 

Fill the Base for the Grayscale Painting

Duplicate the base layer and set it to Multiply. Hit D on your keyboard to set theDefault Foreground and Background Colors to black and white. Begin Erasingany extra gray fill. 

Set the Duplicate to Multiply and Erase Excess

Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) , trace the left side of the yin yang. Select theGradient Tool (G) and set the preset to Foreground to Transparent with an Opacityof 50%. Now drag the marker so that it creates a nicely blended gradient as it moves up the roses. 

Add a Gradient to the Left Side

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.

Add a Gradient to the Right Side

Next we'll be using the Ambient Occlusion technique to shade each rose. Use thePolygonal 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%.

Select a Petal with the Lasso Tool

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.

Shade the Roses

Not sure what I mean yet? Here's a quick animation to break it down. 

Ambient Occlusion Shading Animation

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. 

The Complete Shading for One Rose

Here is the completed rose side with shading. 

The Completed Rose Side with Shading

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.

Fill the Snowflakes with White

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.

Fill All the Snowflakes on the Right Side

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 toright-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. 

Resize the Duplicated Yin Yang

Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Then go back to Edit again, to Flip Vertically. 

Flip the Background Horizontally and Vertically

Adjust the Opacity of the background to 38%. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blurand set the Radius to 3 pixels. 
When you're finished with these steps, bring the Opacity of the Sketch Layer down to25%. Here is the grayscale painting so far.

The Final Grayscale Painting

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. 

Correct the Position of Your Painting and Elements

Since most of my layers are merged together by now, I simply rotate the symbol with theFree 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. 

Final Grayscale Painting

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 toScreen with an Opacity of 60%.

Set Layers to Color Burn and Screen

Right-click to Duplicate this layer again, setting the third layer to Color Burn.

Set the Duplicated 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 theContrast up to 64 to deepen the colors. 

Add an Adjustment Layer for Brightness and Contrast

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. 

Set a Blue Layer to Soft Light

For crisper blues, add a New Adjustment Layer for Channel Mixer, and adjust theRed and Blue Channels for richer, more vibrant hues. 

Adjust with the Channel Mixer

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.

Clean Up Your Painting

 A New Adjustment Layer for Levels is always mandatory for that added boost in vibrancy for your paintings. 

Add a New Adjustment Layer for Levels

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. 

Add Highlights to the Roses

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!

The Final Yin Yang Illustration


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