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How to turn a sketch into a Santa Claus illustration

We’re only weeks away from catching Santa Claus in our houses. This tutorial will show you how to create a Crazy Santa illustration from sketch that I’ve made for it. This is also a complex guide for creating characters from sketch. Intermediate knowledge of Adobe Illustrator is advised.

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Final Image Preview

Step 1

Always start creating your character from sketching him on the paper, even if are not going to scan your sketch and use it later. Sketches help you to focus on you character and implement your best ideas. Here is the sketch of the Santa that I’m going to illustrate (click to view full-size).

It always better to scan your images at a high resolution. My cropped sketch is 717×965 pixels which is pretty well.

Step 2

Open Illustrator, create a new document an import you sketch. Go to File > Place, you can either import your image, adjust the size, reduce the opacity and lock the layer or you can just check the template box if the image already has the right size. My doesn’t so i did it first way.

The process of transforming a sketch to a vector image isn’t easy and requires Pen Tool drawing skills.

Create a new layer and name it Body. Open layer options and set the magenta as the color for the paths.

Select the pen tool and start tracing the body paths.

Then draw the legs and hands.



For the hands, draw just two paths, we’ll give them strokes later to achieve the needed result.

Take advantage of other Illustrator tools, use rounded rectangle tools for drawing gloves. Adjust the radius of the corners by pressing up and down arrows on your keyboard.Do the same to the second glove.

Draw Santa’s belt.

Step 3

We’re now moving to the head. Create a new layer and name it Head and Face. You can also set the same options for this layer as we did with the last one. It’s a good idea to take into consideration the sequence of the shapes you’re drawing in order to have less stuff to adjust later.

Our lowest sublayer will be the ear sublayer.

Then goes the head.

Now draw the Santa’s whiskers.

Trace now the beard path. This is probably the hardest path from our image because of the swirls.

Draw the right (Santa’s left) mustache first and then the left side.

Draw the nose.

Start drawing the hat from it’s main part then go with details.

Draw the eyebrows.

Use ellipse tool to draw a cheek and the eyes. Draw just the outline stroke of the eyes, we’ll add details later.

Step 4

Now we’ll draw the chair. The chair will be separated on two layer because a part of it is hiding Santa’s legs. Create two new layers, name Chair 1 the first one and Chair 2 the second. Drag the Chair 1 layer under the Body layer and make Chair 2 the top layer.

Select Chair 2 layer and start tracing the chair.

Select now the Chair 1 layer and continue drawing the parts hidden after Santa.

Add some details.

Step 5

We’ve made it to the most interesting part of the tutorial. We’re now adding color! Remove the sketch or make it invisible. Press Command + A to select everything and give it a 1pt stroke so now everything is visible. You’ll be removing strokes one by one when filling paths with colors.

At this point he maybe looks a bit strange but it’s fine. Since our layers and sub layers are structured correctly you can start coloring from whatever you want, but I prefer starting from head of the body.

Step 6

Select the head path and give it a gradient from #EF896E to #F9BAA0, adjust it’s position and don’t forget to remove the stroke.

As I said before, we’ll draw the eyes and details. Select the left eye, by using the Offset Path command (Object > Path > Offset Path ) create two smaller circles inside this one. I used -5 and -6 pixels as the Offset value.

Fill the biggest circle with white, the smallest with 90% gray and the middle one with a radial gradient from #2B3990 to #27AAE1 .

Draw another two small circles intersecting the middle and the smallest eye circles. These will be he highlights.

Delete the second eye and place a smaller copy of the first one instead.

Select the cheek circle, and give it a red ( 80% opacity ) to transparent radial gradient.

Give a linear gradient from #C45567 to #EF6280 to the nose.

Draw a small white circle on the tip of the nose and give it a 6.6 pixels Gaussian Blur.

Select a mustache and give it a linear gradient from #ABCAD3 to #EAF7F9 .

Select the beard path and give it the same gradient but make it radial this time.

Apply the same linear gradient to whiskers.

Select the ear shape and using Eyedropper Tool apply the face gradient to it and make radial.

Select the white hat details and give them both a radial gradient from 10% gray to white.

Select the hat itself and give it a linear gradient from #A12027 to #CE242E .

For the gloves use the same gradient as we’ve for the hat.

Select the eyebrows and apply the mustache gradient to them.

Select the body path and apply the same gradient that we’ve applied to hat but adjust it’s position.

Select the hands paths and give a 9pt bright red ( from gradient ) stroke.

Select the inside part of the dress path and fill it a dark red.

For the main belt path will use a linear gradient from 90% gray to 80%.

For the second belt shape apple a radial gradient from #FBB040 to #F9ED32 .

Select both legs paths and apply the same gradient as we used to the body and adjust their position.

For the boots use a black to 90% gray linear gradient.

Step 7

Since we’ve finished with coloring Santa himself, we move to the chair.

Select all metallic details of the chair, select the Eyedropper Tool and click on Santa’s golden belt shape to apply it’s gradient to all selected paths.

Select chair paths one by one and start applying the same gradient to them ( from #27AAE1 to #1C75BC ) adjusting their positions according to the general light that we have in our illustration.

Select the last leg and give it a dark yellow fill.

Select those small lines on the chair, make them no stroke and give them a dark blue fill.

Give your image a background and a shadow and our illustration is ready! Is Santa crazy or is he a genius? you decide.

Final Result

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