A few months ago I decided that if I wanted to create an art instruction blog (you’re reading it now), then I wanted to expand my own skill base as much as possible. Not because I wanted to master every medium on the planet (good luck there!), but because I find that I continually learn more about art in general by pushing my own boundaries. It’s easy to get complacent. You see it a lot in artists who have the “one face.” They’ve developed a kind of shorthand for their work so they can get to the bits they enjoy.
One of the first things I tackled was painting in Photoshop. I’m using a very, very inexpensive pen and tablet from Monoprice and, never having used a tablet before I like it well enough (though to be fair I have nothing to compare it to). What follows is still a work in progress, but I wanted to catalogue the process since I often put down a piece like this and return to it days or even weeks later.
The first thing I did was create a new Photoshop file and filled the background layer with a neutral gray tone. I knew I was going to be working in value and I wanted a mid-tone so I could push the shadows and pull the highlights. Then I created a new layer and set the Blending Mode to Multiply. I chose a hard round brush and sketched this in quickly. Obviously I’m using reference here, so I had the original image and the sketch window open side by side. I also had them scaled the same, so I had a built-in guide for proportion. All in all, this bit took me about 15 minutes. I’m just trying to get a framework in there so I can start laying in “paint.”
I went after the shadows first, especially on that shadow that forms the nose. Without it, her face would be completely flat. I’m also noticing at this stage that the eye on the right is a bit off, but I tell myself I’ll fix it later. (This later turns out to be a mistake. Always fix the problem when you see it.) I also started adding a few lighter values, starting to get the feel of the palette. At the top of the image, you can see a few quick color swatches. I use those with my eyedropper to sample the colors on the fly. Later on, I’ll just sample colors from the work itself, but this is a good way to start.
Doesn’t look like I changed anything, does it? Well, if you look close at the eyes, you can see a little sparkle in the eyes. That’s actually on a separate layer with the Blending Mode set to Screen. I’ll be using that more later on, but I wanted to start to get a little more depth. Also, it’s worth noting that when you create these layers, they simply come in named by number — Layer 2, Layer 7, etc. I always immediately re-name the layer so that I can tell what it is at a glance. I have layers for Background, Line Art, Values and Highlights.
At this point I decided to stop for the night. I was getting sloppy and I found that I was getting more easily frustrated when things weren’t going perfectly. Normally, I just let that roll off my back, but the longer I stare at the same piece of work, the less likely I am to see errors as they happen and the more upset I get when I see something I should have caught much earlier in the process. This is where I tried to start fixing that eye on the right. I’m not quite happy with it yet.
As this is a work in progress, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for how far away from the final image I am. It looks like a face. It even looks like a woman. It doesn’t look as much like the source image as it will when I’m done (fingers crossed).
If I was painting on the original background layer, I could have used the Dodge and Burn tools to do much of this work, but I’m keeping the values on a separate layer so I can make adjustments later on. This is just my method. It seems to like some of the other digital painters I’ve seen, but not all of them. You’ll find your own way. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll get lost in the digital landscape and have to use your tablet’s pen to stab wild pixels to stay alive. Who knows?
More to come. Stay tuned! Something not clear or want more info? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer as fast as I can!