Character Concept Art: From Grayscale to Full Color Illustration

Magdalena Pagowska, Concept Artist & Illustrator

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7 Lessons (43m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Introduction: Layers

    • 3. Introduction: Blending Modes and Styles

    • 4. Grayscale

    • 5. Color

    • 6. Textures and Final Touches

    • 7. Color Variations


Project Description

Character Design: Create a Full Color Digital Illustration


  1. Get to know your tools

    Take some time to experiment with various brush settings. Next, make some layers and play around with locking them, linking multiple layers and using masks. Treat this part as a warm up and make sure you understand the tools. Think of when and how you'll be able to use them while painting.

  2. Experiment with blending modes

    Open a photo and add a layer on top of it. Fill it with any colour and change the blending mode. Try out various colours with different level of saturation. See which effects look interesting to you and try to remember them for later.

  3. Experiment with styles

    Draw a shape on a separate layer and try applying various styles to it. Consider how you might be able to use them for your painting.


  1. Prepare your sketch

    Think of what you want to draw and prepare your sketch on a separate, transparent layer. You can go with any theme you wish, you don't have to draw a fantasy character like I did. The techniques you're about to learn will work with any subject matter at all.

  2. Add basic shading

    Add a layer below your sketch and start shading. Don't worry about making it look smooth and adding a lot of details at this stage. Focus on the consistent light source.

  3. Continue shading

    Keep adding layers on top of your sketch and continue with the proper shading. Try using blending modes such as soft light, overlay, multiply or screen to adjust the values. Continue until you have a colid base for further work.


  1. Add basic colors

    Choose a layer to lay out your basic colors. Best choice will be Soft Light, Overlay or Color. Don't get discouraged if your colors don't look perfect at this stage. You will build them up step by step.

  2. Continue layering colors

    Keep adding layers with various blending modes to build up convincing looking colors. Try not to use the same hue for an entire surface. Rather, add subtle hints of other shades to make the color richer. Use as many layers as you need.

  3. Fix your mistakes

    Feel free to fix any mistakes you might have spotted at any time during the process of creating your illustration (it doesn't have to be at this particular point). Flip your canvas to spot them more easily or ask a friend to help you find any parts that might use improvement.

  4. Clean up the shading

    When you're satisfied with your colors add some normal layers and using the shades you already have on your canvas go through the clean up process. Add more detail to your work. If your shading looks rough take some time to smooth it out and cover any unnecessary lines (like parts of the sketch showing through).

Final Touches

  1. Add textures

    Look up some textures online (below you will find links to some of the free textures websites I use) or take your own photos. Add them onto your picture. Be careful not to make them too strong or the results might look unnatural. It's a good idea to draw over the textures a bit to make them stand out less.

  2. Make final fixes

    Take some time to fix your details and enchance the depth by using the contrast and saturation adjustments. Make your image look finished, add some effects on styles if you wish.

  3. Create color variations

    Make as many alternative color versions as you please. Change dark colors to light and the other way around. Try using only the blending modes for your changes.

Additional Resources

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