Create a Character Illustration with Photoshop | Ramona Kaulitzki | Skillshare

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Create a Character Illustration with Photoshop

teacher avatar Ramona Kaulitzki, Children's illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

10 Lessons (1h 27m)
    • 1. Welcome

    • 2. Photoshop Techniques

    • 3. Writing a Character Description

    • 4. Gathering Inspiration and References

    • 5. Rough Sketches

    • 6. Refining the Sketch and Adding Values

    • 7. Color Studies

    • 8. Final Drawing

    • 9. Adding Color

    • 10. Congratulations

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About This Class

Learn to create a unique charater illustration with Photoshop.


My name is Ramona Kaulitzki and I‘m a children‘s illustrator from Germany. Drawing and painting my whole life, I became a fulltime freelance artist in 2012. I started as a vector artist and then switched to being a children‘s illustrator.

In this class I will walk you through my entire illustration process, all the way from the initial idea to the finished piece.

I will teach you an easy way to create an illustration with digital pencil using Photoshop. You will learn how to create a unique character illustration from start to finish, step by step. We will start with writing a description of the character that you want to design, gathering inspiration and reference material, studying your subject, doing rough sketches and color studies and finally creating the finished artwork.

At the end of this class you will have a completely finished character illustration that you can add to your portfolio, share on social media or make prints out of.

This class is suited for beginners as well as people with a little more experience who maybe want to switch from working traditional to working digital or for people who just want to see a different approach of creating an illustration. For this class you will need some version of Photoshop and some kind of drawing tablet.


You can see more of my work on my website

or follow me on Instagram and on Twitter.


Meet Your Teacher

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Ramona Kaulitzki

Children's illustrator



Hello there! I'm Ramona, a children's illustrator from Germany. Having an education in graphic design, I started freelancing fulltime in 2012. Since my real passion always was drawing and painting I later switched to being a children's illustrator, which is really a dream job for me! I just love creating little characters and thinking about the world they live in. Illustration is so much more than just a craft. You can tell whole stories only with your images. And that is what resonates most with me. I love to make people smile with my illustrations and it always makes me so happy to hear that I brightened someones day with one of my images.  

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1. Welcome: Hello and welcome to my Skillshare class, Create a Character Illustration with Photoshop. My name is Ramona Kaulitzki and I'm a children's illustrator from Germany. I'm working as a freelance artist since 2012. I started as a Vector artist and then switched to being a children's illustrator. In this class, I will walk you through my entire illustration process all the way from the initial idea to the finished piece. I will teach you an easy way to create an illustration with digital pencil using Photoshop. You will learn how to create a unique character illustration from start to finish step-by-step. We will start with writing a description of the character that you want to design, gathering inspiration and reference material, studying your subject, doing rough sketches and color studies, and finally, creating the finished artwork. At the end of this class, you will have a completely finished character illustration that you can add to your portfolio, share on social media, or make prints out of. This class is suited for beginners as well as people with a little more experience. Maybe you want to switch from working traditional to work in digital or for people who want to see a different approach of creating an illustration. For this class, you will need some version of Photoshop and some drawing tablet. Let's get started and thank you so much for joining this class. 2. Photoshop Techniques: Before we start with our illustration, I want to show you some basic photoshop techniques that are used to create this illustration here. Like I said before, I use Photoshop CC but another version of Photoshop should be fine too. To start Photoshop and you can choose one of the measurements under add an illustration or choose your own measurements. I use poster in this case. This is 18 by 24', but like I said, you can type in your own measurements. The measurements of your image are really not that important. More important is the image resolution and this is 300 pixels per inch here. This is what I would recommend for a high res image. I usually work with 300 pixels per inch, unless I'm doing client work, then I go sometimes up to 500-600 pixels per inch depending on the work, but 300 is perfectly fine. Then choose RGB color. If you create digital illustrations or anything that is showing up on a screen, you should always choose RGB color. You can leave the rest as it's. Then click on create and here we have our blank Canvas. The first thing that I always do when I start a new illustration is to create a second window. Drag your window aside, click on window, arrange, and new window for your file. This will create a second window. Drag it at the upper left corner and make it small like this. Arrange your other window according to that so that you can see both of your windows like this. I do this every time I create an illustration because it is super helpful to have a smaller version on the side to see the bigger picture of illustration, so to speak. If you're working digital, you can zoom in very far and get easily lost in working on the details. It is super helpful to always have the bigger picture in mind of the illustration because if your illustration doesn't work as a whole in the smaller size, it doesn't make sense to work on more details. Every now and then take a look at the smaller size image of your illustration to see if your illustration works as a whole. The next thing that I want to show you is how to create a new layer. The white corner, you see the layer panel , and just click on this little icon, go to a new layer and now you can name your layer. I name this drawing, and hit okay and there you have a new layer. Another way to create a new layer is to click on this little icon and this way, just create a new layer on top of this. To delete a layer, just drag this layer down to this little bins symbol in the corner, and that's where you delete your layer like this. Now that we have our drawing layer, we can choose a brush to paint with and you can do this here under brushes. Just choose runoff photoshop's brushes. I choose in this case, this pencil brush and then go to brush settings here. By the way, if you don't have these panels open, go to window and here you find your layers panel and here you find your brushes and your brush settings. Here are your brush settings and like you can see, there are a variety of different options that you can play with. I sometimes decrease the whiteness of my brushes so the texture is a bit more visible. Just play around with these settings and see what they all do and create your perfect brush. Now you can change the flow to about 70 percent. I want to imitate pencil so I choose a color according to that. This would be a more warmer gray, more in the darker area, but not too dark like this. Here you can change the size of your brush. I have it as a little shortcut on my stylus, which is really convenient. I have a rather smaller size. As a little example, I will draw a little piece of fur here like this. Just draw like you would on a piece of paper. Then choose a slightly darker color to add some shadows to it. Always take a look at the smaller version of your illustration. I think this will do it. Then go to your layer pen and set your layer to multiply, see all this mode here, just choose multiply, and what this will do is it will darken everything that is underneath this layer, like if you would look through sunglasses. It would've darkened it and mix it a little bit with the color of your layer. Then create a new layer, a new normal layer, and name it color, and set it underneath your drawing layer. Then choose a color. I choose here a warmer brown, and increase my brush size a little bit. Just paint underneath your drawing layer. What I sometimes do when I find my edges to be too harsh, I choose my eraser and just slightly erase the edges a little bit. This will make them appear a bit softer. When I erase too much, I will go again in with my pencil. A tool that I use very often is the Lasso tool, I find that here it, always L. Just choose the layer you want to make a selection on, then make a selection. Here on the drawing, hit "Control T", and now you can move the selection, hit "Shift" and drag it bigger or smaller. You can even rotate this. Just say we want it like this, then hit "Enter" and "Control D" to deselected it. Another thing that I oftentimes do, is I create a third layer on top of my drawing layer. Just call it light, and go to the modes and choose overlay. You really have to experiment a bit with all these modes. They all do different things to your layer. But in this case, we just go with overlay, chose a very warm orange, and draw on top of the drawing layer like this. Then choose the eraser, and soften the edges a little bit. This is a really easy way to get some nice lighting effect in your illustration. Like you can see here, it will not also affect your color layer, but also you're drawing layer. If you don't want this, drag the slide layer underneath your drawing layer, and it will only affect your color. But I like it this way, so I leave it so. Then another thing that you can do is create a new layer, and call it shadow. Set that again to multiply and choose a cool blue or purple color. Now you can paint in some shadows. I've already selected my eraser, so it won't paint. Select the brush and paint in some shadows like this. Again, chose the eraser and soften your edges, unless you want harsh edges. Now we have all these layers, so it is a good idea to organize them by putting them all into a group, so hold "Shift", select them all, make a right-click and go to group form layers. Now I can name your group. I just name it fur. Now we have all our layers selected into a group on one layer. What I do then is to copy this layer, I drag it down to this little icon. I make the other group invisible by clicking on the "I", then right-click and merge group. This will merge all your layers onto one layer. What can see here is in the overlay layer. I will show you how to avoid this. This happens if you merge layers which have such modes. Hit "Control Z" to go a step back, and go into your group, create a new layer, and put it right underneath your last layer. Now we basically paint your right background. Again, I have selected the eraser, so select the brush and paint a white background like this. Now if we merge our group, it will stay like it was before. The effects will all be visible. Another thing that I oftentimes do is to flip my canvas. Just go to image, image rotation, and flip canvas horizontal, and this will flip your whole canvas, and this will give you a fresh look to your illustration. I find it sometimes easier to spot out any drawing mistakes this way, or any proportions that are not right or something. Just remember this and do this every now and then to get a fresh look at your illustration. To flip it back, go again to image, image rotation, and flip canvas horizontal, and now it is flipped back. These are all the Photoshop techniques that I've used to create this illustration. Hopefully this was somewhat helpful for you. If you are new to Photoshop, you may need to come back to this video later, when you create your own illustration. What I found super helpful when I first started to learn Photoshop, is to have a little note book. I wrote down everything that I've learned about this program, and every time I would create a new illustration, I had my little notebook, and I would apply everything that I've wrote down to this illustration. This was a great way to learn this program. Photoshop is a huge program with many tools. I've probably used only 5-10 percent to create this illustrations. This is fine. I would really recommend to keep it simple, especially at the beginning, and for this sort of illustration, you really can keep it simple. You don't need a lot of effects and things. Now we can start with our illustration. 3. Writing a Character Description: The first step is to think about what character you want to design. Choose something you're really excited about, it will definitely show later in the finished illustration. I personally almost always start with words for my illustrations. It really helps me to have some idea in mind while I draw, and I can make decisions according to that during my creative process. For this class project, you can choose whatever character you want. You can make up your own character, or you can take a character from your favorite story or fairy tale. Here are some things to think about that will help you to write your own character description: Is your character a human, an animal, or fantasy creature? Is your character a female or male? How old is your character? What is your character's personality like? This is super important. Is your character, for example, more introverted or extroverted, brave or anxious, funny or sincere, kind or mean? Then, what is your character's favorite activity, food color, season, and so on? Does your character have any hobbies? Also think about your character's social background. Who are your character's friends and family? What is your character's environment? Where does your character come from and where does your character live now? Were there any important events and experiences? Lastly, think about your character's appearance. Although if you want to create your own character, this is not absolutely necessary yet, you can also explore their appearance later in this sketch phase if you want. But if you want to create a character from an already existing text, I would strongly recommend to write down as many details about your character as you can find. You don't need to include all these aspects to your descriptions, but if you have fun doing it, you can even add more, just like you want. Keep in mind that all these things can influence each other. For example, many people use fashion and hair styles to express their personality. You can do the same thing with your character designs. Here, you can see my character description, and you can see it doesn't have to be a whole text. It can just be some keywords. I want to create an adult male koala. He's introverted, very curious, and friendly. He loves nature and studying it, and does a lot of exploration trips into the woods. He lives in a little forest in a neighborhood with lots of other koalas, always carries a little sketchbook to write about plants and insects he finds and to make little drawings of it. Now, it's your turn. Write a description for the character that you want to create and post it to the project page. 4. Gathering Inspiration and References: Once you have decided what character you want to create it is time to gather some inspiration. You can find inspiration on Pinterest, Google images and books. I have, for example, a lot of art of books that I love to look through for inspiration. Nature is always nice to look at. Of course, social media and there are many other places that you can get. Choose one emotion that underlines your character's personality or conveys a particular story that you want to tell with your illustration. Search for images that communicate on this exact idea. The goal is to create an illustration that triggers a particular emotion on the viewer. This way, your audience can really connect with your art work. You should be very clear right from the beginning about what emotion or story you want to convey with your piece. Your mood board can include everything from color palettes, patterns, textures, other illustrations, photos, objects, etc. Personally, I like to search for some with reference material at this point and include it into my mood board. I usually make a private Pinterest photo for bigger projects, where I gather all my inspiration and if possible, my reference material. This way I have it honestly organized in one place and I can look at it wherever I am and I don't clutter my PC with all these images. You should be careful with reference images though. We will talk about this later a bit more, but look for images that are free to use, sites like and Unsplash are great sources to search for reference photos. Of course, take your own photos, I have tons of photos on my PC with my own reference photos and that is super helpful. If you have the possibility, definitely take your own photos. Here you can see the Pinterest board that I created for this project. Like you can see, it contains all sorts of different images and illustrations that could be helpful or inspirational for me. Many different characters and things. Yes, I really want to convey his love and curiosity, fun nature in this illustration. That is why I have lots of insects and nature images there that could be helpful. Here you can see me studying some reference photos that are found on I do this not every time I do an illustration, but every time I have to draw something that I've never drawn before and I've never drawn or painted the color before. I thought I do some studies and I think this is really important to do with this just to get a feeling for the animal or the subject that you want to draw. This is not just for animal characters, but for all things. For example, if you want to create a mermaid illustration, I would suggest to do some studies of fish scales and maybe hair flowing in the water. This we'll really show later in your illustration and make it much more believable. In here in this case and I think most important is the fur of the koala and the ears, I really wanted to get the feeling of that ride. Also obviously, the nose is very important. I think koalas have very special eyes so I want to get that across later in my illustration. I don't use reference material to copy it when I want to run later in the illustration. But I pick out one or two things like the nose and the ears and the eyes, and the fur whatever and combine it with my style. It's somewhat stylized, but also a believable and you can tell that it is a koala. I also sped this up a lot so I'm not that fast at drawing unfortunately. Yeah, I just thought this is not a drawing class and that would be head, but it might be a little bit boring to see me draw for an hour. You can even skip this part if you want. But I wanted to include it because like I said, it is really important to do this studies, they will make your illustration later so much more believable. For this lesson, I want you to create a mood board and gather some reference images. Study your subject and post both, your mood board and your studies on the project page. 5. Rough Sketches: In this lesson, I will show you two different approaches to avoid a solid character sketch. This is really one of the most fun parts of doing an illustration for me. You can experiment quite a lot using different shapes, sizes, and gestures and just have fun. The first approach is to pick up a rough opaque brush, and create some really rough silhouette drawings. Just have fun with it and experiment with different size and shape variations. This exercise is perfect for warming up and to quickly get an idea on what works and what doesn't. The goal is not to create perfect drawings, you just want to get a rough idea on the general shapes and the silhouette of a character. The second approach is basically the same as the silhouette one. Only that this time we will use lines. It is super important to start really rough. Don't get caught up in details at the beginning. These drawings don't need to pretty at all. This way you can easily correct and improve things before investing a lot of time, and you will keep a nice energy in your drawings. Just like in the silhouette approach, try out all sorts of different size and shape combinations. As you want you can also already try out different gestures. This can really help to express the character's personality and or mood. Happy people carry themselves differently than depressed ones, confident people are different than shy ones, and so on. In this case, I'm only concentrating on shapes and proportions because I already have a gesture in mind for this illustration. But most of the times I do experiment quite a lot with is to find the right pause. To get better at this, I would recommend studying the characters of your favorite illustrators and character designers. You will learn so much during this. Just copy character designs and illustrations that you really love and find out what makes this artwork so appealing to you. Studying animation is also very helpful to improve your gestures and character drawings. I do this little exercise almost every morning as a warm-up exercise before I start to work on my own illustrations. It really helps me to warm up and to get some new ideas and inspiration for my own art. Keep in mind that this is just an exercise to get better at your craft. Please don't pose these drawings and claim them as your own. Of course, live drawing and observing people on the streets is also a very helpful exercise. Make sure to draw as much as you can, take classes, apply the knowledge to your work, and over time you will definitely get better. Pick one of these exercises, or if you want you can do both. But do at least 20 rough drawings and post your results to the project page. 6. Refining the Sketch and Adding Values: Now that we have a rough idea of our character, we can begin to refine the sketch and work on a few more details as well as the values. Pick the sketch that you are most happy with, copy it on a new layer, decrease the opacity of this layer and create a new layer on top of it. Now you can draw over your drawing like you would do with a lighting table. Repeat this process as often as you need till you're happy with the result. At this point, you don't have to worry about textures or rendering things out. We just want to create a plan, so to speak, for the final illustration. It really helps to start an illustration with a clear plan. It's just so much easier to correct things at an early stage than to redraw things after you've already spent hours on rendering out every little detail. It may sound unnecessary or like more work, if you're not familiar with this process, but trust me, it will save you a lot of time and frustration if you have everything planned out before getting to the final illustration. After we have refined the sketch, we can add value to it. Values are extremely important for every illustration. Even more important than color. If your illustration doesn't work in black and white, it will most likely not work in color. That is why I always create a black and white version of my illustration before I add color to it. The viewer will automatically look at first to the area with the most contrast and value. So decide where your focal point should be and emphasize on this area using strong value contrast. In this case I want to emphasize his face. Therefore, I make his large nose the strongest contrast. This will be the first thing the viewer will look at. When you create your values also think about light. Choose the lighters and think about which areas are lightened by it and which areas are in shadow. It is easiest to just have one clear light to us. This could be the sun, a candle, a window, whatever makes sense in your illustration. Just keep in mind the direction the light is coming from. You can even make a little arrow as a reminder, like I did here. Refine your drawing, add values and light and share the result on the project page for feedback. 7. Color Studies: Now that we have a black and white drawing of our illustration, we can explore some color options. Color is a great way to convey emotions and even your character's personality. So choose colors and that really makes sense in your illustration. Copy a value drawing four times and arrange them on your canvas. Create a new layer on top of this and set it to color mode. This way you can add color to your images without changing your values. Keep in mind that areas which are completely black or white will not be affected by this. So it is easiest to have your join in grace gray and to avoid pure blacks or whites. For most of my illustrations, I use only two to three main colors and different nuances. This is an easy way to get a nice color harmony in your images, and it gives it a somewhat cohesive feel, and also helps to think about the temperature of your colors. Warmer colors like orange and red tend to come more forward. Unlike cooler colors like blues and blueish greens, they tend to fight back a bit more. You cannot only use values to create a contrast, but also column. You could, for example, make an illustration with cool blues and greens, and gives you a focal point, a hot orange or red color, or vice-versa. This will immediately lead the viewer's eye to a focal point. Like you can see here, colors in this mode can look a little bit washed out, but it is a great way to quickly explore different color options and to see in which direction you want to go with our final illustration. For all of my illustrations, I do at least four of these color studies. They don't take too long and it's just way easier to experiment with different color combinations at an early stage. Then later in the final drawing. For this lesson, make at least four color studies and post them to the project page. 8. Final Drawing: Now, that we have a clear plan of our illustration, we can start with the final drawing. If you have made it to this point, the rest will be fairly easy. Pick your favorite color, study, copy it on a new layer, increase it to the size you want your final illustration to be, and decrease the capacity to 10-15 percent. The trick of making your illustrations not look so digital is simply to approach it like you were to traditional drawing. Pick runner Photoshop Spencer brushes, go to brush settings and adjust the brush if you want to. I sometimes increase in the texture of my brush a bit by lowering the brightness, just play around with the settings to find the perfect pencil that works for your illustration. Start drawing as if we would draw as regular pencil on paper. For most of my illustrations, I usually start with a black and white drawing. But if you want to, you can choose colors and tried to imitate colored pencil. To give your illustration a bit more flow and worth them, pay attention to the direction of your lines. They should wrap around elements to make them look more three-dimensional. Here I pay close attention to the direction of the fur, and I try to imitate that in my drawing. Just experiment a little bit and see what you like the most and what describes the texture of what you want to draw best. Do whatever you like, crosshatching, little circuit, point, a lot of short lines or a lot of long flowy lines, but try to be consistent throughout the whole illustration to have a cohesive fear. Post your finished drawing to the project page, [inaudible]. 9. Adding Color: After we have finished our drawing, we can finally add colors and textures. If you have multiple layers for the drawing like I do in this case, group them or reduce them to one layer and set this layer to multiply. Then create a new normal layer underneath that. This is where you will add your color. Take the color picker, pick the colors that you've already established in your color study, and start coloring you're drawing. After that, you can create another layer on top of your drawing layer, set it to Color dodge, Overlay, or Screen, and emphasize some of your colors. This is of course optional and depends on your personal taste and how you want your illustration to look like. I think it really helps to get a nice sense of light in your illustration. This part always takes a little bit of experimentation and is different for each illustration. I often times end up putting another normal layer on top of this where I adjust areas that I find are too dark or have too much texture or something. [MUSIC] To give your illustration the last finishing touches, we can add some interesting textures to create a more traditionally and unique look. The first way you can get some interesting textures in your illustration is to experiment with the Photoshop brushes. You can create some really nice effects using only these brushes. I personally really like the pencil brush and the watercolor brushes, I use them most of the time when I create an illustration. You can add them over your color layer or over your drawing layer. Just have fun and experiment. There's really no right or wrong way to do this. If you want to use some patterns or photo textures to gives you a illustration a unique touch, there are some great sites which provide a variety of textures. My favorite one is Just create an account, search for whatever you need, download it and incorporate it into your illustration. Of course, you can also create your own textures. You can use all kinds of different mediums, like watercolor, acrylic, pencil and so on. Scan them in and apply them to your illustration. You may need to set these textures to multiply or whatever is best in your case, and erasing the part that you don't need. Here you can see me changing the color a bit. I somehow felt that this needed another color accent and it is perfectly fine to change things at every stage if you feel this could improve your illustration. Unless you're working with an art director who is expecting you to do things in a particular way, then you should really first discuss this with her. But this process that I'm showing you here is really just a general structure for creating an illustration that should help you to know where to start and to get your illustration finished. When I first started digital painting, I had no structure at all. I had a lot of fun doing it but the outcomes of my illustrations were super unpredictable, having a process that you can follow step-by-step is really helpful to get things done in an efficient way. 10. Congratulations: Here we have it, a full colored character illustration. Congratulations on finishing this class. I really hope you had fun doing your own unique illustration with me, and learned some new things along the way. Share your work with your co-students on the project page for feedback, and on social media. Feel free to tag me and let me know if you have any questions at all. I'm super excited to see all the characters that you've created. Thank you so much for attending this course. Until next time, bye.