Paint What You See - Intro to Digital Painting

Ina Tsetsova, Illustrator

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11 Lessons (1h 22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Choosing a Good Reference

    • 3. Some Color Theory (Part 1)

    • 4. Some Color Theory (Part 2)

    • 5. Some Color Theory Part 3

    • 6. Analyze Your Reference

    • 7. Painting Timelapse (Part 1)

    • 8. Painting Timelapse (Part 2)

    • 9. Blending Modes

    • 10. Gradients and Adjustment Layers

    • 11. Textures and other tips


Project Description

Paint Your First Animal Portrait

Choose Your Reference

  1. Brainstorm

    Create a list of animals you are interested in.


    Don't choose animals you think are easy to paint, but instead concentrate on ones you find appealing in some way. The stronger your emotional response is, the better! 


    Now that your list is complete, try and cross out the ones you haven't seen in person at least once. If you are really set on an animal, you haven't ever seen in a zoo or in nature, then make sure you spend some time looking at photos or even videos of your chosen animal. 


    Get excited! You'll learn faster and better if you have fun with it! 

  2. Choose Your Reference

    Now that you've chosen your animal, it's time to pick the right photo! Make sure your image is high resolution with no peaked shadows and highlights. 


    Avoid blurry, pixelated, or images with a lot of noise. 


    If you are taking the photo, make sure your subject is facing the camera and most if not all of their face is visible. 


    Use Photoshop's adjustments such Levels, Color Balance, and Shadows/Highlights to improve your image if necessary. 


  3. Share Your Image

    This unit is almost done! Congratulations, you're well on your way to starting your first painting! 

    Don't forget to share you photo with the rest of your classmates and start giving feedback. 

Learn a Bit of Theory

  1. Learn About Colors

    Spend sime time playing around with the color palette in photshop. Get used to changing the saturation and value of your colors. Start experimenting with warmth and coolness. Make sure you start on a grey background. Pure white has an extremely light value, which will skew your color perception. 


    If you want to take this to another level, take a look at some of the resources and learn a bit more about color theory. This is a vast topic and there is so much to learn!


  2. Create a Color Palette

    Before you bring your photo to Photoshop, spend a couple of minutes and take a close look at the colors. Are they mostly saturated or disaturated? Are the cool or warm? Where are the highlights and shadows? You can do all of this in your mind. 


    Now that you are familiar with your photo reference, load it up in Photoshop. 

    Just like in traditional painting, you can "premix your colors". This way you wouldn't have to chose from the color picker palette, which makes your colors more consistant. 


    It's time to choose a midtone color pallette.Those would be the colors that are not covered in strong light or shadow. Don't use the colors picker, to get more accurate results and to train your eye at picking the right colors. 


    Next, add shadow and highlight colors to your palette. If your animal has spots or stripes, like this friendly giraffe I photographed in the London Zoo, make sure you choose colors for the main body and the markings as well.

    The lightest color of your shadows should never be as light as the darkest color in your highlights. Having a clear distinction between your shadow and highlight colors will help with creating a 3D looking painting.


    Don't forget - avoid picking colors that are extremely light, dark, or overly saturated. In rare occasions a small amount of saturated color, where a focal point is, can make your image more attractive and easier to read. However, for your first assignment, it's best if you get used to using more natural colors. 


    If you're not sure whether your color palette is correct, you can always double check yourself by color picking the original photo. Do this after you are done with all the steps and you will learn much more about color than if you simply color pick from the start. 

    Useful shortcuts: 

    i - brings up your color picker

    b -  brings up your brush

    Neat trick - hold alt while using you brush for quick color picking 

  3. Create a Block-in Silhouette

    Get your tablet ready, it's time to do a bit of painting. 


    In Photoshop, choose a hard round brush at 100% hardness and 100% opacity. Take your brush off pen pressure. 


    Next, take a look at your Brush menu (bring it up with F5). Make sure that only Smoothness remains checked. This helps keep your strokes smoother. All the other options are not relevant for this exercise. Also make sure that the spacing of your brush is around 10%. If it's less than 10% your Photoshop might become laggy. 


    If your brush spacing is above 10%, your brush might start looking like this :


    Make sure these settings remain like this for both your brush and eraser. Underneath, I've uploaded this exact brush, which you can use for your future block-ins. 

    Now let's set up your workspace. Load up your photo, and then create a new image. Keep this one at about 2000px height/length depending on your photo's orientation. Go to Window - Arrange- 2- up Vertical


    Now your reference will be side by side with your empty canvas. 


    Let's begin blocking in.Make sure that your silhouette is on a separate layer from your background. 

    Using the bucket tool (shortcut G), fill your background with a medium grey color. Next, choose a dark grey and start painting. Try to create a correct silhouette, by sculpting with your brush and cutting away at the shape with your eraser. 


    If you make a mistake, you can always use the free-transform tool (CTRL and T) to change the width or length of your block in. Hold SHIFT to restrain proportions. If you want to edit a particular part of your image, use the lassoo tool ( L) to make a selection around a specific area, and then use the free-transform tool to change its proportions. 


    Make sure you look at the negative space surrounding your image. This will help with accuracy. 

    Once you are satisfied with your block in, you can double check yourself. Drag your block in on top of the original photo. You can either flip your painting layer on and off, or simply reduce it's opacity/fill. 


    If you've made any errors, now is the time to correct them. Having a correct silhouette will be crucial to creating a succesful and correct painting. 

  4. Share your Project

    Don't forget to post your finished block-in and your color palette. You are halfway through this course!


    In the next unit you will begin your digital painting. 

Begin Painting

  1. Analyze Your Reference

    Now that you've created a block in, it's time to take a closer look at some anatomy. Remember, skin is shapeless without the skeletal structure and muscles underneath. Spending even a couple of minutes on observing details of these, will really help you understand your photo reference. 


    Next, try and identify these shapes within your photo. Your brush strokes will need to follow the right directions. Skulls have concave and convex forms, and paying attention to these will really help you with your painting process. You can do these in your mind, or you could highlight in Photoshop.


  2. Start painting with a clipping mask

    Open up your block-in. Make sure that your silhouette is on a separate layer from your background. 

    Using a Clipping Layer, you will be able to paint within the silhouete you made earlier. This is why it's essential that your silhouette is as correct as possible. 


    Use the midtones you defined in the previous unit. You can bring in new colors, if you need to, but try to use a limited number of hues. 

    Remember to work zoomed out, painting in large confident brush strokes. You can flip your canvas horizontally - this will give you a mirror image of your painting. Now you will be able to spot erros easier. 


    Have a layer filled with black on "Color" blending mode to dissaturate your artwork. Seeing only the values will help you spot errors and see which areas need to be lightened/darkened. 


    Paint details last - things like eyelashes, whiskers, tusks, spots, etc. should be painted last.There's no point in adding them, if the stuff underneath isn't correct. 

    Details are like sprinkles on ice cream, they can only make it better, but you need to have the ice cream first. 


  3. Start Introducing Highlights and Shadows

    Now it's time to add some more pronounced highlights and shadows. Do this on a separate layer. 

    Keep in mind that your images would be more visually interesting and appealing, if you slightly cool down or warm  up your shadows.


    Here's an example: to warm up a green, drag the rainbow slider in the color picker towards yellow. If you want to cool it down, drag the slider towards blue. 


    It's best if you choose a warmer shadow with cooler light source, or a cooler shadow with a warmer source. These changes should be quite subtle. The example below is exhaggerated, to explain this concept easier. 


    Here the sphere on the left has the same temperature in the shadows, midtones, and highlights. The sphere has inaccurate color temperature and look smuddy. The sphere in the middle is closest to reality, because the temperature variations are subtle. 


    If you start getting muddy coilors, the difference in temperature between your shadows, midtones, and highlights is just too drastic.

    To fix this, you can color pick where the color doesn't fit, and adjust it in the color picker palette. Then simply paint with a different color. If the values are correct, but only the temprature needs shifting, then use a layer set on "Color" blending mode and paint with the new color on top of the area that looks off. This way you can change the colors non-descructively.

    Some artists paint entirely in grayscale and then color their artwork using this same method. 

  4. Share Your Image

    Once you feel confident that your image is close to being complete, it's time to share it with your classmates. The best way to grow as an artist is to be a part of a community and to expose yourself to feedback. 

    It doesn't have to be perfect. You can post several WIPs (Works in Progress) for your classmates to give feedback to. Actually, taking frequent breaks and saving several version of your image will help you see your progress. 


    Don't be afraid to also offer some feedback as well. 

Finish your portrait

  1. Experiment with blending modes

    Once your image is almost done, you can start adding some finishing touches. 

    Start experimenting with blending modes. I've linked to adobe's tutorial on the differences and uses for these in the Resources Tab. 

    Adding warmer or cooler colors with different blending modes can create a dreamy look, that is often used in photography. 


    • Feel free to make gradients, use textures, or paint over certain details on new a new layer. Then scroll through the different modes and see which effects you like. 
    • Erase through the areas you don't want to keep, which also belnds the effect better. 
    • Change their opacity for more subtle results


    Keep experimenting! 

  2. Use adjustment layers

    You can make different changes to your artwork through the Image - Adjustments menu. If you want to work non-disctrucively, you can create an Adjustment Layer from the Layer - New Adjustment Layer menu. 


    Now you can change the adjustment's opacity, turn it on and off, change it's blending mode, and delete through it. 

  3. Add a photo texture

    To add some more ooomph to your image, you can bring in a photo texture. I've linked to a couple of photo texture websites. Phototextures, just like any other photos, are copyrighted. 

    On the left, you can see the texture I used. And on the right is the unedited texture on the blending mode Hard Light. 



    Just like before, experiment by changing blending modes, erasing, reducing opacity, etc. 

  4. Share Your Final Image

    Congratulations! You have completed your project!


    Don't forget to post your image for the rest of the world to see. I can't wait to check out your awesome portrait!

    I hope you enjoyed this course and you now know enough to continue painting on your own. 

Additional Resources


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