Digital Portraits

August 10, 2018

Sharing my progress through a selection of my digital portraits, as well as some tips and resources I found very helpful.

My very first digital painting was a portrait of Jack Nicholson vs my most recent digital portrait.



I am juggling work, studying online, and writing one blog post a month to keep you updated on my progress for 2018. My first blog post for the year



 Pre-drawing tablet!


I graduated from the faculty of Fine Arts where I studied composition, color theory, perspective and anatomy. We spent most of our 5-year course in the Egyptian Museum, The Agricultural Museum, in Islamic Cairo, Drawing and painting Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman statues, animals, people, and buildings. At that time though I only worked in traditional media. You can find some of my traditional illustrations in my portfolio and here is my most recent upload of K2SO the droid from Star Wars: Rogue One in traditional media.


Post-drawing tablet!


I got my Wacom drawing tablet in 2016. I was unfamiliar with this new tool but I tried to paint in Adobe Photoshop according to the same principles I learned in traditional art. It's a learning curve but you only learn by doing. I chose Jack Nicholson because his face is so expressive.



I was struggling with the new medium and this affected my process terribly but you gotta start somewhere. I was proud of my first digital painting anyways, so I uploaded it to Behance and to my surprise I got commissioned to create unwrapped portraits for 3D characters for an animation studio.



I had made a pencil drawing on colored paper of Doctor Strange and thought why not color it digitally? so I scanned it, cropped it and tried to make it look more traditional.

I then printed it.



then thought I should paint more portraits of women.


different ethnicity...


and also dedicate some time to Negan's leather jacket. to practice painting clothes


This is roughly when I started to focus on my process.




Process makes your life easier

  • because you're moving forward instead of in circles.

  • It lets you estimate how long it will take to finish a piece.

both are important for business.


There is no one right way to go about process but

you want to go 

  • from general to specific,

  • from big to small,

  • from the whole to the details.


You may start with lines then fill them with colors, or start with solid shapes then add details on top.


you may start with grayscale values first or in colors first. 


You can start on a light background then go darker, on a darker background then go lighter, or on a 50% grey and use it as the middle tone and go both lighter and darker.


Find a way that works best for you and your projects.


My usual process is that I start with lines, then work in black and white on a middle tone background, then finally add colors. 


It can change depending on the specifications of the project:

How many colors am I going to use?

How realistic does the illustration need to be?



This is around the time I found Prison Break and watched all seasons several times!


up until this point I had painted adults, old and young, males and females, but no children or babies, so figured I'd give it a go. Here was my attempt at capturing the innocence and puzzlement of this baby.

Then I thought why not do something that has metal surfaces?


different surfaces also like a white cast statue


You should study paintings created by other artists. 



This beautiful girl's portrait is where I put everything I learned over the years together: design, tones, colors, edges, brushes, proportions, my new tools. also a new process where I start in black and white then add colors later similar to glazing in traditional media.


It is very important to keep track of where you are and where you're going.


To get the most out of art you need to:


  • Learn the principles

  • Familiarize yourself with your medium/tool, and of course...

  • lots of practice.




Experimenting with different brushes can give your work its unique look but it won't do the work for you! If you don't know how to draw a circle, or how to shade a sphere.... or if you don't know the proportions of a human face then you need to be looking for something other than brushes.


I was asked several times for keywords to look for tutorials online, here they are: lines, shapes, forms, texture, values, shading, colors, edges, brush work, proportions, perspective, composition, design.

an extra tip is to study composition and lighting as a photographer would. For example, you can find tutorials on the rule of thirds, or on three-point lighting.





you have pencils, charcoal, pens, ink, colored pencils, pastels (soft - hard, oil), gouache, water colors, oil paints, markers, Copic markers,...these are the ones I used but there are others. You can mix and match to get mixed media illustrations, which are loads of fun to create!

  • Each medium has its strengths and limitations. 

  • Make sure you get the right brushes/paper/canvas for each medium.



I work with Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom drawing tablet but you can use any software you like, and some prefer to work on an IPad Pro with Procreate or a Cintiq.  



  • Set a time every day to practice,

  • Use a tool you are familiar with when you want to practice a new principle. That way you can focus on learning the new principle without adding further obstacles or distractions.

  • Draw everything you see, like I mentioned above, try different materials, people's ages and ethnicities, draw people at different angles and with different facial expressions, draw animals, buildings, water, trees.... work those artistic muscles!


Here are some very useful learning content to get you started:



Ctrl Paint


and if you can invest in some online courses:


New Masters Academy


SVS Learn




If you have any questions, leave a comment or join my free illustration study group for support and feedback.


I am currently in the process of studying character design on Schoolism. I'll be working on more portraits ASAP so expect a part 2 to this blog.


Find me on Instagram and Facebook to stay in the loop.  


Contact me for commissions.




Heidi Ahmad  (@heidiGFX)

Digital Illustrator & Colorist

Telling Stories Through Light & Color

Bachelor of Fine Arts

Third Culture Kid (TCK)

Freelance Writer/Translator - Design Guide Magazine

Facebook Page | Instagram | Contact Me








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