Digital Painting Technique

In mid-January, I set a goal for myself to level up in 6 months. As part of that goal, I started developing this technique where every stage of my digital painting looks like a complete yet different style.

  • Black & White Silhouettes

  • Greyscale (Solid Values Only)

  • Introducing Colors (The Under-Painting)

  • Edge Work

  • Finishing the Painting

  • Final Touches

I wrote about my journey as a digital portrait artist in my previous blog, and here I continue sharing my progress.

The initial motive behind creating these 3 portraits using this new technique was to make my process well-planned and more efficient. As I shared the different-styled stages, I got more attention and was offered to work on varied projects.

Black & White Silhouettes

The more time you spend looking at your subject the better the results you'll get at the end. This stage does at least 2 things for your portrait

  • gets color out of the way temporarily

  • lets you focus on your subject in terms of simple shapes

as you may have noticed, light and shadow play a big part from the get go.

Once you finish this stage you basically have something that looks a lot like what you see in black and white comics. Check out the work of the great Will Eisner as an example. He also wrote Comics and Sequential Art that I found very informative.

or have a look at Sin City comics...below is a sample from That Yellow Bastard:

Since at this stage, my portraits were in this style, I started to get offers to work in comics.

Greyscale (Solid Values Only)

Instead of using only 2 values, solid black and white, you now get to use 3 to 5 values.

You now need to flesh out the tones between the 2 extremes.

Keep in mind that, depending on the light source, you may have light colors that are dark and dark colors that look light. This is the stage where you decide what the tones for each area will be for your intended results.

The Walking dead Comics have a similar style as you can see here:

Introducing Colors (The Under-Painting)

Colors don't need to be the perfect hues at this stage but get them as close as possible to what you want, and better even keep them a little darker. How do you go about doing this?

Glazing And Adjustment Layers:

Go on a different layer and set the mode to color. choose the colors you want and start painting. if the colors need to go a little bit darker you can add an adjustment layer to fix this quickly.

Sped up clip from a live Facebook video to show the stage where I introduce colors.

Why keep it darker at this stage?

because it's easier to work in traditional painting style, like oil painting. The darker colors of the underpainting will make the lighter ones you add pop out better.

Important Notes:

when you set the layer mode to "color" you are basically telling the layer to use the hue you choose + the value of the layer below. So if the layer below is dark, your color will be dark, and if it's light, your color will be light no matter what you do.

To let the color show on black, you need to lighten the black a little using adjustment layers because black is basically the absence of color. It's complete darkness so you can't see anything.

more on coloring

Edge Work

New layer, start sampling existing colors and creating middle tones between the solids. Which edges should stay sharp? which ones need to be soft? or lost? methods you can use:

  • a brush with the opacity linked to your hand pressure

  • a textured brush to create those tonal gradations a technique similar to feathering.

  • the smudge tool

update: I am tweaking my process by moving this step up, before introducing colors, to get something like this portrait of the girl. I recommend you handle the edges on a separate layer to be able to share both styles.

Finishing the Painting

This is the stage where you can:

  • introduce new colors to make the painting come together

  • go from a more graphic look to a more spontaneous painterly style.

  • use textured brushes

Final Touches

Go to bed, let your painting simmer! Come back and look at it the next day or a few days later and see if it needs something more.

May be some more highlights or darkest darks. May be it needs touches of a different color or the background needs to be less saturated. May be some edges need to be softer?