All right, so first things first, I start off with a darker shade of gray that’s close to black. And then I draw some faces. (I know, it’s not exactly in depth on the face drawing, but there are a number of fantastic tutorials out there for this already. Check out Burne Hogarth’s drawing the human head, or try out some Andrew Loomis. Hell, there’s even a great video showing you everything you need or want.)
I set the layer to multiply when it looks good enough to pass for what I’ve got in my head. No, it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact I find it’s better to let things go at first and fix them later on instead of dwelling on what’s incorrect. If you stop at step one trying to be perfect, you’ll never get ahead to other things.
Next add in flat colors, or in this case, values. Try to make sure everything is nicely balanced; a painting with all the same value will look absolutely dull and boring (unless color is creatively applied to counter this, which I have seen, but it’s not at all easy and definitely not what we’re aiming for here.) Point is, contrast is key. Make sure you’ve got it all straight first.
I like to add in shadows first. Highlights, for my brain, are like toppings on ice cream. If you can figure out the form and depth with shadow first, you can create the most interesting shapes with light later. Make sure the shadows aren’t all the same, just like your values beforehand. A dark white isn’t usually as dark as a dark brown, and so on and so forth. The only places where these things tend to happen are at the points where forms touch and light is obscured.
So next I use a gradient over the whole thing on a new layer. Light to dark, one big circle. Light gets dim the further away you go from it, and the focal point of your piece is probably the place you’ll want light to be centered, like a portrait. Set it to overlay and adjust the opacity of the layer as needed. Mmmm delicious contrast.
Add in some highlights. Flip to make sure the image looks all right from both sides, because our brains like to get lazy after a while.
Next, I create a new adjustment level layer. (Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Levels) This helps give us a bit more contrast, or just shows us what we’re missing. If your lights are too light, or darks are too dark, the graph and sliders will display this clearly. Adjust the sliders as needed, until you find something that fits.
Next I add in some texture on another layer with a stock texture picked up from about a million different sites. Pick one you like ( I love grunge textures. Hnnnngh) and set it to overlay. Adjust opacity as needed.
Add in any missing details, or extras. Smooth it all over. When you’re done, if you want to play with some interesting effects, you can toy with refraction by going into your channels and playing around for a bit. (That’s a tutorial in and of itself, so for more info you can check out this great tut here.)
Sharpen it using a sharpen filter tool. (I like Smart Sharpen. Filter> Sharpen> Smart Sharpen) A crisp image is always appealing, just make sure not to overdo it.
Add your name. Take a break. Get a snack. Play some games, just LET IT SIT. When you come back a few hours later, you can adjust any little leftover details. One thing I like to do is make a copy of all my layers (Ctrl+shift+Alt+E) and use the dodge and burn tool with care to add a little extra shine or depth. Just be careful. The tools are accents, not crutches. Nothing hurts more than overblown shadows or blinding highlights.
-Vary your brushes. You might want perfection with every stroke, but messiness is attractive in its own way. I like to switch from chalky, textured brushes to airbrushes to add some interesting flow.
-If you’re feeling a bit blind from too much work, hit F three times to turn your screen black and view nothing but your art by itself. Hit tab to bring up the menus in this mode, and F again to leave it. I find things are easier this way.
-Try to keep your values tight. Unless there’s a super bright lamp focused next to a character’s face, someone with dark skin won’t have the same highlights as someone with light skin. Dark clothes won’t have the same shine as medium valued ones, etc. Shiny objects defy these rules, but it’s good to keep in the back of your head.
-Use references. Often. Art that inspires you will remind you of what you’re shooting for. Modeling software will help with poses. Photos can help with light. Don’t be afraid to look and learn from what’s around you and available— after all, that’s how we grow.
That’s it for now! Hope this helps you <3
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