Creating a digital illustration

Welcome! In this process I will try to explain some of the techniques and steps I use to make an illustration.


I usually try to start my work by coming up with some cool ideas. I like to use Photoshop to sketch out these ideas. I keep refining the sketch until I find the mood I want; I think using grey is a very nice way to start because you can leave all the color dilemmas for later. It also allows me to get an idea of the kind of contrast I want.

<h5>Initial sketch</h5>

Initial sketch

<h5>Refined sketch</h5>

Refined sketch

Color base

This is where I start the inking process; this is very easy. Firstly colorize using Hue/Saturation, and then select dark values with Color Range and ink again with Hue/Saturation. I like to use a high color contrast, so I went with a red/purple color. The final result probably won't have any of this in its color base, but it is a process you can use to make changes according to what or how you feel.

<h5>Using Hue/Saturation to colorize the image</h5>

Using Hue/Saturation to colorize the image

Using Color Range

Using Color Range

Red/purple for high contrast

Red/purple for high contrast




Next I added some lighting on the character and started playing with brushes to add a bit of texture. Some of the brushes I use are just texture brushes that I've found on the internet, such as stains, or photographs turned into brushes. Other brushes are Photoshop alphas and internet brushes modified a bit. Sometimes, I like to disable opacity, and paint with full opacity brush, or 50% flow.

<h5>Defining colors, and light direction</h5>

Defining colors, and light direction

<h5>Examples of the texture brushes</h5>

Examples of the texture brushes

Alternative ways

I created two different backgrounds to see which went best with the character; I prefer the one with the red sun. If you test the image you will see that the red of the sun and the grey of the sky are almost the same hue with different saturation and lightness. Sometimes a subtle color variation can bring to life an illustration.

<h5>First background – not very interesting</h5>

First background – not very interesting

<h5>Second background – much better!</h5>

Second background – much better!

Not a fan of layers

With a clear idea of colors I just needed to render some details on the background and the character. I personally don't like using too many layers for this illustration I only used four. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, think that you can always paint over it! Another nice technique is to leave the render of the character until you know how the light is affecting the scene - or the other way around.

<h5>The character</h5>

The character

My four layers

My four layers

Final touches

And for the final filters, I like to add sharpen, lens correction, and noise set very low. And that's it! I hope you find this useful. Any doubts, comments or ideas are always welcome. Cheers!

<h5>The final image</h5>

The final image

Related links

Gabolep showcases more of his work on his website
To see what the professionals have to say have a look at our interview archives
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