Making Of 'Howling'
*Warning: Contains Nudity*
This Photoshop and Wacom tablet tutorial was originally published in the Digital Fantasy Painting Workshop book, by Ilex Press (www.ilex-press.com). The tutorial explains how I created the 'Howling' digital painting illustration. The image features an angry demon ripping the heart out of his victim's chest (beware: nudity). The tutorial provides detailed instructions on the Photoshop brush settings that I used to paint the image.
This tutorial explains, in particular, how to quickly achieve flesh tones using Adjustment layers.
Step 1: The Sketch
The sketch was done at low resolution (72 dpi), for quickness. It's important to stress that the quicker the sketch is completed, the better it will be (which is usually true for me, at least).
The best approach for me is to let the shapes flow from my hand to the screen without much interference. If I were to stop every few strokes I would lose the spontaneity that is the key to a successful sketch.
I made several sketches in succession - all slightly different and all drawn on a new, blank layer. I try to keep a constant brush size to avoid wasting time on sketching any details, which at this initial stage can be a distraction and could get in the way during the next phase.
Once I had a few interesting sketches separated on different layers, I compared them and picked the one I thought best conveyed the idea I had set out to illustrate. (Fig.01)
Tool Settings and Notes
When sketching in Photoshop, I use a medium hardness, pressure sensitive, round brush with a grey colour. I prefer using this brush setting because it allows me to define shapes with clear edges, with just a few quick strokes. The Brush tool settings can be seen in Fig.02.
Step 2: Blocking
The blocking phase is where I concentrate on defining the volume of the figure; the way in which the light source (in this case a single spotlight positioned above) illuminates the subjects. To achieve a high level of realism, I decided to take a few reference snapshots with a digital camera. Lacking a model at the time, I posed for the pictures myself. I then imported the photos into Photoshop, desaturated them, and added a high level of contrast to maximise the highlights and shadows that I needed to refer to.
I resized the reference pictures to a small size and put them to the left of my main canvas window. I moved back to the sketch window and resized it to 300 dpi. I set the sketch layer in Multiply mode and added an empty layer below it, which I filled with a black colour. In this new layer, I then painted a flat shape, following the edges of the sketch using a 50% flat grey brush tip.
After the "flat" was done (this is a term borrowed from the comic industry), I proceeded to loosely build up the shadows in the darker areas, using several light strokes for each shadow. At this point, I deleted the sketch layer (but I kept a copy on a separate file). I saved all the highlights for the next step. Whilst working on the blocking, I never zoomed in closer than 50%, to avoid falling in the trap of getting lost in time-consuming details. (Fig.03)
Tool Settings and Notes
For this stage of the process, I rely on a 0% hardness (smooth-edged), pressure sensitive brush at 80% opacity. Having a pressure sensitive stylus and tablet is very useful when painting an image such as this, where smooth flesh tones are prominent. Once again, I kept the brush size constant through this step, until the very end where I hinted at some of the smaller details. The Brush tool settings can be seen in Fig.04.
Step 3: Main Painting
For this stage, I zoomed in at 100% and started reshaping the anatomy to bring each muscle and visible bone structure to more exact and convincing shape and proportions. I did not spend much time blending the strokes, as the focus here was to add in highlights and lighter tones.
For the actual painting, I used a combination of short and light brush strokes, whilst alternating between black and white brush tip colours using the X key (in order for this to work, I set up the brush foreground colour as white and the background colour as black).
I accentuated some shapes with darker lines, and also made the lightest spots more prominent with a few touches of pure white.
Often, I zoomed out to get a feel on the overall look of the image. I use keyboard shortcuts constantly to switch between colours, to undo, to zoom in and out, and so on. To do this, I keep my left hand on the keyboard at all times whilst painting. (Fig.05)
Tool Settings and Notes:
The brush settings I used for this stage are just about the same as the ones I employed for the blocking phase, but with slightly increased spacing and opacity, varying from 50% to 100%. In addition, I continuously adjusted the brush size, depending on the amount of detail that each area required. The Brush tool settings can be seen in Fig.06.
Step 4: Blending & Refining
Working on the foundation set in the previous step, I now used a technique borrowed from traditional oil painting. All the rough dabs of colour that I had set before, especially for the highlights, are now blended using the Smudge tool. This simulates the way I paint in oils, where I would build the highlights by putting a small amount of white (or another colour lighter than the base one) on the area I want to lighten, and then blend it and shape it accordingly using a soft bristle brush.
Applying the same method to digital painting is a breeze - especially using the Smudge tool. Here I spent the largest amount of time refining, in detail, every part of the image. The hardest sections to blend convincingly were the large muscle groups, such as legs and abdominal area. Here I relied on my knowledge of anatomy, and that is a must-have requirement if you set out to paint bodies, especially muscular ones.
Whilst blending, I switched to the Paintbrush tool once in a while, whenever I needed an additional touch of white or black. I also zoomed in, up to 300%, to work closely on the small details - especially on the faces. Overall, I still wanted to maintain a somewhat painterly feel with some visible brush strokes, so I avoided blending too heavily. After the blending was complete, I used the Dodge tool, set to Highlights, in order to punch up some of the highlights which I felt needed to be stronger. I used this tool sparingly however, as too much of it can make the image look over-exposed. (Fig.07)
Step 5: Colouring
At this point, I added colour to the black and white painting. Using one of the most powerful features of Photoshop - Adjustment layers - I was able to experiment with different colour schemes until I found the one I was looking for. An advantage of using this method is that I can change the colours at any time, without having to repaint any parts of the illustration.
Here I wanted to give the image a strong, dramatic feel, and opted for a palette based on fleshy red tones for a Caravaggio feel. (Fig.08)
First, I added an Adjustment Layer: Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation, to colourise the figures. I put this above the painting layer, checked the Colorize button, set the Hue to 11, the Saturation to 50, and the Lightness to 0. The black and white figure is now coloured. The colours need further manipulation though, because the flesh tones are still too uniform. (Fig.09)
Secondly, above this I added a Color balance Adjustment Layer Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance. In the Shadows tone balance settings, I moved the Color level to -9 on the Cyan slider. I left the Mid-tones sliders untouched. In the Highlights tone balance settings, I set the Yellow slider to -17. This introduced a variation between the darker and lighter colours. It was still not enough, though. (Fig.10)
A third modifier was added: Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. I used this to add a hint of green to the darker tones, to vary the way the red tones played with the highlights and also to make the picture a bit lighter, overall. (Fig.11)
Additionally, in order to add more realism to the figure, I used the Paintbrush tool to add further red tones to the girl's cheek, bleeding heart, chest wound, legs and hands. Flesh tones are hard to obtain, but this method usually allows for a quick shortcut toward achieving them.