Making of 'Joker Was Here'
In this tutorial, I will take you through the process of how to create the Joker piece. This image was created from scratch entirely in Photoshop, although you should be able to obtain similar results with Painter. The brushes I used were fairly standard; a hard edged brush, soft edged brush, as well as a speckled one. A graphic tablet such as a Wacom Intuos 3 is highly recommended. Of course, the way I go about painting isn't set in stone; there isn't any "right" or "wrong" when it comes to painting, but I do hope you can pick up something useful from this tutorial.
I started this image after I finished watching The Dark Knight on Blu-ray. Although the image was very much inspired by Heath Ledger's performance, I didn't want to paint Ledger's version of the Joker, simply because I found that to have been overdone. Rather, I wanted to create something drastically different, but remaining true to the character at the same time. I opted to depict him as an almost vampire-like character, complete with an intact dead bat to enhance the mood.
Step 1: Sketch
Although there are many painters that skip this stage (some choose to start off directly with shapes), I highly recommend spending some time creating a sketch, especially if you're painting a figure. Start off with a layer and keep things loose. Don't worry if it's a bit sloppy (you'll see why in a bit). Alternatively you can also draw the sketch on traditional paper and scan it in, whatever works for you. When you're happy with the sketch, either create a new layer for clean up and delete the previous layer, or use the eraser tool on your current layer to clean it up; this will ensure you'll have very clean line work (Fig.01). It's recommended you work in very high resolution (300 DPI, at around 8.5" x 11" is ideal). Although we'll shrink this size down considerably, it's always good to have for future use. Save this file under 'Sketch.psd'' for future use. We're ready to paint!
Step 2: Colour Palette
Decrease the resolution down to anywhere from 72-120 DPI. This will force us to concentrate on the "big picture" without getting caught up with tiny details (this is also why we backed up the sketch file). It's a good idea to spend some time thinking about the ideal colour palette for this piece. In this case, I wanted a very dark theme, so I opted for desaturated blues as my main colour theme (Fig.02).
You can either have your colour palette in a new document or somewhere in your painting, wherever is more comfortable. When you're satisfied with your colour choices, begin by roughly blocking in a simple midtone on your painting (Fig.03). I'm working with a hard edged brush at this stage, with "Pen Pressure" set to "OFF" under "Shape Dynamics".
TIP: Don't be afraid to change a colour palette if you don't like the results. Try to find one you like early, however, as changing colours at a later stage is a pain in the arse!
Step 3: Blocking In
Once we've blocked in the basic colours of the background, skin and attire, it's time to focus more on values and lightning (Fig.04). Think in simple shapes when shading (the face could be broken down as a simple egg for example, the arms as cylinders, etc.) so we can establish a more believable lighting scheme. In this case, I decided to have a light source coming from the top left, and another one coming directly from the right. Be sure to shade all the elements accordingly to the light source to keep everything consistent. Avoid the urge to do any detail work, and concentrate on establishing basic forms. Don't undermine the use of values; colours can easily be altered in a program like Photoshop, values not so much. Concentrate on values first, colours later (although do choose a colour palette beforehand).
TIP: Start with fairly large brushes, and work your way towards smaller ones as you progress with the painting. This will help you to avoid detailing too early and will keep everything consistent.
Step 4: Shading
We shouldn't really be thinking about pushing the colours at this stage - we're looking to give the image a 3-Dimensional look, so push the shading quite a bit (Fig.05). A mid-tone, half-tone, strong highlight and a reflective light all help create a believe image, so keep all these elements in mind while shading. Work on all the elements uniformly, making sure that you spend equal time on each element for consistency. Bring out the form of pretty much everything you can; the clothing, bat, skin and so forth. As we continue to paint, slowly increase the DPI (ex. 72 DPI to 120 DPI) as we progress.
TIP: If you're feeling frustrated when shading something, always break it down. The human body, for example, can be thought as a bunch of cylinders, so shade them accordingly.
Step 5: Hard Edged Brushes
Most, if not all, of my shading is done by using a simple hard edged brush. So let's start off by having Pen Pressure set to "OFF"; however, after a while of painting, it's good to turn this feature on to help define the image more (especially as you up the res). Don't be too concerned about things looking ultra-smooth at this point, just make sure everything's strong defined (Fig.06). Using smaller brushes, bring out the form of everything you can and start to bring out the features more. Faces are always important, especially for an image like this, so be sure to spend a good amount of time working on the Joker's face.
TIP: Don't get ahead of yourself - that is, don't start adding details too early if you haven't already set up a decent base. The painting has to look good without all the unnecessary detailing for it to work, so be sure to take it one step at a time.
Step 6: Attire and Colours
It's now time to work on the Joker's attire a bit more; working on the folds, adding details such as buttons etc. Bring in some new colours, such as a red/orange colour for his lips to really help them to stand out. We can also add a yellow colour for the teeth, as we want them to look very decayed and all around nasty to match his sinister smile (Fig.07). All of this detailing can be done with a basic hard edge brush, in combination with a soft edged brush where we want the material to look smoother - in this case, the suit.
Step 7: Getting Serious
I'm happy with how the image is coming along at this stage, but it does need more refinement. So let's increase the resolution yet again close to 300 DPI and begin adding details. It's important to spend a lot of time on the face at this point; use a soft edged brush to smooth out the Joker's features, as well as his clothing. Always be careful with soft edged brushes though; although they're good for blending/smoothing, overuse of this brush can cause an image to look plastic and undefined. Finding a good balance between hard edged and soft edged brushes is essential in order to create a successful painting.
TIP: Work in layers and merge. An example would be creating a new layer for the eyebrows, and merging it when you're satisfied with the results. Keeping the detail work on a separate layer ensures you'll never mess up what you already created underneath.
Step 8: The Bat
The bat (which was very highly referenced) needs to be painted following the same results already mentioned, although make use of the speckled brush much more often, as it will help to bring out the texture of the "fur". Most of the detailing in my paintings is done with a spackled brush as well (such as the pores on the Joker's tongue), so use this as a "stamp". The hard edged brush can also be used again to bring out the "fur" texture even further. For the wings, overlay lots of random textures and brushstrokes as well to help differentiate them from their surroundings.
Step 9: Working on the Face
For a character such as the Joker, nailing the face is essential, there's no going around it. For reference, I looked at pictures from Alex Ross and other illustrators, as well as images of Jack Nicholson's Joker as well as Heath Ledger's, respectfully. My goal was to come up with something original, while remaining true to the character. To get the right amount of detail necessary, make sure you're working at 300 DPI at this stage, which will allow room for more detailing. Use the standard hard edged brush, along with a round brush for smoothing the features out (especially the cheeks), and a speckled brush for a more refined blend (Fig.08).
Step 10: Finishing Touches
To finish off the image, bring out the texture of the suit more, as well as adding some horizontal lines to make the suit stand out more. Be very careful when creating the horizontal pattern; follow all the contours of the suit accordingly. It can be good idea to do all of this in a separate layer in case you make any mistakes, which would destroy the suit itself. Once that's done, use a soft edged brush at a very low flow and opacity and apply it everywhere to smooth the image out a bit. Also, spend some more time on the Joker's face, specifically his eyes and expression.
Step 11: Refinement
When I'm satisfied with an image, I upload it to a variety of different art forums for critique. As a result, I reworked the Joker's eyes, as they were previously a bit uneven (I wanted his expression to be uneven, but not his anatomy, if that makes any sense) - so don't hesitate to do the same if you feel you need to, until you're satisfied with the image (Fig.09).I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and please don't hesitate to contact me should you have any questions - I'm here to help!