Paint and render a firefly in Photoshop

Introduction

Having a clear and structured process is key when it comes to painting any subject. When you work as an artist, you don‘t know what your next gig might be about. So it is important that you are flexible and prepared. In this tutorial I am going to show you my method using the example of a firefly. We are going to start by choosing our material colors and then work our way into light and shadow.

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Our final result

Creating a drawing

I recommend starting out with a confident sketch. If you solve potential problems at this stage, then you will have a much easier time later on. It is the perfect time to ask yourself questions like, how does the head connect to the neck? Or in which ways are the legs attached to the body. Always keep one eye on your references and you will be on a good path.

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A confident drawing will save us from having to solve design issues while already rendering.

Creating layer masks and colors

Once the drawing is complete it is time for creating our layer masks or clown pass, as it is called in 3D. You can download the accompanied psd-file and use the masks I already prepared or you can come up with your own drawing and create your own layer masks and use them to create your first color pass. I chose an overall green background in order to suggest a night time environment. I kept the firefly itself in warmer tones in order to make it stand out from the background.

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A cool background helps the firefly and its warm colors stand out.

Casting shadows

Next up, create a Multiply layer on top of each color layer and turn it into a clipping mask. In my case 40% opacity works perfectly well. Take your time defining the terminator of your shadows. Since we are going for an outdoor night time scene, you might wonder why I chose a warm color for my shadows. The reason is, that I want to give the firefly an organic, slightly translucent feel and with a warm shadow I can prevent the colors from getting muddy later on.

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A soft wash of color is enough for indicating our shadows.

Adding a soft light

Create another clipping mask layer on top, but this time set it to Screen. For my version I chose a soft yellow light with 100% opacity. It goes well with the material colors. Try to avoid letting the light and shadow layers overlap, so that between the two the vibrant material color is still visible.

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A soft yellow light describes the surfaces and enhances the vibrance of the firefly‘s colors.

A sharp backlight

A backlight can be a perfect spice to enrich the flavor of your painting. Repeat the process from the previous step but this time use a bright blue instead of the yellow. The cool color will help our firefly to blend with the background while its brightness will make it stand out even more.

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Adding a backlight will add some extra spice to your painting.

Paint the firefly

Now that you have prepared everything necessary you can go ahead and start painting. Use the color picker and your favorite brush and spend as much time as you need in order to create a nicely detailed image. Generally every color you need should by now already be on the canvas, which usually makes this a very enjoyable process. For the wings I used a little trick. I pasted them into a new file, making sure that their roots were at the document‘s center and applied the radial blur. Then I copied them back into my main file and painted some extra details on top.

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Having established all important colors in the previous steps allows you to have an easy time adding the details.

Adding highlights

In order to create vibrant highlights we create a new document and use the selection rectangle and the gradient tool in order to create a highlight template as shown in the example. Use gradient map set to color in order to get a nice gradient from bright yellow to dark red. Merge and copy your result into your mainfile, set it to screen and use the transform and warp tool in order to create your highlights. Use the smudge tool to do some final adjustments.

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Create your own highlight template and save it for later projects.

Add finishing touches

In order to add some final adjustments we add an overlay layer and add some extra colors in order to make the shell of our firefly glow with iridescence. A color dodge-layer adds light to the glowing part.  Don‘t forget to add yellow reflections to the firefly‘s legs and the leaves. Feel free to add extra touch ups to the background. I went for a vignette and a bokeh effect.

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Color dodge and overlay layers are your friends when it comes to glow and iridescence effects.

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