Painting hair


Another tutorial: sometimes instructional, other times somewhat rambling, I hope it will help you in your artistic endeavors. Some of the techniques used below can be used for painting all kinds of things in Photoshop. Like I've said in other tutorials, I don't claim to be any genius at this, I'm just trying to pay back a debt I owe to all the people who've helped me with their tutorials.

In painting hair, it pays to have all the reference material you may need; pictures on disk or from magazines, if you need it. Keep a folder near your computer for reference material.

Note: All that follows I painted using a pressure-sensitive pen tablet. If you don't have one, look under your couch and find the money. You won't regret it.

Let's begin! In figure one you can see the figure after being set in a relaxed pose in Poser, then rendered in Bryce, about 2800 pixels high. I'm now in Photoshop, and have separated the figure from the background (by making a mask render in Bryce and using an alpha channel) to smooth out the odd wrinkles in the mesh, change the skin hue slightly. I've also airbrushed and painted a few highlights and shadows to help make her more part of the scene, or in agreement with the surrounding light.

I would suggest rendering the figure as large as you can. Details will be much easier for you in later stages. I've already painted her blouse (see other tutorial on clothes), and now we're ready to begin on her hair.

First thing you notice are two pictures. There are differences between dark and light hair, so I figured on doing two versions side by side. I'll note the differences when applicable.
I first create a new layer above the body and select a smaller paintbrush and begin to scribble. Just getting a general idea here. Using a pen tablet, I've unchecked the box to vary opacity with pressure, so I get dark, solid lines. Sure, it's a mess; but it's also a start.

Occasionally, I'll lower the opacity of the layer to see her scalp better. That way I can make sure I'm not getting too close or too far away from it. Then I'll up the layer opacity and return to painting.

On the fair haired figure, you will see a series of colored dots on her neck. These dots make up my hair palette. I've opened up a source file, a photograph of real hair, and sampled a few hilights, midtones, and shadow colors. Now I'll be able to use these in my picture. Anytime I'm painting, I can hold down the CTL key and my brush cursor will turn into an eyedropper,
allowing me to select from these colors. Lifting my finger off the CTL key, it turns back into the paintbrush, and I'm off painting again.

The brunette's hair, for now, will remain dark. On a totally unrelated note, you may notice the different color of the eyes in the two pictures. Somewhere along the line (I can't remember), I decided to go with blue eyes. Just another example of how haphazard this kind of work is. But that's what makes it so much fun!

Big changes here; I've erased quite a bit of the hair flying toward the left in both pictures. Painting it before is more of an experiment; giving me an idea of where I want to go.

For much of this step on the brunette, I use the smear brush. I've created a few custom brushes that allow me to smear very small strands away from the solid mass of hair. Creating custom brushes is easy.

In a nutshell: how to create your custom brush: On a new layer, take a very small paintbrush and make a series of dots close together. Do this with brush opacity set to 100%. Then go to your filter menu and blur them slightly using either "blur" or
"gaussian blur". Then, make sure the layers behind the brush are invisible, so that all that is behind your small dots is the checkerboard indicating transparency; i.e., nothing. Select the marquee tool (M) and draw a selection around your tiny dots. Go to the menu bar, and under the "edit" menu, you will find the option "define brush". Click on it, and you will find your new brush added to your brush palette. Now would be a good time to save your brushes.

Experiment with creating custom brushes. Different images will require different brushes for the hair, depending on image size.

Alright! Now, with your new custom brush, check the boxes to vary both opacity and size with pressure. For smearing hair into the sky area or into her forehead, make sure the brush is set to "darken". If you don't, you will find yourself dragging a small white outline along with the black hair. When you work the hairline back into her hair on her forehead, set it to "normal".

In both pictures, there's been quite a bit of small smearing at first, and then painting with a very fine brush. For the redhead, I'm not too concerned about hilights yet, I'm just trying to vary the tone throughout her hair. Right now, she's a little farther down the road to completion.

For much of this step, I've moved the file into Painter. You can use Photoshop for this step, but I've found that I get smoother brushstrokes in Painter. There's an adjustable 'damping' factor at work in that program that helps to smooth out the stroke. Choosing a very small brush (either pencil or ink pen will do), Make sure that your brush is not set to pick up paper grain. "Soft Cover" will do. If you choose to remain in Photoshop, just take a very small brush, and set it to vary both opacity and size with pressure. Experiment, and set the brush softness to your liking. I begin the work of painting a few strands flying away in the wind. I keep one hand near CTL-Z (undo in both programs) to get rid of mistakes. For the strands flying into the breeze, there's probably one good one for every two that got erased.

I'm still working with just one basic color for now, just getting the form, or outline of the hair done. Experiment; this takes time. Don't fret if you find yourself erasing quite a bit of the hair away and starting over. Every new picture is a learning experience.

On the redhead, notice I've moved my sampling colors closer to her hair. Don't hesitate to move the palette wherever you need it.

A bit more work painting. Time to get the brunette's hair up to speed and caught up. I've erased some hair on the left, painted it back in, sometimes more than once. Added more hair on the right. You may notice some hair painted over her neck and shoulder. No problem. In this particular image, I plan on having all her hair behind her. What do we do? It would be tough to erase exactly along a line of her body. So, in Photoshop, I hold down CTL while clicking on her body layer. This creates an active selection exactly along the edge of her body. Then just grab your eraser (E) and erase the hair in front.

After doing that, I'm pretty much done with the main outline of the brunette's hair. For the next step, all in Photoshop, I will click the box on the layer palette to preserve transparency.

Have that transparency preserved? Ok, then.... Grab your virtual airbrush (J) and start to paint the other subtle colors in dark hair. Not sure what colors? Turn to your handy color palette. If you need one for the brunette (a good idea until you figure out things for yourself, and even then, still a good idea), grab a source file from either a reference CD or the internet.

So now I've got a few more colors into the dark hair, and with transparency preserved, I don't have to worry about painting outside the confines of her hair. The redhead is at the same stage; transparency preserved when I need it, and turned off when I need to add more hair outside the defined edges.

Both of these pictures may not show much change from the last step, but there are subtle things going on here. On both figures, I've used a few small paintbrushes to paint more variations in her hair. I've kept layer transparency preserved, although you don't need to if you're careful, or want to add more strands to the building breeze. I will also use the smear tool with my custom brushes on occasion. I set the tool to "normal" and pull the hair, gradually adding more form. Sometimes I set the brush to vary size with pressure, sometimes not. Experiment and finds what works best for you.

Oh, boy... a lot of changes here. In fact, what you are seeing are the finished versions of hair in both pictures. Let's see how I got there, beginning with the brunette.

I've introduced a major new tool for the last hour or so of my painting. The dodge tool (O). Set to effect hilights, I use a larger size at first, followed by very small brushes. I also use quite a bit of airbrush, followed by smearing, and more painting. I constantly switch back and forth between tools, hitting "J" for airbrush, "R" for smear, "B" for brush, and "O" for dodge (or burn). I'll also keep my hand close to the CTL key to sample colors for painting, and of course, the ever-useful CTL-Z combination to undo. If you need to go back more in your history, you can hold down CTL-ALT-Z. Each repeated hold of those keys moves one more step back in the history of your image.

After I've painted the major hilights, I stroke with a very small 2-pixel size dodge brush to get some very small strands lit up. If you're never sure if what you're doing is going to work, you can always copy the hair to a duplicate layer and experiment for a while. If it works, keep it. If not, you've always got your older work on a separate layer. To easily create a duplicate layer, just drag the layer in the layer palette down over the "new layer" icon at the bottom. Instantly, your new duplicate layer appears above your old one.

The redhead took a bit more work. I noticed I wasn't happy with how her hair was near the top. So, on a new layer, I painted new locks of hair that blew more straight back. When I was happy, I hit CTL_E to drop and merge that layer with the main hair layer. I used the same tools on the redhead to dodge and paint as I did on the brunette's.
It may look softer, but that's a good thing. Something different for us to look at and in the creation we get more experience to carry on to our next project.

As I finish up, I'll take a look at the overall "look" of each piece. If needed, I'll adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, or color balance of the hair. If you compare, you can see the redhead's hair has changed quite a bit since the beginning. Try a few things. Try duplicating the layer colorizing it, and then setting it to "multiply" and see what happens.

Or set the layer to "soft light". It doesn't matter. What you are doing is experimenting, finding new things, and in the process, finding out what you can do in Photoshop. It's a powerful program; I'm still learning.

Let's take a look at a close-up.

These two samples show in detail how everything looks in the end. By constantly switching between different brushes and tools, I'm able to create the effect of soft, clean hair blowing in the breeze. Of course, we could make messy, dirty hair, but that's another story, and another tutorial. If you have any comments, please email me. I would love to know if this helped you out.

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