Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Alive! Digital Painting Tutorial

I've been getting a lot of requests lately for a tutorial on my digital painting process so hopefully this post answers your questions.  I use Corel Painter for any actual rendering and Adobe Photoshop for adjusting levels, color balance, etc.  Digital brushes work better on large images so I never go below 3000 pixels in any direction with my originals.  I use an Intuos 4 medium sized Wacom tablet.

1 - The first thing I do is a sketch which I scan and then paint in black and white using Painter.  I find painting just the values extremely liberating.  Getting the fundamental composition and lighting right in value before introducing color helps me keep the image more coherent.  Plus it's just easier on my brain to be thinking of less things at once.
   I have a tendency to paint dark, I captured the levels here in Photoshop (Image>Adjustments>Levels) and you can see how on the dark side they were (left) until I adjusted them, bringing a greater range of contrast to the portrait (right).
1 - paint image in value only.
2 - The big downside to painting in black and white is that it's hard to introduce color to the image without it feeling dead and grayish. I solve this with a tool called Gradient Map in Photoshop. With the B&W image open go to Image>Adjustments>Gradient Map. Click on the gradient to bring up another menu letting you edit it. Pick a color for your high, mid, and low tones, keeping in mind that under most normal lighting circumstances the mid tone will be the most saturated. This helps set an overall tone to the image. I wanted Frankenstein's monster's skin to feel dead so I went with a greenish hue for the mid tone with the dark going cooler and the light going warmer.
2 - add Gradient Map for base colors.
3 - Now I introduce color through a Color or Colorize layer. I have no idea what the actual difference is between these layer types. Colorize only exists in Painter and I usually like the results I get from it more but since Colorize isn't supported in Photoshop (it converts it to Color on import) I have to export a flat image format (I do an uncompressed .tiff) from Painter and bring that into Photoshop. I let the colors get fairly bold at this stage since they seem to have a tendency to lose their saturation during the final rendering.
4 - Here I just paint in the details and add the finishing touches. I mainly use the cover pencil in Painter for painting. It's simple and similar to a digital airbrush but ends up feeling more natural for some reason. I use the digital airbrush too for adding a punch of color where I need it. I keep them all at low opacity to keep them versatile and to maintain the more natural feeling of building the paint up.
3 - paint basic colors into Color or Colorize layer.
4 - paint in details/final rendering.
 5 - In the end, I spend time tweaking the image in Photoshop until I come up with something I'm happy with. For this painting I adjusted the levels again and the color balance (making it more blue).  I sometimes edit the Hue/Saturation, Brightness/Contrast, etc...just play with it until you're happy.
5 - do a final adjustment of image settings.
That's it.  Feel free to ask me questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

17 comments:

Joe Cummings said...

Very informative, Kevin. I really like the Grad Map tip, I'll try that sometime. Thanks for this and other great articles.

Joe [cummingsillustration.com]

Logan Pearsall said...

So do you go back and forth between Painter and Photoshop more than once during the process?

AMBUJ JOSHI said...

Thanks Kevin that helped a lot!

Mark Robison said...

it's interesting how many different ways there are to paint in grays. your gradient map method for the initial coloring is a cool twist. thanks for the info kevin! (btw, i don't know if you've seen the ui on painter 12, it looks TOTALLY different.)

Kevin Keele said...

@Logan: Yes, I jump back and forth. I do all the actual painting in Painter and image adjustments in Photoshop.

@Mark: I haven't touched Painter 12 yet but now I'm very interested in seeing it. Hopefully they were improvements, Painter has made some superfluous changes before for no good reason.

PIBBY said...

Kevin this is very cool! I'll have to try out the grad map trick. That's something new to me.

Matt Watts said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial. When you do the initial value painting in Painter, are you just using the Cover Pencil or something else? There are so many tools to use in that program that it kinda gives me the creeps!

Matt Watts said...

Another thing: Do you typically stick to using just one layer to paint on or a few? Final question: have you ever tried the approach used by Adam Ford http://adamscreation.blogspot.com/2009/08/its-depressing-being-second-tier-street.html A teacher highly reccomended it to me. Essentially, you paint all the flat colors on a layer, then use multiply layers to paint the shade and screen layers to paint the light? If so, which pieces did you try that approach on?

David Malan said...

hmmm, so it looks like a lot of color adjusting and very little actual painting?

Kevin Keele said...

@Matt: Yes, I use the cover pencil for almost everything including the initial value painting.

Adam Ford's tutorial is awesome, I used to paint pretty similarly, but more and more I'm enjoying keeping it flat and simple, more close to real painting. I never use more than a couple layers and I flatten them as soon as I can.

Kevin Keele said...

@Dave: Remember when we were friends? Yeah, those days are over! :)

Gio M. said...

Great Frankenstein..Appreciate the tutorial, now all I need to do is install Painter and give it a go..

Nikki said...

I've been following you for a while, always fascinated by your process, especially because I had no clue how the digital drawing was done. I completely understand your methods now, but you definitely still need raw natural artistic talent at the core, to create such beautiful stuff. Thank you for the step by step though. I might have to give it a try!

Josh Keele said...

Thanks for painting tutorial it was helpful. Now to try my own.

Barry Zundel said...

Kevin, that's just awesome. Nicely done. You are making me want to paint again :) Too much technical stuff lately.

Kelley said...

Thanks so much for this tutorial. I've never heard anyone talk about the gradient map before, so this is really helpful!

I'm having a difficult time using the color layer. Whenever I choose a color on my palette, then apply it to the color layer, it turns into a completely different color. I know that this is how the color setting works, but still - how in the world are you supposed to choose the right colors for your painting if you can't predict how they will turn out on the canvas? I feel like I'm blindly throwing colors onto my painting and hoping they look right. I'd appreciate any advice you might have. Thanks!

Gnaws said...

Very slick!! Love the work you guys do at Avalanche Disney!!!

Thanks much for putting this together!!