Friday 7 August 2015

Another portrait

Another digital portrait, of Scarlett Johansson. The likeness is not perfect but I’m pretty happy with it.

I took a different tact with this portrait. Instead of drawing the outline of the head and facial features and “colouring in” the lines, I began by putting in the major tonal areas of the face without paying much attention to proportions. Then I slowly began to refine the shape of the tonal areas, almost like working with clay or plasticine.

This technique led to more visible brush strokes, which I felt gave the painting more energy. I spent a bit of time smoothing out the brush strokes but I still think the finished image retains some of the looseness and movement.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Digital Portraits

As promised, here are some portraits I've painted in Photoshop over the last couple of months.

This first one is from a photo reference. Unfortunately the reference didn't have very strong lighting, so it was hard to pick out the shadows and render the form.

As you can see, I kept the sketch in, because the image looked really flat without it. Also, you'll notice I didn't finish rendering the hair or shoulders. I was pretty fed up with the image by this stage and abandoned it, although now that I look at it again, it's not too bad and I might go back to it.

The second image is another abandoned attempt. I painted this one from imagination, sketching out the face first before painting it. Although I like how some of the features are rendered (the eyes, for instance) there are some pretty major structural problems that I didn't really notice until I started painting it.

I followed a great tutorial on Youtube whilst painting this image (don't judge the tutorial on this result!). I particularly liked the part about mixing colours towards the start of the video. I found it much easier
to choose colours using this technique than just trying to pick them directly from Photoshop's colour picker.

You might recognise the model in the third painting from my last post. With two poor paintings
behind me, I decided to remove one of the variables and paint in greyscale. Also, I've read about a technique in which you paint in greyscale first, then in paint over the top in a flat colour on a multiple layer, which I might try a little later.

I took the opportunity to try and correct the likeness of the image a little by making the nose bigger, the eyes a little smaller and changing the angle of the left cheek. It's still not perfect, but I'm very happy with the result.

Friday 19 June 2015

Female portrait

I've been struggling with some digital portraits (I'll post my attempts soon), so I thought it might help if I went back to my strength and drew from a reference. This piece took a few hours to complete.

Saturday 13 June 2015

A couple of painting exercises

I haven't posted anything lately because I went to Argentina for a couple of weeks. Since I've been back in London I've been painting digitally a lot more. My whole life, I've only drawn using graphite pencils, so I really don't have any experience painting or working with colour.

The painting to the left was meant to be an exercise working in colour. The idea is to paint a sphere in greyscale, then paint another sphere in colour but match the value of the first sphere (value is the lightness or darkness of a colour). I started the first sphere using a soft brush, as in Matt Kohr's basic rendering video. But I don't really like the look of painting using a soft brush,  so I painted the second sphere using a hard brush and mixing the colours to get a smooth finish. The first sphere is definitely smoother, but I prefer the painterly look of the second sphere. I didn't learn anything about colour, but I'm pretty happy with the results.

I also bought a couple more of Matt Kohr's videos: Dynamic Brushwork and Imaginary Light and Shadow. I haven't put any of the techniques from dynamic brushwork into practice yet, but I've been working through the Imaginary Light and Shadow exercises. It's a lot harder than I thought. The painting below is one of the exercises. The key (the overall value of the painting) is too light and I screwed up the cast shadow of the middle object, so I need to go back and fix that.

More recently I started to do some digital portraits. I'll post them up soon. Also, I really want to do something about the look of this blog, so look out for some changes soon.

Friday 8 May 2015

Still life

I feel like I’ve been drawing more than painting recently, and since I went part-time to get better at painting, I decided to do a still life of an apple, based on the advice in this forum post.

It was a real struggle. This was my third attempt. My main problem was trying to accurately pick the colours. It’s incredibly difficult to match colours on your monitor with a colour in real life. In the end I just made approximations of all the colours I could see on the apple, put them all on a separate palette layer, and pushed through with the painting without worrying too much how accurate the colours were. The painting is probably a little too dark but I don’t think I would have got anywhere if I’d tried to match the colours exactly.

Squinting at the apple, so the all the various tints and shades of the apple merged into larger shapes, also helped a lot.

The yellowish section at the bottom of the apple was also difficult to paint. It is really made up of red dots. I think this sort of thing calls for a custom brush, but I don't have much experience with them. I tried using one of Photoshop’s default speckled brushes, but the effect wasn’t very convincing.

Overall though, I’m pretty pleased with my first digital still life.

Saturday 2 May 2015

9 hours later…

A drawing of the model from the front cover of Sarah Simblet’s Anatomy for the Artist. It was meant to just be a contour drawing using the envelope method, but the tones were so interesting that I started to render it. 9 hours later, this is the result.

Sunday 26 April 2015


Some drawings I did from earlier in the year:

Foot studies

After the poor job I did of the hands and feet in my last painting, I spent a day studying the feet. Here are some quick studies.

Friday 17 April 2015

Female nude

Well, it’s not quite a nude.

I painted this using the techniques from Matt Kohr’s basic rendering tutorial. However I rushed the initial sketch so the  posture and some of the proportions are wrong. Her chest is way too big and her weight should be over right leg more. Also I didn’t spend enough time drawing the hands and feet.

Although I’m really pleased with the rendering, I don’t like the style of painting much. It looks far too airbrushed. I think this is due to using a large soft brush to achieve the value gradients. In my next painting, I’m going to make more use of a hard, round brush.

A couple of things I learnt from painting this:

  • Get in all the value information before the blending stage. I had started blending before realising I had missed a lot of different values in the face. Trying to pull the values from other parts of the image did not work.
  • Second, put major shifts in value on new layers (Matt Kohr calls them temp layers). You can then paint in big blocks of value using clipping masks to make sure you don’t paint outside the lines and within those blocks, use a soft brush and the eraser to create the subtler shifts in value, all without mucking up your contour.

Friday 10 April 2015

Still life

So this was my first digital painting since deciding to pursue a career in illustration. I painted it a few weeks ago. It based on Matt Kohr’s basic rendering tutorial. It took my the whole day to complete, but that’s including going back and forth between the painting and the tutorial videos. I think I could knock out something similar a bit quicker now.

I’m pretty happy with the result, although now I’ve uploaded it some of the values look a little too dark (mostly the occlusion shadows around the base of the jug). Also I think I was a little heavy-handed with some of the post-processing effects Matt recommended.

Thursday 9 April 2015

And now for something completely different

Hello there! My name’s James Nicholls and this is my first blog post. I recently decided to change career from mediocre web developer to world-renowned illustrator (hopefully; mediocre illustrator would probably be okay as well). I’m going to use this blog as a way to track my progress and gather feedback from others.

I used to sketch all the time when I was young but haven’t had much time for it in the last few years. And the digital painting thing is pretty new to me. Right now I'm just trying to develop my painting skills by reading as many online tutorials as I can get my hands on and painting from photo references. I’ve already learnt a lot from Matthew Archambault and Matt Kohr, who is the first person to explain digital painting in a way I really understand. If you’re interested in learning to draw and paint, I’d really recommend checking out their websites.

In my next post, I’ll post up my first few paintings from the exercises and tutorials on Matt Kohr’s website.