Digital Painting Process – Notes for a friend

Here are some notes on my digital painting process (photoshop), for a friend’s request. I will upload pictures and such later- so for now this post is probably only useful to that 1 friend until then. Just some quick notes. I haven’t been digitally painting long at all, so I am no expert. This is just how I made a painting myself.

Note; this particular piece started out as some sketches of a city environment. Then the scenes were combined to create one big piece. During this piece, since it was my first digital painting in so long, I made tons of mistakes and had to fix them loads.

Sketching/general brush choice: Regular round brush, size up to 15 pixels, 50% opacity
Painting details brush choice: Regular round brush, size 5-15 for details/smaller bits, 20% opacity

  1. I researched different imagery to do with cityscapes – including photos of cities, photos of particular scenes within them (e.g. a Chinatown gate), buildings, and other peoples’ paintings of cityscapes.
  2. I sketched out about 6 or so small thumbnails of scenes within the city.
  3. Opened up PS and made a big canvas. Sketched out the city on a normal type layer above the background. Tried to do the overall shape and placement of main bits and then added more and more detail (too much! Shouldn’t have added so much so soon). Turned this sketch layer to 50% opacity or so.
  4. Sketched over it again in more detail, adding in all my plans for shading, on a separate normal type layer. This also turned out to be a mistake anyway since I should have not gone into detail so soon.
  5. Made normal type layer underneath the 2 sketch layers and added in basic colours, no shading, with a 100% opacity brush.
  6. Checked over the sketch so far and realised I needed to resize things – people, cars – which were too big compared to buildings.
  7. Realised I didn’t have much practice in actually painting in colour so asked my friend for advice and she told me she usually paints the stuff at the back first and then works forward.
  8. Decided to try that so started from the back, making the farthest back stuff less contrasted, less detailed and faded out. This meant that I had to redo the furthest back stuff since in my sketch it was the darkest. So, I slowly painted on top of all of that.
  9. Then, I started painting over everything, moving gradually forward and towards the foreground.
  10. To paint things in my environment, such as buildings… first I added block colours for shading (looked like cel shading), and then with a fine round brush at 20% opacity I would smooth it out and add detail. Once I had done the regular shading I also added in lots of reflected light (since it is a city it had lots of neon and glowy things) to the edges of the building, which made it look a lot more interesting instead of being coloured blocks. For shiny windows I had a new layer, drew the filled in box of the window in a bright colour, then I had another layer underneath and used an airbrush type brush to add more of the same colour around the window. I used gaussian blur to spread it out a bit and if needed I also reduced the opacity.
  11. Did not shade the water much at all, basically just added in a few bits around places where objects/land was touching or near to the water, because there was so much of it and I had already spent days doing the city, and needed to wrap the image up for a deadline.
  12. Added in little details such as the vehicles.
  13. Found a yellow and blue gaussian blur background on google images, put on a layer on top of all, fiddled with layer types until found which looked best (need to check what type ended up with). This was a really important part of my process since my colours usually end up quite muddy, muted and dull, so adding the gaussian blur on top helped to make it a lot more exciting and pulled the picture together. The fading blue part of the blur helped to define the water without me having shaded it loads.

I will add to this when I can! Then it can be useful for everyone.

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