Painting with Photoshop

Some while ago something began to bother me: painting with Photoshop. I always wanted to do that. But I always failed. Maybe because I am a very impatient person. But then came a day I was super bored and was determined to do it. So I began watching some YouTube tutorials and figured out that their way was not my way, but they offered me new ideas and suggestions with which I was finally able to make it work for me.

I’m sorry but I won’t give you a detailed instruction what you should do to learn painting with Photoshop. As I really think – and you will see that as well when you watch tutorials on this matter – that everyone does it slightly or even totally different than the next one. You really have to read and watch a lot about it and then just figure out what works best for you. Also there are people out there which can give you much better instructions than I ever could. But what I absolutely recommend for you to do is buying a good graphic tablet. Because painting with a mouse sucks.

I’d  like to give you a little insight in how I paint with Photoshop and provide you with some helpful resources and links.

1. Picking a reference picture

First of all I pick a reference picture from the Internet. Make sure that you have a decent size and resolution. It will be easier to paint all the details then. 

When searching on Google make sure to select pictures with a size over 2 megapixels in the search settings. I recommend to make your canvas at least 2000 pixels wide on the longest side. Don’t be afraid to upscale your reference picture if needed to fit your selected canvas size. We don’t have to care too much about bad image quality in this case.

2. Organising the layers

If you are not familiar with layers in Photoshop I recommend that you take a look at this tutorial first:

My reference picture is my middle layer. The top layer is an empty layer on which I will draw my outline and the bottom layer is a white, grey or black background. These are the three layers I start with and later on there will be numerous layers added to the stack. Working with layers is a great advantage of Photoshop over painting on a real canvas.
The individual layers allow you to work on parts of your painting without affecting other parts. But you can also make them interact with each other by using the various blending modes and masks.


3. Drawing the outlines

I use the path/pen tool to draw the outlines of my reference picture on the top layer. Of course you can also use a thin round brush or whatever you like to draw the outlines. I just prefer the path tool because the outlines are pretty neat then. Maybe outlining is not for you and you just wanna skip them completely. I personally like outlines because they give you orientation and a feeling for proportions.

In case you have trouble using the pen tool, just take a look at this really great tutorial by Phlearn:


The finished outlines look somewhat like this:



4. Basic shading

Time for some basic shading. First of all I add two more empty layers to the stack. I move the layer with the reference picture to the top. The first empty layer comes underneath, which is for the basic colours of the picture. Pressing control while having the brush tool selected turns the brush into a colour picker and you can easily make a palette of the main colours of your reference picture on the first extra layer. Then comes the outline layer and underneath it the layer on which I do the basic shading.

I usually begin with a rough hard brush because this works best for me. While doing the basic shading I use a brush opacity around 60-100% and 100% flow. I start with the main colour and just very roughly make big brush strokes. It will certainly look very discouraging at this point but trust me it will get better as soon as we refine it.

To get an idea of blending colours and basic shading techniques have a look at this tutorial:


5. Refining and adding details

For refining and adding details I change the opacity of my brush to 10-20% and also the flow to 20-40%. I also use a variety of custom made brushes for the hair or the skin. You can either way make your own brushes or you can use brush sets that others have made.

Now it comes in handy to make use of different layers. I usually have skin, hair and clothing on different layers (The clothing in this picture is invisible 🙂 ). Also although you can always undo things with CTRL+ALT+Z sometimes it’s better to do tricky parts like the eyes on an extra layer. Just in case…

If you wanna know how to make your own brushes check out this tutorial:

A pretty good resource for custom brushes is DeviantArt. Also great if you wanna show off your amazing artwork 🙂 You can find brushes that will help you with skin texture, hair, fabric and many more there. Please make sure that you respect the terms of use of the brush sets.

This is my little evolution of painting in Photoshop from pretty embarrassing first attempts to quite decent ones 🙂 I’m still pretty bad in painting without a reference. But I’m working on it.


Last but not least a video of my absolute favourite comic book artist Stjepan Sejic drawing Harley Quinn and The Joker:





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