Akiko initially began as a regular portrait study, but eventually evolved into a full illustration idea I had been wanting to create for some time. I love concept, figure, portraiture and surreal artwork. This illustration was my first attempt at that combination in a long time. In this Making O' I'll be going over my processes and workflow.
Every digital artist has his or her own personal favorite brushes. Some use the basic brushes that come with Photoshop and create amazing artwork with them. Some artists prefer custom brushes to draw and paint with to help give variety and difference in style. Over the last few years I've collected and made many brushes, but these are the ones I primarily work with and used in this illustration: texture brushes, soft brushes and hard brushes. I use hard and solid brushes to help block in areas quickly and create variety from all of the soft edges. Texture brushes are used to bring interest and add detail. Soft brushes help create value quickly, but I try to use them sparingly (Fig.01).
Almost every one of my illustrations derives from a tiny thumbnail sketch buried in my sketchbook. Once I've nailed down a quick rendering of my idea and composition in my sketchbook, I'll then jump to the computer and begin painting. Sometimes I scan in my sketch and work from it, but for this illustration I did not. Usually I try not to use a lot of layers, but for this illustration I experimented a lot with texture and form. As for blending modes, I tend to use Multiply and Overlay for shadows, Overlay and Soft Light for highlights, and Overlay and Color for adding color. Other tools I like to use in Photoshop are masks, smudge,blur and the Lasso tool. Lastly, I make sure I've done my homework on the subject, have taken good reference photos and decide what size I want the artwork to be in the beginning rather than at the end.
In the beginning phase I block in the subject with lines to capture accurate placement of form and quick notations of value. Painting in black and white is easiest for me to render correct values. Later in my process I'll add color on an Overlay or Color layer, but I ended up sticking with black and white for most of this illustration. For most paintings I create, the beginning always looks messy and sketchy until I begin to use a soft brush to get nice, subtle value changes (Fig.02).
After the initial block-in stage, which usually only takes a couple of hours, I'll continue to paint, paint, and paint while continually flipping the canvas to make sure proportion and form are being rendered correctly. I made sure to zoom in to get those tiny details around the subject's left eye, nose and mouth, but left other areas rough and unfinished (Fig.03).