Here I'm going to try to explain my Photoshop painting process, from first doodle through to a finished painting. As I go along, I'll detail both what's happening on the canvas and what's going around my head. I'll be working on a 2480 x 3508 pixel canvas ( A4 at 300dpi ). This is a high enough resolution should I ever want to print or publish the image in the future, but also fits nicely on my monitor at 25% magnification, which allows me to see the whole image as I work. Except where stated in the text, the painting is being worked on at that magnification throughout.
A note on brushes
I use my own custom brushes for all my painting, though I'm not going to go into any detail on brush creation during this walkthrough. There are two reasons for this - firstly, there are plenty of excellent brush tutorials out there already and I don't feel that I have much to add to the information already available, and secondly, Photoshop's brush engine is very easy to use and I hope anyone with an interest in custom brushes will take the time to experiment with the settings on offer to find their own custom brush settings; it really is a lot of fun, and certainly the best way to learn.The brushes I use fall into three basic categories - soft edge, hard edge and texture. I'll mention which I'm using as I go along and it really doesn't matter exactly what brush is being used as long as they fit into those basic categories. The standard airbrush, Dense Stipple 56 ( Natural Brushes set ) and Rolled Rag - Terry 120 ( Faux Finish set ) Photoshop defaults will do just as good a job as any fancy custom creation if used correctly.Whatever brush I'm using, I have my graphic tablet set up the same; stylus pressure controls opacity and nothing else. I use the square bracket keyboard shortcuts to control the size of my brush while I work, and I vary this regularly to break up the marks I'm making.One final brush setting to be aware of is texture. I use this a lot to help break up my brush marks, and it's worth spending some time experimenting with this area of the brushes palette to see what kind of effects can be had. Again, the Photoshop defaults are perfecty acceptable in most situations, particularly the Texture Fill and Rock Pattern sets.
I began by sketching out a rough idea for my image. I've decided to paint something fun for myself, so I've chosen a fantasy demon character, but that's as far as my concept goes at this stage so I just doodle around for a while. The hunched-over pose was suggested by imagining the character's spiteful, covetous personality; I find it really helps to try and get into the spirit of the image I'm working on so there's a fair amount of face-pulling and growling going on while I scribble away. As you can probably see I'm not that fond of working with lines, so as soon as I have something that feels right, however rough, I'm ready to move on.
Here's where the painting begins. I'm much happier here than with a sketch, and I'll often begin a piece by jumping straight into this stage. I create a new layer, filled with a mid grey, and proceed to block in a tighter version of the image working mostly with a large, hard-edged brush. I'll click my working layer off to reference the sketch every once in a while, but I'm not concerned with tracing any part of it - I'm looking here to refine the idea into a strong composition. Ideally, I'm trying to compose an image that can be read by silhouette alone for maximum impact, so I'm working with just two or three mid to dark tones. I think I'd consider this stage the most important part of the painting process - these basic values are the 'bones' of the image and if it doesn't work here, no amount of work with colour or detail will rescue it.
Once I'm happy with the placement of values in the composition, I'll begin to define the significant forms a little, again working with just a couple of tones to keep things bold. I take the opportunity to tweak the position of the demon's hand here, so he appears to be looking more directly at it's contents. What is he holding? It needs to be something bright to draw the viewer's eye to that point, but I still haven't decided quite what it should be. I often leave trivial elements like this undecided as I find it helps to keep me interested in the picture as it progresses. Generally speaking though, this is bad practise and I'd recommend working things like this out thoroughly at this stage.
Next, I duplicate the painting onto a new layer which I then set to multiply, with the opacity dropped to around 70%. On the layer beneath, I begin to lay in some basic colours. I want the overall colour scheme to be quite cool, but with some warm tones in the demon's flesh to pull him out of the background so I begin by filling the base layer with a grey-green colour. On top of this, I work some lighter tones into the background with a large, soft brush to strenghten the character's silhouette - I'm adding some blueish hues here to cool off the green base. Now it's time to work on the demon, so I roughly block in the character's form with a de-saturated purple to give a little contrast with the green/blue background before adding pink and orange flesh tones on top. Essentially, all I'm doing here is colouring in the value sketch - I'm not concerned with adding any extra definition to the painting just yet as you can see from the rough 'n' ready state of the base layer. When I'm done here, I flatten the image. That's the last time I'll use layers on this painting until the very last stages.
A note on layers: As far as possible, I like to work on a single layer when I paint. That allows me to focus simply on the painting process, and not layer management - I always seem to end up painting on the wrong one if I have more than two layers, anyway! There's very little in the way I work that actually requires layers - if I make a mistake, I'll paint it out, or use the history palette to undo that stroke.