Illustrator Samuel Berry offers some great tips on creating exquisite and realistic looking hair and fur...
Quick tips (I'll try) to paint hair and fur
Everyone has a point in their career when they paint hair or fur, but have trouble making it look right. Painting these two things can be quite a challenge when you don't know how to approach it. I'm going to go through the steps I took painting this portrait to explain how to paint convincing hair (and fur.)
All of these points apply to both hair and fur but for the sake of simplicity I'll be referencing hair most of time since a large part of my demo is painting hair.
1. Think of hair as one mass rather than individual hairs. If you start wanting to paint each strand of hair right way you're going to have a mess really quickly.
2. Once you've decided on the overall shape of your hair establish the planes by working from larger to smaller and darker to lighter.
Having to remind myself to save steps was probably the hardest part of writing this article
3. Only after that can you start painting strands of hair, but remember to approach it as a sculpture. Paint the hair out of the blocks of color you've laid down. Same principle as the planes applies here; larger to smaller, darker to lighter.
Sometime's hair looks like something else. Like curly fries, and that's ok
4. Use individual hairs as suggestions of texture rather than rendering every single hair. Single hairs are also quite useful to bring attention to parts that you want the viewer to see. In the end though, this comes down to personal preference, style of the painting, and how photo realistic you want it to be. Just don't render for the sake of rendering.
5. Blur tool is your friend. You probably notice that when you start painting strands of hair it looks "weird”, as if it's floating over your painting. An easy way to fix that is to paint your additions on a new layer and then pass the blur tool over it (10-30% strength is usually good enough.) This removes the hard edges you've just created and unifies them with the rest of the hair. Pro tip: you can also use it for almost everything else, just don't abuse it.
It comes to a point where you're drawing with paint, really
6. Speaking of edges, they're probably one of the most important things when it comes to painting hair and fur. How you define your edges tells your audience about the quality of the hair/fur, how much light goes through it and how it interacts with itself. You can see it in action in the demo below. If you look at the left side image you can still recognize what is fur and what is not, despite the loose edges. In the image on the right, I paid more attention in defining the quality of the edges to make it clear that the fur is short and stiff. Mastering edges makes most of your hair and fur painting woes disappear.
Textured brushes definitely help but they can't make up for lack of proper edges
7. And finally, let's talk about brushes. This is less of a tip and more like career advice (sorry, not sorry.) Custom brushes are a lot less important than most people think. The two demos I've shown above we're done with a single brush each (Oil brush and a Chalk brush.) There are a lot of hair brushes out there and they're definitely useful, but it's good not to have to rely on specific brushes to paint. If you know the technique, you can use any tool you want and it will always good look. If you ignore the technique, you can use all the tools and it'll still look off.
So that's all the tips I have for now. I hope you'll find them useful in your pursuit for perfect hair and fabulous fur. It all seems very methodical, but with practice a lot of these flow together as you work and you barely think about it.
Check out more of Samuel Berry's art in his portfolio
Read Samuel's article on improving your environments
Samuel's Instagram is full to keep updated with his work
Follow Samuel on tumblr is full of great art too!
Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters is great if you're looking for more tips and advice on creating great looking hair