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Tutorial: Black is the Soul

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Date Added: 3rd November 2017

Concept artist Valentina Remenar demonstrates how she creates her imaginative and unique artwork, Black is the Soul...


In this tutorial I will share the process of how I created my artwork Black is the Soul. At the beginning of each illustration I start with the concept itself and explain how I choose elements in my work which portray my ideas, as well as how I build my sketches and add colors and details. I will also share some tips on how I use Adjustment Layers for a quicker, easier painting process.

Step 1: Making a sketch

Before I start sketching I set myself a concept first. That helps guide me in what kind of artwork I want to create, as well as choosing a color palette and atmosphere. For this piece I picked a demon-angel concept for a character. I planned to combine organic elements which would portray his angelic side with its soft shapes, and metal elements which denote his demonic side with its sharp, cold edges.

I always begin to work on sketches in grayscale and roughly sketch his face with the default Soft Round Pressure Opacity brush. I also placed a photo texture (from to help me choose interesting shapes for the armor; later on I cleaned the sketch up a bit and added a helmet.

Rough grayscale sketches showing base concept where I also combined photo texture which helped me with his armor design

Step 2: Reworking the sketch

When I have the base sketch done I usually to experiment with it a bit further. For this piece I decided a simple portrait with only a bit of armor and helmet a little boring, so I decided to extend the top part of the canvas.

Considering I wanted to make it a bit more dynamic I added twisted horns on his helmet which then filled top of the canvas, the curvature adding more dynamism. I also added textures to the background and details.

The slight color and contrast I achieved with Adjustment Layers: Vibrance, Color Lookup and Selective Color. Later in the process I will use Adjustment Layers to help myself color this piece.

Next variation of sketch where I played with its format so that I'd be able to add more elements which would make portrait look dynamic

Step 3: Choosing color palette

Before I started adding more details I made quick color drafts to see what kind of colors I want to have on the painting and which one would better portray the atmosphere that I want to achieve. Since I want to show both his angelic and demonic aspects, I decided to play with red and blue colors. I chose to continue with darker, red sketch because it felt more mysterious and felt his demon side appears more prominent.

I experimented with color palettes which later helped me with decision on what kind of atmosphere I wanted to create

Step 4: Adding colors

Since I made color drafts earlier it was much easier for me to continue with next step - adding colors to original illustration. When I was doing the rough sketch earlier I added Adjustment Layers which provided base tone to the drawing. So, when I want to add my colors manually I had to make new layers above the Adjustment Layers, so that I don't ruin the base tone and contrast.

In the left image I added a base flat color on Multiply Layer and additional shades and colors, I also added on Soft Light layers. In the right image you can see that I started adding colors to the background, for which I used Multiply and Overlay layers.

In this step I also decided to make a slight change, which is changing the color of his horns, so I added vivid blues as Overlay and Color Dodge layers. I wanted to keep blue tones as I want an element to portray his angel side and the blue tones contrast nicely with the vivid red background, making the character stand out, rather than blending into the background.

After I had color drafts done I added colors detailed on the original image and made a slight change in color of his horns

Step 5: Adjusting colors

You can see that the drawings in the previous step appear desaturated, with low contrast. I usually work with low contrasts because after I add colors I adjust them with Adjustment Layers. If I had made the drawing with a high contrast at the beginning then I wouldn't be able to add Adjustment Layers since they'd keep pushing the contrast and saturation further, making the drawing unrecognizable.

The reason why I work with Adjustment Layers is pretty simple - it's easier and faster. Photoshop renders colors and contrasts for you, and since I work with low contrasts and almost desaturated colors it feels just like coloring a grayscale image. For this step I used several Color Lookup, Selective color and Vibrance Adjustment Layers.

I changed colors with Adjustment Layers which made artwork appear more vivid and contrasted, but it also helped me to work faster

Step 6: Adding details

Once I added colors it was time to start adding details. As I already had quite a few layers at this stage I decided to draw some details onto my grayscale layers as it was easier for me to blend shades, and I didn't have to worry about colors because the Adjustment Layers automatically rendered them as I was drawing.

I also decided to add details above my color layers so that the colors blended better on certain parts of the drawing. It's important to note that I'm drawing with colors below the Adjustment Layers and above grayscale and color layers. The reason for this is that it means I don't have to worry about mixing many colors together manually, saving a lot of time and effort.

Some textures on his hair were achieved with a textured brush, but it was mostly detailed with the default Soft Round Pressure Opacity brush.

Since I had colors chosen I started adding details to his face and hair with textured brushes and default Photoshop brush.

Step 7: Adding more elements to the painting

Since I had extended the top part of the painting there was lots of blank space all around my characters head, so I decided to add some peacock feathers. This added more blues which helped contrast with the still dominating red color.

I also changed angle of the horns so that its diagonal would slowly lean towards top left corner. The effect of this is that all of the elements follow the direction of the grid which can be seen in the right image.

At the bottom half of the painting elements face toward the right side, and at the top they changed direction to the left, creating the "curve" around the portrait. I wanted to keep all elements of my portrait within this curve, so everything what was outside of it I decided to leave blank.

Newly added elements on the painting filled the blank space but they also made it contrasted in color and dynamic with its direction.

Step 8: Drawing armor

In this step I began to detail the armor. At first I use the default Soft Round Pressure Opacity brush like in previous steps to sketch in a bit more detail and ornamentation. Again, it's important to not I'm drawing on the same layer as the grayscale sketch layer, below all adjustment and color layers.

The reason why I did that was because I wanted the armor to retain slight coloring which was achieved by adjustment layers, as it gave the armor metal appear a more antique appearance. The Soft Round brush didn't provide the texture which I wanted to attain, so I drew further details with Photoshop's Crayon Brush.

Elements which I wanted to have less of an antique look I colored on layers above Adjustment layers with Color layer blending mode and made them appear more silvery.

I created antique look for metal armor with the help of Adjustment Layers, but I also helped myself with Crayon brush for achieving metal texture

Step 9: Further detailing

Only a few more details were separating me from finishing this artwork. At this point I mostly focused on adding details to his hair, feathers, ear and horns. I used a bit of textured brush for the base of hair, and continued with Soft Round Pressure Opacity brush which I've used along whole progress for further detailing.

With a really small brush (about 5-10 pixels) I added a lot of strokes which made painting sharper and It also created interesting texture.

Since I was mostly using default Soft Round Pressure Opacity brush for painting I made more diverse textures by drawing with small strokes

Step 10: Finalizing the painting

After I'm done with the painting stage I separately save drawing as a flat image - it can be .jpeg or any other merged file; and I edit that image a bit further. For this painting I decided to use a bit of Chromatic Aberration (Filter > Lens Correction... under Custom settings) and finally I added about 5% Noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise.)

When the painting is done I flatten the file which I then use for adding more filters to finalize my image

Top Tip: Usage of Adjustment Layers

Throughout this tutorial I've used Adjustment Layers, mostly when I'm coloring my painting. I like it because it's a fast way of coloring your artwork and you can adjust the colors by simply making it more vivid and colorful. As you can see on the image my original illustration without these Adjustment Layers looks much less vivid and contrasted. I find painting with fewer intense colors easier since it's similar to grayscale painting.

For this piece I mostly used Adjustment Layers such as Color Lookup, Selective Color and Vibrance. For each layer I also changed its blending mode since it applies adjustments to different areas. You can also see in the image which layer blending mode, profile and layer opacity I used for each Adjustment Layer. If you experiment with various Adjustment Layers, layer blending modes and profiles you can achieve some really interesting effects.

Adjustment Layers help me to color my illustrations so I can paint faster due to desaturation of my original image.

Related links

See more of Valentine Remanar's amazing art at her website
Follow Valentina on Instagram
Valentina's DeviantArt
You can see Valentina's process on her YouTube channel
Follow Valentina on twitter
Keep up to date with Valentina on her Tumblr
See her portfolio on Artstation

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