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Making Of 'Howling'

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Date Added: 22nd June 2009
Software used:
*Warning: Contains Nudity*

This Photoshop and Wacom tablet tutorial was originally published in the Digital Fantasy Painting Workshop book, by Ilex Press ( The tutorial explains how I created the 'Howling' digital painting illustration. The image features an angry demon ripping the heart out of his victim's chest (beware: nudity). The tutorial provides detailed instructions on the Photoshop brush settings that I used to paint the image.

This tutorial explains, in particular, how to quickly achieve flesh tones using Adjustment layers.

Step 1: The Sketch

The sketch was done at low resolution (72 dpi), for quickness. It's important to stress that the quicker the sketch is completed, the better it will be (which is usually true for me, at least).

The best approach for me is to let the shapes flow from my hand to the screen without much interference. If I were to stop every few strokes I would lose the spontaneity that is the key to a successful sketch.

I made several sketches in succession - all slightly different and all drawn on a new, blank layer. I try to keep a constant brush size to avoid wasting time on sketching any details, which at this initial stage can be a distraction and could get in the way during the next phase.

Once I had a few interesting sketches separated on different layers, I compared them and picked the one I thought best conveyed the idea I had set out to illustrate. (Fig.01)

Fig. 02

Tool Settings and Notes
When sketching in Photoshop, I use a medium hardness, pressure sensitive, round brush with a grey colour. I prefer using this brush setting because it allows me to define shapes with clear edges, with just a few quick strokes. The Brush tool settings can be seen in Fig.02.

Fig. 03

Step 2: Blocking

The blocking phase is where I concentrate on defining the volume of the figure; the way in which the light source (in this case a single spotlight positioned above) illuminates the subjects. To achieve a high level of realism, I decided to take a few reference snapshots with a digital camera. Lacking a model at the time, I posed for the pictures myself. I then imported the photos into Photoshop, desaturated them, and added a high level of contrast to maximise the highlights and shadows that I needed to refer to.

I resized the reference pictures to a small size and put them to the left of my main canvas window. I moved back to the sketch window and resized it to 300 dpi. I set the sketch layer in Multiply mode and added an empty layer below it, which I filled with a black colour. In this new layer, I then painted a flat shape, following the edges of the sketch using a 50% flat grey brush tip.

After the "flat" was done (this is a term borrowed from the comic industry), I proceeded to loosely build up the shadows in the darker areas, using several light strokes for each shadow. At this point, I deleted the sketch layer (but I kept a copy on a separate file). I saved all the highlights for the next step. Whilst working on the blocking, I never zoomed in closer than 50%, to avoid falling in the trap of getting lost in time-consuming details. (Fig.03)

Fig. 04

Tool Settings and Notes
For this stage of the process, I rely on a 0% hardness (smooth-edged), pressure sensitive brush at 80% opacity. Having a pressure sensitive stylus and tablet is very useful when painting an image such as this, where smooth flesh tones are prominent. Once again, I kept the brush size constant through this step, until the very end where I hinted at some of the smaller details. The Brush tool settings can be seen in Fig.04.

Fig. 05

Step 3: Main Painting

For this stage, I zoomed in at 100% and started reshaping the anatomy to bring each muscle and visible bone structure to more exact and convincing shape and proportions. I did not spend much time blending the strokes, as the focus here was to add in highlights and lighter tones.

For the actual painting, I used a combination of short and light brush strokes, whilst alternating between black and white brush tip colours using the X key (in order for this to work, I set up the brush foreground colour as white and the background colour as black).

I accentuated some shapes with darker lines, and also made the lightest spots more prominent with a few touches of pure white.
Often, I zoomed out to get a feel on the overall look of the image. I use keyboard shortcuts constantly to switch between colours, to undo, to zoom in and out, and so on. To do this, I keep my left hand on the keyboard at all times whilst painting. (Fig.05)

Fig. 06

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