Most of the time, when I begin on a sketch, I have a clear idea of what I want to illustrate. For "Lord Something", I wanted to create a cartoon character using pure lines and lighting that went from warm to cold.
Sketch and Shape
First, I opened a new PSD: size 2500 x 3000 at a 150 to 200 dpi. (Later, I framed the image for the compositions.) Using such a large PSD gave me more space for experimentation during the project, but size remains a question of choice. With time I've developed a technique which is efficient and rapid.
I always start in black and white with the basic shape. This way, it is easier to find the right proportions and it's also easier to modify the subject if any changes need to be made.
Within five minutes I had a very good idea of what the final result would look like. On a grey background, I started working with brushes of crushed lozenge shape (100% opacity) to block the contour shape. To pinpoint the shape of the character, I used a softer brush with pale colours (25-40% opacity). As with any artistic work, I used the trail and error technique until I was satisfied (Fig.01, Fig.02 and Fig.03).
Lighting and Shading
Once I was satisfied with the shape of the character, I started to consider the lighting sources and their directions, working once again in black and white. For this illustration, I wanted cold lighting in the front and warmer lighting in the back. This is a very simple method that enables you to give a sense of "drama" to the look of a character.
For the skin appearance, I wanted a cadaverous surface - rather waxed and translucent. Using a custom brush, I pricked the spots on the skin where the light hit to make the pores of the skin more apparent.
For the translucency of the skin, I added veins to the temple of the head and at the junction of the cheeks and nostrils. With these details I always add layers either in multiplicity or overplay, as needed. The best method is always to test different layers and adjust them as you proceed (Fig.04 and Fig.05).
I wanted a simple colouration overall. The light effects created the greyish colouration you can see on the face of the character. As a base, I duplicated my layers, using the different levels of grey. On this duplicate, I played with the hue to find the desired dye or complexion. Once found, I placed a mask on this layer and erased what I didn't want. As I wanted two different sources of light on my character, I used the same technique for the second source of light. For an illustration it is better to keep it simple and not use too many colours; try to use no more than three or four because the end result is much better. As a finishing measure, I refined and accentuated certain spots to better define where the light sources were (Fig.06).