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How to Create a Dramatic Digital Painting in Photoshop

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In this tutorial, I will take you through the process of creating a dramatic digital painting in Photoshop, and show you how to illustrate an eagle and falcon battling it out in the sky. Let's get started!


Speed Art Video

Before beginning, download the source files for this tutorial, found at the top-right of the page. I've supplied two Photoshop brushes (called "Chalk Brush" and "Featherish Brush") which you should install and use throughout the tutorial. With that done, you're ready to start painting!

1. Create a Rough Sketch

Step 1

The first step is to create a rough sketch of the whole image. Use the Chalk Brush to block out the basic shapes of the eagle and falcon.

Use colors similar to these:

  • 89604a - background color
  • b8a69c - eagle color
  • 7b6568 - falcon highlight color
  • 22202b - falcon shadows color

This is a basic color scheme to start out with. There will be many more colors later.

Step 2

Mark the placement of the eagle's eye and the falcon's beak. Add some highlights to the eagle's beak with a light yellow color. Then choose the Soft Round Brush and darken the bottom right corner of the image.

Step 3

Using the same brush and a light yellow color, add some highlights to the top part of the image as seen below.

Step 4

Now select a color similar to 4e362a and put some of it in the middle of the image between the two birds. Also add shadow under the eagle with the use of the same brush.

Step 5

Select the Chalk Brush and paint the eagle's iris, with a color like 8e6e45. Then add the pupil in the center of the eye with a dark color.

Step 6

In this step, add more detail to the eye of eagle. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to select the color of the eagle's head, then change the shape of eagle's eye by painting brush strokes that cover the eye slightly, like in the last image shown below. Also add more strokes that are the same color as the head, to form the body of the eagle. Try to mix some darker colors of brown and gray in to the eagle's head.

Step 7

Add more dark brown or gray color under the eagle, to make it look like it's casting a shadow beneath it.

Step 8

Create some rough shapes that separate the background and darker clouds on the floor. Use the Soft Round Brush and a color similar to 41332a to do this.

Step 9

Add some violet hues to the bottom right part of the image, also using the Soft Round Brush and a color like 2b2533.

Step 10

At this step, smooth the head of both birds by selecting the color of head using the Eyedropper Tool (I), and then softly place strokes of this color until you get this kind of blurred look. On the falcon, use a lighter color to add more highlights to his head and eye.

Also add some more shadow under the eagle's head, and using the same color make his beak a bit longer, as in the image below.

Step 11

Add more yellow color (866544 or thereabouts) to the falcon's beak.


2. Add Details

Step 1

Select the third Featherish Brush. It's a similar brush to the chalk one but it's scattered and a bit wider.

Using this brush, paint the feather-looking texture on the eagle, pick the color from the eagle's head where the color is brightest.

Step 2

Try to experiment with size of the brush by pressing [ or ] on your keyboard. That's the default shortcut for decreasing and increasing the brush size quickly. Also try darker grays and browns to add more depth to the head.

Step 3

Using the same brush, add some feathers on the falcon's head.

Step 4

In this step, break the soft gradients that were made with the soft brush by painting textures on the background and below the eagle.

Step 5

Add more detail on the eagle's beak by painting shadows and highlights. Try using various shades of violet and yellow.

Step 6

Click the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon, and select Brightness/Contrast. These are shown in the image below. This will create an adjustment layer at the top of your layers list.

Step 7

Set -37 for Brightness and 9 for Contrast to make everything darker. Feel free to experiment with these settings.

Step 8

Now, the image is darkened, let's bring back some highlights. Make sure you've selected the adjustment layer that was just created and click the Add Layer Mask icon, like below.

Step 9

Using the Soft Brush with the color set to black, paint to hide the adjustment layer in selected areas like the head and beak of both birds. Try doing the same with Featherish Brush to add some variations of color on wings and heads.

Step 10

Add more abstract textures in the background, with some saturated colors like blue 303754 and yellow 6d5342. Also add more strokes and textures on both birds.

Step 11

Add highlights above eagle's eye and on its head.

Step 12

Now add more textures in the background, using the Featherish Brush. Try larger sizes of brush.

Step 13

Add more colors in the background. You might use light shades of purples and violets, as is illustrated below.

Step 14

Pick out some spots and add highlights there, by painting lighter colors like 7f6355 using the Soft Round Brush.

Step 15

Paint more highlights on the eagle's head and beak, using a color like d2bfb0.


3. Correcting Proportions

Step 1

Apply Image by selecting Image > Apply Image > OK.

Step 2

Select Liquify filter from Filter > Liquify.

Step 3

Use theForward Warp Tool (W) to move some parts of the eagle's head and beak. Take a look at the red arrows below as an example.

Step 4

This is how it should look after the changes. Hit Enter or click OK to accept changes.

Step 5

Paint more highlights on the eagle's head and neck. Also cover the eagle's forehead a bit, making it smaller. Use the background color for this.

Step 6

Paint some darker strokes with the Featherish Brush, to turn down some of the highlights below the eagle.

Step 7

Again, using the Liquify filter, slightly move eagle's forehead to the left, to correct the position of its head.

Step 8

Zoom in to the falcon's beak and, using the standard Hard Round Brush, paint its beak and a slight highlight under its eye.

Step 9

Using the Soft Round Brush, paint some glow on the eagle's head and add shadow on its neck. Also blend the colors on its beak using the same brush.

Step 10

Zoom in to the eagle's eye and soften the hard edges around the eye using the Soft Round Brush like below.

Step 11

Add a slight shadow on the eagle's eye, using a large Soft Round Brush. Also smooth the line where beak and feathers are separated.

Step 12

Change the placement of the falcon's beak and add rough lines marking the eye.

Step 13

Add more small highlighted feather around the eye.

Step 14

Create another Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and select Brightness 2 and 37 Contrast.

After that, the image should look like this:

Step 15

Go to Filter > Liquify again and make small corrections like below.

Step 16

Add more highlights and small feathers on the eagle's head, using the Featherish Brush.

Step 17

Using the Chalk Brush, soften and blend the feathers on the falcon's head, making hard edges disappear.

Step 18

Also add highlight on its eye:

Step 19

Add a dark dot on the eagle's beak where its nose should be. Click Apply Image in the Image menu, then select the Dodge Tool (O) and with the Featherish Brush, highlight some of the parts on the eagle's head and beak.

Step 20

Re-paint the beak to make it look like it's below the falcon's head. Also change the position of its eye so it looks more believable, as per the images below:

Step 21

Go to the Liquify filter (Command/Ctrl-Shift-X) and move the eye of the eagle a bit as below:

Step 22

Make some more changes using the Liquify Filter, to move the beak a little to the left.


4. Adding Colors

Step 1

Add another Adjustment Layer, this time Color Balance and select values as below:

Step 2

After accepting changes the in Liquify Filter, flip the image (Image > Flip Image > Flip Horizontally) to see if everything looks good. If proportions seem off, use the Liquify Filter again.

Step 3

Zoom in close to the eagle's eye and soften the edges on the right of its eye. It doesn't change much, but from a distance it will look better.

Step 4

Flatten the image by selecting Apply Image from the Image menu.

Step 5

Take a look for areas where the highlights are not regular and fill the darker spots with the Dodge Tool (O).

Step 6

Zoom in on the beak of the eagle (you can flip the canvas by selecting Image > Flip Horizontally) and smooth the beak to make it look a bit more solid. Cover any shattered edges around the beak with the background color.

Step 7

Add another Color Balance adjustment layer and use these values to bring more red/orange tones to the image:

Step 8

Darken the area around the eye. It will add a little depth there.

Step 9

Zoom out and add clouds/feathers under eagle's wing. Use a large Featherish Brush for this.

Step 10

Paint some cloudy forms under the eagle, using warm tones like orange and yellow.


5. Cloudy Forms and Details

Step 1

On the falcon's side, add more cold tones like the light blue shown below. Also put some little brush strokes on the edge between the background and the floor clouds.

Step 2

Now add the same cloud-like forms above the eagle's head, using lighter yellow tones.

Step 3

This is how it looks after adding the first cloud-like forms:

Step 4

Zoom in to the falcon's head and mark some more feathers with lighter violet tones, then add shadows on the bottom of its head. Use the Featherish Brush for both these additions.

Step 5

Paint more highlights on the falcon's eye and eyelid.

Step 6

Zoom out and use a large Featherish Brush to blend these cloud-like forms. Make sure not to cover both birds.

Step 7

Using the large Featherish Brush, cover the textures around the eagle. Use a light color to slightly hide shadows.

Step 8

Paint the reflection on the left side of the eagle's eye, then make it more smooth.

Step 9

Add a slightly visible wing on the eagle's far side. It should fade away into the dark background.

Step 10

Add shadows between the cloudy forms using the Soft Round Brush.

Step 11

Using the same brush, add more highlights on the top of each of the clouds.

Step 12

Adjust the shape of the falcon's eye. Cover the highlight on the eye, and make the beak smoother.

Step 13

Now add more highlights to the area above the eagle's eye, and some shadows under its eye, like below.

Step 14

In this step, add some more small feathers around the eye of eagle, then fill out small darker spots on its forehead to smooth out the edges.

Step 15

Add a bright yellow color on the very edge of the eagle's eye. It will make it look more round.


6. Final Touches

Step 1

Again, select Apply Image from the Image menu. Then, using the Burn Tool, darken the lower right corner of the image. It's best to use a large Soft Round Brush for this.

Step 2

Next, add more highlights to the falcon's head using the Dodge Tool (O). Also highlight some spots in the background.

Step 3

Using color c6c5e1, paint a little glow under the falcon's head. Use the Soft Round Brush for this.

Step 4

Using a light blue color (73989b or similar) and a large Soft Round Brush, paint two strokes on the new layer, to imitate light rays. Once you have drawn the strokes, change their color using the Hue/Saturation menu (Command/Ctrl-U), then lower the opacity of this layer and tilt it a bit using the Free Transform Tool (Command/Ctrl-T).

Step 5

Choose Apply Image from the Image menu and hit OK, then mix and smooth some colors between the light rays and the clouds.

Step 6

Use a small Soft Round brush and 292941 color to paint a reflection on the bottom of the falcon's head, and on its eye. Also smooth out some of the edges around the eye, using the Brush tool (B) and the Eyedropper tool (I).

Step 7

Zoom in to the falcon's beak and paint a little highlight in the center.

Step 8

Apply Image, and then open the Liquify Filter, to move the head as is shown below.

Step 9

Make the falcon's head a bit longer, using the Liquify Filter again.

Step 10

Zoom in on the falcon's head and paint small feathers and stripes using the Chalk Brush.

Step 11

Apply Image, and then using the Dodge Tool (O) with Highlight setting, bring more light to the cloud spots below the eagle and above it.

Step 12

On the new layer, paint feathers that fall in front of the eagle's head. Use Featherish Brush for this, and a color similar to decdc5. Then resize the feathers using the Free Transform Tool (Command/Ctrl-T).

Step 13

Zoom in close up on the feather, then use a gray color (6b6160) to smooth out the edges and fill in the dark spots.

Step 14

Finally, add a glow on the feathers, using the Soft Round Brush.


Conclusion

In this tutorial, I have taken you through the process of creating a dramatic digital painting of an eagle and a falcon battling it out in the sky. With practice, just about anyone can create a digital painting using the techniques explained in this tutorial. I hope that you learned something from this tutorial and can apply these techniques to your own workflows.