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Quick Tip: Use Coloring Techniques to Add Depth to Your Artwork

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Do your illustrations look flat and you can't figure out why? In this quick tip tutorial, we will explain how to add depth to your illustrations using a simple coloring technique. Let's get started!


Step 1

Start with a simple sketch. Sketch anything you like. In this tutorial, I drew a dragon's head.


Step 2

Create a layer under the sketch and lower sketch's layer Opacity. Then grab a hard brush with 100% Opacity and Flow to paint a basic shape for your picture.


Step 3

Now select the sketch layer and choose Create Clipping Mask from Layer menu (or click Alt + Ctrl + G) to cut these parts of the sketch that jut out of the shape.


Step 4

Create a layer under the sketch layer (it will be clipped automatically) and sketch some details.


Step 5

Add a layer above those (don't clip it) and add the details that aren't part of the picture you're already painted (like teeth). Then come back to the shape layer (that one that gives shape to all the clipped layers) and fix the edge so that it's not too smooth (for example, if you're drawing a cat, draw some fur tufts).


Step 6 - The Wrong Method

Now, I'm going to show you what NOT to do. It's really important to fully understand a mistake that many artists make. So, read these steps and see if it's something you do and then I'll show you how to avoid it.

In this step, I added some highlights. Of course, if the base color was red, the light should be pink, right?


Step 7 - The Wrong Method

Now some shades... I choose dark red (it's so dark that it's almost black) for it.


Step 8 - The Wrong Method

Now, to mix both lights and shades, I take red, soft brush and paint a little over them. I also paint the horns, little spines, and the eye.


Step 9 - The Wrong Method

I shade the horns and the teeth with the same technique like before - I use dark pale-yellow for it.


Step 10 - The Wrong Method

My picture is so flat that I want to use some more lights and shades. But, since I used the lightest and the darkest red, white and black is all that left. And, how do you like it? Theoretically, it's a good picture, but something's wrong with it. I spent two years trying to figure what, and now I'll show you how to avoid this dull effect. Let's come back in time to Step 5.


Step 11

Now let's pretend Steps 6-10 never happened. First rule - "white" light of sun is warm, and it means it's never really white. That's why using white for lighting gives you an unrealistic effect. And so does pink on red surface, because there is nothing else but red mixed with white. It's the same with the shades - they're not black. So, how to find this perfect color for shading and lighting? Here's the solution: Color Scheme Designer. Copy the hexadecimal value of your base color and put it into the program. Then choose Complement tab and - that's all. The perfect shade for red is green.


Step 12

Before applying this trick, change your resolution to 300 dpi (Image > Image Size > Resolution). It will let you draw more meticulously. Now use dark green for shades.


Step 13

And light green for lights. Here comes another trick - change brush mode to Linear Light - it gives the effect showed on the ball. Warning! Before doing it merge the base layer with the clipped ones. Brush mode affects only the layer you're drawing on.


Step 14

If you used too strong lights, you can soften it with soft brush with base color (Brush Mode: normal). Just don't touch the edges of the details or you'll make it blurry.


Step 15

The picture above looks done, and actually, we can consider it done (once you've finished the teeth, of course). It's all up to your needs. You can stop now if you want to, I'll just show you how to add a sparkle to your picture. Use Color Scheme Designer to find the shade for horns/teeth color (if you used some yellowish shade, it's blue), you can add some more dark greenish shade to the base too if you find it necessary.


Step 16

Now, to make it more alive, you can add some red light around the eye. Linear Light Mode is great for little details like sparkles. Just don't overdo it, or your picture will seem... wet.


Step 17

Now I'll tell you about light theory. We might place one light source in our scene, but it would only work if our object was in a dark empty space where all the light that misses it is fully absorbed. I'll explain it in more detail in next step but now let's place this one main light source.


Step 18

Now time for reflected light. Sky seems blue because it absorbs all the colors of sunlight but blue - and reflects it to our eyes. So, my dragon head will be lit with some blue too, from the opposite of the main light source (and if there was a green forest behind it, it would be lit with green - you get the main idea).


Step 19

If you want a warmer effect, you can use brush in Vivid Light Mode. It works just like Linear Light, but it affects only light areas and looks warmer in the end.


Final Image

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