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From Speed Paint to Detail: Paint a Bat-Cat in Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Sometimes you want to paint something, but your idea is too elusive to plan the picture properly. You just start painting and the result is unpredictable. In this tutorial I'll show you a fast method to paint freely and spontaneously, while keeping control over the process. I'll teach you how to tame your imagination and use it to bring an idea to life. A fast process requires simple tools, so we're going to use only one, self-made brush. Adobe Photoshop isn't obligatory here, but you'll need to work some things out yourself if you use other programs.

In order to prove to you how fast this method is, I decided to do something uncommon. In this tutorial I'll show you the process of painting four cute bat-cats at the same time. It doesn't mean you need to do the same! Don't follow me directly, just follow my advice, observing how I apply it to four different designs. Learning from comparison is quite effective—you only get the essence, without irrelevant noise.

As a warm-up for this tutorial, take a look at these ones. Why? Because here I'll be teaching about painting, not about painting certain animals. Yes, there is a difference!

1. Prepare the Workspace

Before we start working, we need to prepare the workspace and tools. Imagine Photoshop as a huge room full of artist tools—we need to choose the ones that will be useful for us.

Step 1

First, create a New File (Control-N). Set the Width and Height depending on your computer—5000 x 4000 px can be too much for some. 2000 x 1000 px is much safer and should be enough for one design.

photoshop size settings

Step 2

Set the Color panel to show HSB Sliders—much more color theory friendly than RGB. If the Color panel isn't showing, open it with Window > Color or by hitting F6.

color settings photoshop painting

Step 3

Select 90% gray and fill the background with the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

paint background

Step 4

Lock the layer to keep it from modification.

background layer

Step 5

We need a brush to paint with. Let's create a really simple one.

Create a New File for a moment, and Hide the background. Add a New Layer (Control-Shift-N) and draw a hexagon with the Polygon Tool. The size doesn't matter, just remember to set 6 Sides. Then go to Edit > Define Brush Preset (the name doesn't matter either).

create hexagon brush 1
create hexagon brush 2

Step 6

Hit F5 to see the settings. Change the Spacing to 1% for smooth strokes, and check Transfer to make it opacity-based. Hit the white card icon in the bottom right to save the brush.

create hexagon brush 3
create hexagon brush 4

Why don't we use a simple round brush? The reason is it's too simple. In the case of speedpainting we want a bit of chaos that we'll be able to transform into something we couldn't have imagined before. A hexagon is simple—because it's almost round—and a bit unpredictable at the same time. Just what we need!

create hexagon brush 5

2. Design the Pose

For every part of the sketch we're going to create a new layer. So, for every step you'll do the following:

  • Create a New Layer (Control-Shift-N)
  • Do the step
  • Lower the Opacity (press V, then hit a number—1 for 10% Opacity, 5 for 50% Opacity, and so on. 0 will give you 100% Opacity)

Step 1

We need to start with a gesture drawing. It will define the rhythm of body and make it independent from the details. The spine is the main element we can use for it—cats have very flexible spines, so feel free to go crazy with it! You can also add the chest, head, and hips to keep control over the silhouette.

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Draw a flexible line, attach the chest, hips and head

Cat 1

The first one is looking up, and I want it to be catching something in the air.

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Cat 1—basic pose

Cat 2

This one is probably sleeping.

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Cat 2—basic pose

Cat 3

A crazy position for a crazy cat!

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Cat 3—basic pose

Cat 4

This one is walking fabulously.

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Cat 4—basic pose

Here they are all together:

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Step 2

Legs can be added along with the gesture, but I decided to create a separate step for this to make it clearer.

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Both front and hind legs are similar to the letter S

Cat 1

One pair of legs is raised, while the other keeps the cat standing.

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Cat 1—legs added

Cat 2

We've got a real tangle here! Cats are best at this.

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Cat 2—legs added

Cat 3

One pair to the front, one pair to the back—let's show the flexibility of a cat's body.

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Cat 3—legs added

Cat 4

This one is going to be the easiest!

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Cat 4—legs added
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Step 3

We don't need to know the exact musculature for this purpose. Use the scheme below to create the main body parts. Ignore fur at the moment, and make the silhouette slim!

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Both front and hind legs are built of the same parts as our arms and legs, so it's rather easy to remember

Cat 1

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Cat 1—body

Cat 2

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Cat 2—body

Cat 3

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Cat 3—body

Cat 4

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Cat 4—body
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Step 4

Our cats can fly! We're going to add very simple bat wings to them. Start with a triple-bent line:

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S-shape again! It's because wings are actually arms

Cat 1

Wings our helping our cat balance its body during this position.

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Cat 1—base for wings

Cat 2

This cat is sleeping, so it's keeping its wings folded on its back.

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Cat 2—base for wings

Cat 3

One wing is folded, the other is is being expanded unintentionally because of this extreme flexion.

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Cat 3—base for wings

Cat 4

The wings follow this cat's careless gait.

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Cat 4—base for wings
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Step 5

Add four fingers to every wing—one thumb on the top and three long fingers under the third part. Use long fingers for realistic wings and short fingers for cute ones.

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The long fingers have joints just as your fingers, too, so you can use this facet more a more complicated pose

Cat 1

Fully expanded.

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Cat 1—wing-fingers

Cat 2

Fully folded.

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Cat 2—wing-fingers

Cat 3

A medial state.

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Cat 3—wing-fingers

Cat 4

Fully expanded.

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Cat 4—wing-fingers
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Step 6

Connect the fingers with a membrane.

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Only the thumb is free of membrane. Don't forget about the part between the "wrist" and shoulder

Cat 1

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Cat 1—wings done

Cat 2

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Cat 2—wings done

Cat 3

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Cat 3—wings done

Cat 4

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Cat 4—wings done
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Step 7

We need a better base for the most important details—the face and paws. It can be done very simply; just treat it as a skull.

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Cat 1

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Cat 1—head and paws

Cat 2

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Cat 2—head and paws

Cat 3

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Cat 3—head and paws

Cat 4

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Cat 4—head and paws
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Step 8

And, the best step of them all. The body is well defined, so it's not very likely we'll break anything. Let your imagination go wild!

Cat 1

A playful, young cat with furry front and bald back. I kept a normal nose, but added big bat ears.

sketch a cat quickly
Cat 1—full line art

Cat 2

A peaceful demon—the front of a house cat and the back of a nightmarish beast.

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Cat 2—full line art

Cat 3

What could be a better base for a bat-cat than a sphynx cat? I've used a bald body, long tail and wrinkled face as the most important points of this design.

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Cat 3—full line art

Cat 4

Norwegian forest bat? Spooky raccoon? This must be a furry pet from hell!

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Cat 4—full line art

Our designs are done! Notice how different concepts can be created on a base of the simple "bat-cat" idea. To prepare it for further work, remove all the layers except the last one. Name that layer line art.

sketch a cat quickly 5

3. Add the Colors

Time for colors! We're going to use a simple method based on the color theory tricks I described in this article.

Step 1

Create a New Layer (Control-Shift-N) and place it under the line art (hint: Control‑[ and Control-] can be used to move the layer up and down). For a moment, turn off Transfer in brush settings to paint a solid background under the line art, then turn it on again. Now... paint! For the first time you don't need to think about light and all that nonsense. Just paint the colors you need, with no shading and no details.

Name this layer Mask and clip the line art to it with Control-Alt-G.

paint in photoshop digital flat colors
Paint, don't think!

Cat 1

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Cat 1—flat colors

Cat 2

paint in photoshop digital flat colors 2
Cat 2—flat colors

Cat 3

paint in photoshop digital flat colors 3
Cat 3—flat colors

Cat 4

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Cat 4—flat colors
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Step 2

From now on, we're going to do the following for every step:

  • Create a New Layer above the previous one.
  • Clip the layer to Mask with Control-Alt-G.

We need the line art, but at the same time we don't want to see it. Let's compromise—use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the color that's probably hidden under the line, move the Brightness slider a bit to the left, and paint over the lines. Remember to follow the color, but other than that, you don't need to be too careful.

paint in photoshop digital how to remove line art

Cat 1

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Cat 1—line art covered

Cat 2

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Cat 2—line art covered

Cat 3

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Cat 3—line art covered

Cat 4

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Cat 4—line art covered
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Step 3

Add more details, picking the colors you need from the picture, but without adding any new ones for shading. Use a big brush!

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Cat 1

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Cat 1—color sketch

Cat 2

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Cat 2—color sketch

Cat 3

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Cat 3—color sketch

Cat 4

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Cat 4—color sketch
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Step 4

Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill the layer with a dark version of the ambient light color (for example, dark blue #0b0c29).Change its Opacity to 70%.

photoshop opacity change painting

Add a Layer Mask to the layer.

photoshop add layer mask painting

Select the Layer Mask.

photoshop select layer mask
1—layer selected; 2—layer mask selected

Paint weakly illuminated areas with gray and strongly illuminated with black. Use white as an eraser. Don't just reveal the light, but also paint small illuminated details, like hair.

photoshop painting layer mask
1—black; 2—50% bright gray; 3—10% bright gray
photoshop painting layer mask 2 shadow
At this stage we're painting light by removing shadow

Cat 1

photoshop painting layer mask 3 shadow
Cat 1—shadow added

Cat 2

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Cat 2—shadow added

Cat 3

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Cat 3—shadow added

Cat 4

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Cat 4—shadow added
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Step 5

Now we want to paint details on the illuminated areas with a more interesting color. Pick the color from the area with the Eyedropper Tool (I) and then:

  • If the light source is warm, move the H slider to the side of warm hues. If it's cold, do it the other way around.
  • Lower Saturation a little bit.
  • Increase Brightness.
painting photoshop shading light
Sample configuration for warm light

Paint on the illuminated areas without covering them completely. Simply paint the details with a slightly smaller brush than before.

painting photoshop shading light 1

Cat 1

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Cat 1—first light

Cat 2

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Cat 2—first light

Cat 3

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Cat 3—first light

Cat 4

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Cat 4—first light
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Step 6

Since we've got a pretty good idea about the general shape of every cat, we can cut the redundant parts off. Add a Layer Mask to the Mask and paint over the cut area with black. Turn off Transfer for a while to make it easier.

painting photoshop shading light 7

Cat 1

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Cat 1—clipping mask

Cat 2

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Cat 2—clipping mask

Cat 3

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Cat 3—clipping mask

Cat 4

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Cat 4—clipping mask
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Step 7

If the shadowed areas look too dark, you can add reflected light to them. To find a perfect color, pick the color from the shadow and then:

  • If the reflected light is warm, move the H slider to the side of warm hues. If it's cold, do it the other way around.
  • Lower Saturation.
  • Increase Brightness.
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Sample configuration for cold reflected light

Now paint subtle light in the shadows. Don't touch the illuminated areas!

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Treat reflected light as a normal, but weak light

Cat 1

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Cat 1—reflected light

Cat 2

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Cat 2—reflected light

Cat 3

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Cat 3—reflected light

Cat 4

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Cat 4—reflected light
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Step 8

For fine details, painted with a small brush, use a more intense version of Step 5. Don't paint details in the shadow! You can also use this step to paint over any dark outlines that are left on the border of the Clipping Mask.

painting photoshop shading light 20

Cat 1

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Cat 1—second light

Cat 2

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Cat 2—second light

Cat 3

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Cat 3—second light

Cat 4

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Cat 4—second light
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4. Final Touches

Step 1

So far we've been taking care of the lighting only. Now we can add details independent from light.

Cat 1

photoshop paint cat eyes whiskers nose
Cat 1—no face details
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Cat 1—whisker holes and pupil added
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Cat 1—eye shading
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Cat 1—whiskers, their shading, and a moth
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Cat 1—details

Cat 2

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Cat 2—no face details
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Cat 2—whisker holes
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Cat 2—whiskers and their shading
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Cat 2—details

Cat 3

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Cat 3—no face details
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Cat 3—pupils
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Cat 3—iris
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Cat 3—eye shading
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Cat 3—details

Cat 4

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Cat 4—no face details
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Cat 4—whisker holes and pupil
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Cat 4—eye shading
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Cat 4—whiskers, their shading and eye-shine
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Cat 4—details
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Step 2

If want to add more distinctive, colorful lighting, there's a simple trick for this. When moving along the Hue slider, sometimes it's hard to pick the right color. You can work around it by painting a stroke of the light source's color, then setting its Opacity to 30%.

Now you can pick the color, make it a little bit Brighter and less Saturated, and add more lighting. It will fit!

photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm

It works for both the main light source and reflected light:

photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm 2

Cat 1

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Cat 1—complete shading, one light
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Cat 1—complete shading, two lights

Cat 2

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Cat 2—complete shading, one light
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Cat 2—complete shading, two lights

Cat 3

photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm 7
Cat 3—complete shading, one light
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Cat 3—complete shading, two lights

Cat 4

photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm 9
Cat 4—complete shading, one light
photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm 10
Cat 4—complete shading, two lights
photoshop shading light reflected main source cold warm 11

Step 3

Now you can add your personal tricks that weren't described in this tutorial and fix all the mistakes you can find (for example, that horrible Cat 2's paw). Then play with the background to present your creature in the most appropriate way.

Final image of four bat-cats

We're Done!

You've just learned how to bring your ideas to life, quickly and in color, without any planning, no matter how different they are. Maybe it wasn't that fast this time, but now that you know these tricks, you'll be able to use them almost unconsciously in your projects. Do you want to try something more Photoshop-oriented? Check my tutorial about painting with Blending Modes and Layer Masks.

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