In this tutorial, I will be taking you through the steps that I do when creating a cartoon pin-up. I will start off with thumbnails and continue on to the final image. Along the way, I will be sharing with you my techniques and thought process when it comes to creating an original image with Photoshop. Let's get started!
Final Image Preview
Take a look at the image we'll be creating.
Thumbnails! This is where I try to find the pose that I'll get a kick out of doing. Open a new file (8 inches by 10 inches 400 dpi) and just start sketching with a standard Brush (B) set at 50% Opacity and with black as the default color. Even though I am doing this all digitally, there are still times when I like to sketch on paper using anything from a ballpoint pen, to pencils or markers. They are after all just thumbnails and don't require any sort of care.
The most important thing you're looking for in a thumbnail is composition and in this case, a great pose. In other words, just keep it loose and don't worry about details. A good tip is when doing thumbnails think of the silhouette. If you color in the thumbnail solid black, does it still have a strong visual? Can you tell what's going on? These are important questions and if the answer is yes. Then you've found your thumbnail to proceed on to the next step.
So now, I've found a thumbnail I want to work with. I then start a new Layer set and call it "Sketch." I also move the thumbnails into their own Layer set called "Thumbs."
For each new version of the image, I always start a new Layer so that I can always make changes. This Layer is called "Ver_01." I then enlarge the thumbnail to the size I think will work. From here, I start to flesh out the character more and get the general pose and proportions down. This is still done quite loose, I know you're chomping at the bit to get doing detail, but this is the time where you will see if this pose will work. I'm happy with this one and so I'll keep going.
My next step is to start tightening up the proportions. For each new version of the image, I always start a new layer so that I can always make changes. This layer is called "Ver_02."
So I figured out what I want to do with the hair, I then start tackling the hands and gun. I thought at first two guns with silencers might be cool, but decided against it. I also wanted to try and draw the hands in a different position than what I normally would do.
Remember, always have fun with your drawing, but try and push yourself to try different things. In the long run, you'll better yourself and become a stronger artist. I've decided at this point, that there won't be any sort of detailed background...going strictly pin-up on this one.
So now I've got the preliminary drawing done. The next step is to get the details in, so it's ready for inking.
OK, now I focus on getting everything where I want it so I can start inking. I again make a new layer called "Ver_03." I made some final adjustments to the proportions and details like the belt, gun and her eyes. I've also changed things here and there like the hands and the hair.
Even though this is the final sketch before inking, you don't have to tighten it up too much since your doing it yourself. Whereas, if you were giving this to another person to ink, you would need to make clean crisp lines and indicate what you're thinking for inks.
Now make a new layer called "Linework." The way I ink my drawings is by using the Pen Tool (P). Up until a few years ago, I refused to use the Pen Tool. That's because I didn't know how to use it correctly. Now that I know how, I can't even imagine how I survived with out it.
Select the Pen Tool and make sure the Paths box is selected and not Shape Layers. One thing to make sure is that you have a layer selected. It can be a source of frustration if you have a layer set selected and not the actual layer as it will not stroke. I've created an action to stroke the path and delete it afterwards, it just makes things easier. You can control the size and pressure of the stroke using your brush options.
Below is the final inked version of the image. I've made some changes in the inking stage. As all artists know, you're never quite happy with an image and are always looking to improve it. I removed some details in the hands and added some in the hair and gun. I've also cropped her legs off and made some proportional changes. Once you get the hang of the Pen Tool (P), you'll find it easy to make changes in the inking stage. Now we're ready to move on to color, finally!
OK, so this is probably the easiest step of them all. In this step, all I do is figure out the colors I want to use and fill them in. I name this layer "Base" for organization purposes. This layer will be the bottom layer when it comes to the character. The only other layers that will appear beneath this one are the background layers. I also at this point make my background layer a middle gray. This just helps see the colors better against a neutral background.
It's always best when painting, whether it's digitally or traditional, to work from dark to light. So in this step, I start laying down the darks on a separate layer named "Darks." Separate layers allow for changes to be made if needed. Generally, I never nail the intensity of the shadows on the first try. Later on, after I've painted in the lights, I often find I need to adjust the darks using the Hue/Saturation tool (Command + U).
When painting, I use a combination of Gradient (G) and Brush (B) tools (as shown above) to achieve the desired outcome. I will lay down a gradient to get a nice shadow base and then tweak it with the brush. I also will play with the opacity and hardness of the brush to get a soft look if needed.
Shown below is the final darks, for now. As I said before, I most likely will be adjusting them with the Hue/Saturation tool (Command + U) at a later stage.
I'm happy with the darks and now have moved on to the lights. Again, I create a new Layer and name it "Lights" and place it above the "Darks" layer in the layer tab. I then begin to lay down the lights over the character. I use the same technique as I did for the darks. I like the highlights to pop, so I generally will make them brighter than they should be, especially with the hair.
Now that I'm happy with the darks and lights, I like to create a reflective light layer. This is for some bounce light that might be reflecting on your subject from the background or light source. So like before, I create another new layer and name it "Reflect." I've already decided that I want to use a hot pink color, since it will work well with the colors of her clothes. So I use a standard Brush (B) with a slight softness to it and hit the spots where I want the light to show.
I'm almost finished, the only thing left to do are some minor details and add a background. When I finish an image, I like to get rid of the harsh black outline and do a colored line version.
So what I do is Command-click on the "Line" layer to select the line work. I create a new Layer and name it "colored line." I then hide the original line work and start hand painting the new colored line work in. I like to do it manually as it still makes me feel like I'm traditionally painting. I like the look the colored line gives, it's soft and it doesn't flatten your image as much as a solid black line does.
Alright, I'm at the final step. I now add a background element to my image to finish her off. I get rid of the gray background and replace it with a solid color.
I've also decided that a nice circular shape around her will work nice and make her pop. In the circle, I use a nice soft gradient to accentuate certain areas a bit more. This is the time where I will resize the image and also adjust the lights and darks if needed.
The final touch is a nice outline around the entire character to really make her stand out. I don't always do this, but it seems to suit this image nicely. In order to do this, I create a duplicate of my file and flatten the base and line work layers (Command + E.) I then select the shape (Command-click) and go to Select > Modify > Expand. The number of pixels you enter is a judgement call, I use 2 pixels. On a new temp Layer, I fill it in (Alt + Enter). Once I'm happy with the thickness and color, I then (Shift-click) and drag the outline back to the original file and voila - nice solid outline!
Well, that's it! I try to keep my workflow simple and not to rely on a lot of fancy tricks. The tools I used in this tutorial were the Pen Tool, standard brush and a lot of undos!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and have learned somethings you might not have thought about to designing a pin-up!