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How to Digitally Paint an Abstract Face Portrait

Read Time: 6 mins

In this tutorial, we'll be painting an abstract vision of a dreaming person. I will describe my progress of face painting a male character. Also, we will create a special custom brush for blending colors. I'll show you how to paint advanced constructions by combining basic shapes. The final image is a bold man's portrait of a head flying in the sky. All painting will be done by mouse. All you need is pure Photoshop!

This tutorial was entered into the Psdtuts+ First Tutorial Writing Contest. See the results of the contest here. While this tutorial did not win the tutorial contest, it certainly caught our attention. Enjoy the Tut!

Final Image Preview

Before we get started, let's take a look at the image we'll be creating. As always, the layered Photoshop file and the custom brush created for this tutorial are available via our Psdtuts+ Plus membership. You can view the final image preview below or view a larger version here.

Before We Get Started

Here you can find my mini-tutorial that shows how to draw a head. I learned this technique a very long time ago in Cracow from some sympathetic graffiti artist. It's very easy, and just follow the images below to see how to draw the character's head.

Step 1

Make a new document, my dimension are 1024 pixels by 768 pixels. Fill the background with #8CC2FF color. The main thing is to choose a background that works well for the right amount of light and shadow. I decided to create morning scene. The sky will be very light. In the next few steps, I'll be switching between light and dark color to see if my shadows are in good tone. Also, I will be flipping the face horizontally to see if I didn't make some mistakes.

Step 2

Usually, I start a painting with a sketch. The sketch is very important, I can plan the main shapes and try different combinations. First, make very basic shapes. If it is what you're looking for, add some settings to the brush and switch between brush sizes to get better effect. This is a easy step for those who have graphic tablet - mouse users have to work a little bit harder.

Step 3

Fill the sketch area with a light color (doesn't really matter which). Then add shadows with our blending brush. To make it, just put some hard-edged circle brushes in a shape of a big circle. Then add the settings shown below. Select Lock Transparent Pixels if your mouse isn't very precise. Next, paint shadows on the face.

Go to Image > Adjust > Hue/Saturation and try to choose settings for one of the basic colors. Then switch between our custom brushes and paint with very low Opacity, about 5-15% on the face. Don't get into the details, just doodle around. Base colors are the type of colors that should be the overall color range of the face and blending colors are for make transitions between the base colors.

Step 4

Now we can add our background. I followed the fist few steps from my previous tutorial on the site Digitally Paint a Fantasy Tree Scene. If you want learn more about brushes, you should read this tutorial.

Step 5

Time to prepare our brushes for painting. Actually we needed them earlier, but it wasn't necessary. You can make them by yourself or they are available to Plus members for download. The brushes were created from circle shapes, and the secret is to choose good settings.

Step 6

It's time for the lips. I choose a very basic technique for that. It's combining only three colors. First, paint a shape with the central color, then add shadows and lights as show below. Also, review the mini-tutorial written specially for Psdtuts+ called "How to Paint Lips," see below.

Step 7

Our face is too long so let's correct that. Select the lower part of the face and move it higher. Don't worry if it breaks the color's transitions, we can easily fix it in this step with a blending brush. Flip the whole face horizontal to check if it's painted well. Then choose our first blending brush and by the base colors (and darker ones for shadows), then smooth the face. Below you can find my mini-tutorial that will tell you how to draw and paint the nose.

Step 8

With a soft brush place light dots on the eyes and chin. Then with the Pen tool (very well described in this tutorial on creating a complete vexel image in Photoshop) draw under-the skin shape, fill it with a skin color, lock selected pixels, and then paint the shadows. Also, you should improve the edges of the upper layer with the Pen tool and a hard-edged small brush.

Step 9

Now we'll give some life to our skin. Light is strong, so our skin should be more shiny. I will fix my skin with Levels and Curves. Now, select the face by Command-clicking the layer, then click the icon that is marked below. From the list choose Levels and set the Brightness/Contrast and Curves.

Step 10

Now we'll make the eyes. Try to get an effect as in my previous image. Then paint on eyes with colors as n the images below, and give them the selected options. Remember to paint every color on different layers, otherwise you won't get right effect. Below I also included my mini-tutorial on "How to Paint Eyes," which shows another technique to paint eyes.

Step 11

Here you can see how to make shadows by combining two brushes - soft and hard-edged.

Step 12

Now it's time for eyebrows. You can paint them as shown in the mini-tutorial above by painting brown lines and giving them shadows with soft a brush, or just simply by drawing hard-edged lines and then smoothing them with the Smudge tool.

Step 13

Here we'll improve the nostril area and ear area. For the nosil overpaint all the area with skin tone, then make shadows for the holes by combining hard and soft brushes. My shadows were too light so I fix them with curves.

Step 14

We can add some details like wrinkles, they are very easy to make and give nice effects. Just paint two lines (one lighter and one darker than face color) on one layer and modify it with Filter > Liquify.

Step 15

For a smoother face use the Smudge tool on some parts of the face (very carefully). Also with the Filter > Liquify you can make our face smile.

Step 16

Now we'll add some dynamic effect with shiny lines. First, prepare the brush for the stars, as shown below.

Step 17

Time for the lines. Use the Pen tool (look at my options on top of the first image) and draw a line. Choose the Brush tool (don't paint anything) and choose some hard-edged brush. Set the foreground color - here it's pink. Then go to the Paths window and by right-click on the stroke and choose Stroke Path. In the Stroke Path Menu choose Brush from list and select Simulate Pressure. Next, select the line layer (Command-click on the layer), move the selection a little to right, and give it a little shadow with the Burn tool. At last choose the Dodge tool, and shine-up our line. You can also give a shadow to it under the skin.

Final image

Here we are, it's finished! I hope you enjoy the tutorial. You can view the final image below or view a larger version here.


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