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Paint a Professional Caricature Portrait in Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating
This tutorial was originally published in February 2011 as a Tuts+ Premium tutorial. It is now available free to view. Although this tutorial does not use the latest version of Adobe Photoshop, its techniques and process are still relevant.

Having a caricature painted of yourself can be a fun and exciting experience. That's because just about everyone has wondered, at some point, what they would look like as a cartoon or as an illustration on the cover of a magazine.

Today's tutorial, by veteran illustrator, Jason Seiler will demonstrate how to create a professional caricature portrait using Psdtuts Editor, Grant Friedman as an example. Jason Seiler's humorous illustrations have been featured as covers and interior pieces for TIME, Business Week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, MAD magazine, and many others.

Jason has also worked as a character designer on Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, helping to create such characters as the Red Queen, the Tweedles, the Bandersnatch and more. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

Get inspired! Find more painting brushes and assets on Envato Market.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the process of this tutorial.

1. How to Sketch the Caricature

Step 1

When painting a portrait, I focus mostly on only two things. Strong drawing, which includes an understanding of human anatomy, and values. Color is important as well, but more than color, I focus on temperature. If the drawing is strong, then all I have to do is paint with the correct values. If I do that, I can use just about any color scheme that I want. I bring this up because if you look at my final painting and compare it to my reference, you will notice that the color and mood in my painting is completely different than that of my reference. I'll get into my palette soon, but before I do, let me start at the beginning with my sketch of Grant.

Step 2

If the purpose for what I am doing is create a finished painting, then it doesn't make much sense for me to spend too much time on the sketch. I'll be the first to admit that the likeness in my sketch could be better. I rushed my sketch because I was in a hurry to get on with the painting. These days I'm usually working on at least 3 to 5 different projects for various clients. If I have the time, I will slow down while I sketch and the results are much stronger. It's actually probably a good thing for this tutorial to show how I would work when under a tight deadline.

As long as the structure is mostly there, and the features are close enough, I can begin my painting. I have started paintings in the past with only a basic shape laid down and a few marks suggesting where the eyes, nose and mouth will be. In this tutorial, you will notice that I continually make adjustments and corrections to my original sketch. Rather than taking the time with my line drawing, I will instead use brush strokes to quickly sculpt and create more accurate form and stronger likeness.

2. How to Create a Palette

I haven't bought Photoshop CS5 yet, but I've heard that it comes with a painting palette? I am still using Photoshop CS, so I'm behind a little. That's OK with me, because I don't really use anything but the paint brush tool, the eraser, layers, and sometimes the blur tool. To create a palette, I simply create a new document, and then I create a new layer to blend my colors on.

I picture that I chose to paint from is horrible. It's obviously too red, and doesn't look natural at all. I prefer to have greens and grays in my flesh tones, so I created a palette similar to the "Zorn palette". I selected a yellow, yellow ochre, Red, French Ultramarine, Black, and White.

From these colors, I can create violets, greens, and oranges and by only using these colors, I will hopefully maintain color harmony. I will mix my colors on the palette as well as use my gut by selecting color in the color picker. I like picking colors from the color picker because I can quickly select a desaturated or saturated color, test it and pick again, all in a few seconds. This is much quicker than mixing oils.

I have over the years created or downloaded brushes that I use when painting most of my work. For this tutorial, I decided to use the basic brushes that come with Photoshop, this way, anyone can follow along. I will only use the Round Brush, both hard and soft, and Brush #24.

3. How to Start the Painting

Step 1

To start my painting, I select a Round Brush, my Opacity is set between 85% to 95% and my flow is set to 100% Make sure that other dynamics is clicked on and Shape Dynamics clicked off. Click Other Dynamics again and make sure that your Opacity Jitter is set to 0% and the Control below that is set to Pen Pressure. Below that you will see a setting for your Flow Jitter. Make sure that is at 0% and that your Control below that is set to off.

I change the mode of my brush to Multiply and then, create and select a flesh-like color. I fill in the face and neck with that color all in one take. I do this because in the "multipy mode", if I re apply the same color to an area that I've already painted, the value and color will darken. The reason I start this way is so that my line art won't be lost while I lay in a base color. After I'm finished, I change my brush mode back to "Normal". The same thing could be achieved by creating a new layer and setting that layer to "Multiply", but at this stage, it's not necessary to create another layer.

Next I mix a neutral flesh tone, something that is not too warm or too cool, something in the middle. I usually squint my eyes a lot at this stage, I was told once to squint my eyes to see the values and open them to see color. I begin to lay in color on the areas of the face that are coming foreword, the areas not in shadow or of darkest value. I think of the head as being divided into three sections. The forehead is generally more yellow, the skin is closest to the bone so it will appear more yellow. The middle section of the face, the eyes, nose, and cheeks are typically red, or warm in color.

On some people, the nasal bone will have a yellowish look and on thinner people, the cheek bones, will also appear yellowish, with tints of green and gray. The bottom half of the face, the mouth and chin, will be cooler in color, usually grayed down a bit, especially in men. This is an important thing to understand, especially if you're into exaggerating like I am. I don't just exaggerate a person's character or features, but color as well.

Step 2

By this stage, I'm switching back and forth between the Round Brush and Brush #24, but will mostly stick with Brush #24 from here on out. It is important during the block in stage to not zoom in. There is no reason at this time to worry about details, so no need to zoom in. I find zooming in too early is an issue that a lot of beginning artists struggle with. Everyone wants to paint the details, but the details can wait. I don't bother with details until my block in is finished. Only then do I began zooming in. Also it's important to only use large brushes while blocking in your painting. If you use too small of a brush you will want to zoom in to use it. So, similar to painting traditionally, start off with larger brushes and don't zoom in until your block in is finished.

Before I continue let me first explain briefly why I chose to paint on a green background. I didn't put much thought into it, the short explanation is that green is the opposite color of red. I knew that I would be using a lot of reds and warm colors in his face and I wanted the background to compliment my portrait. The other reason behind this was that Grant has a 5 O'clock shadow and I thought it would be interesting to add bits of the background color into his face.

So, as I continue blocking in my color, you can see that I leave the area above his mouth as well the lower part of his face, as the background green. I'll mix in a bit of flesh color into those areas and slowly pull everything together as I develop the painting. One thing to take note of is that so far at this stage of the painting, there is no white. This is important because a lot of people tend to use white too soon. It's easy to go over board with highlights and reflective lights, so my advice is to hold back on your use of white until the majority of your block in is finished. And then when you decide it's time to use it, take it slow and build it up evenly. Remember to step back often, zoom away or out so that you can see your painting from a distance. Squint your eyes.

Step 3

By this stage I have blocked in the whites of the teeth, but only slightly. There aren't any details painted in yet, just the suggestion of what will come. I have now blocked in enough of my painting to start detailing areas and painting them more accurately.

When it's time to start detailing, I usually start with the eyes. To me, the eyes and the mouth are the most important two features to get right when painting a portrait. Of course the rest of the face is also important but if the eyes or the mouth are off, the entire piece will suffer. By this stage of the painting, the hard part is over. My values and colors are pretty much what they will be like in the final painting. All that is left for me to do now is bring the painting to a finish.

I continue to use Brush #24, but when painting the eyes, I pull my Opacity down to about 68%, which helps me get softer transitions. I will spend as long as it takes when painting the eyes. I usually work on one eye for a little bit and then stop to work on the other. It's good to go back and forth rather than stay in one area for too long. It's important to see how both the eyes are looking in comparison to the rest of the face.

Both eyes are being developed at the same time. It's important to understand what it is that you are painting. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to critique another artists work and the first thing I noticed were that the eyes were not right. Remember that the whites in the eyes are NOT WHITE. The eyelashes are SOFT, and the upper lids are always darker and heavier than the bottom lid. But what's strange to me is that a lot of the paintings or drawings that I have been asked to critique have left out important elements of the eye anatomy.

My solution for this is quite simple. SLOW DOWN. Take your time and LOOK at what it is that you are drawing or painting. Don't just paint a random set of ears on your subject. I think it can be easy for artists to become lazy and decide that everyone has a set of eyes, a nose, mouth, and a pair of ears and therefore these features can be simplified with generic representations. This is why so many likenesses look flat and dead. Everyone's features are unique and special to that person. If you study with care, your work will be filled with life rather than lack it.

Step 4

After I've developed the eyes to a near finished look, I move on to the mouth. As I mentioned earlier, the eyes and the mouth are the most important, so I spend the majority of my time painting those two features. When painting the teeth, I continue to paint with my Opacity set to 68%. I try to think about what teeth are made of, the texture, and the fact that they are wet. But mostly what I think about are the values. Where is the lightest part of the mouth, where's the darkest part and more importantly, how do those values compare with the rest of the face?

Step 5

The eyes and mouth are basically finished by this stage. If I notice something that needs adjusting, I may go back to them as I paint. After blocking in the mouth and getting to a place where I feel I can move on, I begin to reconstruct the nose. I paint out the highlight that I had because it wasn't right, and I also notice that the over all nose shape needs work. Once that is finished, I decide to re-paint the highlight on the nose, but this time I want to be more realistic with it so I zoom in even closer and paint in a few pores. This helps to sell the illusion that the nose is coming out towards the viewer.

4. How to Paint More Details

Step 1

Once I have the eyes, nose and mouth pretty much finished, I begin to move all around the image developing the rest of it all together. I block in the ears, and work on the cheeks, jaw line, and chin, as well as bits here and there on the shirt. While working on the jaw line and chin, I notice that my structure is off a little, so I begin to re-draw with my paintbrush. The best way to explain is that it is almost as if I am sculpting with clay. Taking away a little, and adding more to another area. Try not to stay in one area for too long and don't stay zoomed in too close for too long either.

The painting is close to being finished by this stage. I work on the forehead softening the edges and transitions between values and begin to work on the hair. When painting hair, I try to focus on the overall shape of the hair rather than every single hair. I will start by first blocking in the hair with large brushes, trying to capture the shape and character of the hair. Again, it's important to understand and study how hair works. The hair should look soft; there should be a soft and smooth transition between the hair and forehead.

Step 2

Before continuing on with the hair, I had to fix something that was bothering me. The neck, chin, and jaw line still didn't seem right to me. It's good to look on your work with fresh eyes. There's two ways of doing this, you can either walk away from your work and come back to it later. This is a good idea, and I recommend it if you can. If you're under a tight deadline or you just want to continue on, there's an easy fix to this problem. Just simply Flip your image and references horizontally so that you are seeing a flipped mirror image of your work. I do this quite a bit and it helps a lot. Immediately mistakes in my drawing and values stand out like a sore thumb. This only works for a short while because your eyes will soon adjust to this version, but that is fine too because when you flip it back, you'll notice more that can be adjusted.

Step 3

After adjusting the cheeks, chin, and jaw line, I noticed that I had drawn the ears a bit too large and had placed them higher than they should have been. To fix this, I repainted them more accurately where they should have been as well as the shape they should have been. Once the shape was right, I zoomed in to get in the subtle colors and values that I wanted. I could have selected the ears with the lasso tool and used the transform tool to adjust the ears, but I prefer to just paint how I would traditionally. I believe that the more I do that, the more it will look and feel like a painting.

Before continuing on with the final touches, I decided to paint the shirt. For the shirt, I mostly use Brush #24. There's no real trick to it, and no real difference to what I've already said about painting the face. The same rules apply. Squint your eyes, look for shape, value and color. I started with larger brushes and once my values were how I wanted, I zoomed in closer and finished the shirt off with a smaller brush.

Step 4

To paint eyebrows, or hair in general, I try to keep in mind that hair is soft and there are layers of hair. Darker hairs, lighter hairs, and it shouldn't look perfect, even if the hair is combed or styled nicely, there will always be rebellious hairs going where ever they want.

To start the eyebrows, I change my brush to a soft round and I click on Shape Dynamics so the brush has a point. Next, I create a new layer. I begin by blocking in the shape and darkest value of the eyebrow hairs. I then select the Blur Tool and with the Opacity set around 25%, I make one or two quick passes over the first layers of hairs. I then select a lighter value, paint them in, and then again use the blur tool to soften them all together.

Next, I create a new layer above the first layer. I select an even lighter value and paint in a few random hairs, and then a dark value again for darker random hairs. I use the Blur Tool again, but only just a touch. Sometimes I will select my eraser and adjust the Opacity so that it is only 30% or so and then I make a light pass over the hairs. This will soften them and push them back a bit, giving it a "real" look.

Step 5

The same steps that I shared for the eyebrows apply also to the hair. I first create a new layer and begin to paint in dark hairs as well as lighter hairs. I soften them with the Blur Tool just as I did with the eyebrows, but I will repeat this step a few times or so, giving the hair body and depth. I'll create several layers and continue this process until it looks finished to me. I use the photo reference as a guide, but I never try to paint every single hair. I enjoy painting hair and freestyle quite a bit while painting it. I want it to capture my subject, but also have life and character of its own.

5. How to Finish the Painting

By this stage, the painting is basically finished with the exception of a couple last details. To add the stubble to Grant's face, I created a new layer and changed the Blend Mode to Multiply. I select a Soft Round Brush and then eye drop the skin color that I am going to paint on top of. I don't try to copy what I see in my reference picture, instead, I paint my impression. Have fun with it, and exaggerate, just be careful how far you go with the exaggeration. You don't want to loose the "character" of your subject.

I begin by painting random hairs and dots until I have filled the area that I want filled. I then select the blur tool and lightly make a pass over the stubble. I then select the Eraser Tool and pull the Opacity down to 30% and softly erase over the hairs. This pushes them back into the face, resulting in a natural and organic look. Next, make a new layer for added hair textures. With the Soft Round Brush still selected, click Shape Dynamics on, so that your brush has a point. Next, I paint in lighter hairs and darker hairs, layering them on top of areas where values intersect. This will soften these areas and again, have a realistic look to it. If you want you can make a quick pass over these hairs with the blur tool.


I usually add a bit of noise to my paintings because it helps to give them more of a traditional and illustrated look. This may not be for everyone. I actually added noise to this painting earlier on in the demonstration but it's also something that you can wait to do until the very end. I suggest that if you decide to add the noise early on in your painting, that you keep your "noise layer" clicked off when using your eye drop tool to select or mix color. If your layer is on, the noise will interfere with the "actual" colors or values that you are intending to select.

To create a layer of noise. Create a new layer, which will be your top layer. Open your Color Picker and select 75% black and 0% for Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Select your "bucket" tool and fill your new layer with the 75% black. Next, go to Filters and select Noise. You will need to try the different settings to figure out what works best for you. After you've selected noise, go back to Filters and select "blur more". Next, in the "noise" folder, select "dust and scratches". You can select that two or three times if you like. Next, go to your Layer Blend Mode and change it to Soft Light. I usually keep my Opacity between 20% to 40%, it depends on the effect you are going for.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial on painting. Painting can be a real struggle, believe me, I know. Don't ever give up on it, and don't ever expect that you'll be able to paint over night. It takes a lot of work and a lot of endurance, and in my experience, there will always be frustrations while painting. There will always be room to grow, and new things to learn. If you're having a difficult time learning how to mix color, or understand values, do yourself a favor and turn your computer off. Get out "real" paints, and learn what it means to "really" paint. Knowing how to paint traditionally is the only reason I can paint the way that I do digitally.

Digitally Paint a Professional Caricature in PhotoshopDigitally Paint a Professional Caricature in PhotoshopDigitally Paint a Professional Caricature in Photoshop
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