There are many methods of digital painting. You can paint in grayscale and color later, you can use various Blend Modes to create maps like those in 3D programs... But sometimes you don't really have time to waste on thinking and planning. What if you wanted to paint something quickly, just to check how your idea looks outside of your mind?
In this tutorial I'll show you how to "sculpt" a character quickly using colors and mainly a single textured brush. All the shading and coloring will be reduced to very few steps. You can use it to paint a concept art, or to create a base for more refined illustration.
1. Establish the Idea
Create a New File. Fill (G) its background with 50% gray. Create a New Layer and use an irregular brush to quickly block a few versions of your idea. Draw them small and sloppy.
The brush you use for this should be a bit messy and unpredictable, like my Texture Sketch. You can also try one of the ready-made Gouache & Acrylic brush set.
Choose the sketch you like the most and use the Lasso Tool (Q) to duplicate it to a new layer (Control-J). Lower the Opacity of this layer and remove the previous one.
Create a New Layer; name it Lines. Use any brush you like to quickly sketch the details. It doesn't need to be a clean piece of line art. Just make sure you know what you want to draw. When you're done, remove the previous layer.
Lower the Opacity of Lines to about 20%.
2. Create the Base Lighting
Create a New Layer below Lines. Use a hard brush (like my Ink) to paint the general shape with a solid color. It shouldn't be super detailed, because we may change the edges during shading. Name the layer Base.
From now on, all the new layers should be clipped to Base. To do it, hold Alt and click the line between the layers, or simply use the shortcut Control-Alt-G.
Create a New Layer (remember to clip it) and fill it with the color of the darkest shadow of your scene. Here, it's dark blue.
Create a New Layer and fill it with the color of the surface affected by the ambient light. Here white fur becomes bluish when illuminated by weak ambient light around. Name the layer Ambient.
Add a Layer Mask to Ambient (you can learn how to do it in my short tutorial: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop). Fill the mask with black to make the layer disappear. Then use a textured brush to paint the illuminated parts, leaving crevices filled with shadow.
Later, you can use a soft brush to soften the places where the shadow is almost absent. Basically, your goal is to create a kind of overcast lighting.
Add a Layer Mask to Base and use a mix of brushes to create the proper shape.
3. Finish the Lighting
Create a New Layer. Decide where you want to put the light source and illuminate the character according to it. Use the color of the terminator—the band between the light area and shadow area. It's usually a highly saturated version of the local color. If you're painting skin or white fur, it's a good place to use the subsurface scattering effect.
Create a New Layer below Base. Paint the maximally illuminated ground and the shadow on it. This will be a brightness reference for your eyes.
Create a New Layer and add another portion of light, leaving the band of the terminator.
Create a New Layer and finish the lighting, using the brightest version of the local color.
Because the feathers are very thin, light shines through them to the other side. Use this property to achieve a cool effect:
Don't forget to illuminate the part right under the "glowing" feathers.
Create a New Layer and shade the part of the body that's in shadow, using a slightly brighter shade coming from the light reflected from the ground. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the colors that are already there to blend the terminator for a furry effect. Gradually lower the Opacity of Lines until they're not needed anymore.
4. Refine the Painting
Create a New Layer and work on the details. Be careful—the more detailed an element, the sloppier the other part will look. Uniform look is the key here.
This is the right moment to use any of the popular "fur brushes", if you want. They work miracles if you use them on a shaded character, picking the colors from its surface.
You can create your own fur brush with How to Create Custom Brushes to Render Fur in Adobe Photoshop, or learn how to create advanced fur in the Creating Animal-Inspired Fantasy Creatures course.
Create a New Layer in the background (under Base) and use a Soft Brush to create a white glow behind the character.
Create a New Layer and use the same brush to soften the fur. Dark fur may not need it, but it works great for white fur with a lot of subsurface scattering.
Create a New Layer and fill it with black. Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Adjust the amount of noise so that the contrast is high.
Go to Filter > Liquify. In the editor that opened, use the Warp Tool (W) to smudge the dots into lines, creating an effect of fur.
Change the Blend Mode to Overlay, and lower the Opacity until the effect looks natural.
Create a New Layer, but don't clip it this time. Refine the picture.
You can play with the background to present the character in a more interesting way, but make sure not to overshadow it!
This was rather fast, wasn't it? You can use this method to present your idea to someone, or to decide if you want to go on with this illustration and render it in detail.
Hungry for more? Check my other tutorials on the topic of digital painting: