This is not a how-to, but a glimpse of how I complete my digital art, step-by-step. The painting in question is of a rumptifusel, a Greater Fey. If you prefer videos, you can watch my digital painting process on the World of Alturas YouTube channel.
Step One: Sketches
The first part of any digital drawing are sketches. Sometimes, this is a finished sketch from my sketchbook (like in this case). On other occasions, I will create a few loose digital sketches on Photoshop, usually in red. With a tough drawing, sometimes I have to do both.
If the sketch was originally drawn in pencil, I will usually add to the sketch on Photoshop to fit it to the format I use for digital paintings (usually 2160 x 3840 pixels with 300 pixels per inch). You can see this on the top of this sketch, where I drew some ovals that would become another foot.
Step Two: Outline
The next part is the outline. I outline the character and any main objects in a dark grey-brown set to Multiply. The eye outline and pupil are done with black.
Step Three: Flat Colors
Flat colors are the base that everything else will be built off of. Rather than coloring them in by hand, I will trace the object or character in the necessary color, then use the Fill Bucket to color it all in. Saves me time and nibs for my drawing pen!
Step Three: Basic Colors
Basic colors are when I start adding basic details. This might be a pattern on someone’s cuffs or shoes, or it might mean the most basic bark for a tree, or the shadings on a horse’s back and legs. If a character has spots, this is when I start roughly blocking them out. This rumptifusel here has multicolored fur, so I first harshly blocked out the color, then used Gaussian Blur to melt it all together.
Step Four: Textures
There are two ways I do textures: 1) use a brush (in this case a hard round brush) to draw details like fur and 2) use a photo image with a Clipping Mask on top of an painting. The photo images I use are typically photographs I took myself that I then layered to create a mish-mash of textures. For instance:
This was the one I used for the tree, which is a mash of rocks, tree bark, and leaves. Occasionally, I will go to Pixabay or Pexels for a texture. Both of these websites allow photographs to be used for commercial purposes. Always check to see if you have the rights to use an image before you do. Same goes for brushes or anything else you find on the Internet. Usage rights matter. If you don’t know, ask the creator or owner.
Step Six: Background
Sometimes, with a more detailed background, I will do a loose sketch in red of where I want everything to go. Unless I want it in “focus” (like the tree), I do not use outlines for my backgrounds. This rumptifusel has a basic background, so I didn’t start with a sketch, but used grass to figure out my perspective. While I make my own leaf brushes, this particularly awesome grass brush came from Aantler on DeviantArt.
Then I blocked in my trees. I used three layers for this, all of them in slightly different colors to give the feel of fading away and perspective.
Then in came the shrubs, which kept things from getting too bland. The most forward shrubs I blurred ever so slightly with Gaussian Blur. I also used a photo texture on the first two layers of trees.
Step Seven: Add Background Details
Next comes more background details. This might mean birds or dragons in the sky, or more flowers, or clouds. In this case, it meant wisps of fog on the ground, a white haze behind the last layer of trees, and a low-opacity brown haze on the top to hide the tree tops.
Step Eight: Shading and Lighting Character
I very rarely shade and light the characters and background together. Instead, I use Clipping Masks to make sure I only draw on the character and any objects in focus (like this tree). This allows me to figure out where I want my light source to come from, how strong I want it, and what colors I am going to use. I used a soft yellow and a grey-brown for shading and lighting on this.
This particular drawing had three light layers of various opacities set on Overlay. There were only two shading layers set on Multiply. Higher contrast paintings will have many more layers of lighting. The average is three for lighting (base lighting, extra brightness, highlights), and three for shading (base shading, extra shading, even more shading).
Step Nine: Shading/Lighting Background
Then I shade and light the entire background using colors from the character. I might also add sunbeams, floating specks, and hazes in the corners to pull it all together. Then, last but not least, comes the watermark!