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Digital Painting Techniques in Photoshop: Brainstorming an Illustration

00:25   Advantages of digital painting
01:46   Different reference images
01:58   Ideas & thumbnail sketches
02:58   Starting in Photoshop
03:41   File size
04:50  Sketching with the brush tool
08:50  Shooting reference photos
12:52   Reviewing reference images
15:27   Organizing reference images

19:19    Second sketch
22:31   Searching on Google images
22:50   Blocking in colors
24:25   Cleaning up lines
27:15    Perspective lines
28:42   Adding shadows
32:50   Organizing your layers
34:30   Color adjustments
35:31    Magic wand tool

37:03   Painting from reference photos
40:31   Creating your own story
41:55   Tweaking reference photos
46:45   Details
48:45   Colors
50:03   Blending
50:47   Effects: color burn, overlay
52:41   Sped up painting
54:10   Finishing
56:21   Bloopers

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Catherine Huang

Cat Huang
Illustrator & Comics Artist


Create a digital illustration of your own story, using reference photos you shoot yourself.

Core Ideas

Color, Layers, Composition, Illustration, Narrative


Tablet, Laptop, Photoshop



“This project was very fun for me in many ways. Recently I’ve tried to practice more scenery and color theory, and through this project I was able to incorporate that with two of my original character designs.

The structure in this illustration was based off of a building I took a picture of in Ireland. The structure in real life, located in a place lush with myths of fairies and ghosts, was something I immediately wanted to draw, so being able to put a spin on it like this was very fun for me. One thing I struggled with during this project was Photoshop and the problems that often go along with digital art. For instance, brush lag, crashing programs, pen pressure, etc. were all prevalent while I was working.

Although that was not ideal, I had a lot of fun working on this project, and plan on making more digital illustrations in the future!”

Julie Sharpe

Julie Sharpe
Project Assistant

This tutorial was so fun; I definitely learned a lot but was able to utilize previously learned skills such as working with value and form.

Most of my realistic work is done traditionally, so it was different to paint completely digitally. I think the best part about working in Photoshop was the ability to work in multiple layers – by the end, I had more than 20 layers for different areas of shading and skin tones! Because digital art is a new medium for me, I wanted to make my subject matter very simple. A portrait seemed like the most natural subject for me because I am comfortable with drawing faces.

Throughout this project, I learned a lot about my preferred way of working and was able to gain more experience with Photoshop!”

I’ve been doing digital art for about three years now, so with this tutorial I took the opportunity to try something I’ve never done before. Since I was restricted to using only references I took myself, I decided to try turning myself into the Dungeons and Dragons character that I’ve been using these past few months.

The challenge was to take me, a 5’1”, curvy human, and use my own reference to draw a roughly 5’8”, muscular, fantasy  character. Normally, when I take reference photos of myself, the resulting art is very similar to my build/features. Especially when it comes to hands, as mine are quite small and stubby. In the end it was quite hard to translate everything perfectly, so I had to rely on my basic knowledge of anatomy.

I decided to give her a companion halfway through the drawing, so I went through my photos to find one of the references I took when visiting the Big Cat Habitat with my figure drawing class.

Of course, digital painting doesn’t come without its issues. There were quite a few times where Photoshop was lagging, and others where I had to restart the program. I additionally had forgotten how long digital painting can take when you have so many different options. My original painting included eight different characters and a full background, and was near impossible to finish in the time I had allotted for this project. I ended up setting it aside for now (in favor of a simpler piece), but nevertheless I plan to finish it.

All in all, it was very refreshing to do another digital piece with a twist on how I use reference. It may not have been the most conventional way to use a photo of myself, but it’s definitely something I’d use in a pinch.”

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