digital painting start to finish

A Tutorial in Creating a Full-Color Painting Directly in Procreate

The use of color is an essential element in painting. Artists have been using color since the beginning of art history to communicate messages and evoke emotions from their audience. For my illustration, I wanted to convey mood and story by contrasting the sleeping figure and the flying character using color value and hue.

Painting with the Procreate app is one of my favorite ways to create a digital painting. It’s easy to pick up the Procreate brush and get right down to doing what you are there to do: paint! Procreate has an ease of use and fluidness that makes it fun to create with.

I think the thing that I love most about Procreate is its ability to make you focus on simple shapes as you create your illustrations. When combined, simple shapes give me endless opportunities to create fantastic illustrations with some of my favorite characters from comic books and movies.

simple color shapes
Here's a bit of a preview of some of the simple color shapes that form the base of my digital painting.

Start with a Sketch of the Concept

Any illustrator will tell you that it’s essential to start with a sketch or concept drawing before starting a piece. This is because if you just jump into the painting process, you run the risk of having no idea what you’re going to paint.

Ever start drawing a painting only to realize afterward that you have no idea where it’s going? It’s so common, especially for beginners. Don’t worry! It happens. Many artists have developed the habit of drawing a pencil sketch or thumbnail before starting their digital painting. Concept sketches give a visual reference for the painting and can help guide the style of the piece.

The brush I am using for most of the drawing and painting is called “Sketchers” by Idle Letters specifically the “Casual” brush. I purchased it through Creative Market and you can find the set here.

Sketchers Casual brush Procreate
All the drawing and a good portion of the painting was done using Sketcher's "Casual" brush.
Painting brushes Procreate
I also use two painting brushes, the Round and Nikko Rull brushes.
pencil rough done digitally
1) Rough sketch/thumbnail.

The main character in this story is Casia Minohr. The character is already established in The Realm Ethereal: The Dream Awakens Book One comic book.

The particular painting will be an illustration in my Realm Ethereal story/art book. 

I use one of the pencil brushes in Procreate to create my basic concept. The drawing is fairly loose. But, one of the critical components is the line in the middle.

That is where the fold of the book will be. It’s important I keep any important elements of the sketch out of the center.

tighten the drawing
2) Tighten up drawing of Casia sleeping, using a photo reference.

The next stage is to tighten up the drawing of Casia sleeping. When we draw, we use our mind’s eye more than anything else. We don’t copy exactly what our eyes see; we interpret it, add to it, subtract from it and then draw that. This is true whether we are drawing from life or from a photo reference. I find using photo reference very helpful in my process.

draw the centerline of the figure
3) Set up the HEAD and CENTERLINE of Casia flying.

Next, I’m moving to the other side of the drawing. This is where I will place the “flying” Casia. 

Looking at the model, I imagine how I would describe the pose. I imagine an invisible line connecting the model’s body with its head. Next, I draw an imaginary line lightly in pencil.
Drawing this action line helps give the drawing motion and life.

use figure reference for the drawing
4) Rough in the figure drawing for Casia flying, using a model for reference.

This is the first step in beginning to add mass to the action line. Since I’m using reference, I go straight to rendering the form of the figure. The drawing is still going to be rough during this stage.

I’m ignoring any volume or shading. My goal is to get the outline of the figure to where it needs to be for my digital painting.

use model reference to draw the head and face
5) Tighten the figure drawing of Casia flying. Use photo reference for the head and facial features.

Next, I will use a new photo reference for the head. Finding the just the right angle can be tough. I find an image that has just the perfect 3/4 view, and I’m off and running!

use photo reference for drawing hands
6) Add costume details to the drawing of Casia flying. Use photo reference to draw her hands.

Drawing in the costume for flying Casia is next. Because clothing, wrist and armbands are items she is wearing, it is important to draw them in a way that adheres to her form.

For her forearm bracelets, I make sure to draw them in perspective. This helps to describe the shape of her body, of course. But, it’s also needed to show perspective.

The Digital Painting Process Begins with Simple Shapes of Flat Colors

The initial phase may seem the most basic when you start a digital painting. But this stage can also be the most challenging and complex to paint without it looking unfinished. First, laying down simple shapes, or blocks, of flat color, as many as needed to build up your foundation, is the key to starting a successful painting.

Adding flat color blocks helps you set the composition and define focal points in your digital painting. It’s a great starting point because you can work very loosely and expressively. Without detailed shapes and forms, it’s easier to focus on color and values in your painting.

color flats
7) Add color flats as the base color values to start.

This stage is the first indication of any color. I want to show that sleeping Casia is in some room in her bed sleeping and that it is dark. Since I really want the focus to be on flying Casia, I will make pretty much everything else lower in value.

Details will be evident in the final painting of sleeping Casia, but I will light that scene low. This will give flying Casia the spotlight, which is what I want.

This has always been a really fun step for me in my digital painting process. It feels a bit like I’m coloring some of my own comics. But these solid, flat, color shapes allow me to see the composition at the next level.

I can plot out these base color values and see how they may move the viewer’s eyes in the composition.

Color Values and Blending Skin Tones

The use of values, both in terms of the application and spatial usage, is essential for creating form and a realistic illusion for the human eye. When we paint with values, we control our viewer’s ability to recognize different degrees of light and dark within our composition. 

By telling a story through values, we define relationships within our painting that allow us to convey three-dimensional space and realistic forms. Using different value relationships within our paintings helps us better understand the scene that we are trying to convey while creating accurate gradients that move intelligently on the picture plane.

The value you give to the shapes and forms in your paintings defines the look and feel of your artwork. Your objectives in painting will inform how you assign these values, but generally speaking, you’ll want to lead the viewer’s eye through an image for a more dramatic effect.

dark color values
8) For Casia sleepting, I block in some darker color values for her skin.

Time to get down to the nitty gritty! I introduce a darker value to sleeping Casia’s skin tone. I do so very roughly, blocking it in. To achieve this color, I will sample the base flesh color, then add tiny amounts of red and black on the color disc in Procreate. I may also slightly shift the hue from a less warm red to cooler red.

light color values
9) For Casia sleeping, I block in some lighter values for her skin.

After blocking in those darker color values, I then block in lighter color values. This is where the figure starts to pop a little more. The edges of these color values laid next to each other are still rough, but I can start to see a clearer value map of sleeping Casia. This is the start of showing some depth to the figure.

blending colors
10) For Casia sleeping, I begin to blend the dark and light skin values.

For this next step, I’m going to use a blending brush. I really like using the Nikko Rull brush for blending. There’s something about it that has a nice texture. I guess I just like that it doesn’t make everything look perfectly smooth. 

I find I must be very careful with blending as it’s easy to get carried away when using it. I have to be careful not to blend too much because everything will look too soft, causing a blurriness. 

When I blend, I find myself going back and forth, adding more light, dark, or base color values to reestablish good contrast. The best way to blend is to blend colors at their edges.

darker color values
11) Adding darker color values to her hair, bed sheets, and the wall.

Now, I’ll go to sleeping Casia’s hair and add the darker color value. I do this before I get too far along rendering Casia’s skin tone. 

That’s because the deeper, darker values I use in her hair will affect the values I finalize in painting her skin tones. Overall, it’s for  this reason I like to put down a base color for the overall painting. I’ve learned to develop my digital paintings so that I am considering all color choices as I develop the entire painting. 

Even though I am painting digitally and, yes, I can make adjustments to the hue, saturation, levels, etc., I prefer not to. I like being able to adjust on the fly as I’m painting. Doing it this way keeps things interesting for me.

 

 

block in colors
12) For Casia flying, I block in light and darker color values for her skin.

I now repeat the process of blocking in lighter and darker values for flying Casia. The biggest difference being the contrast and temperature of the figure. Sleeping Casia is in the dark, so her colors will low key and a bit cooler.

Flying Casia will have high-key color values, more contrast, and overall warmer in the overall color tones.

add darkest values
13) I go back to Casia sleeping, adding the darkest color values to her skin, hair, and the bad sheets. This creates more contrast.

Next, I add in the darkest color values to sleeping Casia’s skin, hair, and to the bed sheets. This will create the clearest image now. I also paint in the elements of her face that makes her more recognizable: her eyelashes, eyebrows, nose, lips, and ears.

 

Casia sleeping full color render
14) Casia sleeping now fully rendered.

Sleeping Casia is now fully rendered.

blending skin tones
15) I start blending the skin tones for Casia flying.

At this point, I repeat the process with flying Casia: blend the dark and lighter color values. While doing this, I also will refine parts of the drawing.

dark and light values
16) Painting Casia flying, I work back and forth between lighter and darker skin color values.

I have made other paintings where I will first render everything completely in grayscale. Then, come back. in with color using gradient maps. But with this full-color digital painting tutorial in Procreate, I am using color early. This makes it interesting to me, as I am now using more color notes to figure out the best way to give depth to the character.

Here you can see where I am making a color palette within the canvas area. These are the colors I use and adjust as I continue to paint the flying Casia figure.

block in the hair
17) Block in Casia flying hair.

Before I do any more work on flying Casia, I turn my attention to her hair. I am blocking in the light and dark color values.

add highlight colors
18) Painting Casia flying, I add in highlights throughout her skin and her costume.

With her hair now blocked in, I add highlights throughout the entire flying Casia figure. Adding those highlights at the very end really makes a difference in the painting process. 

The stages where the flat colors are applied, then light and dark color values are blocked in, make the painting look too dark. But once those highlights are in, it makes you realize how very few highlights are actually needed. Only a few key highlights are needed to bring the painting all together.

costume details added
19) Painting Casia flying, I add the full costume plus details. I add a darker background as well.

Up until now, behind the flying Casia figure, there was a gray background. That was intentional as I was painting the figure. However, it’s now time to add in the real background: a starfield/outer space scene. But, it all starts with first dropping in a color flat. In this case, a very dark purple. Adding the darker background now gives flying Casia more contrast.

Backgrounds

Creating a background for your digital painting allows the viewer to understand better the story, who the people are, and where they are. I like to call them backdrops, but you can use them for other areas of your painting.

Adding backgrounds to your paintings helps tell the story and give context to the characters and their actions. For example, when you are working on your art, you probably already have a theme or message that you want to convey. The background helps set the scene for the story by showing what time of day/year it is, who else is in the painting with the characters, and any other visual cues that will help viewers understand and interpret what’s happening in your artwork.

block in background
20) Painting behind Casia flying, I block in a background that will be a space scene.

Using some natural paintbrushes in Procreate, I create a basic pattern of abstract shapes that will form cloudlike space matter. A lighter version of the purple is chosen to create contrast but also tie-in with the color theme of flying Casia’s costume.

add details to background
21) Blocking in some details to the background space scene.

To further unify the colors between the foreground elements and the background, I’m adding in a lighter shade of the same purple. Doing this creates a nice tie-in between flying Casia and the space scene.

add more details to background
22) Adding in some details to the background space scene.

I decided I needed to add even more tie-in with Casia, so I added very light hints of yellow to the space scene. Doing this, I feel, gives a nice color harmony with flying Casia.

Having the contrast between the green left side of the painting and the purple hues on the right really separate the two sides.

space background complete
23) Background space scene completed. Color palette similar to Casia's costume and nightgown.

The background space scene is now complete. 

I like to have a simple color palette when designing my paintings. By this, I mean I try to limit the overall color tones to only a few. In this painting, it’s largely a green and red-themed design.

The green is obviously using varying amounts of yellow and blue. The purples are a combination of reds and blues, to varying amounts of each.

background transitions
24) Adding a series of transitions to tie-in sleeping Casia to flying Casia.

The next dynamic part of the composition is showing a connection between sleeping Casia and flying Casia. To show this, I painted in these horizontal lines that overlap the edges of the left and right sides.

It’s not entirely revealed what it is exactly, just that there is some kind of movement. This helps to further draw the viewer to flying Casia.

Casia blue outer glow
25) Adding a blue outer glow to flying Casia.

To finalize the flying Casia figure, I add a thin, somewhat faint blue energy field around her. In my comic book, there is a point in the story where she emits this blue energy. 

It was the perfect device to add even more focus on the character. These are the types of adjustments that happen as a result of working on a piece for several hours. All told, this piece to me a little over 14 hours to paint.

the finished painting of Casia Sleeps and Flies
26) The finished illustration, details added to the wall background.

Finally, I add some tech to the walls located in the background behind sleeping Casia. One of the nice things about Procreate’s brushes is the ability to rather easily make straight lines. This comes in handy for drawing stuff like techy items. The wall behind sleeping Casia indicates a sci-fi inspired backdrop.  

Making a Test Print

I make test prints of my digital art pieces all the time. I do it because it teaches me about a printed piece’s optical readability and physical interaction, especially for this digital painting which will be part of my Realm Ethereal story/art book. As much as possible, given the nature of digital printing and the technology involved, I aim to convey the same awesome delightfulness in print as it did on my screen while I was creating the painting. I make my prints on my own printer at home, which is an Epson SureColor P800 Inkjet Color Printer.

Casia sleep and fly test print
A test print of the digital painting made with my Epson SureColor P800 17" Inkjet Color Printer.

Conclusion

Procreate is an excellent painting app and can be used with digital painting, sketching, and digital storytelling. From pencil sketches to color images, Procreate can be used for the beginner to expert, and everyone will find at least something to enjoy with this app.

Procreate digital painting tutorial
Procreate is an excellent digital painting app.

There are many ways to paint digital artwork, and choosing which application or medium to use can be an overwhelming task. For example, newcomers may want to start with something familiar, but more advanced users may want to experiment with more complex tools. Procreate’s powerful composition tools, alongside the precise precision of the Apple Pencil, mean that it is possible to produce beautiful digital paintings to rival the quality of traditional media.

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