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The Stages of Painting a Fan Art Study in Procreate: A Step-by-Step Guide

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In the world of digital art, painting in Procreate on the iPad is a popular choice for artists to express their creativity. It offers a range of powerful tools and features that enable artists to produce cool fan art paintings. In this blog, I’ll delve into the importance of various stages of the painting process in Procreate, from sketching to using reference material to create fan art.

This time lapse video shows my entire process, start to finish, using Procreate for this fan art study painting.

For this fan art study, I chose the 2011 movie “Immortals” as my inspiration. I only recently discovered this movie. I stumbled upon clips while on YouTube and I decided to rent the full movie so I could take it all in. And, wow, the movie is awesome! The movie is beautifully shot. I am guessing there was a lot of CGI and green screens used. Even so, the film just looks amazing! There are several notable shots in the movie that look like they could be paintings from old masters with a more modern twist. If you haven’t check out this movie yet, you can rent it online here.

In my finished fan art study below, I used two references I found online to merge them into one fantasy concept. The references are shown below. I used the one of the figures for the main focus. The other reference is mostly for the sky and background.

Immortals figure reference
sky reference
"Immortals" fan art study painting done in Procreate
“Immortals” fan art study painted using Procreate by Rene Arreola.

The Importance of First Drawing and Composing the Painting with a Sketch in Procreate

Before diving into a painting, it is crucial to start with a strong foundation. In my case, I will create a pencil drawing in Procreate. Simply using a pencil brush, sketching allows me to explore different compositions and experiment with various elements, ensuring a solid starting point for the artwork. By sketching first, I can plan out the overall structure, proportions, and placement of objects or figures in the painting.

I believe to make a successful painting done in this representational style, strong drawing skills are needed. It is always worth investing a certain amount of my art time to drawing. You can learn more about how I got better at drawing by checking out this article here on my blog, 5 Ways to Improve Figure Drawing for Comics and Fantasy Art.

In the photos below, I spent a good chunk of time in this drawing phase. It was about an hour long drawing session, working out the positioning of the figures, erasing, resizing, repositioning, etc. Working digitally is a very forgiving medium, to be quite honest. When I say this, it has to do with the ease with which tweaks can be made.

For example, in several instances throughout the drawing phase, I selected portions of their faces and tweaked them by warping them then repositioning them. These kinds of adjustments are easier to make during the drawing phase.

Painting an Overall Background Color to Unify the Whole Painting

To create a cohesive and visually appealing artwork, it is beneficial to establish a unifying background color. This sets the mood and atmosphere of the painting while providing a base for the other elements to interact with. By using an overall background color, I am able to add depth to the artwork and enhance the overall aesthetic.

Much like in traditional painting, there is an idea that allowing bits of color to show through the painting overall creates a unifying effect. I think this is a good way to approach the painting process, even digitally.

Even though most of it may be covered up by the final brushstrokes, if there are any bits of this color peaking out, I like that kind of look in my finished work. In reality, the reddish orange backdrop helps to fill out any spots in the flesh tones. It’s something I keep in mind when I’m working in this style of painting.

That is to say, there is a different method of digitally painting that involves the use of gradient maps. I am not using that method here, but if you’d like to check out what this is, I created a YouTube video a few years ago showing how this works. You can see that video here: Using Gradient Maps In Procreate. Be warned, the artwork in that tutorial is ugly, but it does explain how it works.

Using the Airbrush to Create a Base Foundation of Color Tones

Once the sketch and background are in place, I start adding color to the artwork using the airbrush tool in Procreate. By lightly applying general colors over the entire painting, I can establish a base foundation of color tones. This technique helps to create a harmonious color scheme and provides a solid starting point for further development.

In the past, I would really use the smudge tools in Procreate to help create blends. For this painting, and really on recently, I started using the airbrush. I used it early on to drop in some basic colors and also to ‘glaze’ over certain areas of the paintings to help deepen colors in the shadow areas.

Even in the flesh tones, I put down some initial airbrush colors to set up a pre-blend effect. I’m not even sure if that’s really a thing, but it seemed like it was beneficial in creating a base of colors for the skin tones.

Blocking in Different Colors to Set Up the Light and Dark Areas, Especially in Human Figures

To bring life to the painting, it is important to block in different colors throughout the artwork. This step involves defining the light and dark areas, particularly in human figures. By strategically placing contrasting shades and highlights, I work to create depth and dimension in the artwork. It is essential to observe and study the way light interacts with the subjects to accurately depict form and convey a realistic portrayal.

This is where I get to start having a little fun. It’s during this phase of the painting where I paint in shapes of colors ranging from light to darker areas. I’m not focusing on the edges of these shapes, but really just the placement of these values making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

What I mean by this is, using the reference photo, I map out the values with these shapes. These marks help establish the basic light and dark patterns. Which in turn is what our eyes and brains interpret to allow us to ‘see’ what we are seeing.

Using Good Photo Reference to Develop the Painting

To enhance the painting process, I recommend using good photo reference. Whether it’s capturing the correct lighting, the subtle details, or the accurate proportions of an object or figure, photo references serve as valuable resources. Good references give me visual information that adds credibility and authenticity to the artwork.

I was fortunate I found the reference images I did from the “Immortals” movie. I found a source that had what looked like some production stills. As I mentioned at the beginning, the movie is beautifully shot on screen. Using great reference images (and ones that inspire as well) goes a long way.

Using the photo reference was key in getting a good likeness of the figures. It’s after all those previous steps of the drawing and the blocking where I can now have some fun! And that’s by finally painting in all the details.

From the highlights and folds in the woman’s clothing, to the man’s rugged and chiseled facial structure, this is where I can truly lose myself in the rendering phase.

Tightening up the edges, deepening the shadows, smoothing out any transitions is the reward for taking such an academic approach in this fan art study. All told, I spent about nine hours in Procreate painting this study. And I did spend a little bit of time making some final levels and curves adjustments in Photoshop getting just the right color adjustment to call it ‘final.’

But I consider the Photoshop phase pretty standard for all images I create. It’s just part of the process when it comes to finishing a piece, whether it’s for print (which this piece is not for, by the way) to posting online and sharing to social media.

I feel I have a versatile platform to unleash my creativity when creating a fan art study in Procreate on my iPad.  By understanding the importance of sketching, establishing a unified background color, using the airbrush tool to create a foundation of color tones, blocking in different colors, and utilizing photo references, artists can produce compelling and visually striking paintings.

So, grab your iPad, launch Procreate, and embark on an artistic journey that takes your digital paintings to new heights! ◼️

030 final

Here are the tools I used to make this painting:

In this short video, I talk about the tools I use in addition to Procreate.
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