Saturday, May 23, 2009

Digital Cheesecake!

For a long time now I've been trying to figure out this digital painting stuff with Photoshop and finally I seem to making some headway. I went through pretty much all of the Photoshop brushes, trying them out in various ways to see what I could do with them, but I find most of them rather unsatisfying. However I did stumble upon this one that, after lots of messing with, I found I could get some nice painterly results. I also had been studying the work of fellow caricaturists, Court Jones and Paul Moyse, both of whose abilities I admire greatly, in order to analyze how they're using the medium so well.

So then I decided to experiment and see what I could accomplish with this initial amount of Digital knowledge, as little as it was. I started out sketching this girl right on the screen using a brush I'd created from a tutorial that gives a nice soft pencil look. Then on a separate layer, I jumped in with both feet and started to paint it. I must confess that I got very frustrated along the way, nearly giving up a few times, but I persevered just to see what I could learn from the experience if nothing else. For this first attempt, I do wish I hadn't painted the background so close to the colour of her hair, though I do kind of like the way her hair melds into it at the back.

The more I worked with it, the more it started looking like a cartoonier version of the type of pin-up paintings I've always loved by Gil Elvgren, with a rich, creamy, oil paint feel to it. Since I didn't really know what I was doing most of the time, it took me hours longer to do than it really should have, but this was just a learning experience and hopefully I'll be able to accomplish things more quickly as I get more proficient with it.

For this second attempt I used several vintage 50's pin-up photos as reference, combining elements from each and making stuff up as well. This time, however, I drew her in pencil on paper the way I normally do, then scanned in the sketch. After making it into a transparent layer in Photoshop, I painted in the main areas on a separate layer underneath, first in flat colours, then adding a bit of modeling based on the lighting in the reference photos. Above is the rough sketch with quick colour added. It's actually a fun and satisfying technique in itself, and warrants more exploration sometime.

Once I had a rough colour sketch I was happy with, I merged the two layers together and started into the "oil painting" technique on top. Though I was having an easier time of it since my first attempt, the difficulty with digital painting is knowing when to stop and leave an area alone. I tried to keep the whole thing progressing at the same rate, but it's always so tempting to start embellishing it with details too early in the process.

Seeing the finished artwork, I'm still not sure about some things. In my opinion, there could still be more tonal definition, as I feel that some areas look too soft, especially when compared back to the colour sketch. Doing narrow, smooth lines is not easy in Photoshop, and I therefore have a hard time with detail in the hair, as well as the eyelashes, and any areas where I've used a bit of soft darker outline to help accentuate some of the form. Here's where a good sable watercolour brush still beats the heck out of computer technology, in my opinion. (Yes, I remain a traditionalist at heart!)

Anyway, these are just a couple of initial attempts to learn the digital painting process. I keep on studying the work of artists I like in order to pick up additional skills, but I know it's a long road ahead of me.


David Martingale said...

Ever try Artrage? It's a painting program that feels remarkably like real painting. It's also really really cheap for some reason.

Also, these are great!

Pete Emslie said...


I downloaded the free version of Artrage some time ago but haven't had much success with it. But by coincidence, a friend of mine was giving me a demo of the full program just a few days ago, and I agree that there are some good features on there, including a brush tool that actually can produce a simple, smooth, controlled line that could potentially be used for digital inking. I don't understand why an expensive program like Photoshop just can't seem to deliver on such a basic necessity as that. I likely will purchase the full version of Artrage, as it is so modestly priced like you say.

scott said...

Pete, your results are very good even with your reservation with Photoshop! Always love the "cleaness" of your work.

Have you tried Corel Painter? Angie and I have used Painter for years and we love the results it gives.

I think the reason Photoshop suffers in this area is that its roots were more in the photo manipulation field and not natural brushes.

But if your looking for fine, smooth lines, Painter works very well.

Tapan Gandhi said...

pete these are wonderful!

certainly makes me want to start learning more about digital painting, that's for sure. i especially love the second one, and i think that i like the softness to it..

Will Finn said...

Nice! The top one reminds me of Liz Montgomery, and the second one looks a bit like Joan Collins...?

Is the brush you like a plug-in or did you fiddle with the presets on an existing one...? Just curious because I lately have to work in Photoshop and am always looking for new tools...

Andrew Manzanares said...

Wow Pete I really really like the Elvgren-esque painting! It definitely has that classic pin-up feel.

Yeah, it's hard to get that smooth, controlled line in photoshop and it really bugs me too. Same goes for if you want to put line weight and keep the cleanliness/smoothness. Like you said, it's just one of those things where traditional has the upperhand over digital.

Overall, i think both turned out really well and i even learned something from ur process. Cheers!

Pete Emslie said...

I'm glad you guys like these initial efforts, as I'm certainly planning to try some more cartoon pin-ups in this style.

Will- Though these were not drawn using photos of Liz and Joan as reference, it certainly would be fun to do caricatures of both of those lovely women. Speaking of Liz Montgomery, I recently watched her in an episode of Burke's Law on DVD, where she is astoundingly sexy (in her pre-Bewitched days) as a seductive lush who keeps showing up with two martinis in hand, though Capt. Burke declines the offer, leaving her to finish both. Vintage 60's TV shows are so great!

In regard to the Photoshop brush, the brush I'm using would be a "Spatter" brush, only I believe that it is one that I did modify after all from the default version. Shape Dynamics should be set on, with control under Size Jitter set to "Pen Pressure", Roundness Jitter set to 0% and Minimum Roundness set to about 25%. I believe that I had gotten these specs from a tutorial I read somewhere. I have no idea what all these do-hickeys are but those settings seem to produce a decent brush.

Though I start out placing in the colours with the "flow" set to 100%, I then switch to about 3 to 5% to blend them together, using the eyedropper to pick tones inbetween for a softer and softer blend. The resulting texture retains a slightly streaky look of brush strokes so it doesn't start looking too airbrushy.

Mug It Up!/Jim H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.


Hacky Crapper said...

Pete, these are like chocolate for the eyes.

You mentioned here (and maybe elsewhere)tutorials about customizing brushes. This is a topic I'd like to learn more about, so feel free to share a link if you can.

Pete Emslie said...

Hello Hacky,

Here is a link back to a post I wrote describing how to create the custom brush that caricaturist Court Jones uses a lot. It gives great results, but unfortunately for me it crashes Photoshop due to the requirement of the "Direction" setting. If you're not using an iMac it should work fine for you, though.

Mug It Up!/Jim H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Emslie said...

Hi Jim,

No, it isn't a memory issue, as I've had that thoroughly checked out and have allocated more than enough memory to Photoshop. I have more faith in what I've read on various discussion boards where more tech-inclined types are experiencing the same problems. It seems to be the "Direction" setting that is the culprit, and is thought to be a conflict occurring only on the iMac, not necessarily on other computers.

Jack G. said...

Though I prefer doing it the "organic way", you Photoshop "painting" looks real good.

Eric Scales said...

These are really beautiful Pete! While I'm sure you may still see their flaws, there certainly is nothing wrong with them. The hardest part for me with Photoshop color is having a nice balance of focus and out of focus, and while I haven't even attempted such a painterly look yet, your stuff really has that great balance. Love how sharp and crisp the faces are, even without outlines, and the rest is nice and painterly.

And I thought it may have been Elizabeth Montgomery inspired also ;)

Christina Dee said...

Great work Pete! Very pretty ladies :)

its hard to make yourself stop in a certain area with any painting or coloring I find anyway. I think you're doing a great job and I like how sculpted they look, especially with the face on the first girl.

david said...

very nice i really like second one a lot!


Wow, these are good :)
Impressive and inspiring!

Unknown said...

These look great! If you want to get some nice brushes for more realistic looking textures, check out and head to the tools section.

No affiliation, but I've bought a few of their sets over the years, and you can really emulate real paint/ink textures with them. I have had other illustrators looking at a couple of my works wondering if they are digital or not.

Also Chris Wahl has uploaded some pretty good ones, too:

But nothing can compensate for a good eye; something you have in abundance!

Floyd Norman said...

Yow! These are really good, Pete.

My wife uses both PhotoShop and Painter. She's good, but admits that PhotoShop is the weaker of the two applications when it comes to painting.

Mitchel Kennedy said...

WOW Pete! Those ladies are great! Women are hard to draw...

Anonymous said...

Sometimes good things come in small packages. You might want to try "Artrage 2.5" a remarkable lightweight natural medium program which has been embraced by many very good artists.

It can be found at

There is a free version, but I highly recommend the full edition - at $25.00(us) it is a steal. Totally intuitive, totally FUN!

Note: I own both Photoshop cs3 and Painter 10.5, both of which are "Industrial Strength". That notwithstanding, I love the simplicity, ease of use of Artrage. (Everything has its place.)

Everybody's gotta be in a Gang said...

These look great, Pete. This is something I've been meaning to explore as well, but have had a hard time finding the motivation and time. I really like the way you used it to compliment your own style.