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How to Start a Digital Painting

First of all, hello and welcome I’m glad you decided to stop by. Now, you want to learn how to start a digital painting. To summarize it,  my method starts very loosely.  I’ll even say it’s a sloppy mess, but that is the very best place to begin because you can only go up from there.

What I’ll be discussing is the process of painting not the idea generating  part. The idea generation part will probably be in a future post. But for now here is where we begin.

1. The Under-Painting

how to start a digital painting witch's wall sketch

When I start a painting I paint in the major objects of the painting. I don’t bother to sketch them in first because all corrections will be done in subsequent layers. I’ll choose a medium value and color that exists in my reference material for that object. Like the chalk board frame above I chose a desaturated orange-ish color for the base color.

The color of the object, at this point, isn’t too terribly important, close enough is good enough. Just block in the major shapes in approximately the right place. If you wish, you can use the guide lines in the painting program of your choice to help with proportion and straightness.

Step one is now complete, that was painless enough right? On to step two.

2. Block in Shadows

how to start a digital painting witch's wall shadow block in

At step number two I’m still on my first layer and I’m blocking in the darks/shadows. I’m not worried about accuracy of color or line right now.  All I am interested in is getting the large areas of color and shadows in.

These first steps can be corrected later and the color (or lack of color) will be buried under many transparent layers. So even if you think you’ve made a mistake, in the long run that mistake will still add texture and contrast in the finished painting.

3. Completed Under-Painting

how to start a digital painting witch's wall underpainting

I’ve started adding some darker areas of color (again, exact color doesn’t matter) to the shadowed portion of the painting. I’ve also added muted highlights. These will be indicators of plane changes in the painting making it easier to determine lighter areas from darker areas.

The under-painting is complete. This phase of the painting gives you the general information needed (light source,  object proportion and relative placement of the objects).

We’re done with the first layer so lock that layer in you program and save your work … then save it again. You won’t be sorry.

4. Lots of Layers

Because I’ve had a mostly traditional background in art, I was introduced to painting in layers when I first started painting in oils. So when digital art programs finally had the layer feature, that’s when I started doing digital art.

Below is a short demo on why I use layers. Layers can add that extra dimension to a painting that an alla prima (single layer, wet in wet) painting doesn’t have. In the demo (no audio) you’ll see that by putting colors on different layers and adjusting opacity of those layers you will be able to control the transparency and saturation  of the colors.

That is why I said corrections can be made later. With layers you have a lot of control over detail. Putting in layer after layer of detail and being able to control how opaque or transparent each individual layer is will give you the option to go for as real a look as you wish.

5. Painting in the Main Subjects

The screen-shot below is as far as I wanted to go with the layering for the background. I didn’t want it to draw attention away from the main subjects.

When you get to this point – and you’re happy with it – you can flatten all your layers into one layer and lock it. Now save your work.

how to start a digital painting witch's wall background

These main subjects, each on their own layer, were treated the same way as the rest of the painting. I’m able to manipulate them (move, opacity, paint, etc.) because they’re on their own layers and any previous layers have been locked so these layers will not be affected.

I won’t go into the controls of the paint program, as I don’t know which program you’re using, but features like layers and tools to manipulate those layers are universal to most digital paint programs.

The next screen-shot shows those main subjects I was talking about: the cat, the symbols, the candle and herbs. Each on their own layer to give you the flexibility to rearrange your composition if you wish.

how to start a digital painting witch's wall

6. Finishing up How to Start a Digital Painting

That is how to start a digital painting … and  I guess how to finish a digital painting. These are the general steps I take on every single digital painting. The process can vary slightly but the foundation stays the same.

Like I said this is the bare bones guide that I hope will be helpful in developing a process, one that can be changed to your liking.  I hope this has been helpful, see you next time.

For information about this painting and where to purchase see this post: Halloween Concept Art Familiars