20 steps to colour your manga art like a pro

When learning how to draw, in any style, it's important to master the basics first. Some experts believe that when an image is reduced to a thumbnail, or when you see it from a distance, such as on a billboard at the end of the road, it has about three seconds to grab the viewer's eye. So artists have to ensure that their art is easy to 'read', and that the viewer is able to quickly identify focal points through basic shapes, contrast and colours.

Every artist's mission is to think about the elements that make up an image, and to contrast between them harmoniously

A successful image will pass this three-second test and entice the viewer into giving it a second reading. However, if the image is overcomplicated, or if there isn't clear contrast between visual elements such as colour, structure and shape, then your message is going to be one of confusion and the viewer will move on.

Every artist's mission is to think about the elements that make up an image, and to contrast between them harmoniously. I'll reveal how I achieve this while painting this poster, which celebrates the 100th issue of ImagineFX. My art will use manga as a starting point, but also incorporate fantasy and magic. Let's get started!

01. Start sketching

How to draw manga art

Once I decide on the canvas size, I create a loose sketch. My approach is to visualise as many possible directions for the image as possible, before going on to the final drawing.

Unlike my usual paintings, I'm keen to add a range of decorative elements that are inspired by Art Nouveau. The idea is not to completely emulate the art movement, but to remind the viewer of it.

02. Begin inking the sketch

How to draw manga art

I copy the layer and set my initial image as the base. Then I start inking on the new layer. I work with very fine lines that don't exceed five pixels in size, and use the default brush with Shape Dynamics turned on.

How to draw manga art

To create strong areas of contrast I darken areas in shadow that I know won't change much in colour. I'm not particularly worried about my line work, because I'm just using it as a base that I'll paint over later on in the painting process.

03. Time for colour

How to draw manga art

I select the area outside the image using the Magic Wand, then invert the selection and change some areas to greyscale. Next, I add colour using two skin tones, which introduces a degree of contrast in the scene.

After this I create a new layer exclusively for colour, and use the Paint Bucket tool to darken the area of the sketch, which establishes a base and contrast, and will enable me to colour in the character later.

04. Drawing the light

How to draw manga art

Once I've defined the light direction, I draw the outline of flat areas of light, marking separate volumes rather than setting them as all luminous. Animators use a similar technique. I'm not trying to be especially neat at this point, because I'll be blending these areas later on.

05. Introducing mid-tones

How to draw manga art

I paint with the colour that I use for light on a new layer. It's now a flat area that amalgamates all separate volumes and unifies my work so far. This layer acts as a half-tone and gives the image a similar look to 90s anime, which usually has three colour levels. A separate layer enables me to adjust opacity, which suggest a range of possible atmospheric moods.

06. Blending with the Smudge tool

How to draw manga art

Once I decide on the light I merge my layers. I use the Smudge tool to blend, and choose a textured brush at 90 per cent Strength, with Other Dynamics>Pen Pressure activated.

I apply my usual hatching technique: first in one direction and then another, to soften the character. I also paint details that help to introduce more volumes, such as the outlines of elements or details on the wings.

07. Applying gradients and shadows

How to draw manga art

I use the Magic Wand to make selections in the wings, then use the Gradient tool to create the desired volume. This tool enables me to depict wings that are softer-looking than the skin, creating contrast between both textures.

With the Lasso tool I add shadows to different areas, and then with the Gradient tool on a Radial setting and in Multiply mode I introduce a shadowy effect from the outside to the centre of the image.

08. Selection and colouring

How to draw manga art

I want to give a reddish hue of varying strength to elements such as the wings, corset and hat. I apply the Hue/Saturation tool (along with the Colorize option) to the base colour, and I use the Color Balance tool to modify warmth in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights.

In some cases I duplicate elements and apply different colour variations and opacities, before merging layers (including the ink layer). However, I keep a copy for future selection purposes.

09. Painting textures

How to draw manga art

I draw different textures over this final layer. I add some stitching textures on the hat and corset, giving it the appearance of leather.

I draw the lines first with a dark colour and then I sample the same light-coloured area with the Eyedropper Tool, but vary it with a lighter tone to create contrast with the surface.

This generates texture and volume. I repeat this technique on the skull's nails, chain and girl's necklace, which were dark, flat masses, but now have detail and texture.

10. Adding highlights

How to draw manga art

Placing white lines on a new layer enables me to suggest a secondary light source, and also creates small highlights. I do this on areas such as the nails on the skull and the skull itself, the necklace and the hat.

Applying the Smudge tool in a circular motion generates a worn look for surfaces. I also add fine strands to make the hair look lighter. I reduce this layer's Opacity to 85 per cent, which means it blends better with the layers below it.

Next page: background, textures and text...