This work started as a simple practice portrait and ended up being a detailed painting of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. I had no major plans for the artwork and no clear vision of how to paint (opens in new tab) the end result. Indeed, apart from the fun I knew I’d have painting, I had no reason to create it.
What I really like about digital painting is that the canvas isn’t strictly defined and you can take a painting in whatever direction feels right, wasting nothing but time. In the steps below, I'll show you how a simple line sketch evolved into a fully realised fantasy portrait without putting any planning into the picture at all.
01. Remember the basics
I can’t stress enough that to do this improvisational, 'relaxing jazz' thing (as I call it) on the canvas, one has to be familiar with the rules of composition, lightning and colours, and always keep them in mind. After all, a musician follows a harmonic progression and knows the limits of their instrument, even when improvising. Otherwise they’ll produce an unpleasant cacophony.
02. Sketch out the figure
I start with a simple line sketch. It’s supposed to be a portrait, so I don’t bother with trivialities such as the rest of the scene. I fill it with colours; I often prefer to start using colours early. I can check my values using a quick temporary filter.
03. Overpainting and research
I decide that the portrait is boring and the rest of the scene isn’t working. I have a beer and do some aggressive overpainting – as if the painting has been done by someone I despise – then go to sleep. I start the new day by researching materials and themes, so I can add some specific items that support the emerging mythological theme more accurately.
04. Add paint on a single layer
I render everything using a simple square brush on a single layer. I don’t like using fancy tricks and specialised brushes. I like to do it the old-fashioned way, applying paint where it’s needed. I often use the Liquify filter or cut and paste to move things around.