Create a painterly feel in your digital art

Digital painting has historically suffered from looking too artificial, but with the vast range of software available today, it’s much easier to realistically replicate the look of natural media. 

Here I’ve done a quick sketch using Photoshop, demonstrating a few ways to create an organic, painterly feel, using a process that also reflects the way I paint in oils.

01. Tone your canvas

Turn on Color Dynamics [click the icon to enlarge the image]

I start off with toning my canvas using a heavily textured canvas brush to give the subsequent paint something to ‘grip’ on to. I also have Color Dynamics turned on – this is a good way of adding subtle hue variations that mimic the mixing of colours on a canvas. 

Foreground/background Jitter is great when you have a colour range in mind. Otherwise, Hue Jitter on a low percentage is usually fine.

02. Block out a sketch

Set Angle Jitter to Direction [click the icon to enlarge the image]

I create a quick sketch and then, just like I would when oil painting, start by blocking out the darker shadow shapes before gradually laying in lighter colours. 

The orientation and direction of brushstrokes play a huge part in replicating the look of natural media, so at times I have the Angle Jitter set to Direction. This is a good way to create organic strokes that showcase your brush’s textures, such as the hairs on a bristle brush. I like to use this when painting hair or for bold impasto brush strokes that follow the form.

03. Adjust your brush angle

Manually adjust your brush orientation [click the icon to enlarge the image]

When I want an even more controlled brush angle, I switch the Angle Jitter off and use the brush orientation compass to turn the bristles to the angle that I want. This can give you great control over the look of your brush strokes and is great for flat brushes. Using this method does require a little more patience, but it can yield organic and decisive painterly strokes.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 149. Buy it here!

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Previously a lead artist in video games, Belinda Leung is now a freelance illustrator and concept artist who specialises in designing believable characters and creatures for films and games.