How to paint traditionally in Photoshop

08. Connecting elements

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

After a while it's good to have an overall look and to connect again with all the elements. I add new layers with Image Adjustments and bring everything up to a similar level of detail.

A more dramatic light source will enhance the image, so I introduce more sun rays in the background. A quick way to paint them is to create a layer above the image, apply Motion Blur with the desired direction, set the layer mode to Screen, adjust Layer Opacity and paint some stripes in a Mask.

09. Apply decorations

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

It would be great to highlight some differences in the materials and textures, so I start to add a few details to the main characters – some surface details that will make the fish look more fantasy than real life.

I'm following the same steps as before – just trying to suggest that there might be shiny little elements by adding spots of shadow and light.

10. Correcting odd-looking areas

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

After taking a fresh look at my work in progress, and by flipping the image horizontally, I notice some odd-looking elements. I need to adjust the girl's arm to make it obvious that the elbow is further away from the viewer.

There's slightly too much hair over on the right-hand side, so I arrange it in such a way that it'll emphasise the girl's face. Doing this to the composition reinstates the two diagonals: those of the character herself, and the direction of the light rays.

11. Make a standout element

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

To make this image stand out and to give it a personal touch, I need to exaggerate at least one element. I take the plunge and draw over those decorations to make them big and complicated, while maintaining the rough/hand-made look.

12. Using modules

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

I don't want to spend a lot of time on these decorations, so I paint one module that I then copy and paste on top of the sketch, adjusting it here and there.

I'm looking to achieve a good balance between the girl's body surfaces that are in shadow, but also produce some bounced light in the dark areas and the highlights.

13. Tweaking the main elements

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

I need to block in and correct all the elements. I still have trouble with the girl's arm – I emphasise the perspective so the pose will look more natural. I polish the back fins and add subtle ones on the side. I move the three fishes from the arm and place them side on.

14. Final adjustments

14 steps to paint traditionally in Photoshop

I decide to go with the bright background, which means the girl will pop out more. I add another group of Image Adjustments layers.

I then try out a pass that simulates Chromatic Aberration: to produce this I duplicate the image and I shift the channels one pixel left and right.

I add this on top of my previous picture and mask the area where I don't want to have it – mostly on the girl's face. I'm pretty happy with the result and I hope you've enjoyed the workshop, too.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 94.

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Bianca has worked in games, film, television and advertising for the past seven years. She's now a concept artist at Ubisoft Massive, in Malmö, Sweden.