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Digital Painting for Beginners by RobynRose Digital Painting for Beginners by RobynRose

- Everything you need is in the .ZIP folder free of charge.
- This package is created in Adobe Photoshop, but other programs with layers can be used
- This exercise is best done with a drawing tablet
- Please do not upload anything from this package online including my photos or my painting
- DO upload what you draw!

Learning to paint digitally can be scary, and especially disappointing when you're just starting out, and you have a vision in your head, but what you're drawing doesn't ever come out the way you want it to. It can be especially frustrating not knowing where to start when you have never painted before.

This exercise is for beginners who have little to no experience with art, or who would like to try digital painting that involves no lineart.

This exercise involves some optional “cheat” moves that can be controversial in the art world, like tracing. Think of these steps as art training wheels. They're helpful to start out with and can lower your anxiety about starting. Often many beginning artists become afraid of ever putting pen to paper for fear of “getting it wrong”. Getting started is the hardest part, and that is why I encourage the use of “cheats”. Once you have built up your confidence, you no longer need to use handicaps and will be able to see colours, levels and shapes for what they are. Cheats are not something to depend upon as a crutch. They're a stepping stone for building up your skill until you no longer need them.

This tutorial only involves black and white. Trust me, this is much easier. Colours are very pretty, but this will teach you a solid foundation to build upon later. It saves time and headache not having to deal with colour in an image.

This tutorial is made for Adobe Photoshop, but I have included unlayered files that can be used in any program that allows layers and has similar functions as Photoshop.

START: Open up your drawing program and Select WorkPhoto1.JPG and open it in a new document, or open up the sample .PSD file which has everything.

Create a new layer via copy of this photo. (ctrl + J)

On this new layer via copy, Go to Image > Adjustments > Posterize

Set the levels to 10.

Use the eyedropper tool and create a swatch pallete from the levels that you see.

Remember, absolute white and absolute black are rarely if ever used in digital art. They are too stark and don't blend well. It's better to paint within the softer medium greys than black and white.

While you are painting your swatches, make sure you're using a hard brush at 100% opacity. You want an accurate pallete to work from.

If you want, you can label your shades. With 1 being the lightest you will work with and 10 being the darkest. (As you move forward in art, you can create more levels if you like, 20, 30, 100, etc)

In a new layer, paste the outline on top of the photo. This outline serves no artistic purpose. It is a measurement tool to make sure your painting remains proportional. Do not use this as lineart and do not paint with this layer showing. It is a position reference only.

On top of the facial outline, you can also paste the facial measurement lines. Again, these only serve as guidelines to see if your facial features are starting to drift. Do not paint with this layer on.

Create a new empty layer on top of the reduced colour photo and underneath the outline layer. On this layer, with a large brush, start to block out the major areas. Don't worry about going outside the lines. That's what your outline is for. Don't worry about following the photo exactly. Do this quickly. It should not take more than 10 minutes to fill in the major areas simply. DO NOT PAINT DETAILS! No eyes, no eyelashes, no creases or hairs. You are only looking for major areas of tone.

Why do we do this?

We are looking to reduce the face into simple shapes and shades instead of what our brain knows to be features. Lots of beginning artists think of eyes as black circles inside black almond shapes. A nose is a wedge shape or circle in the middle of the head. Lips are ovals.

This is untrue in painting. None of these shapes actually exist. The goal of this exercise is to escape our pre-existing ideas of what faces “should” look like, and paint what the photo is telling us to paint. We are often arguing in our minds where features should go and what they should look like. This is also reinforced by drawing tutorials.
I.E. “The eyes should be one eye width apart and sit on the upper half of the head.”
When painting realism, you start to see that features are uneven. They are not as simple as line art would allow. When looking at my face, for example, my eyes are uneven. They are not the same size and they are not exactly parallel to each other. Allow yourself to see and paint the flaws and inexactness of real life.

Once you have the basic blocking done, you can start to refine your details. Turn off your outline layers. Reduce the size of your brush by half. (If it was 30 before, make it 15, etc) Use the same swatches that you used before and refine the details. You can flip on and off between your outline layer and your photo underneath, but always paint with these layers off. Only have the full reference photo beside you as a floating document.

In Photoshop, there is also a grid option. Go to View > Show > Grid
To adjust your grid settings, go to Edit > Preferences > Guides, Grids and Slices
I prefer a grid that uses fractions (halves, thirds, etc) rather than one based on empirical measurements (inches or centimetres)

Once you have started to refine your major areas more, you can zoom in further and choose areas to start to detail. At this point, you can start using transparency and colour picking to blend.

DO NOT USE THE FOLLOWING TOOLS: Dodge, Burn, Smudge, Blur, Selection Wand, Paint Bucket

This exercise is for learning to blend without those. And you can do just fine without them.

To blend your shades:

Pick an area where there are two shades that are only ONE level apart.

Set the transparency on your brush to 50%.
Select either the darker or lighter shade.

Paint that shade onto the opposide.

Now take the eyedropper tool again and pick that middle shade, and paint it between. And again between.

You are working in fractions!

Say your tones are 5 and 6, and you choose to layer 6 onto 5. You are painting 5 and 1/2. And then again would be 5 and 3/4. 5 and 7/8, etc. All to way until you've blended up to 6. Never paint darker than the darkest tone or lighter than the lightest tone when blending. You will be changing your levels entirely.

Once you've practiced blending the major areas, and you are happy with it, you can move on to details and texture. All details are are very small level changes. All texture is is very subtle level changes. We are playing with light and tone here to give the illusion of shape and form.

The more and more you zoom in, the more you can refine your drawing. Remember to zoom out and look at the total painting frequently. Turn your guidelines on and off. Turn your painting off to reveal the photo underneath and compare what you're drawing to what you're seeing. Not just the shape and position, but the levels as well.

When painting, remember: A misplaced or crooked feature does not mean that you drew it wrong, it just means that the levels are wrong for the area it's supposed to be in. There is no need to feel disappointed or erase the whole thing. Either lighten or darken the mistake and it will start to look like you want it to. Always paint on top of your mistakes. Do not erase, do not move backwards in your history. Keep moving forward!

Other things you can do to remove your eye from seeing symbols: Flip the entire document sideways or upside down. This removes your brain's ability to see “eye” and “nose” and only allows it to see abstract shapes in light and dark shades.

Beyond that, it is up to you how much detail you want to add to your painting. You can keep going until you have tiny pores and eyelashes, or stop with just some basic tones. It's a good idea to decide how much time you want to give yourself beforehand so that you're not spending too much time on one area.

Good luck and keep on drawing!
Add a Comment:
illumine666 Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2016
thank you very much, just downloaded it, hope i can fuck something out of it, i am no picasso but i'm gonna try, thanx and i wish you a nice day, grts
merkvmerkv Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Just what I needed, thank you and awesome tutorial for beginners like me...
kevinwandring Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
This is AWESOME! I am just getting started and this is by far one of the easiest to follow tutorials I have found. Thank you for sharing this.
Ashty187 Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2014  Student General Artist
MarieDRose I know this is very basic but thought you might like it.
RobynRose Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2014
Also, if you have any questions or would like a suggestion where to go next, I am happy to answer them.
BunBona Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2014
thank you :)
ZenskiSeronja Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
this is what i called tutorial.. thank you so much :)
DemonShadowz Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014  Hobbyist
This seems helpful. I'm definitely going to try this. :)
Dragonavicious Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2014  Student Digital Artist
I still have a hard time with photoshop because it doesn't have the blend tools like Corel. I really think this will help me learn how to blend on the medium that most people use. Thanks so much. 
PicardtheElvenRanger Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2014
I used this method on a painting of a building here. Thanks so much for the tutorial and your excellent reference photos.
JodeOnslow Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oooh and here I was just thinking that I do need to work on my digital painting observation skills. Hmm If I can remember to, I shall en devour to give this a go.

Thank you for taking the time to put this together. Nice of you to not only provide some awesome stock photos but even advice on how to use them.
Everton-LittleTon Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2014
Nice! Thanks for the tutorial!
DryBonesReborn Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is a great way to figure out out tones and shading! :clap: Thanks for uploading this tutorial.
doncurse Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2014
thanx for the great guide ... i used it here

Team-Switzerland Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2014
Thank you so much for this!
XxberrysxX Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
stuntedsanity Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2014  Hobbyist
Wow, thanks for doing this - you just filled in a few gaps I've been trying to work out for ages (and gaps that tend to be overlooked by most of the tutorials I've seen on the subject).
TerraPrimeTime Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
This tutorial has been amazingly helpful. Thank you so much for making it.
Clavis-Salomonis Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Student General Artist
Your wonderful artwork has bee featured here:…
S-Baptista-Art Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you soo much!
JediDad Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
Thank you for posting.  As a starting point to using digital painting I can see where this would be very helpful.  Especially for someone like me who has very little experience with digital but wants to learn. 
Jayge-Ashera Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Excellent tutorial! Thanks muchly :)
McHaneyIllustration Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is the best and most practical tutorial I have seen yet!
UnicornSaint Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very interesting! It could be extremely helpful for understanding the lightning in the hair or for sea waves 
thank you for sharing! your references are always très handy ^-^
AaronQuinn Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Looks like it has some good tips, but I wouldn't be encouraging people to paint over other people's work, could get in trouble. Rather teach them to paint it side by side.
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
That's not what I am encouraging users to do. My own painting exists for reference and example. The image I use is of a stock photo. There is no painting over other people's work here.
Lady-Compassion Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
81Scorp Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Hobbyist

Useful and educational.

Thanks! :)

daiin Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional General Artist
This is so helpful - thank you so much for taking the time to do this and share it! :heart:
BunnyVoid Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
very helpful, even for non beginners, especially for practicing tones and shadows... :3 thanks so much
MidNightRain88 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
sceneecupcake Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Thank you for sharing this with us! This is extremely helpful to me. I do a lot of drawings by imagination but find myself making up proportions and light sources, and I think this is just what I need to improve the skills I already have. <3 have a blessed 2014!
0Snow-White0 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks!! :love:
MysticForgotten Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
I used this as a rough guide for my painting! Thank you.
Marethyn Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Looks very helpful :)
Ravenwolf89 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
The hardest part for me is blending and lighting... and I such doing both of those with color. So this is really helpful :] I could never understand how people did this in black and white and then changed their pictures to color! Now it doesnt look so hard :D
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
I know what you mean. colour is a third layer on top of tone. Lighting something with white light vs yellow or blue light can be difficult, as it can offset the true values of the subject itself. Colouring with white light can also make teh painting appear flat and boring. (it's why I don't really recommend "skin tone" palettes. Skin will be any colour under certain lighting. Under green light, skin will take on a greenish tint!)
Ravenwolf89 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah see that's why most of my gallery is just pencil and paper and not really color at all XD I'm trying to get better with digital painting though ^^ It's just so frustrating I put off finishing like every picture I start. I have sooo many WIPs on my computer just sitting there x.x 
Ravenwolf89 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
suck* ugh typos!
drawn2pencils Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Have yet to give digital art any serious time, I have enough trouble just getting motivated to draw traditionally.  But, I did buy that Wacom tablet for something. Great that your willing to assist the less knowledgeable, thanks.
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
If it makes you feel better, it doesn't take very long if you're working without colour. A lot of time is spent mixing colours and picking out the right ones and moaning when they look muddy or off.

The final image at the bottom took me about... 4 hours? 2 hours for two days. So not an enormous investment considering.
drawn2pencils Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

I've had my Wacom bamboo create out of the box maybe three times and did some scribbling in DA muro with it.  I am working up the courage to attempt an actual drawing in the adobe photo shop software that came with it.  I have a few traditional pieces on the drawing/carving board and will most likely finish them prior to giving the digital arena a go. 

Thanks much for the supportive shove though.

Spikeghost Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
holy crap! This is amazing!
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Thanks. Hope you find it helpful.
ElementalHowl Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Thank you very much for this! I've been getting discouraged lately in terms of art and I feel this will rev up my ambition again.
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
I can certainly understand the frustration and anxiety of knowing you have an idea, but not feeling like you know how to get it out. I've taken many different art courses over my life and so many of them taught steps, but they seemed to be missing *why* we did what we did. I'm always that one annoying person in class going "WHY? But WHY do we do it?" Because I need to always understand the reasoning behind the steps we take.

Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything here, but if you feel stuck, or like there's a gap in the instructions, feel free to ask anything here.
ElementalHowl Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Yes that's exactly how it feels. I've been drawing ever since I was young, but lately my expectations for myself are very high and I end up getting discouraged after one sketch. It's so frustrating that I can't draw any my ideas and feelings. 

Thank you so much, I'll definitely ask any questions if I get stuck!
ViscaeleustheGreat Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
this is going to be usefull!
EetrsWorld Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
im so going to try this!
RobynRose Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Awesome! Let me know if you have any problems or confusion with any of the steps. (sometimes my wording can get kinda confusing)
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Submitted on
January 2, 2014
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