Step by step

April 30th, 2010

Recently I’ve been getting quite a lot of questions about drawing-related matters, especially digital drawing techniques. When I asked my twitter followers what they wanted to know, most people were interested in seeing a progression of work from beginning to end and a bit more info on the process. Below is a pretty typical progression for me. I’m not sure exactly how many hours it took beginning to end because I was working on other drawings in between, but I spaced it out over 4 days. I tend to do batches of sketching, then batches of colouring and so on to break things up, because staring at the same thing for ages makes me impatient and bored!

I use a Wacom Intous3 tablet (a5 size) and Photoshop CS4 to draw digitally. Sometimes I start with a scanned in line drawing, but lately I’ve been working digitally from the start, which I’m kind of loving. I’ve had my tablet for a couple of years, but it’s only in the last 6 months that drawing, not just colouring, has really come naturally. It takes a while for your hand and your brain to start co-operating and at first it’s really frustrating because your hand just doesn’t do what you want it to. Practice practice practice!

I certainly don’t think of myself as any kind of expert because I’ve just muddled my way through and worked out what works for me (so my way is possibly not even the best/easiest way), but I hope that someone finds this useful! I had a hard time finding information about digital colouring when I first started out, because so much of it seems to be targeted at comic art, cheesy photo realistic digital paintings or really mechanical looking vector tutorials for making shiny pictures of cars… So here is how I do things:


1. I wanted to do something quite busy and complex where the background is the focal point, so I start off with a really rough sketch to lay out the general composition and where I want everything to go. The document size is around A4, so that a) I can zoom in and do the fiddly bits and b) print it at that size. When I’m sketching I just zoom out to this size, so I don’t get bogged down with the details yet.


2. I refine the lines of the figure on a different layer, deleting the roughs underneath.


3. Start laying down rough colours. Making the major colour decisions while it’s still a sketch helps avoid a lot of changes and faffing about later on in the final colour stages.


4. Once the general shapes and colours are worked out, I apply the texture (as always, on a separate layer) which gives it a little bit more depth and makes it less slick and super digital, which is totally not my style. I just use some textured brown paper that I scanned in and overlay it on top of all the other layers.

If this was a commissioned work, this is the sketch that I would send for approval and there might be some changes that need to be made before moving on to the final drawing. I would edit or redraw as needed before moving on to the next stage.


5. Now I start the final colouring. I fill in each section of colour on a different layer, so I can edit them easily if I need to. It helps to keep the layers named and organised in folders in photoshop, because it starts to get very confusing after the first 50 or so layers!


6. Continue filling in the block colours. There are tons of different techniques to do this, but I keep it old school and literally draw the shapes on and colour them in as you would with a marker.


7. Once I’m happy with all the major shapes, I add more fine lines and details, again keeping everything on separate layers. I’m pretty neat and ridiculous so I zoom in a lot to make sure everything joins up and looks nice even though it makes very little difference to the final image (this is also why I don’t really use Illustrator, the whole pen tool/paths structure makes me even more of a control freak!).


8. Finally I add the highlights, shadows (on semi transparent layers) and last small details. And I’m done!

Anything else you guys want to know? Let me know and I’ll do my best!

80 Comments

  1. Dulce says:

    I loved the fourth step best, maybe even more than the final. The scribbles gave is a very French feel :-)

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

    Haha, I liked step 4 too, when I finished I was like “hmm, maybe I should have just stopped there!”. x

    reply

  2. krisatomic
    you re really my idol

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    wow, thank you! x

    reply

  3. Hiroko says:

    You are too awesome for words, I did a post about you on my blog. Love your work ♥

    If I ever get better at illustrating anything I will definitely follow up this tutorial.

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    Aah thank you so much for your lovely blog post, you’re so nice! If you see me in town, definitely say hello :D
    xx

    reply

  4. […] 8. Enjoyed Kris Atomic’s step by step visualization of her computer illustrations via Kris Automic […]

  5. Pandorah says:

    This is so helpful! I just bought a Wacom Intuous 4 , and used it for some information graphic design work in school and this is the best step by step for an amazing digital illustration Ive seen till now.
    I love how you’ve used the textures, they’re beautiful.
    Been following you for a year and a half now.
    You’re such an inspiration!
    (:

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    Thank you so much! Best of luck with your Wacom :) xx

    reply

  6. Anna says:

    The process actually intrigues me more than the final image with illustrations more so than traditional drawings. I’m always amazed by how straight your lines are and your colour choices always seem perfectly complimentary. When did you first start dabbling in illustration and how did you start out? How much time did you spend practising with PS? Did you solely rely on on playing around to learn about the different features of PS and illustration or did you also use particular websites or tutorials?

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I really got into illustration when I was in college doing a pre-degree foundation course, so I was 18 years old or so. It was a one year course (we did a bit of everything to start, then could specialise) and though I went in planning to do fashion design, I realised that illustration was much more me.
    I started keeping sketchbooks that year (some images from them are here on flickr) and just drawing whatever I fancied. Digitally, I started playing around with Paint Shop Pro (a more crappy version of PS) when I was like 14, but only really got serious about it in the last couple of years of my degree.

    I didn’t use any particular sites, I just googled for specific things that I wanted to learn (like, “using the pen tool photoshop” or “colour adjustment photoshop” or “preparing linework to colour photoshop” that kind of thing) and worked on learning how to use the tools to do what I wanted.
    I’m sorry, none of that is very helpful is it! I guess my best advice is just to go for it :) I’ve found that after tons of practice things kind of click in to place and it all just starts to make sense. x

    reply

  7. kaitlyn says:

    thanks so much for doing this step by step! so many artist won’t answer questions about their process or how they work texture into their digital art & it makes it really hard to learn new techniques or find helpful information (especially when you don’t have the resources to find answers)! I think it’s really great you took the time to do this and share with everyone!

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    No problem, glad you liked it! x

    reply

  8. You are now mos’ def’ my favorite person ever….like seriously so nice. Tablets intrigue me but scare me too. I so adore my pen and paper. I have been wondering how using a tablet would effect my own work and if I would like using one. What do you think? Thanks for this.

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    Thank you!
    Your work is adorable, I think you would do great with a tablet! From what I’ve seen from your drawings, you could match the style of your hand drawn images really well. Maybe give a tablet a try in a shop or something, just to see how it feels? I couldn’t live without mine now! x

    reply

  9. Suvikki says:

    great! thanks! this helped a lot :)

    reply

  10. Alexandria says:

    WOW! Thank you so much! This looks incredible.

    reply

  11. Keith says:

    This is SO amazing, Kris. LOVE how you showed the progression and the finished piece is a DREAM

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    May 31st, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

    Thank you Keith!! x

    reply

  12. kris atomic says:

    I customised a few brushes that I use for drawing, adding a texture and changing the shape so the lines are a little less regular than the default, that keeps it from being too digital looking I find. In step 4 I’m just using a brush with tablet pressure sensitivity turned on, so I can apply a lighter pressure to get a lighter stroke.
    Hope that makes sense, let me know if you need more help. x

    reply

  13. kris atomic says:

    Glad you found it helpful! It also took me a while to start using layers properly, it seems like such a hassle, but once you get used to it you become so reliant on them! I really like being able to change the colours of everything, it’s so fiddly if it’s not a separate layer. x

    reply

  14. kris atomic says:

    Thank you so much! I’ll definitely try and do more in the future. xx

    reply

  15. […] the process that goes into creating her colorful artwork. (See a few of those here, here, and here.) I love getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process artists use to create their work. […]

  16. very colorful and creative if I may, great painting

    reply

  17. […] Neste post ela mostra o processo de trabalho, achei muito legal e inspirador… […]

  18. kaitlyn says:

    thanks for the awesome tutorial! did you create your own brushes or do you use the ones that come with photoshop? i’m always curious about brushes because i can never seems to make or find ones that i like.
    thanks again!

    reply

  19. Kathia. says:

    Great work, congratulations. I love your illustrations, specially the ones of the Nutcracker.

    :) keep on that sense of style.
    love it.

    reply

  20. […] the process that goes into creating her colorful artwork. (See a few of those here, here, and here.) I love getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process artists use to create their work. […]

  21. Juliene says:

    Hello! I stumbled upon your blog thanks to a Pin of your Accounting post (I’m studying accounting and loved your post!). Additionally, my husband and I are developing a kids’ app and your illustration technique posts are very enjoyable and helpful! Thank you so much for sharing with us!

    I really like your style and your great sense of humor (e.g. Chronic Bitchface – ha!) and am now happily following you on Instagram and Twitter (I’m @stitchify). Anyway – I just wanted to say Go You and Thanks!

    reply

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