Step by step

30 April 10

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!


amazing, it must take a long time to do one drawing!
Worth it though…they are so beautiful and you are so talented!!!!!

ilaria replied over 12 years ago.

thank you!! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

Do you ‘draw’ your lines with a bezier Pen or freehand brush? Looks like a brush but i can’t get that kind of control over it..! I guess that’s where a tablet helps. Love this piece btw.

Katie replied over 12 years ago.

Freehand brush all the way! I think you deffo need a tablet. I’m completely in awe of anyone who can draw anything with a mouse because I find that impossible! I love it and I use it all the time instead of a mouse to surf the web and stuff, so I totally recommend it.
& thank you! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

This was really helpful! I was wondering how large of a canvas do you start off with and at what resolution? Thanks!

Janice replied over 12 years ago.

this one is 3535×2898 pixels at 300dpi. I tend to start with an A4 canvas and then adjust from there if needed. x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

This is so interesting to see the progression of your work from start to finish. I think it’s great when artists can show a bit more about their process – I think it makes viewers and buyers appreciate the work that much more once they realize the time, effort and talent that goes into it. I love the finished piece!

Mallory - Miss Malaprop replied over 12 years ago.

Thanks so much for sharing your drawing process! It’s one helluva job, I have to say. I really admire your work. :)

Ley Sanchez replied over 12 years ago.

you have no idea how helpful this is to me! it’s like you read my mind – i’ve been scouring the internet recently looking for good photoshop colouring tips and have been coming up short. you’re truly an inspiration, miss! can’t wait to get home tonight and put some of your advice to use. thank you thank you thank you!


Olivia replied over 12 years ago.

Yay, I’m glad it helps! and thank YOU! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

So did you not use any vector shapes at all? Because a lot of it seems amazingly straight etc.

I haven’t commented before, but I love your stuff! Been following creepily for quite a while now :D

Eline replied over 12 years ago.

Nope, no vector shapes in the final thing. I used some guide lines/shapes for the picture frames, but I drew all the final shapes by hand on top.

thank you! xx

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

I really love the illustration, esp the cat cushion! It’s actually really nice seeing an illustrator helping others and giving tips and stuff. It’s really interesting to see how others work.

neil replied over 12 years ago.


I was wondering how you got that texture… i’m definitely trying that out some time… maybe with some crazy japanese papers!
did you draw all those tiny images in the frames digitally as well? or are they scanned and placed in? i’ll be way too amazed if you actually drew ALL of those on the computer!

Vanilla Cardamom replied over 12 years ago.

Glad you found it helpful!
All the pictures in the frames are digital too, I just zoomed in to draw them. Here is a close up:


kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

thank you for this, it was very interesting. i do love the final result too!

Michelle replied over 12 years ago.

Thank you for this! I love seeing other artists progress word, I especially love the colours & textures you use, it looks like sugar paper.

Jennifer replied over 12 years ago.

Awesome! Really great job!

Flor replied over 12 years ago.

Kris, this break down, step-by-step process was magnificent. lets say you do one every week? i am about to make my own illustration as we speak! eek. your girls are so full of beauty. not only do they look innocent , but completely adorable and still mysterious. like they have something to tell that only you know. aah, wonderful!

Erica replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

Thank you so much for do this! This is so interesting, I always wondered how you created your illustrations, I love your illustrative style!
I now realize I really need to get myself a tablet!

alexandra replied over 12 years ago.

fantastic kris! this is so interesting, i always wondered about your process. as someone who has dabbled with a tablet I AM SO JEALOUS. i wish i could get the control down, but i guess its just practice makes perfect. & i love that your texture is a brown paper bag! i always wondered that too :)

Katy replied over 12 years ago.

Last week I was in a shop, Wacom tablet in my hands, contemplating to buy one, but I didn’t, thinking to myself I could never do something with it. But after this, I think I’ll have to go back to the store and get it, I’m so eager to try this out! Thanks a lot Kris!

Stefanie replied over 12 years ago.

wow, this is really impressive & eye-opening! i don’t use a tablet but really should… you’ve inspired me to try it more! every step of your drawing process looks like it could be a complete product & i’m so in awe that you put so much time & work into one drawing. you’ve got some serious talent.

cathiehong replied over 12 years ago.

this is so lovely! step by steps are the best part of illustration blogs, please don’t hesitate to do more! i’m curious what layer mode you use to get just the texture and not the color of the paper bag, care to share?

kim gee replied over 12 years ago.

thanks! The layer is set to Overlay :)

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

[…] & DESIGN LINKSInput vs. Creativity (Or, Thoughts on Surfing the Web) @ Make & Meaning Step by step AND Sweet tooth @ KRISATOMIC DARK CIRCLES { tree rings, thumbprints } @ heysusy is art a luxury? @ […]

This is incredible! It’s such a thrill to see how you accomplish this sort of work as being the type of person who will never get the hang of drawing much more than a stick man I find your talent & patience absolutely fascinating. It’s an adorable picture too – I want that wall!

Eleanor Jane replied over 12 years ago.

What a cool post :)

Thank you. Love your drawing, it’s amazing.

Sofia replied over 12 years ago.

How did you learn how to illustrate digitally?

Lea replied over 12 years ago.

Just kind of trying things out and playing about with different tools and settings. I first started doing the line work in pen, scanning that in and colouring in within the lines. Once I felt good about using the tablet, I made lots of really crappy drawings just getting to grips with making shapes and lines and trying to make it look like my paper drawings. Then I moved to the sort of work flow described above. That’s about it!
I think the best way to learn is by doing, I’ve never had much luck with books or classes. If you’re not sure about specific tools you can look up tutorials and videos too. Hope that helps x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

Thanks for answering :)

Lea replied over 12 years ago.

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?

Anna replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

You’re awesome! Thank you!!! :-)

Shokoofeh replied over 12 years ago.

you’re welcome! and thank you! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

How generous of you to share these wonderful tips! I’ve been a fan of your illustrations for quite a while now :) I just have one question but it might be a dumb and basic one; how do you get the colored bits to have the texture of the brown paper? It’s not by reducing opacity so maybe there’s like a custom filter to do it?

alis replied over 12 years ago.

Not dumb at all! Just bring the texture to the top of the layers and in the layer settings box where it says normal, change that to overlay. Then play with opacity to get the desired effect.

(ignore the red ring, I just got this off google so you know which bit I’m talking about)

You can also play around with the other settings for different looks, I find multipy and soft light often come in handy.
& thank you!

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

Thank you so much! I’m so excited about this new trick, I think I’ll spend my evening randomly texturizing the images I have in my picture file :)

alis replied over 12 years ago.

So amazing!!
Thank you very much.
I just find your blog today and it’s incredible.
Thank you very much

Jac replied over 12 years ago.

what a lovely illustration, and great tutorial :)

Melissa replied over 12 years ago.

It’s one of favorite things to see behind the scenes for people whether they’re photographers, artists, clothing designers, or otherwise; thank you so much for doing this!

I’ve always been so amazed at how not-fake/cheesy Adobe Illustrator your digital drawings look and seeing this hasn’t taken any of that away. If anything, I’m even more impressed at the work you put into it! You’re unbelievably talented.

Justine replied over 12 years ago.

Very cool process. You’re very talented!

Haydee replied over 12 years ago.

I’m no artist but as a bit of a tech geek, I loved this post. I already knew how incredibly talented you are, but this adds a whole new dimension. Love it!

Jazzi M replied over 12 years ago.

Thank YOU for sharing, I’ve always wondered how other illustrators work and this is really helpful for my work process too! :) Keep drawing, I love your illustrations! <3

Bee replied over 12 years ago.

love this “behind the scenes” peek. gorgeous!

Rose replied over 12 years ago.

This is so amazing, to see the step-by-step progress. People tend to forget how much work comes into something like this!
I love love love your work!

Lies replied over 12 years ago.

Ooo so happy to see your process (I was one of the people nagging you for one!) It has given me even more respect and awe inspiredness for your work.

Clare replied over 12 years ago.

Hi there, I’ve just found this blog today and it’s amazing – the colours, the happiness, all of it! I feel very inspired! And thankyou for being so generous with sharing info about your process! Please keep making these gorgeous pictures. xx

afriendofthebaron replied over 12 years ago.

this is just amazing! my favourite kind of posts – thanks so much for sharing! xx

Hannah replied over 12 years ago.

such an interesting post, i don’t think many artists would share their step-by-steps!
my boyfriend is a graphic designer and does a lot of illustration. i bought him a wacom tablet for xmas two years ago and he uses it all the time. i’m going to show him your blog, im sure he’ll love it x

chloe replied over 12 years ago.

The pictures in the frames looks like it’s drawn on by a fat crayon, how do you manage to make it look like that?

Also, in step 4, the stripes really look like it’s done by water colour, there’s varying tones within a single stroke itself, how do you manage to do that? My photoshop work always looks uber graphic artist/digital which I don’t like at all.

This is awesome. You should do more posts like this (:

Thank you.

X. replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

This. This is what I’m doing wrong with my digital pieces. I’m not making proper use of layers and trying to do everything on one layer. Thank you. Being self-taught at adobe products, I know there’s a better way to do things but I don’t always know what that way is.

kiwi replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

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

Dulce replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

you re really my idol

marine fleury cupcakes chantilly replied over 12 years ago.

wow, thank you! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

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.

Hiroko replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.


when the robin.. replied over 12 years ago.

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

Pattern Pulp - Friday Quick Links replied over 12 years ago.

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!

Pandorah replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

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!

kaitlyn replied over 12 years ago.

No problem, glad you liked it! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

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.

Emma Kristina replied over 12 years ago.

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

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

great! thanks! this helped a lot :)

Suvikki replied over 12 years ago.

WOW! Thank you so much! This looks incredible.

Alexandria replied over 12 years ago.

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

keith replied over 12 years ago.

Thank you Keith!! x

kris atomic replied over 12 years ago.

[…] 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. […]

very colorful and creative if I may, great painting

family lawyers melbourne replied about 12 years ago.

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

Ilustrando&#8230; (Parte 2) &laquo; replied about 12 years ago.

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!

kaitlyn replied about 12 years ago.

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

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

Kathia. replied almost 12 years ago.

[…] 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. […]

Anthology &amp; Kris Atomic | Rachel Q West replied about 11 years ago.

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!

Juliene replied over 9 years ago.

New comment

Hi, I'm Kris. This is an archive of my blog as it was from 2007 to 2014. It's no longer updated but feel free to browse through the past.


You can find my recent work at, or drop me an email and say hello. 

Back to top