Ahhh! Thank you, Cheery! Comments like that, they’re inspiring and make me want to improve/try to live up to them.
Hmm, I feel like my approaches are pretty orthodox. I was an analogue painter before working digitally, so the approach is similar on a digital canvas as it would be on paper/etc.
Let’s see what I can dig up, though.
Of course, the process differs between styles, and it changes depending on whether it’s a study, sketch, or full piece. There are sketches (especially) at the beginning and throughout, on my tag for Teen Titans: X, to show some comic process.
Basically, though, for a finished painting the process/steps are pretty straightforward. I generally used one layer for painting because it’s what I’m comfortable with, and use more layers and the end for finishing touches (drawing patterns, for example.) I’m starting to use more layers for painting but don’t feel like I need too many (it’s usually for temporary stuff and gets flattened down).
1. Make thumbnails. This is where we work out composition (and in this case colors). Actually, I skipped the step where you’d also do studies before even making a thumbnail (studies are for working out composition too, but I use them to figure out how to draw objects I’ve never done before, for example, or how to handle shadows for a subject, like this one here that cuts across the figure in places.
Thumbnails are quick, and you’re not gonna be worrying about proper perspective and anatomy yet, you’re just gonna lay out stuff and arrange things. They need to be quick because there can be lots of adjustments to make, and while people bitch in beginning painting classes about doing studies/thumbs before going into the finished work, doing more studies and thumbnails mean less surprises and less damage to your final piece.
You go in knowing what’s gonna go where, and how to draw things. It’s painful to fully render an apple, only to find out your composition is garbage because the apple should have been three inches to the left. (Sure, digital painting makes that easier, but the fact remains that you have a familiarity and confidence with your subject/piece/technique if you do studies/thumbnails first, and with thumbnails especially you’re mindful of balance and composition.)
2. Rough in the major parts first. (I don’t have all the in-between steps of this piece, sorry.)
When you rough in things, it means to get the basic colors/forms down everywhere. Some people like to do a full sketch with proper anatomy and perspective before getting color in and that’s totally fine (I do it too sometimes), but in this piece I sorta… did both at once (color + perspective/anatomy fixes. I used a mannikin as my guide for how the figure lays there).
Anyway, you can kinda see the evidence here: (but it’s already moving out of the rough step at this point, sorry), everything was laid in without bothering with details. Pretty much, as I progress through a piece like this, my brush starts out huge. ”Paint” covers the whole canvas, because it’s important to start with rougher strokes. The idea is to constantly paint all over the canvas at all times, so you don’t get stuck in minutiae (like worrying about painting every single strand of hair when it might just get covered or you may not need it later), and so you’re always considering the entire work as a cohesive piece at all times. With each pass over the work, my brush will get smaller, and the details will become finer where I want them.
3. Detail work/adjustments. I wanted it to look like late in the afternoon/near sunset so I adjusted the color by overlaying some yellow (if this were an oil painting I’d glaze with yellow to get this effect).
Remember what I said about saving details for last? Here’s why— now that the color “punches” in the way I wanted it to, I only needed to do details in the places where I want people to focus: the strongly lit areas. If you look at the tip of her boots, for example, there’s almost no change from the previous pic to this one, because those parts are meant to recede into the shadow. High contrast and sharp detail don’t need to go where eyes aren’t going to linger. No need to waste your time on it.
Aaand, for most painting, I use a general concept: big to small. Here’s how that worked:
Pic #1: Big, gestural blobs where my forms are gonna be.
2. Loose gesture; an idea of what I want there, big brush, big movements (using the whole arm).
3. Establish direction of light; put in larger forms, still using a big brush.
4. Punch in some stronger darks and lights. Adjust the silhouette of her hair a little. Shrink down the brush for more details (smaller movements, now).
5. Back to using a big brush to smooth out/simplify forms, and adjust values (Starfire’s hair is darker than her skin, and it’s time to act like it). The brush gets smaller for details here, though, like her lips, eyelashes, few strands of hair I drew, and the movement is only precise in areas of focus. We’re looking at her face, so it’s the part we need to worry most about. (Also, notice how the darkest values are sorta circling her face? Not an accident.)
6. It’s not necessarily done but this is where I stopped. Big brush to smooth out things again, adjust some proportions/values (adding darks made me lose my light direction so I had to work it back in, plus her face needed to be lit up a little), and back in with the small details with a smaller brush for focus. Lastly I added the darkest value to her eyelashes, and the smallest/thinnest forms to her face (eyelashes, nostrils, to her face, since we’re focusing on it). It competes with the metal of her chestplate a bit (metal’s so high-contrast), but is ultimately okay because humans focus on faces. (If I’d put darker colors in the metal, increasing the value range it would have compromised that, and possibly drew the eye off the bottom of the pic for no real reason.)
It’s important to keep design (in this case, the rhythm of how the darks in this pic are laid out) in mind, because illustration isn’t just the ability to replicate what stuff looks like, it’s also the ability to control where the eyes go, for whatever reason.)
Sorry, this next example is NSFW.
1. Here’s a failed thumbnail. But it was done quickly, so it’s no big deal. The angle was too straight-on, and pose was too balanced, which I didn’t like. This was supposed to be a moment where Nightwing’s barely holding himself together, but this angle, pose, and composition are way too stable for that.
2. Better. Plus I had to work the logistics of the pose out a bit, and we might as well rough out the background.
3. Working out the colors.
4. Cleanup. Pushed her back leg further out because (yeah, this sounds obscene but) Starfire’s legs would be further apart, she’s totally welcoming this. She’s starry-eyed and blushing, too, because she trusts him. There’s also sharper detail in the foreground. The picture’s got its shortcomings but this was the extent of what went into it.
That’s what I have.