Endless Refinement

I have talked a little bit about concept and reference gathering, but for this week, I wanted to share the refinement process.

Creating an accurate final drawing is typical for most of my illustrations, but I’m getting more patient with the level of detail. Not only will this show me where different objects are in the composition, but it is also an opportunity for me to work out the lighting. I made pretty polished drawings this time around for the upcoming Triptych illustrations:


From here, it’s mostly downhill. I’m starting with the Moth Lady on the far left, which will be the most detailed. For your viewing pleasure, I made a little animated gif composed of different stages of rendering:


I paint directly on top of the drawing that I scanned in. And by paint, I mean that I use a Wacom tablet with a stylus the shape of a pen to imitate the painting process. Rendering detail in Photoshop involves using a soft airbrush to start and then a rectangular hard-edged brush to add detail and a nice grainy gouache-like texture. This prevents the unattractive, blurry-airbrush look. I alternate between those two brushes as I refine and push the depth with darker and lighter values. To soften edges that are too hard, I use a Mixer Brush. I change the settings on the default “Cotton Blender” so that the brush doesn’t pick up any paint from the layer, but more or less smears the area I apply it to.

A word about brushes. Less is more. I didn’t use an “insta-fur” brush, for example. I analyzed how fur looks from reference photos and recreated what I understood to be the “physics” of fur. When it comes to rendering repetitive shapes, rendering as much by hand as tolerable will result in more variety, believability, and artistry in those shapes.


In this final WIP shot, you can see the difference between the polished rendering and the under-drawing (lower body). Refining can be a seemingly endless process for me, but seeing more continuity between the drawing and final illustration is comforting. It’s one step closer to the original source in my head!


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