Create characters that glow from within, using these handy tips for painting realistic skin colouring.
How do you paint skin tones? Do you fill in with one largely uniform colour, and then add a bit of a flush on the cheeks? Real skin tones are more complex than that.
Although no two people’s colouring is identical, there are characteristics that most complexions share. The face can be divided into three colour bands: the forehead contains more yellow hues, the cheeks and nose areas has more red hues, and the chin area has more blue and green hues.
Another useful rule of thumb is that bony areas tend to be cooler in colour, while fleshy areas are warmertoned. Darker complexions are glossier and more light-reflective than paler skins. In this tutorial, computer illustrator George Patsouras guides you step-by-step through how he handled the skintones for his image, Lady da Funk.
01. In Photoshop, create a new document 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches tall. Set the resolution to 300dpi, and the Colour Mode to Grayscale. Next, fill the background with a light grey colour and sketch out a face; use a reference photo if this helps. Handle the sketch in two layers: a first, ‘sloppy’ layer (using a small, hard-edged brush in black), and a more detailed, cleaner trace layer over the top. If you’d prefer to use my drawing, open sketch.psd from the cover CD.
02. In Photoshop, create a new document 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches tall. Set the resolution to 300dpi, and the Colour Mode to Grayscale. Next, fill the background with a light grey colour and sketch out a face; use a reference photo if this helps.
Handle the sketch in two layers: a first, ‘sloppy’ layer (using a small, hard-edged brush in black), and a more detailed, cleaner trace layer over the top. If you’d prefer to use my drawing, open sketch.psd from the cover CD.
03. At this stage, we’ll use Photoshop’s Grayscale slider to handle all the value work. Select Window > Color. Selecting a hard-edged brush, with the Size Jitter set to ‘Off’ will force us to work on the larger forms of the image, without falling into the trap of detailing too early. Shade your image so that it’s roughly the same as the one shown here.
04. Using darker shades, bring out the form of the skin more. Bear in mind that skin is always darker than you might think. Don’t fret about giving the skin a smooth look at this point; we’re just trying to quickly make it believable, while working exclusively with hard-edged brushes. Also, bump the resolution back up to 300dpi (again, make sure Resample Image is ticked).
05. Now we’re happy with the shading, we’re going to smooth out the skin a bit. Use a hard-edged brush and the speckled brush from the cover CD, titled Texture with Brush (see Tip Box). For the detailing, use small brush sizes, set at Pen Pressure. We also want to hint at some texture on the earphones. Take the speckled brush, and use it as a stamp (by pressing on it hard repeatedly, to add some subtle texture). Using a fine detail brush, start to work on the lips as well.
06. Add some darker shades to the background, to complement the figure, and smooth out the skin, using the speckled brush and applying light pressure, as well as a textured brush. Add some detail to the hair as well, using a harder version of the speckled brush, to give it more form.
07. When you’re happy with the image in greyscale, start adding colour. First, change the mode from greyscale to RGB (Image > Mode > RGB Color). Next, select Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, and click on the Colorize box. Choose a fairly desaturated green colour as the theme for the image. This is important, as this flat colour alone will define the mood of the painting.
08. Create a new layer, and set the Blending Mode to ‘Color’, so you can experiment with colours to set the mood of the piece without changing our shading so far. Choose a slightly warmer colour scheme, and begin to add some subtle greens on the lips and hair. At this stage, all colour work should be done manually using the HSB slider.
09. Now we can be a bit braver and introduce some warmer tones on the skin to help contrast the green surrounding the figure from both the hair and background. We’re not concerned about the skin tones being perfect at this stage (we’ll take care of that in the next stage); we’re experimenting, using new ‘colour layers’ (layers with the Blend Mode set to Colour) to see what works.
10. By now you’ll have a good idea of the colour theme, so it’s time to create the colour palette you’ll be using from here on out. This is one of the most important steps, so take your time. Create a new document and fill it with a base colour – in this case, a fairly dark green. Next, choose a skin base colour: it’s important to choose a colour that’s neither too grey or too saturated. For the shadows of the skin, choose a colour that’s a bit more saturated than the base, and mix it with the ambient colour, in this case, the dark green coming from the background. When you’re happy with that, choose the highlight colour. In this case, try a very bright turquoise, and a very light yellow to add contrast. My colour palette is palette.psd on the cover disc.
11. It’s time to apply the palette to the painting. Create a new layer over the original painting, and call it ‘Colour’. Using a soft-edged brush at a low opacity (around 25%) and flow (around 15%), take samples from the colour palette and apply them throughout the painting. Apply the base colours first, the shadow colours second, and so on; be patient and experiment.
12. When you’re satisfied with how the colours are working, create yet another layer, and add more reddish tones to the cheeks, nose, and inside the eyelid. Apply more greenish hues to the chin area as well for an interesting contrast. When you’re happy with the results, merge the layers.
13. Using the HSB slider, create another layer and rethink some of the colours. Create another layer, and add more greenish hues on the skin, such as the bounced light off the hair as well as the background. Add some warmer tones to enrich her skin as well.
14. Smooth out the skin a bit more, as it tends to get a bit blotchy after working in so many colours. As always, use a soft speckled brush, as well as a custom texture brush to smoothen out the skin. For best results, do this layer upon layer, with the opacity set to around 50%. When you’re happy with how the skin looks, add more detail to the focal points. In this case, as you’ll want the eyes and lips to be focal points, add details there accordingly. Use a very small brush at this stage, and do this in a new layer to avoid any slip-ups.
15. At this point, you should be happy with the skin tones and how the image is looking as a whole. We can take the level of detail up a couple of notches, by creating a new layer and working on the detailing there. Finally, introduce some more magenta tones on the skin, to give the image more life and contrast.
The HSB slider lets you adjust a colour’s Hue, Saturation, and Brightness on the fly. To access this mode, make sure the Color palette is visible and change the mode to HSB by clicking on the top right corner, and select ‘HSB’.
Who: Computer artist George Patsouras is based in Long Island, US. His work ranges from photorealistic fantasy illustrations to caricature work, and has won him a number of awards. He’s currently working as a freelance illustrator for a range of publications, and is also doing personal commissions; recent projects have included working as a concept character artist for an upcoming video game.
Software: Adobe Photoshop CS3
Time to complete: 5-10 hours (depending on level of detail desired)
Download: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or are available on the cover CD.