A realistic depiction of humanity, rather than some idealised concept of it, is a difficult thing to convey in an illustration. In this tutorial, Richard Wilkinson walks you through the process of how he created a portrait of an elderly man grieving.

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The artwork was created as part of a series accompanying an article on how police and medical professionals deliver tragic news in The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine. The feature can be read in the Spring 2011 edition or online at

The tutorial includes notes on how to prepare a sketch, create a rough digital painting, and how to finish the piece with sharp dynamic brush strokes, subtle colour fills and fine details through the gradual building-up of layers. You will learn techniques to add realistic shadows, and liven up the eyes and hair with highlights.

Follow these steps to create your own portrait of a person experiencing a profound emotion. So put aside a day or two, grab your graphics tablet and pen, and prepare to create your own detailed digital portrait.

Time to complete

1-2 days


Adobe Photoshop CS or later

Project Files

Click here to download this tutorial's project files

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