In this tutorial, artist Ollie Munden takes you through the process of creating his three-colour painting,
Chasing The Dragon, through a mix of Photoshop and pencil techniques. First off you’ll mock up what you want to create using photography, then create a pencil drawing from that. Taking your drawing, you’ll retrace this by hand with a Brush Pen, then transform it into a slick-looking, three-colour digital artwork.
See also: 83 Best Photoshop tutorials
The tutorial also shows you how to colour your finished artwork using a mixture of digital and hand-drawn techniques.
These skills can be used to produce your own unique pieces of artwork with a fluid, yet bold graphic style.
Time to complete
1 full day
Adobe Photoshop 7 or later
Login / Signup here to download this tutorial's project files (it’s free!)
To begin this piece, I gathered a variety of photos for reference. The main photo of the cyclist really inspired me as I liked the angle from which it was taken. When doing your own new artworks, keep your eyes peeled for photos that have strong visual qualities, good angles, nice lighting and are of high resolution.
To begin, open CTD_PHOTOCOMP.psd (which can be found in the project files). If you’d prefer to create your own skeletal cyclist, find your own photos and comp them together to make your own unique rider.
The Polygonal Lasso tool, plus the Warp and Distort transform tools come in very useful for this type of task.
Using the Pen tool, draw the red curved shapes. Roughing areas out like this loosely helps guide your drawing. Once you have completed this, make a print-out of your composition; A3 is a good size to draw on. If you only have an A4 printer, print each side of the composition and tape them together.
Using a pencil or fine liner – whichever you prefer to draw with, begin sketching out using the mock-up of the skeleton’s torso and the bike. I added in the skeletal hands, arms and legs without reference. If you feel more comfortable tracing those two, just add them to your
file and reprint. CTD_PHOTOCOMP.psd
Look at the finished artwork and note the flowing lines; try to draw these in by hand, or if you find it easier, add them using the Pen tool in Photoshop, then trace them. I tried to break up the torso with these lines, which is a very Japanese technique.
If you’d prefer to concentrate on the digital part of this tutorial, print out
from the project files and skip to Step 6. CTD_SKETCH.psd
Once you have sketched out the skeleton and bike, it’s time to really go to town on the flow of the piece. Movement is often something I try to capture in my work. When drawing the flowing lines, keep it very loose. Don’t be too precious as it doesn’t matter if your piece turns out differently to mine – in fact it would be better.
The piece is entitled
. You will notice I have woven elements on the dragon’s body, in amongst the flowing lines. Using the final art as your reference, add this to your sketch. Chasing the Dragon
Once you have a complete sketch that matches the final art as closely as possible, scan it in. Tidy up the sketch to get clean lines in Photoshop by first adjusting the Levels (
Image > Adjustments > Levels). Use the Dodge tool set to Highlights, and with an Exposure of around 20%. Adjust this value according to how much you need to lighten certain areas.
It’s now time to print out your artwork once more and make your final drawing. For this I used a brush pen, available from good art stores or direct from the likes of
Faber Castell. These have flexible nibs and give a really nice flowing line, perfect for what we are trying to achieve in this illustration.
For some smaller areas of detail – especially around the skeleton’s eyes and in his hair, I used a fine liner as this helped achieve a very controlled pen stroke.
Using both of the pens suggested, go about making a detailed version of the sketch you have printed out. Try and really express some of the lines, especially in those lines that are showing movement.
Scan and tidy up your ink drawing, as you did with your pencil sketch in Step 5. This should take a little less work as the contrast between the darkness of the pen and lightness of the paper is greater. Level adjustments (
Image > Adjustments > Levels) can prove to be very effective here.
Now that you have solid black lines and solid white base, you need to invert the entire image (
Image > Adjustments > Invert).
This piece uses a traditional Japanese-style colour palette, with the baseline work colour being red. To achieve this we need to remove the white from the ‘Artwork’ layer, so that we can put a solid red layer behind it. Double-click your main ‘Artwork’ layer in your Layers panel. Adjust the This Layer: gradient slider at the bottom of the Layer Style dialog, so that the right-hand (white) slider is set to around 245. This removes any white from the image. Hit OK.
Create a new layer and leave it blank. Merge it with the ‘Artwork’ layer. This allows you to colour the black areas of the image using a Layer Style – I’m not really sure why this works, but it does, so roll with it.
Create a new layer called ‘Red’, then hit
Select > All (or Cmd/Ctrl + A). Fill this layer with a similar red to the one used in the final illustration. I’ve use Layer Style > Color Overlay to do this. Arrange the ‘Red’ layer so that it’s beneath the ‘Artwork’ layer. Using Color Overlay again, make the ‘Artwork’ layer blue and rename this layer ‘Blue’.
I’m using cream as the highlight colour in this illustration. I chose not to use white as cream seemed to give it a slightly more authentic Japanese feel. This is what I was trying to achieve – a modern illustration that takes reference from Japanese artwork.
Select the Lasso tool and begin picking out the areas that appear as cream in the final illustration. Remember you are highlighting areas that you want to stand out, for example, the skeleton’s head and the bike.
If you have a graphics tablet handy, it could prove very useful at this stage.
To give the cream colouring the same fluidity as the line work itself, use your brush pen. First establish which areas are to be highlighted using Photoshop’s Lasso tools. To do this, select these areas, create a new layer (name it ‘Cream’) and fill it with a cream colour using a ‘Colour Overlay’ layer style. Print out the image to trace the area that is to be highlighted, using the same brush pen. You can colour the strokes cream later.
Using tracing paper and the black Brush Pen, trace in the area of Cream highlights, as with the line work. Remember to give the lines nice flow and energy, so they appear a similar style to the lines themselves.
Once all the cream areas are covered with black ink, scan it in and clean it up using the Dodge tool and the Levels command.
Once again, double-click on the ‘Artwork’ layer to open the Layer Style dialog. Using the This Layer: gradient slider, remove the white from the image. Hit OK. Create a new layer and merge the two together. You can now apply a cream ‘Color Overlay’ to this layer.
Next, drag the ‘Cream’ layer onto your main artwork document and arrange it beneath the ‘Blue’ layer. Line it up as you intend the highlights to appear. You may need to zoom in and tidy up some areas with the Pen tool by selecting these areas and either adding more cream, or removing bits that don’t work.
To complete this image, I played around with different variations on the eyes. I tried filling them with cream and red. I also tried different variations with the pupils – highlighted with red, or not highlighted at all. In the end, I felt simple was best – as it often is – and went with a flat cream fill.
This variation made the eyes stand out the most, drawing you to them and his face. Hence, this helps you instantly recognise that the subject of the artwork is a skeleton on a bike.
And that’s it: the tutorial is complete. Marvel in the glory of the piece, add any other elements you wish, or maybe try other colour variations.
I think it looks kind of cool in green and off-white.