One of the keys to great painting in Photoshop is knowing how to combine very loose, freehand techniques with more precise attention to detail. In this tutorial, Sam Gilbey shows how to create an appealing, realistic face that draws the eye.


Central to this is understanding how Photoshop’s Brush tools work, and learning to adjust them to our needs for different stages of the piece. Brushes offer a great deal of flexibility, but the trick is knowing when to apply something dramatic, and when to be more subtle.

In general, it’s about making a few simple choices in terms of texture, colour and detail – this can turn an average-looking portrait into something mesmerising.

We won’t be aiming for photorealism, but it’s important to understand how the skin both reflects and absorbs light. This means that the application of light and shadow is absolutely crucial when it comes to painting faces.


Step 1
To create a good textured background, open the Brushes menu as shown above and select a large, soft round brush. In Shape Dynamics, set the Control drop-down to Fade. In the Texture menu, load Artist Surfaces, pick one, and then set the scale to 50%.


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Step 2
Experiment with different-sized soft circles in similar tones and build up a loose, textured backdrop for your piece. This is a good way to try out how the brush settings work before you use them on the portrait itself. Sketch a face and scan it in, or open outlinesketch.jpg from the cover CD or the Zip file below. Import it into your document and set the layer blending mode to Multiply.