Adding shading in Photoshop is the key to giving depth to your artworks while colouring them. Here Igor Šcekic shows you the best way to add highlights and shadows – plus glows and other techniques – using this skull- and space-themed artwork.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
You’ll start by create basic blocks of colour – then add depth with light and dark areas for shading.
Igor says that the tutorial shows that knowing every Photoshop tools isn’t essential to creating good work – since this tutorial is created mostly just two tools (the Pen tool and Brush tool).
You can use your own drawing when following the tutorial, or you can download Igor’s drawing from the project files link below. Igor created this artwork for the Playing Arts playing cards series Project Files
Click here to download this tutorial's project files
It all started with this drawing of a skull on paper. After finishing it I got some ideas how it can be pushed to another level with using digital techniques. The first thing that needed to be done was scanning the drawing so that it could be used as the basis of my artwork in Photoshop.
I've included my drawing in
this tutorial's Project Files – but you could easily use your own.
I drew elements that weren't part of the main skull as separate drawings and scanned them in so I could play with their placement in the overall composition.
Since my initial concept was to create a space-themed illustration, these included the Moon, Sun, a rocket and some planets.
My finished sketch with these placed is also in the
The next step involves creating basic shapes on top of the sketch and adding flat colours. The best way to create these shapes precisely is with Pen tool (
P). That way all the shapes will be sharp and clean.
Make sure that ‘Shape’ option is selected for Pen tool, so don't have to create shapes from paths later.
Each shape should have its own colour. I used blue, yellow, orange and red.
Put the skull elements in separate groups called 'Skull' and 'Space' respectively.
Now let's create the digital linework, for which I'm using a dark purple rather than a traditional black as it works well with the blue I've chosen; contrasts with the yellow, orange and red; and is visible around the black eye sockets.
We'll use the original sketch as a template to trace from. Move it above 'Skull' group in the Layers panel and set its blending mode to Multiply, so that only dark lines are visible. Hide the 'Space' group for now, unhiding it when you've finished the linework (the final results are shown here). Finally hide the sketch.
The lines are created using a combination of the Pen tool and Brush tool (
B). See the next step for the settings to use.
For the Brush tool, use a brush with 100% Hardness and 1% Spacing. If you have graphics tablet, Shape Dynamics should be turned on and Control should be set to ‘Pen Pressure’. That way brush size can be controlled with the pressure of your pen.
All of the linework has been created on a layer that's set as a Clipping Mask to the 'Skull' group below.
Adding a series of shapes of lighter and darker colours to the skull should add more interest to our focal element. Use a dark-blue tone to define dark areas and a light blue colour for light areas of the skull. We'll add the lightest highlights you can see here in the next step.
As in the previous step, use a combination of Pen tool and Brush tool with same settings as before.
Use the same technique to add darker areas to the teeth area.
The highlights are created with slightly different brush settings. All previous settings should be the same, but the ‘Transfer’ parameter should also be turned on. The Control for Opacity Jitter and Flow Jitter should be set to ‘Pen Pressure’ (assuming you have graphic tablet of course).
Press harder as you paint the highlights and you'll see your marks get bigger with lowering opacity as seen in the image for the previous step.
The background can be created with few big circles and watercolor effects. I created these previously in Corel Painter using the Watercolor brush and exported them as the PSD files you can find in the
Project Files – or you can create your own.
Place these in your composition directly at the bottom of the layer stack. Change the colours of watercolors to red, orange, grey and purple using Hue/Saturation/Lightness Adjustments.
See the blending mode of all of these watercolor effect/texture layers to Multiply. That way multiple watercolor effects/textures can be combined at once without their white backgrounds getting in the way.
The red/orange cloud is looking rather flat, but highlights and shadows will add depth.
For the shadows, use the Pen tool to create shapes of a dark red colour. Light areas and highlights are created with Brush tool with same settings as in Step 5 – using oranges and yellows.
To make the rings on the upper right side of the skull/heart, you should first create paths, which we will then apply strokes to with with a brush.
Create elliptical paths using the Pen tool or Ellipse tool (
U). If you are using Pen tool make sure that ‘Path’ option is selected.
When the paths are created, select Brush tool with same settings as in previous step – though change the brush size to some smaller size. In Paths panel select this new path you have created, right click on it and select Stroke Path. Turn on the Simulate Pressure option in the dialog box. Now we have elliptical strokes.
Erase some parts so that it looks like the rings are going around upper right part of the skull/heart. To do this add a new layer mask, select the Brush tool with black colour and delete the unnecessary parts that aren’t visible because they are ‘behind’ the skull.
Now let’s add some details to planets. Again use the Pen tool shapes of darker tones of the base colour as shadows – and the Brush tool for the highlights.
Add highlights and shadows to the Moon using – you've guessed it – a combination of Pen tool and Brush tool. The shapes on the moon's hat and it's eye can also be created with Pen tool.
To create the Moon's glow, copy its shape and paste it behind it. Use a Blur filter (
Filter > Blur) to create the glow – lowering opacity if needed.
To make the stars behind the Moon, use a soft round brush and make dots of bright colours using different brush sizes so that there's a few bigger stars.
To give the bigger starts depth, start with big soft brush and a darker shade than you want the star to appear. Then make the brush smaller, lighten the colour up a bit and make new dot with same centre as previous one. This technique should be repeated until you have a final tiny, almost white dot right in the centre.
The other eye is supposed to be the Sun. To achieve depth here, paint the centre of the Sun with an orange colour and the edges with a bright yellow colour.
Paint the glow with a soft brush behind the Sun (we can't use the Blur-based technique we used on the Moon as it's a much more extensive glow).
To create the sharp light streaks first make path lines with Pen tool. Then stroke that path with sharp brush and erase outer edges of the lines.
The shadows and highlights areas on mushroom can be created with same technique that was used on all previous elements (combining the Pen tool and Brush tool ).
To draw the mushroom's gills, create paths with the Pen tool with the ‘Simulate Pressure’ option turned on. Then stroke that path with a sharp brush.
The last object that still needs highlights and shadows is the rocket, which again you should create using the Pen and Brush tools.
Add flames to the rocket's tail. Again use the Pen tool to make the shapes and give them lightening colours from orange on the outside towards bright yellow in the middle.
To achieve the effect of smoke from the rocket's launch, use a soft brush to paint a few elliptical strokes a the end of the rocket's trail on the blue planet at the bottom of the artwork.
Even with the highlights and shadows, this illustration currently looks flat and needs some more depth. That will be achieved by applying shading to each elements with a soft brush.
For each element, create a new layer that's a clipping mask over the layer that forms its base shape. Select a darker shade of the main colour and paint to enhance the sense of depth. The repeat with a lighter shade. If necessary, change the new layer's blending mode to Overlay for a more subtle result.
On each element are few layers for shading with dark and light colors. All that layers should be Clipping masks on its base layer. Some layers for shading are set to Normal and other to Overlay layer mode.
After shading is finished it's time to paint in shadows cast on the skull by the clouds, mushroom and planet. Imagine the composition in 3D and think where the shadows should be case. Paint them with soft brush and dark colour.
It's now time to fine-tune the colour and contrast of of the whole composition. Create a new layer as a clipping mask on top of each of basic shape you created back in Step 3, and set each's blending mode to Color.
Select a soft brush and paint selectively with additional colours on each shape to add more variance and interest.
Create another new clipping mask on each basic shape and leave it with a Normal blending mode. Paint reflected light with bright colours on edges of shapes to add more interest to overall lighting.
To finish, we need some additional touch up – to spice up things a bit. For that purpose we need to adjust our brush to new settings: Hardness should be 100%, Spacing 1%. Shape Dynamics should be turned on and Control should be set to ‘Pen Pressure’ (of course if you are working with graphic tablet).
Again paint strokes that start soft – barely touching your tablet – and get steadily harder as you go.