Jessica Fortner creates all her illustrations using a combination of hand-drawn art and Photoshop-applied colour. In this tutorial she demonstrates how to take a beautiful drawing through to final rendering.
This tutorial is based around a piece called Arctic Armor, which was part of a series of winter-themed postcards. With these she had fun with the concept of protective armour (both real and figurative), here signified by the armadillo’s outerwear.
Follow Jessica step-by-step as she creates the drawing in blue pencil, graphite and ink; prepares the scanned image for digital colouring; draws and colours elements using shape layers for greater ease of working; and fine-tunes the results. Jessica also gives you a handy tip for working with a drawing that’s too big for your scanner.
Time to complete
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
My initial drawing (available in the project files) is always in blue pencil. When it’s complete, I go over it more precisely in ink and pencil. Any excess blue lines are easily removed in Photoshop later.
I ink directly onto the blue pencil drawing, using brushes, brush-tip ink markers and drafting ink pens.
This is what the piece looked like after adding some subtle pencil shading. My final drawing is usually 12x17 inches – larger than the 8.5x11 surface of my scanner, so I have to scan it in sections.
I then use Photoshop’s Photomerge tool to composite the saved scans into one image. To do this, go to
File > Automate > Photomerge, add your scanned files and choose the Collage layout option.
Next I go to
Image > Adjustments > Hue /Saturation (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + U) to remove the blue pencil lines. This is easily done by selecting Cyans ( Alt + 6) from the drop-down menu and increasing the lightness to 100.
When I’m happy with the scanned line drawing, I make sure that the Photoshop document is set to have the resolution and dimensions that I want for the final work. I add a bleed of one-eighth of an inch (3mm) to make sure it can print edge to edge on a page. I also add a black border so that I can see the image without the bleed area when I want.
Now use the Pen tool (
P) to create the shapes I will use to add colour to the illustration. I prefer to do these shapes – which I call ‘flats’ – in shape layers (by selecting the shape layers button in the Options bar). Shape layers are best for ensuring clean edges when the illustration is reproduced in print. Also, you can change the colour of a flat and add effects to it by double-clicking its layer. Where you have multiple elements that you want to work on together, then it makes sense to have them all in one shape layer (see Step 9).
As for the layer containing the scanned line drawing, I set its blending mode to Multiply and leave it at the top of the layer stack.
When creating the flats, I use high-contrast colours help me pick out and see them, as they can overlap each other in complicated ways.
Working from bottom up to create the layers, I organise the shape layers into groups in the Layers panel.
I wanted to treat all the snowflakes as a group, so I put them all on the same shape layer. Each new element you draw will appear on the existing shape layer if you select Add to shape area in the Options bar (or hit +) before you create it.
Once I’ve picked out the main shapes and chosen basic colours, I may want to adjust several flats at the same time – here, for example, I wanted to brighten up all the flats in the small armadillo. The first step is to
Cmd/Ctrl + click on the relevant shape layers.
Now I head to the scanned artwork layer, which I’ve called ‘Linework’, and duplicate it twice. I add a layer mask from my armadillo selection to the first copy (which I decided to rename ‘small Armadillo’). Then I mask the inverse area in the other copy.
I then use Hue/Saturation adjustments on the ‘small Armadillo’ layer to give the scanned art a colour that works better with the underlying colour scheme – here a red that blends with the colours I used for the flats making up the small armadillo.
To add a vignette effect I paint a solid black border on a new layer. I soften that border considerably using
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (with the blur radius at 250px – the maximum value). Setting the border layer’s blending mode to Overlay makes the effect very subtle.
I often apply layers styles like Drop Shadow, Gradient Overlay and Pattern Overlay to the shape layers. This lends depth and texture to the illustration.
The artwork was still too bright for the wintry look I was after, so as a final step I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and slightly desaturated the image.
From Toronto, Canada, Jessica Fortner works in both traditional and digital media. Her illustrations have appeared in this magazine as well as in publications such as Juxtapoz, Ammo and Pork & Mead.
Jessica is co-founder, editor and designer of Squidface & The Meddler, an online art magazine, and founder of the art website tangledfingers.com.
In her work Jessica focuses on editorial, advertising and children’s illustration. She is particularly fond of sustainable design, interface design and typography.