A different approach to digital painting
When I started working on a graphic novel about TAR of Zandoria, I experimented with a few techniques in digital painting that I studied. For many comics, colorists start by “flatting”. This is basically filling in all of the color areas of a line drawing, then rendering shadows, highlights, etc above that color layer.
During my experiments with all of the various blending modes between layers in digital painting, I got an idea that probably has its roots in my years with CG animation and rendering. If I start with 50% gray on a layer set to hard light, it has zero effect on the color on the layer beneath it. But on that grayscale layer, when I draw with black and white ( and darker and lighter shades of gray), whatever is darker than neutral gray will multiply with the color beneath it, and whatever is lighter than gray will lighten the color beneath it.
The grayscale drawing can then control all of the values and lighting, combining with a color painting beneath it which controls the diffuse color everything. This is not the same thing as just painting on a layer set to “color” above a grayscale painting. If you were using that approach, you will find it difficult to control tints and shades of color, because the color blending mode is only using the hue information to color the values beneath it. With this new approach, you can just paint the object colors in their flat pure color and the hard light layer will render the correct shading in hightlights and shadows. When drawing, it helps me to think of of the objects form, not the final look.
Here is a stage by stage example, starting with just a rough layout. I have brought in my lettering from Pages and moved it into position.
My “pencil” drawing in blue gets more refined. This is on a separate layer that will be hidden later. It doesn’t need to be in blue, of course, since this is all digital. (This is just a nod to the past, when you would do layout in non-repro blue, and then ink with black. The blue pencil would be invisible to the process camera…)
On a new layer I start my “ink” drawing. This line layer is basically the contours of the drawing. I’m actually using a digital brush that simulates vine charcoal, rather than a pen. (just a preference for the “look”). This layer is set to “multiply” and will darken everything beneath it.
Beneath the line layer, I fill in all of the objects with 50% gray using a solid brush. And then lock the alpha transparency (this keeps me inside the lines, without having to think about it). I then start laying in the shading and cast shadows with a darker gray. I switch to a light gray to render the sunlit side of the objects. And lastly, I will draw with pure black and pure white to hit the deepest shadows and the specular highlights.
Now that I’m ready to paint the color, I make a selection based on the alpha of my last layer and fill a new layer with a dull brown, and lock the transparency. I do this so that I can paint the characters only, and then paint the sky separately on a layer beneath. The alpha lock saves time so I don’t have to keep making selections to keep from painting outside the lines.
I’ve made a custom palette, where I’ve saved color swatches of the different colors of the characters clothing, and gear to save time and to keep the color consistent page to page. Using a solid airbrush, I paint in all of the colors. Looking at a reference photo I sampled some colors from the sky, and loosely painted the sky background behind all of the other elements.
After I’m done with the color painting, I finish up the balloons with a black pen and fill them with white. This is done on a layer between the lettering and the rest of the artwork. Likewise, the panel borders are drawn above the art (in this case with a block charcoal brush)
I showed some of this to a local group of friends who are also working on their own comics, and since the layers and blending modes were a bit mysterious to them, I thought it would be a good subject for a tutorial…
This art was all done in Procreate on my iPad, but the technique would apply the same in all digital paint programs like Photoshop.
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