Photoshop Portrait Tutorial - drawing a portrait with Photoshop and a Wacom Tablet.

Photoshop Portrait

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A Generous Use of Layers...

I thought I'd show how I created a simple portrait "painting" in Photoshop, step-by-step, using a Wacom digital tablet. This tutorial was created in Photoshop 6, but will work equally well in newer versions. It will probably work (with minor adjustments) in Photoshop LE, Photoshop Elements, and most older versions of Photoshop. Please bear in mind that this is not an actual portrait tutorial (as in how to draw faces). Check out my Portrait Tutorial site for more specific help in that area, or read my "tips for newbie portrait artists" page on this site.

This page is not a totally complete and comprehensive tutorial on drawing a portrait with Photoshop. I just hope to give you an overview of how I go about making a drawing with Photoshop. You will most likely want to approach it in a different manner in some areas. Also note - you can do this sort of digital art in almost any graphics program that supports layers. (Though of course Photoshop is the best!)

I think the most important thing about making a portrait with Photoshop is to break your drawing into many layers. You'll be reading a lot about layers in this tutorial. I didn't feel like I had enough layers to warrant layer sets (a feature available in Photoshop versions 6 and above) but it was getting close to that point!

An important thing to remember about layers is to title each one descriptively! Don't let Photoshop do the default "Layer 1" "Layer 2" thing when you are making your layers! You will want to know exactly what is on each layer. The little thumbnails in Photoshop's layer palette just don't give enough detail. You need to title each layer adequately - you won't regret it later!

Portrait step 1

I started out doing a quick sketch with the Wacom tablet. It was just a quick and sloppy little drawing, to get the basic structure of the face. I made this into the first layer in Photoshop, (called "face - base sketch") and lowered its opacity a little bit. This way, I would be able to see the layers and rendering that I painted over it better. Sometimes, I would temporarily lower the opacity of any overlying layer, just to see what I'd originally drawn on this base layer.

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Portrait Step 2

I made a new layer for the background, (titled "background"). I put this layer behind all other layers. I used a gradient of dark greens, added a few filters (noise, texturizer) to give the background a little texture.

I then "blocked in" the basic color of the face (flesh color) on its own layer, using a soft brush with the airbrush tool. I titled this layer "base color - face". Then, on a new layer, I started to do some basic rendering of her face - just some light shadows and highlights, to indicate the structure of the face. I titled this layer "rendering 1".

Portrait Step 3

Then, on yet another layer, I started the hair. (I titled the layer "hair"). Once again, I "blocked in" the hair color, with a golden/ochre color. Then, by clicking on the hair layer lettering (in the Layers Palette) while holding down the Apple key ("Control" on the PC) I selected just the hair area I'd just painted in. I chose to feather the hair selection by about 10 pixels. Then, using a gradient of "blonde" colors (light and golden yellows) I put in a gradient over the area I'd selected for the hair. The feathering of 10 pixels gave a sort of soft "halo" look around the hair, which I liked.

Then, I started painting in shadows and highlights to the hair, with a broad, soft brush (the Airbrush tool). When I had rendered the hair in a way that I liked, I then applied the filter "Paint Daubs", which I liked even better!

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Portrait Step 4

Then, I added two more layers (titled "rendering - shadows" and "rendering - eyes"). On these layers, I put in the darker shadows and stronger details of the face. I took special care with the "eye" layer, getting the darker tones and details just right. When I was satisfied with the rendering I'd done with these "rendering" details, I "merged" these two layers so they became one layer. Then, on the two merged layers alone, I applied a light filter, (at low settings) of "paint daubs". This gave the rendering a little more "painterly" look, without affecting the hair, the background, or the basic flesh color layer that was underneath.

Final Portrait

Final Portrait: (click on thumbnail image to see full-sized picture).

Even after all the layers and rendering details I'd painted on this picture, I still felt like it needed a bit more tweaking! So, I created yet another layer, titled "more details". Here I tried to tweak certain little details on the face and hair. One of the things I didn't like was the dark circle around her eye - so I softened and lightened that up. I also worked more on her lips, and the highlights on her mouth.

The nice thing about creating a "more details" layer was that if I didn't like what I'd done, I could easily erase mistakes without messing with all the other rendered layers underneath. Eventually, I got the portrait where I liked it!

I made an animated GIF of this portrait - showing everything I've illustrated above, step-by-step. This is a rather large file (about 80K - a 30-60 second download depending on your connection speed).

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Using a digital tablet: I use the The Wacom Graphire 3. It is inexpensive, and easy to install on Mac or PC. Can be used instead of a mouse. I have rhapsodized more about the wonders of the digital tablet on one of my Photoshop pages. (If you are in Europe, you can get a great deal on a bundled Wacom tablet and Photoshop Elements 2. Check it out!)


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This page last updated: February 24, 2007

All original content, images and graphics © J.R. Dunster 2001-2005

  Made with a MacGraphics made with Photoshop 7

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