Coming from a traditional painting background in acrylics, making the jump to digital painting required some reconfiguring of my painting process. In acrylics, I generally work in layers of shadows, colors, and highlights, laying down tones in overlapping organic shapes. The move to digital meant I needed to be more selective with how I created these layers. An even bigger hurdle was transitioning from holding, moving, and applying pressure with a paint brush to the tablet stylus and its more responsive pressure points.
My first foray into digital painting were quick overpaintings of photos using the blob brush tool in Adobe Illustrator. I found this tool easy to create similar shapes of color as I would in real paint while still having enough control over the pressure to adjust brush size. Layering color shapes as well as working with opacities began to feel as natural as blending paints on paper.
After getting used to this process and the hand-eye coordination of using the tablet and screen, I tried working in strokes rather than shapes in order to ease the gap to jumping into the variety of brush options Photoshop provides. Acclimating to the pressure sensitivity to control stroke size and opacity took some time, trial and error, but eventually made the transition to Photoshop brushes a breeze. With many more options and properties to explore and adjust, the brush strokes began to feel more natural, and I fell into the familiar steps of painting a portrait without the interruption of determing tool choices.
My mother is a traditional portrait artist, and I've gained much of my painting skills and techniques through her. I also share her interest in painting faces, bringing out the expressions and personalities of the subject. Some of my favorite subjects to paint are the furry faces of pets; they communicate so much through their expressions and translating these endearing qualities is a fun and unique challenge.
My preferred painting medium is acrylic, but these three dog portraits were done in watercolor, which I find to require a lot more precision and careful application of color to achieve the desired effects. However I utilized a similar process of layering colors and shadows as I would in acrylices, afterward adding white pencil details on top of the dried paint in order to create a furry texture. Each portrait was matted and framed in simple black and white at 9" x 12".
This video shows the process of another dog portrait, this time in acrylic paint, from outline to color blocking to highlight, shadow, and detail work. The background was left bare to accentuate the wood grain and its complement to the canine's colors.
I've drawn many a skeleton in many a drawing class—and so have many other people—so while a skull is anything but novel, I'm drawn again and again to drawing one. This first example is about a quarter sized painting in gouache and pen that I created for a college art show. While cleaning my desk during the week of the show, I found some perfectly sized googly eyes that when placed in the eye sockets, created the illusion of the skull laughing. Thus was born the inspiration for recreating this skull in digital format.
Using this original drawing and additional reference photos, I redrew a skull in vector format in three-quarter, almost isometric view, with 3 distinct layers. Solid color shapes form the base, then shading was added with stippling brushes, and completed with thick outlines for details. As a vector drawing, I was easily able to manipulate the placement of the lower jaw, prompting new ideas to add motion to the skull. Check out the progress of this design to animation here.
Self portraits are often abundant in an artist's work, and I've redrawn the lines of my own visage so much that it's close to becoming muscle memory. A few years ago, I attempted to do a self portrait every day and completed a month before burning out. The exercise was less about capturing my likeness and more about practicing expressions, emotions, and forming a habit of drawing everyday.
Each day I switched up the medium I worked in, from charcoal to pens to markers to digital, which helped me maintain interest in each work while also allowing me to brush up with these lesser used mediums and different techniques that weren't part of my usual process. Some of my favorite portraits were the digital pieces where I revisited using the blob brush tool while working from a photo. I was able to refine this process of creating amorphous shapes and carefully choosing color palettes to better capture the essence of how I paint with acrylics.