Illustration: Create a Digital Portrait

Advanced level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop


In this tutorial we'll make a digital portrait in Photoshop. It will feature a girl's bust and we'll place some flower motif to decorate the illustration in the final stage. We'll also focus a lot in the face and the lighting on it.


First Steps

Step 1

If we need to look for references we can go to Freepik and browse their collection of images and vectors. The references we take don't have to necessarily be something exactly like what we want. It can be objects, figures or images similar to what we'll do. 

Step 2

I recommend that for practicing purposes we focus in images with good light contrasts, that way we'll use more color ranges. The idea is for the reference photo, in case we have one, to be a support, but we'll give it our distinct touch and transform it. In this case we'll make a bust that we'll sketch directly in Photoshop.


Step 3

We open Photoshop and we'll make our new project an A4 size, that is, 210x297 mm. Eventually we'll be able to adjust the format using the Crop tool (C) if we want to work with other dimensions.

We'll leave the resolution in 72 ppi, since this illustration is intended only for a digital format. If we wanted to print it, 300 ppi would be the appropriate resolution.

We'll set the color mode to RGB, since this illustration will only be seen in digital format. In case we'd like to print the it we would choose CMYK. Once we've finished the illustration we can save both versions or just the PSD file, which is the Photoshop format file, in order to preserve these aspects. Finally we hit OK. 


Step 4

Using the Crop tool (C) we magnify the zone where our illustration will be. In case of having two screens, the best is to place the reference image in the second one. This way we have the reference image besides the illustration at all times. In this case we'll sketch it directly, so this won't be necessary.


Step 5

Before starting our illustration we're going to setup an aspect in Photoshop that I consider handy. Navigate to Edition → Keyboard Shortcuts.

Step 6 

In the list, we look for the option Image → Image Rotation → Flip Canvas Horizontal. It would be interesting to give it the combination of keys that you see fit, and one that doesn't get in conflict with the other combinations that we deem important. I'll set it to Ctrl + Shift + E.

Now we flip the canvas quickly and when seeing the image from other perspective we'll be able to appreciate better the shapes and see if there's something wrong. It's ideal to keep doing this operation every once in a while to see how our image looks from 'the other view'.


Step 7

We create two layers: one white background layer and the layer in which we'll do the lines in our sketch.


The Sketch

Step 1

Good, we're going to sketch our first lines in the line layer. For this select a basic brush, a small radius and a 75% opacity. Mark the zones in which the mouth, eyes and nose would be. We can sketch the hair shape too.


Step 2

We repeat the process as many times as necessary. We create a layer on it and we keep shaping everything. In the end, when the results convince us, we join all the layers and we name the layer 'Line'. We can lower the opacity so the lines are not as hard.



Step 1

Once we have finished sketching, it will be time to start creating a color palette. Let's create a new layer and, in case of having a reference image, using the Eyedropper (I) tool we'll be able to select the colors we like. With that we can create color palettes that will be quite helpful later. We're looking for all the tones we deem necessary. We can create more color mixes if we work with some opacity in the brush, with each stain we'll create new colors. 


Step 2

Also using the Smudge tool or the Mixer Brush tool we can create mixtures of several colors.


Step 3

At this point it's convenient to create the background color of the shape. The main colors we'll use are brown, yellow and orange so we create a new layer called Fill and we use the Polygonal Lasso (L) tool in order to select the silhouette. It's not necessary to adjust it precisely to the drawing, as the drawing grows, we'll be blurring that limit. We have to select the sketch silhouette. Finally, using the Paint Bucket (G) tool, we'll fill the shape.


Step 4

We create the hair the same way. Since it's a part that overlaps the body in some points it's convenient to create the hair's color base in a different layer. We make the line layer visible to see how it's coming together. 


Step 5

Now we can start filling with the base colors aided by our color palette. We select the colors using the Eyedropper (I) tool if we have a reference image (Alt + click if you're using the Brush (B) tool) and proceed to fill in a basic way.

Before this, we'll create a layer called 'Fill' and we'll place it below the line layer. We turn on the 'Lock transparent pixels' option, which is situated on top of the layers. That will make the brush paint only in the part of the layer where there's pixels, avoiding going over the limits. 

From now on the line layer will only serve for guiding a bit the limits, we can lower its opacity. We'll erase it eventually.

The light will come from the left so those tones will be lighter. The right side will be more in penumbra.

In order to do the basic filling, the brushes that work best are the sharp edged brushes. Later on, fiber brushes and with different textures.


Step 6

Let's continue filling, in this case we can focus on the face, it's about staining with color layers, paying attention to the light points that we previously talked about, in this case light would come from the top left zone. We can choose any brush at this point, depending on it the stroke would be cleaner or more expressive, we have to find the one we like the most. I decided to use in this moment brushes from the basic line with an opacity of 65-75%.


Step 7

Using the Mixer Brush and the Smudge tool we can expand the colors and create mixtures. If we're not too confident we can create new layers with color tones.

For the hair we'll deactivate the 'Lock transparent pixels' option so we can go over the edge, since the hair must go in different directions. Let's look for something close to what we want.


Step 8

We're going to focus more on the parts, we'll start by creating the color of the eyes and enhance the detail. We'll also keep blurring using the Mixer Brush tool, tweaking the different adjustments of its parameters in order to see the different results.


Step 9

A fundamental rule is that almost nothing is black, the dark parts must not be black. We have to find a darker tone than the ones around it. Although there may be parts of the eyebrow or hair that look black, those are in fact very dark brown tones. 


Step 10

The eyes are very important, since it's the first thing we notice when seeing a portrait. It's gradual process, from dark tones, we go to the lighter tones and defining the borders always with darker colors than the ones around, never pure black color.


Step 11

We keep blurring the parts. We see that with very few stains we've already created a face with a certain expression. What I use the most is the Brush with the opacity on 65%. This way I can create the tones, the I also use Mixer Brush though much less, just like the Smudge tool.


Step 12

We can make the eyebrows and eyelashes in a different layer. They're important for creating depth in the eyes and in this case not many details will be necessary, we're not looking for hyper-realism. 


Step 13

Light and shadows work as volume creators. With a light bright ore shadow touch we define the parts. We'll achieve the roughness of the lip creating vertical lines.

Teeth aren't white either, but they have a wide range of gray tones and even yellow ones.


Step 14

We go on to the eyelashes and hair. For this, we open the brush window and we look for one shaped as an oval, or create one, so the stroke ends sharp which will make the creation of the hair easier.



Step 15

We keep blurring the strokes and creating smaller ones. If we work with a graphics tablet we have to turn on the Pen Pressure checkboxes in order to manage our lines' diameters.

Then, using the eraser we can carefully erase the excess and sharpening the bangs on the hair. We have to paint in the direction in which the hair would naturally hang.


Step 16

We dye with colors and reflections the hair. We'll apply some slight ocher touches on the eyebrows.

You have to also darken the forehead, which will be in a different layer so the bangs are on top.

We'll put some light shadows on the bust where the tie will be. It's important that we remember the shortcut Ctrl + Shift + E so we can flip the image horizontally and see how our image looks from that perspective.


Finishing Touches

Step 1

We google 'tie' so we get a reference. Taking some color samples with the Eyedropper and blurring some parts that are in lighter colors will be enough so we get the effect of brightness the tie has.

A layer between the tie and the bust would help when creating the shadow.



Step 2

We're going to define the torso and we'll work the image in a more global way now. It's always the same procedure, color base, stains that define the parts of light and shadow and finally mix colors, whether it's with the brushe's own opacity, with the Mixer Brush tool, the Smudge tool, or a combination of all of them.

The tips of the hair can be tweaked using the Eraser (E) tool and a low-opacity brush.



Step 3

Now we'll create two or three roses. We'll look for references and we'll paint them using pink and white tones. It's not necessary to ink the line, so in case you do, erase it at the end. Our illustration will be lineless.



Step 4

Now place the flowers and scale them. Ctrl + T is an ideal shortcut.


Step 5

We can rotate the roses, scale them, or go to Edit → Transform → Flip Horizontal to apply a mirror effect and avoid the feeling of iteration between them.

When they're in place we browse the Blending Modes in order to set the one that fits best to the image. These Blending Modes are at the top of the Layers panel. Multiply, for example, erases every white from the image. I set the roses layer's Blending Mode to Overlay and I duplicated the layer.

Finally I joined all the roses layers and I raised the saturation 10%.

I improved the shape of the bust helped by the Polygonal Lasso (L) tool and erasing the excess.



Step 6

Now we select the roses and go to Filter → Liquify.

Using the Smudge tool, we lower the brush radius and pull some points in the rose so we get the effect you can see in the image. We can experiment with the other tools and see its effect.


Step 7

At this point we can join the layers and work on the last touches of our image in a non-destructive way. For this, we'll use the 'Create Adjustment Layer' button situated below our layers. 


It will show an effects tab. Here we can select adjustments like Brightness / Contrast, Hue / Saturation or Levels. If we apply the adjustments like this, unlike using the traditional way, we can erase the effect or even lower its opacity. This way we have more control on what we do.



Finished Image!

Finally we set a bordeaux color to the background using the Paint Bucket (G) tool in a new layer below our figure.


What do you think of this tutorial?


Are you sick of getting oil paint stains? Leave the traditional techniques for a moment and try to create your own digital portrait like a true professional. What do you say?

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