Setting up the project
Open a new file. Small paintings like this are great for practice, so keep it simple! 1000x840 px will do, just make sure the resolution is high.
Get references! I’ll use a cropped version of this Woman Reference from Freepik.com. Pick clearly lit photos so you can study the hair. Nice hairstyles with simple shapes are usually best for beginners.
Set up your station. Photoshop lets you arrange your workspace with reference files next to new documents, so try this: Go to Window > Arrange > 2 -up Vertical.
Great! Now you can study your model better.
Keep in mind, a graphics tablet is needed for this painting. I’ll be using the Wacom Intuos Draw.
Select the Brush Tool (B), and grab the Hard Round Opacity Brush to draw your sketch. Use these settings:
- Flow and Opacity: 100%
- Pen Pressure for Opacity Checked
Create a rough sketch of the hairstyle, get all your ugly lines out first. Then lower its Opacity and add a New Layer above it to draw a much cleaner sketch. Define blocks of hair, one at a time, with small sections. Get the movement and style just right.
Compare your original sketch with the revised version. Much better, right? Continue to adjust if needed. Then Merge the sketch layers together.
Let’s add color. Right-click the white background layer and go to Blending Options. Create a light blue Radial Gradient with the following settings:
Now grab a Hard Round Brush and use it to apply the flat colors first. Paint a tan color #c9ad92 for the skin and purple #67456c for the hair. Then change the sketch layer’s Blend Mode to Soft Light.
This will help blend the sketch into the base colors.
Create a New Layer and right-click to set it as a Clipping Mask to your flat bases. Set the Blend Mode to Multiply and use this layer to paint soft shadow onto the skin and hair. Try a tan color for the skin and red for the hair.
Even though the hair color is different from the picture you can still imitate the general lighting setup. Create depth by playing with the different folds of hair and explore how each should be lit.
Add some warm highlights to the front of the hair with a new clipped layer set to Overlay. Try a bright yellow color with a Soft Round Brush. This will turn the hair into a fiery red color!
Continue pushing the color. Make the hair look more realistic by applying shadow towards the top of the hair. Now it looks more round and voluminous.
Don’t forget the environmental light. Paint a soft light blue color #75c9f0 onto the sides of the hair to show that it’s picking up color from the background. Continue to work on the skin as you build the realism of both.
If you notice the brush is too soft, increase the Brush Hardness to 50-100%. Continue to refine the main shapes of the hair.
Now for the details! Zoom into your painting. Pay attention to how it appears at roughly 100-200% view. If the lines are muddy, continue to work on blending and make the lines crisper.
Looking at your painting at this view will force you to correct any mistakes you’ve made. It also helps you figure out if your Opacity is too low. Increase it for more color pay off.
The Overlay Blend Mode is great for adding more light to your painting. Grab a Soft RoundBrush and paint tan #bcac95 onto the hair and skin for a bright effect. Make sure you paint on a New Layer set to Overlay.
Take this opportunity to clean up your work. Set the Hardness and Opacity to 100%. You can create stray hairs easily with a light red color and a high Opacity brush.
Continue refining the hair. Lower the Brush Size to paint smaller hair strands on the face.
Digital painting is all about building layers. So you’ll need significant layers of highlight and shadow to make the hair look healthy and vibrant.
Finish this painting by incorporating light blue and white highlights onto the hair. Pick pieces of hair that would catch the light in a pretty way. Now your style is complete!
Here is the final result! Feel free to paint more hair or play with Layer Adjustments for more colorful effects.