Project for the course: Pop Culture Character Painting in Photoshop
by Sam Gilbey @samgilbey
I love to paint iconic characters from film and television, and strive to capture the atmosphere of a scene, as well as an actor's likeness. Whilst I use reference imagery, the goal is never to simply paint a paused still, but rather to create an evocative portrait where 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts'.
Here's a look at my portrait of Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, which I created as an example for the students to follow on the course, along with a break-down of the key steps I took to create it, using Photoshop and a Wacom Cintiq (though another tablet could also work, and some techniques cross over with Procreate on the iPad).
Firstly I found a main pose reference to work from, along with others I could also take into account for light and colour, for both the portrait and the scene I wanted to evoke in the background.
After blocking in a rough background, I neatly traced the key features and details including main steps of light and shadow. In the course we look at other ways you can capture likeness without tracing (as well how artists have used technology for tracing in art history), if you want to spend more time on it. I decided at this stage to have the character looking back at us, making for a more personal portrait, as if we are on the other side of the table from her.
I proceeded to block in the main areas for the hair, face, hand and clothing on separate layers below the pencil layer with a hard-edged brush, before loosely shading the main areas of light and shadow on the face with a large soft airbrush.
I then faded the pencil layer opacity and placed the face reference in close proximity, so I could both pick colours from it and really scrutinise it. I gradually decreased the brush size to work on smaller details.
Once the under-painting was done and I felt that the pencils were getting in the way of what I wanted to do after serving their purpose, I then painted above them on a new layer to really start bringing the portrait to life, and ensure that the likeness of the actor is captured.
Painting the hair came next, where I use some blender brushes (rather than painting each individual hair) and added evocative colour to both complement the background, and show how hair catches the light, albeit in a more dramatic way than the reference imagery showed.
The face might catch the eye initially, but the other details are also crucial because you don't want them to distract from the main portrait if they're not as detailed, so I render the hand next.
The clothing needed the same attention to detail after the hand, though I clearly show some bristle marks to keep it painterly and not get too soft and airbrushed.
When I'm finally happy with the figure, I add more detail to the background, albeit still keeping it soft and out of focus to retain a cinematic feel.
I can then play with different brushes (and layer blending modes) until I'm happy with the smoke plume effect in terms of the brush marks and the way it 'plays' with the background behind it. I also enhance some of the lighting around the edges of the figure giving her an additional glow.
Once the painting is complete, for some final touches, I introduce a canvas texture and adjust the overall colour balance to really tie the atmosphere together.
To finish up, in the course we also look at how you might resize and crop the work differently to showcase it in the best light for various platforms, whether it's for a portfolio or a specific type of social media. After all, when you've made a striking cinematic portrait then you want people to see it in the best way possible for any given platform, and sharing your work is a crucial part of working as an artist today.
Naturally if you sign up for the course you can follow all of these steps in far greater detail with specific techniques explained in full.
I look forward to seeing your final projects! As you'll hopefully discover, painting a digital portrait of an iconic character can be very rewarding and satisfying, and also be great for social media, whether you end up painting more characters from the same movie or tv show, or have fun tackling different genres. Here are a few other examples of my work in the same vein....
Nice work, Sam
I like very much
@jon_24 Thanks a lot!
very @sararu_anamaria3 Thanks very much!
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