"Romanza" Walk-through

   Here's the finished version of "Romanza", my commission for a very dear friend and supporter.  The colors turned out more vibrant than I originally planned, but I like it.  It's infused with the warm glow of sunset orange.  I wanted to make this commission piece extra special, so to mark the occasion, I'm going to write up a walk-through of this using my work-in-progress files I saved while I worked on this project.

   First, of course, is the line art.  In my case, it's an inked line art over the pencil rough.  I ink as I clean the lines.  The pencil rough acts as a guide.  The inked line art is then given a clean-up with a high polymer eraser to remove all graphite lines.  The piece is then scanned.  The scan is digitally cleaned for dust and cat hair that the scanner picks up, and a few stray lines in ink and some, if any, graphite lines missed during erasing.  I've had young people ask me before about my scanner since they thought my scanner scanned so cleanly.  No, there's no magic scanner.  Dust and other particles get picked up and we all have to remove it one speck at a time.

   The digital file gets some preparation work done next.  First I lower the contrast and brighten the whole piece so that the lines fade into grey.  I then 'colorize' the lines with low intensity brown for the sepia ink look.  Next I adjust the red-yellow-green to give the entire image the 'paper color' by giving it a mid to light tone.  I tend to use light ochre, light blue, light lavender, or light green, depending on the overall color scheme planned for each piece.  Since this one will have a lot of orange and red, I chose the soft warm yellow.

   Since I work in Corel Painter (Essential 4, which came free with the Intuos 3 tablet when I bought it back in January of 2009), the original line art file, when I open it in Corel Painter to paint over, becomes the 'canvas' layer, and it is fixed at the bottom of the 'stash'.  I add a layer and name it 'base shades' (I often call it background wash.) and work with a shade of yellowish brown, using a 'diffuse water' brush found under wet media section of the tool box.  I always set the opacity of this tool to be very low (mostly between 6 to 12%) and vary the tip size greatly from stroke to stroke to achieve the random and more natural look.  I'm working free and loose at this stage.  It is a phase for setting the overall tone and mood of the piece.

   I add another layer on top of the 'base shades' and name it 'poppies'.  I used to work without naming each of the layers, but it's just easier and quicker if I give each layer a name for reference.  This 'poppies' layer will have all the red applied.  I don't use the color mixer or the palette that's built in the program.  I pick from the wheel directly and it usually works for me just fine for my method. Once again, the poppies' red is applied with 'diffuse water' with low opacity.  It's the wet tool set at low opacity that gives the look of watercolor in my pieces.  It's not exactly like watercolor on paper, but it's a pretty good approximation, I think.

   Here's a close-up look at the poppies and a monarch after the first stage.  Only the base tone is quickly painted in.

   On top of the 3-layer stash that has already been created so far, I add a new layer for the butterflies' orange wing color and name it 'wing orange' for reference.  Same tool as before, and color is applied.  I change the shade of the orange quite often and also paint over previously painted strokes to deepen some colors and give it more saturation.  Basically, most of my colors are applied in small section of wash after wash to build up the colors.

   Upon the 4-layer stash, I add a new layer, named 'black'.  This will be for the darkest of the dark in the image, namely the black markings on the monarch butterflies, but also for the dark spots on the poppies.

      Hair color was laid in on the 'wing orange' layer.  I don't make layer for each of the elements like many digital artists do, but simplify and economize whenever I can by determining which elements can be safely painted on a single layer without the need for a sharp distinction/ transition between elements.  Since her hair is curly and voluminous, and has an almost fluffy appearance, and that some of the orange color can be the reflected color all around the wings, I went ahead and painted the hair on the same layer and let the colors bleed into each other a little.  I paint in the black spots of poppy blooms on the 'black' layer, the same layer that has the dark markings of the butterflies.  In between the 'poppies' and the 'wing orange' layers, I add a new layer, 'green' to introduce the green shades of leaves, buds, and seed pods.  I start the green lightly at the vertical mid-point and continue to work toward the bottom of the image, or the front of the visual field, gradually intensifying the green.  For some definition in the dark in the greens, I used 'simple water' tip, which works like markers without diffusing much.

   A close-up of the butterfly and the poppies at this stage of coloring.

   Upon the now 6-layer stash, I add a highlight layer (I write it 'hilites' when I'm working.).  The highlight layer is worked strictly with a 'soft pastel' (and 'sharp chalk' if I want a little texture to the highlighted lines, it gives more of a broken line and create a 'paper texture' which is actually not there) tip from the dry media section of the tool box, and for the line highlight, I keep the saturation set at or near 100% and tip size very small.  Here, I start to add the white spots of the butterflies, highlights on the girl's hair, and highlights on poppy petals.  Again, I'm frequently changing the shade ever slightly and giving variations to the tip size to achieve a natural look.  I selected the 'green' layer for the facial features (eyes and lips) because the green elements are relatively far away and I can paint these facial features without disturbing anything else.  The figure's overall shading, including her dress, was painted on the same layer as the 'base shades'.

   A close-up look at the fairy's face.  Everything except for the line highlights, which was applied with 'soft charcoal' tip, all colors were laid using 'diffuse water' and it has the look of 'bleeding'.

   Here's one more look at the same rectangle for a close-up.  The highlights on the petals give the illusion of the thin, crinkly, paper-like texture of the poppy petals.  The addition of purple highlights to the stamens make them look more 3D in appearance and adds the texture and detail which make the poppy such a beautiful flower.

   On top of the 'black' layer and just under the 'hilites' layer, I add a new layer 'soft hilites'.  I use this layer strictly for the soft, diffused light look where I want it.  The tool I use is still the 'soft charcoal', but the opacity  is set much lower (the color will be applied very lightly in transparent strokes) and the tip size is generally much larger than my line highlight application.   About where the upper and lower wings meet on her left side where you can see her index finger, at the crown of her head, and on her left side where her dress's material is pooled on the ground, I applied a very light (low opacity) 'soft charcoal' halo, which gives the look of glowing or blurring, softening and brightening at the same time.   Other parts where I used this 'soft hilites' layer was on the flower petals of the poppies in the foreground as well as the lights on the buds.

   I also added very subtle bit of blue to the leaves and buds in the foreground to the left to help with the illusion of the depth of field.  Soft white sparkles were added only in the mid-field around the figure also for the same purpose. 

   Here's a close-up look of the highlights given to the mid-field.  Off white lines and dots create the illustion of the blades of grass reflecting light and smaller buds of secondary flower species in the poppy field, etc.  These types of highlights also add such a magical feel to a fantasy piece like mine.  It's actually my favorite part in a painting process.

   Here's a peek at a typical working window when I'm painting in Corel Painter.   For this project, there was a total of 8 layers utilized (although the 'canvas' layer at the bottom remained completely untouched throughout): canvas, base shades, poppies, green (eyes, lips), wing orange (hair), black, soft hilites, and hilites.  This is typical for my work.  I usually stay between 7 and 10 layers in all for my digital coloring projects.  I know friends whose digital paintings utilize dozens and dozens of layers ... some even hundreds.

   I hope this was a fun walk-through for anyone who has read this far.  I basically wrote it assuming that a reader had a fair amount of working knowledge with digital painting programs in general.  I personally can't stand reading tutorials that over-explain and read like some kind of operation manual with circles and arrows pointing to screen shots of tools and telling you to set something specifically at what percentage.  My method is much more "trial and error" and going by touch and feel.  The fantastic thing about digital painting is that when you make a mistake, you don't have to turn it into a happy accident (Please don't get me wrong, I adore Bob Ross. ^^ ), but just undo it and try something different.  It's also a nice bonus that there's nothing to clean up afterwards. ;)


  1. Well, I made it that far ;)
    What a fascinating process. I have messed around with my wacom tablet and software, but don't really know how to use it properly. Your walk through makes me really want to delve into all I could do.

    1. Yay, Amy! Thanks for reading all the way. *hugs*
      There's a lot these digital tools can do and it almost feels like one can never find out everything there is... ^^; I hope you get to continue to play with your tablet and have fun. :D


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