Render light and shade on the face
Jana Schirmer explains how she decides the best lighting for a portrait and renders the illustration
Jana Schirmer decides the best lighting for a portrait.
Whether I’m painting a portrait from life or creating a piece from my imagination, I use pretty much the same basic workflow for all of my digital illustration. I almost always start with a sketch, in which I try to nail the composition and think through what I’m aiming to do. If you don’t have too much problem-solving to do when you’ve started painting, the process seems much faster – and it feels better if you don’t experience random problems all the time during painting!
I find that painting is easier if you put down local colours first and then work on the lighting. The key to this approach is using Photoshop’s layer blending modes, especially Multiply. As well as giving you control over the lighting and shading throughout your image, this makes it very easy to adjust the colours in it and try out different variations, without having to do any tedious repainting.
In this workshop I’ll reveal how I set up my layer order so that everything is ‘ just so’. I’ll mostly focus on how to light the face, but I’ll also talk a little bit about the final steps I use to make the finished image look more organic and less sharp and digital. I hope this will give you some idea of the many possibilities you have with this technique.
3 Picking local colours
Once the flats are done, I can easily try all kinds of local colour variations. I simply lock the Transparency on a flats layer and fill it in with a colour. I wanted to try a version with warm local colours and one with cooler colours. Even if you start with a clear vision of the colours, it’s still fun to try out slightly different variations. This approach is particularly useful because the outcomes can be so unique – ones that you might never have thought of!
4 Layer order
Keeping my layers organised helps my workflow. I keep the two local colour variations in two different groups so I can switch them on and off when I want to. At this stage I also start to plan the light setup. I add a new layer in Multiply mode and sketch in my idea for the light direction. I try two slightly different light setups for this image – see the next step…
5 Setting up light and colour
I try both light layers on both colour versions to see which one I prefer. I think the version with her face completely in the shade would have made a more interesting image with some bounce light, but I decide to go for the version with the more direct light on her face. This means that there will be some light variation in the image.
6 Playing around with possibilities!
It’s fun for me to imagine the many different ways you can set up the light and colours in any picture. Here I change the colour of the Multiply layer with my shadows using Ctrl+B. I think doing this alters the mood a lot! So I go with the version I like the most, which is a mix between the first and the last one.
7 Adding bounce light
With my light direction set, I add bounce light. I make the fabric she’s holding look a bit translucent so it casts some colour on her face. I also add a warm tone to surfaces facing downwards to suggest bounce light from below. For this I create a new layer and set it to Add. I love this layer mode, but you must use a pretty dark colour – if you use a bright one, it just turns out white-ish.
8 Adding ambient occlusion
I feel the picture needs a bit more depth. So I create one more Multiply layer to add more shadows. (The inset shows the shadow layer without the image.) This is rather sloppy compared to how other artists set up their ambient occlusion layer. The more you think this through, the more realistic it will look. My favourite tool for this is a Soft brush and the Lasso tool…
9 Refining the edges
I love using the Lasso tool to keep my edges clean. Here for example, I use it for the nostrils to create a deep shadow inside them. I also use it for the eyes to make them appear deeper. If the “marching ants” bother you, press Ctrl+H to hide them. Press the same shortcut and they reappear. I find this especially useful when working with very small selections.
10 Creating new layers
I merge all my layers into a new layer (Ctrl+ Shift+Alt+E), then use my masks from step 2 to apply the image on them. I Ctrl-click the mask layer thumbnail to produce a selection of them, then press Ctrl+J on the image layer to create a new mask from the selection. I keep Preserve Transparency on the layers because I don’t want to draw over my masks yet. Now I start rendering and paint over the outlines. I also add some highlights on her face in the areas that aren’t covered by the shadow.
11 Varying local colour of the face
At this stage, I felt the skin could use a bit more colour – like some red to the cheeks and nose and a tiny bit of blue or purple under the eye. When painting men it helps to add more blue tones to the beard area. This is also a great way to include makeup, like eye liner or eyeshadow, or tattoos. It’s painted on a Multiply layer, so you can just reduce the opacity if it’s too heavy.
12 More details!
I add some details like eyelashes. (I leave these till near the end since they can be a bit distracting when you’re figuring out the form of the eyes.) I also add some skin spots on a Multiply layer with a brownish colour. Adding highlights to the eyes and lips is a great way to separate the different materials in the face. I make sure I include bounce light in the eyes as well as the skin.
13 Rough up the edges
Some artists can paint with awesome brushstrokes right away, but unfortunately I’m not one of them. I usually go over a picture with bigger brushes in the end because the edges do look a bit too clean with everything separated by masks! Now is a good time to drop everything on to one layer and get rid of the hard, digital-looking edges and include some nice brushstrokes.
14 Finalising the picture
I also added some strands of hair, further softening that excessively hard-edged digital look, and I create a new Add layer to emphasise the bright light coming from above by introducing a bloom with a big Round Soft brush. I also brighten all the light areas in the image on the same layer to make them a bit more contrasty to the shadows. That’s it! It’s done!