Portray a sassy, tattooed pin-up
Loopydave brings his formidable illustration skills to the pin-up genre, and places the figure in roller derby gear because, well, why not?
Loopydave brings his illustration skills to pin-up.
Sometime back I was commissioned to paint a poster for a documentary movie called This Is Roller Derby. I really enjoyed playing around with retro haircuts, sassy fashions, tattoos and attitude – all things that instantly lend themselves to fun pin-up art – and the brief here is to paint something like that again.
In this workshop I’ll look at the steps required to paint a roller derby pin-up girl and possibly dating tips for the single, romantically inclined skull. A couple of notes before I start, though. I paint with the mouse. This often surprises people, but the explanation is fairly simple: it’s what I’ve gotten used to. Switching to digital painting many years ago, I tried a tablet, but at that stage there was an intolerable lag between what happened with the stylus and what happened on the screen, so I just stuck with a mouse. You are, no doubt, much more sensible than I, and use a Wacom or some other such device, but this will in no way affect the details and relevance of my workshop.
I’ll be using Photoshop CS3. It’s an older version, but budgets can be tight in the glamorous world of freelance illustration and I have no pressing reasons to update. The principles and details are still applicable to later versions and other programs such as Corel Painter.
So let’s strap on our rollerskates, adjust our elbow pads and hit the rink!
1 The brief
After some pencil concept roughs and feedback from the ImagineFX team, I’m going with a kneeling figure. This solves the challenges presented by the square format of the cover area: the viewer can see both the face and skates, and I can still keep the ‘camera’ tight in on the character. The skull is here for the narrative. If I cause a viewer to stop an extra second and wonder what the story is, it increases engagement with the image.
2 Colour rough
I do a quick colour rough in Photoshop over one of my initial sketches, because this pin-up will appear with other elements on the cover and I want to give the ImagineFX team an early feel for the palette I plan to use. The feedback is to lighten it a little and create a ‘Death Dealers’ shirt logo – a really fun idea and nod to the late great Frank Frazetta. I love it!
3 Working sketch
Now I draw up a tighter sketch to paint over. All my sketches are on paper and then scanned in, partly because I work with a mouse in Photoshop but mostly because I love the medium. When I first started painting digitally my drawings included all the shading, light source information and so on. Yet over the years I’ve got better at solving image problems as I paint and my sketches have become much looser.
4 Working size
I scan in my pencil sketch at approximately twice the required size – in this case it’s 600dpi at A4. It’s important to establish the maximum required dimensions with your client before starting and then, if your computer is capable, work at a even larger size – just in case. Image downsizing is easy, but scaling up a painting later leads to image quality issues that can cause anger, hate and suffering… basically, it’s the dark side of the Force on a monitor screen.
5 Setting up for painting
Here I remove the background white around my sketch by selecting it with the Magic Wand and then deleting it. Then I copy and paste the sketch on to a new document and choose RGB mode. I set the sketch’s Layer mode to Multiply and adjust its Transparency to 30 per cent or so. Now I’m ready to block in my colours in a layer beneath, all the while still being able to view the overlaying pencil sketch.
6 Blocking in the colours
Because I may need to adjust the colour of her outfit later on, I carefully block in each major item on a different layer: the body, shirt, skirt, protective equipment, skull and hair. Blocking in the basic elements can help serve both as a colour rough as well as creating areas that I can select later on by pressing Cmd+mouse click (right-click on a PC) on that layer in the Layer menu to help keep the edges clean.
7 Build on my initial lighting scheme
I work out the straightforward lighting on my colour rough. Once I’m sure that I want a strong rim light along her left-hand side, I need a filler light source at almost 180 degrees so that the darker areas are the ones that butt up against the yellow of the backlight and create the greatest contrast. I roughly paint the yellow backlight as a separate layer and will gradually refine it as I finish each section of the painting.
8 Using layers
The number of layers I use varies greatly from project to project. Sometimes I use a single layer, sometime lots more. I know that I’ll be using a number of layers on this picture, so I create folders in my Layer menu to keep them organised. For example, I put the layers related to the shirt in a folder called Shirt. It’s much easier to keep track of layers as I create more, and enables me to turn off whole sections at a time if necessary.
9 Where to start
After blocking in my base colours I start painting the face. It’s usually the first area a viewer looks at and often takes the most time and effort in the painting process, perhaps along with the hands and hair. I work on it for a while and the basics are now there, but it lacks some of the charm of the pencil sketch. I decide to paint the other ‘ face’ – the skull and his floral arrangement – and come back to my roller derby figure later.
10 Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Skinny Al!
I love painting skulls. I have a plastic one on my desk, called Skinny Al, that I’m referencing. It’s full of wonderful detail, although it’s a bit exaggerated in places, so I’m also looking at a few skull photos for more correct proportions. I use the standard Hard Edge brush set to a low Opacity – around 10 per cent – and build up the colours slowly. This will help create a smooth, yet slightly uneven surface.
11 Flipping the scene
Back to the face. I flip the painting horizontally (a brain gets used to seeing things a certain way, so flipping an image can help highlight issues you may otherwise miss), create a new top layer and sketch out the proportional corrections as I see them in a bright colour. I flip the image back the original way, but now I have a new guide to fixing the problems.
12 Painting the outfit
Clothing can be tricky to paint convincingly. Fortunately, both the skirt and shirt aren’t complicated: I simply put small, sharp wrinkle lines on the pull area for the shirt and a couple of folds where the front leg interrupts the natural fall of the pleated skirt. I’ve painted these things many times before and I also have a wardrobe full of props and costumes and a mannequin in my studio that I have dressed in a similar outfit.
13 Range of skin tones
I create a swatch of colours that I refer to while I paint. Skin picks up the colours of adjacent objects, so I add yellow to the shadow where the arm is near the shirt, a more saturated orange where different parts of the body are near others (the neck and head, arm and arm pit, and so on). I notice the skin tone is a bit duller than I want, so I adjust the levels so that the skin is slightly brighter and then work with this new range.
14 Place the shadows
A common problem that I see with painters who are starting out is under or non-use of shadows. Shadows, more than anything, will give an object a sense of solidity, depth and relationship to other objects. I like to have at least a couple of points where there’s a sharply contrasted shadow/highlight area on a painting, so in this case I have them predominately on the neck and the front arm.
15 Painting hands
I have a thing about hands. They are one of the first things that I look at in a painting, and I see them as a litmus test of an illustrator’s skill and attention to detail. Consequently, I spend nearly as much time depicting a hand as I do on a face. I notice some scaling problems – it’s the price I pay for a quicker, looser sketch – so I scale the top hand down a bit, along with Skinny Al.
16 It’s tattoo time
I use a quick but fairly effective method of adding tattoos. I open a scan of the tattoo design I’ve drawn, tint the line work with a hint of blue/green, add some basic colours with a Soft brush and then paste the artwork on to my painting. I set its Layer mode to Multiply, the Opacity to around 80 per cent and then I use the Warp function under the Edit>Transform menu to wrap it around her arm. I then run a little noise through it under the Filter menu, and we have a tattoo!
17 Defining the hair
I draw the directional lines that I want the hair to follow on a separate layer, as a guide for painting individual strands as well as helping me work out where the highlights should go. I use a larger Soft brush to paint the highlight areas and then a 1-2 point brush to paint strands of hair. I use the Eraser tool to ease back the intensity of the dark hairs over the brightest areas and then a 1-pixel Gaussian Blur to soften the single brush strokes a little.
18 Shirt logo
The Death Dealers logo is a tribute to Frank Frazetta, using similar facial proportions to those he liked (although these are lost a little when placed on the figure’s shirt) and a helmet and axe design from his Death Dealer painting. I apply it in a similar manner to that of the tattoo: inked artwork set to Multiply and then distorted a little using Edit>Transform>Warp.
19 Final checklist
Towards the end of a painting, I sit back and run a critical eye over the whole image. I write down a list of all the things that aren’t quite right, harmonious or finished. This stage is critical and saves me from kicking myself later when I’ve sent the image off. I work my way down a list, darkening the top finger shadows, repainting the back shoulder a little wider, increasing Skinny Al’s smile, and so on until I’m happy the picture’s finished.