Q&A: Leather & suede
I fancy illustrating a Viking chief and a bit of research tells me pre-medieval Nordic tribes preferred leather, for both amour and everyday clothing, because of its lightweight and versatile nature. Because of this I need to paint plain leather surfaces, but also introduce some variation, which keeps the character simple but interesting.
The key for painting suede/matt leather lies in capturing its surface qualities properly. You need to understand how the material was made and what it went through. The surface of the untreated, raw leather is usually matt and the Vikings only had access to a limited number of preservation and surface-handling techniques. So the garments they created were all from full-grain leathers, which still had the slight imperfections of the original material, such as uneven thickness and natural marks. Furthermore, instead of wearing out, it developed a recognisable patina over time. By showing these imperfections – the uneven edges, the grainy-type matt surface and perhaps even larger patches of discolouration or the remnants of the animal’s hairy hide in some places – you can capture the essence of the material.
Use basic brushes to block in the main colours then work with textured charcoal brushes to achieve the typical grainy look of the leather. You can easily add the extra patches with scattered custom brushes using Overlay and Multiply layers.
Avoid rim lights and other reflections, because they would suggest a more shiny and sophisticated material, which wouldn’t be appropriate for this material and character. Try not to simply paint a texture – try to show how that piece was made (sewed together) and what it’s been through (patches of dirt and blood). Small visual touches add to your character’s backstory.