Can you help me paint some­one who’s sweat­ing from be­ing ner­vous? Amanda Bolton, US

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John replies

If you look at a close-up of a photo of a drop of sweat on some­one’s face, you’ll see that it’s just a tiny rounded sur­face re­flect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, much like a Christ­mas or­na­ment. The top half will gen­er­ally re­flect the sky or light source, and the bot­tom half re­flects the ground plane and ob­jects. The sur­faces that come around and meet the skin will re­flect the skin, and the sweat’s refractive prop­er­ties will make those edges ap­pear darker. Of­ten the sur­face ten­sion against the skin tex­ture will cause the sweat droplets to take on ir­reg­u­lar, jagged shapes, but they still follow those prin­ci­ples of re­flec­tion and re­frac­tion. Some­times, if the droplet is run­ning down, the re­flected high­light will fade up into the skin colour, and the drop might also cast a slight shadow be­neath it.

In Pho­to­shop, start with some dark ir­reg­u­lar blotches and then fill in the re­flected high­lights and ground colours, ad­just­ing Lev­els and Opac­ity as re­quired. Keep the large over­all skin high­lights on your character very glossy; the skin is wet, after all. It’s go­ing to look weird at first, but it’ll come to­gether once you start adding Trans­parency to the droplets. Vary the size of the drops and in­crease some of the high­lights, to sug­gest the drops are run­ning down their fore­head.

The key to paint­ing sweat droplets is to not

overdo it and try to break up the uni­for­mity. Make sure those skin high­lights are glossy.

Anatomy of a droplet. It’s re­ally like any other rounded, re­flec­tive sur­face – just smaller and semi-trans­par­ent. The sky and ground are both re­flected.

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