Like most artists, I start with a basic sketch. It is something of a necessity. Every artist starts with some kind of pre-planning, whether it be just a few strokes to suggest form and light, or a detailed, practically finished drawing. I've noticed that most (not all) of the digital artists I follow create lineart from their sketches, which they follow in their final images. My sketches are different in a number of ways:
When it comes to digital, I despise lineart. It's a pain to make, and often, the flat, two-dimensional nature of lineart skews the image. It distorts the proportions in order to make up for missing depth. While it can be useful and the effect is incredible when done right, it doesn't suit my style of my technical ability.
This is true of a lot of artists, but much more common in artists who, like me, don't make finalized lineart. When lineart doesn't define the image, it's easy, and often necessary, to change the image from the original. For me, it gives me a lot of freedom to adjust my paintings and create better compositions.
My sketches are messy.
This is related to the fact that I don't really follow my sketches to the letter or create lineart. They tend to be at least two layers, one with basic forms and a general idea of what I want, and a second that is more polished, with fixes and adjustments.
Most tutorials you look up for Photoshop or any other kind of digital art software usually tell you to create new layers for skin, hair, eyes, clothes, etc. They'll even have multiple layers for each category, and if it clothes, for each article of clothing, usually based on color differences. I used to try to follow this principle, but more and more, I find myself ignoring this rule of thumb. My skin, eyes, and hair usually end up all mixed together.
I start with a layer for the base color, then build on top of that. I do all of my main shading and detail work on this layer, with my sketch layer above it, set to low opacity. I periodically turn off the sketch layer to check my progress and see where I need to add definition. This is usually when I start to diverge from my sketch. I also tend to add layers on top of this first base layer, all to work on the skin, but with no specific purpose (highlights, shadows, etc) for each layer. I paint in the eyes on the current top-most skin layer. I used to create a separate layer for the lashes and shading around the eyes, but now it all just jumbles together. I usually create yet another layer for the hair, which ends up as also being a skin layer, wherever skin meets hair, and for general adjustments. I dislike erasing and deleting, so I usually just add layers on top of things and paint over them when they bug me. Layer settings are amazing.
I use these for highlights, color changes, small adjustments. They are so incredibly useful for adding accent lighting and adjusting tones. The hair on Le bateleur
was originally very blue. I added a layer and set it to "Color,
" and painted various colors over the top, turned the opacity down, and voila,
I got the pearly, silver color you see now. I mess around with the settings a lot because you never know which one will work best.
... are ANNOYING. I hate painting backgrounds. Too little, and it's boring. Too much and it distracts from the focus of the image. And the brighter and lighter the picture, the more care you have to take with the background. So I usually just use a dark base color and paint a sort of backlighting behind the figure. It's a handy cheat. It's also got one excellent advantage that has to do with optical effects: light colors look brighter when set against dark colors. Grey becomes white, and white becomes almost fluorescent. It allows for a much greater range of light tones than if the background were brighter.
- Brushes: I have gravitated away from the classic soft-round to textured brushes and the hard-round. I find that I can still get smooth shading, but I get the benefit of texture. The faint criss-crossing effect on her skin and feather-like quality of the dress is from using brushes intended for hair and fur. Sharp edges add visual interest if they aren't overdone. A lot of artists do the same, while many prefer to use soft brushes. It's a matter of preference and style.
- Detail: So many digital artists incorporate a mind-boggling amount of detail into their works. And that's great. It's amazing. But it's really not me. My taste is reflected in my designs, because, really, each painting I do is a design. I have tried my hand at more complicated designs, such as vivat regina or However Improbable but it's easy to tell that the quality of these is nowhere near as good as ones like blue fire or someone's universe and Missing Pieces. It's something I'm working on, but I find I just prefer simplicity.
- Anatomy: By this, I mean, mostly, female anatomy. You'll notice my girls and women have gotten increasingly flat-chested and were never very curvy to begin with. Women don't all have 26" waists and 40" D-cup breasts and enormous hips and thighs, nor are they all tall as elves. Certain artists exaggerate female anatomy to the point that it makes their work off-putting. I am Asian. I've got a snub nose and boring lips and a flat chest, narrow hips and broad shoulders, muscular arms and no thigh-gap. But I have very rarely seen art of women and girls with a body like mine, unless it's in anime/manga, where these traits usually belong to an unpopular school-girl who is sexualised and basically turned into a fetish, or reduced to a comic relief. I want to dispel this idea that you have to be a Kate Moss or Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift to be beautiful. I'm currently working on including more people of color in both my writing and my visual art, in addition to body diversity and positivity.
Anyway, I hope this was interesting and that it helps you figure out your own process. You don't have to follow the accepted method of doing things if you find something that works better for yourself.