The Arty Blogness of Ansate Jones

Digital Portraiture, or How I Painted Neko Case Pt. 2
Neko Case, Austin City Limits 2014, reference provided by Scott Newton.

Neko Case, Austin City Limits 2014, reference provided by Scott Newton.

Welcome back to my three-part tutorial on digital portraiture, using my most recent Neko Case piece. For those just joining, here’s some links to catch you up:

– Part 1

– Timelapse Video

Now onto Part 2 where I discuss the preparation I go through, including reference photos and settings. While these steps might seem tedious, they’re super-important to save a lot of frustration later on.

No, really. You will.

No, really. You will.

Picking a Subject

When I was learning how to draw I exclusively used photo references. I was later told that the only way to really draw something well is to draw it while it’s in front of you, like a portrait sitting or still life. I disagree with this; to me they’re two different methods, each with their own pros and cons. A lot of time it just comes down to necessity. I obviously wasn’t able to get Neko Case to sit down for a portrait so I had to draw from a picture. But which picture?

Obviously we should pick a composition that appeals to us, or cobble something together from several different pictures to create our own. Another criterion is quality; we can certainly draw from a crappy, out-of-focus, low-res photo but we’ll get better results the more details we have to work with.

I specifically wanted to do a picture of Neko that wasn’t promotional, because I wanted her to look real. For concerts she doesn’t get all made up and actually looks the age she is today, which is amazing and inspirational in this day and age. She’s a musician, not a model. I picked this concert photo by Scott Newton because I really liked the colors and composition, and Neko looks pretty badass in it.

Photo by Scott Newton.

Photo by Scott Newton.

Document Settings

If you want to be able to make prints of your work later, it’s important to choose the right settings when creating your file. Making sure that your picture will be large enough, that the

I set my resolution to at least 300 ppi and my size to 16 x 20 inches.

Saving the file as a psd or tif with layers and no compression are good options for preserving all the details in your picture without pixelization. Later you can save as a jpg to share on the web or upload to a print service. Consider your psd or tif the ‘original’.

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond from Doctor Who. Reference courtesy of BBC.

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond from Doctor Who. Reference courtesy of BBC.

Brush Settings

I’ve mentioned there are many brush options out there, but in Photoshop I tend to stick to the Wet Media preset because they are closest to traditional brushes. Opening the Brush panel allows you to tweak each brush in a preset, or create your own brushes and presets.

My preferred options for each brush are as follows:

  1. Set spacing to 1% (otherwise I find the edges of the lines appear too jagged)
  2. Turn smoothing on (helps with the jaggedness)
  3. Turn transfer on, and in its options:
    • Set opacity control to pen pressure (similar to the buildup option, this lets you make a darker mark or lighter mark depending on how hard you press down)
    • Turn jitter off
  4. Turn shape dynamics on, with these options:
    • Set angle control to pen tilt (the angle at which you hold the tablet pen will determine the shape of the brush, so you can do stuff like make a dot with the tip or create lines with the pen held more horizontally)
    • Turn jitter off

Be sure once you are done you save them as new brushes; I still can’t figure out how else to get Photoshop to save my preferred settings.

Fiona, one of my kitties. Reference photo by April Burton/Ansate Jones.

Fiona, one of my kitties. Reference photo by April Burton/Ansate Jones.

Tablet Settings

You can reconfigure every button on your tablet and pen if you really want to. I do the following minimal things to streamline my process:

  1. Make sure that in Photoshop settings you have the tablet scroll wheel set to zoom; you have to do this in your tablet settings and in Photoshop for whatever reason.
  2. Make sure any ‘touch’ option is off, meaning just the pen will activate the drawing area. Now you can rest your hand on the tablet while drawing without worrying about interference with controls.
  3. I keep the buttons on my right hand side because I draw with the left. Sometimes the tablet will see this as ‘upside-down’ and the cursor will go ‘backwards’. If this happens you need to go into your tablet driver settings to ‘flip’ the layout.

Once you have your free hand working the tablet buttons you can utilize shortcuts as you would on a keyboard. For example, you can hold down the pan/scroll button on the Intuos 5 tablet while dragging on the drawing surface. It turns the cursor into the hand tool in Photoshop so you can move around the picture as you work on it without having to zoom in and out or use the scroll bars.

That’s it for prep work! Join me next time for Part 3 where I finally get to the fun part: drawing!

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