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To start off, let me say that I'm by no means an expert at this. As a beginner, I offer only what I've learned so far. Every painting starts off with a sketch. Make sure your sketch is exactly the way you want it, because once you start painting it, any large proportion errors or other major flaws are going to be tough to change, without backing up and starting over what will be hours of work.
For a digital painting, I refine my sketch down so that the shapes are defined adequately. Inking fine lines won't be neccessary, as you'll be painting over them anyway. I try to blend my sketch lines into the finished artwork with my paint strokes, making them thinner and thinner as they are shaped with the brush up close. Another (and perhaps better) technique would be to paint over them completely.
Start putting in your major colour areas with the brush tool, whether you're in Photoshop or some other program. For this tutorial, we're using Photoshop, but you can do this kind of stuff with GIMP and many other high-end graphics applications.
Your colour areas should be placed on a layer underneath your sketch, so you can see where your boundaries are. Don't use the "fill" tool - since this is a sketch you'll be wasting time hunting down leaks. It'll actually take you less time to get a big fat brush and stroke the colours into place. I like to blob it in there and then shape it down with a large brush size on the eraser tool.
A little note for Wacom™ Tablet users: Set one of your stylus buttons to switch to eraser mode, so you don't have to keep flipping the stylus over to erase. It saves a ton of time - and speeds my work up about 40% on the sketching / colouring / shading stages. That goes for cell-shaded and digital painting work.
Once you have all of your flat colours in (don't worry about getting them all perfectly in the boundaries - once you are painting and smudging everything is going to get fine-tuned as you go), you're ready to start adding in the darker tones for the shaded areas.
Again, since you'll be dragging the colours around a lot for shading and textures, just dab the darker shades in the general areas. Keep this on your colouring layer - don't destroy your sketched lines.
This is the stage where you're thinking about the light source more than anything else. Don't worry about the details of your shading right now. Blob the darker colours into the areas where the light shouldn't be directly illuminating. Think in 3D, too.
The right side of Malachi's chest will be darker because it is curved overall. Same with his right arm, and the side of the left arm facing his torso will be dark as well. As far as his neck, take into account where the light is blocked by his head and chin, and reflect the shape of his jaw accordingly by the shadow it casts. The light source here is going to be to our upper left. Later on, we will be defining the shadow cast by his nose and other smaller features based on the direction of the light.
Also, don't worry about highlights or reflections at this stage. They might confuse an otherwise strong definition of the shadows.
Now we begin the painstaking process of smudging and blending the shadows into the lighter areas. We also want to add the general highlights to the lighter areas. While I've applied the highlights with the airbrush tool here, don't leave them with the blurry airbrush look - use the smudge tool to drag and mold them into the shapes of the surfaces they are on.
Smudge the darker areas into the folds and crevices they should form. For instance, on Malachi's arm, curve it around the contour of his arm muscles. You might want to look at an anatomy book or a photo of a muscular arm to see how the muscles curve around the arm. Malachi's muscles are greatly exaggerated, as a matter of style. It's also not perfect because I am not an expert yet.
Drag the shadows on his clothing to represent the folds, and drag the highlighted areas around and over the shadows to show the sides of each fold that catches light from the light source. With the position of our light source, you want to have all of the highlights on the upper left sides of the folds, and the shadows underneath on the bottom right.
At this point, you may want to make subtler, thinner highlights on the very outer edges of the shaded areas, to show perhaps a reflected second light source (do not make these as bright as your primary highlights, or this will confuse the direction of the light source entirely).
Do this sparingly, and consider the type of surfaces and materials that the light is reflecting off of.
In this case, Malachi's shirt is made of a synthetic, waterproof material, so it has an almost plastic kind of diffusion quality. His skin, however, should be much softer in tone and therefore the highlights should be far more diffused. As for his hair, I prefer to use a lot of contrast to define the individual strands.
Speaking of hair, that's going to be a job that requires a ton of patience, but is well worth it.
Using a very, very small brush, add in shadows and highlights accordingly to show individual strands of hair. Make sure you keep your detail level consistent throughout his entire head of hair.
With his goggles, remember the the hair wil overlap from the front, and come out from underneath the goggle strap. Use reference photos to see how the hair comes out of the scalp, and think of gravity and the hair's softness when drawing the flow of each strand.
Malachi's hair is a little starchy - he's a soldier and doesn't have time to put conditioner in his hair. With that texture, and given its length, it has the ability to more or less stand up, rather than lay down flat. Also, the hair on the sides of his head, toward the front, is pushed forward and left a bit messy due to the goggle strap.
Since I'm going for a more realistic look here, I'm not doing the traditional manga-style eyes that are used in the comic. Again, reference photos help here. Draw the pupil, iris, the starburst-texture of the iris, and account for the shadows and reflections that give the iris it's gloss and spherical appearance. Make it look like the lens is actually there. Also apply light shading to the white part of his eyes.
Since Malachi has white / silver hair, his eyebrows are also white, and yes, even his eyelashes. Be very subtle when adding the white highlights to his eyelashes - as they need contrast to the eye itself. Don't make his eyelashes too long - he's a guy.
Get detailed with the shadows here, too. Shape the underside of his eyelids, and add just a touch of red on the inside of his eyelids (this was so subtle that it didn't show in this resized image). Make sure his eyebrows are textured in the same manner as his hair. Add the shadow underneath his brow, which in this case, because of the shape of Malachi's face, should reach down to the eyes.
Carefully shade and texture the skin on his arms. Add light hairs to his forearm, and just to give him a super-toughguy look, I added a bulging vein or two to his biceps. Details like this really have to be small and blended in, otherwise they're just plain gross.
Add a random freckle or slightly red area here and there. A soldier can't have perfect skin, and these small details add to his realism.
Use a textured brush so that his skin doesn't have that plastic look, and notice the secondary reflection on the far right side of his arm here. That's to establish a slight backlit effect, and to give the smoother texture to the skin on his muscle which is stretched in that area, due to the arm's position.
This stage of the process took me 4.5 to 5 hours to due. Rushing will destroy your work, so take your time and don't get in a hurry. In my opinion, this part is the most fun.
I originally wanted this painting to be photo-realistic, but at my current level experience that just wan't possible quite yet. Having said that, I'm starting to become very satisfied with the way things are looking now.
More and more shading and highlighting! Now we concentrate on his clothing. The texture of Malachi's shirt should be loose-fitting, yet tight enough in certain areas to show his muscles.
From the shoulders, the cloth should drape down, around his neckline, and wrap around into the folds of the collar. Again, pay extremely close attention to where your light source is. Most fabric isn't nearly this glossy, but clothing on Kapeth is exotic and uses fabrics similar to what you might find in athletic outerwear.
Most people on Kaperth dress in fairly heavy clothing all year, because the planet is quite a bit colder than Earth, and humans have adapted only to a point. Malachi keeps his outfits non-restrictive, but the fabrics are still thick enough to keep him warm.
With that in mind, the edges of his shirt should bunch up and folder over itself at the neckline and the sleeves (though his shirt is sleeveless, but you know what I mean).
Another thing to notce is that because of the nylon-like fabric, you should keep the non-folded areas more or less flat in tone, except for the far right of his chest, which has to be shaded in order to show the shape of the chest.
Now for the really really fun part, or the part that gives you headaches. This stage did both for me. The trick here is to get the shading as perfect as possible on his face so that his cheeks don't look bloated, sunken, dirty, or flushed. NOT an easy task. It'll take another few hours of fiddling with the smudge, burn, dodge, airbrush, or whatever you want to use to add highlights and shades.
His nose was a bit of a challenge to shape as well, and still didn't come out perfect - but good enough for what the overall piece was turning out to be. In anime, the shape of the nose is very simplified, the philtrum (the indentation above the upper lip) is non-existent, and in most characters (and nearly all males), the lips are not defined at all, save for the small shadow representing the bottom lip (which, on a side note, is one of the quirks about my personal manga style - I almost always depict the bottom lip. A lot of anime and manga leave that out on many characters.)
While Malachi is 23 years old, he should have a few slight imperfections in his skin. He shouldn't have liverspots like an old man, and he shouldn't have the acne of a teenager either. I gave him a small freckle on his forehead and a slight cheek line which blends into his nose shadow. I'd say he looks right about his age.
With a textured brush, I gave him the pourous / slightly dithered look to get rid of that overly-smooth plastic look. He's got a secondary highlight on his right cheek and ear, and a small highlight on his bottom lip (be very careful not to overdo this on male characters!)
Like most of the stuff I make, it didn't turn out exactly the way I wanted it to end up. The shape and shading of his neck does not satisfy me, and his skin looks a bit dirty in places. Zoomed out and resized, a lot of the detail I put into it simply doesn't show, and his head just might be too large.
Darn, I didn't notice that at the sketching phase. The folds on the lower part of his shirt also don't make a whole lot of sense with the way the shadows are, either.
I am pleased with the way his face turned out, though. I am also satisfied with the goggles, and the folds on the upper part of his shirt. On a larger version, his arms and hair look good enough for my tastes, and the imperfections I added to his skin really help.
Overall, I am pleased with this - but since I was trying for photo-realism, there's a long way to go yet. Since I've only been drawing regularly for a year and nine months at this point, it's a matter of practice, practice, practice.
So there you have it, Malachi's portrait, digital-painting style.