Photoshop Tip: Subtractive Painting

I’m constantly trying to evolve my painting techniques, and whenever I stumble upon something new, I’ll try to share them via tutorial. Working on some original art for the newly launched GuildWars2Forum, I tried to tweak my style to make the digital art more painterly. My coloring tends to be pretty comic-booky, which isn’t bad. I love the style, but many concept artists digitally paint and have a wonderful brush stroke quality to their photoshopping. I’ve done a couple painting tutorials here, but today I’m going to share a subtractive digital painting technique I have not used before.

OK the first thing I did was choose a canvas color and fill it completely with this brown. I pasted the scanned pencil art above the canvas and placed the Blending Mode on the Layers Window to Linear Burn. Now you can see through the white from the pencil drawing.

I created a layer between the solid brown and the line art. I painted a solid flat color wherever there’s going to be skin. I’ve also provided swatches in the images for use if you want to use the Eyedropper Tool and work with the exact colors I did.

While in the flat colors layer, I took the Magic Wand Tool and clicked the flat skin. This creates a selection. Now to choose a paintbrush. I picked this basic Soft Round brush…

…and began painting on a new layer above the flats skin. The selection really helped assist in keeping within the shape.

OK now for the actual subtractive technique I’ve lured you in here with. No huge secret really. When it comes down to it, all it is is an eraser. Choose the eraser from the Toolbox. Instead of using the default soft round eraser, change the brush shape to the Chalk Brush shape.

Pull the opacity and flow down to about 25% in the Tool Options and start erasing away at the darker paint you applied. Use multiple light strokes to begin subtracting color. This method is often used in traditional charcoal and pencil drawings. You would have the mess of darkness and then you would begin erasing away to create gradients and volume. This is pretty much the same principle.

Here’s a new layer with the provided color swatch. I pretty much did the same thing. Paint in some blobs of color with the default Round Brush, then erase away with the Chalk Brush. While erasing, I tried to keep some consistent brush strokes: left-to-right and right-to-left. You’ll notice this especially on the arm. I think it is a nice effect.

And yet another layer with an even lighter skin tone.

You can keep adding layers and building volume until is seems like really natural paint application.

She’s still a work-in-progress but I thought I’d share this technique I’ve been trying out!

By Mark Rivera

Mark is an animator and ad designer for WebProNews. He has a passion for illustration and 3D art.

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