An Easy Digital Colouring Process

This week I worked on a number of smaller images in my sketchbook and started a bigger project.  The smaller images were in ink and pencil…


[Pencil on paper]



[Ink on paper]


[Ink on paper]

(NB:  The Drawing is my own but the character ‘Strontium Dog’  (aka Johnny Alpha) belongs to 2000AD (Rebellion) and the art style I used was my own version of Carlos Ezquerra’s brilliant work.)

Then I coloured them digitally.  I thought it would be fun to go through the basic colouring process I use with the gecko picture as an example.

(1) I start by scanning in the art work and cleaning any scanning artifacts (I always get one which is irritating).  I also do a general clean up of the image and adjust the curves and levels if it’s needed.  I usually do this bit in photoshop.

(2) Then I save the cleaned image and open it in Manga Studio 5.

(3) My next big job is to put in the ‘flat colour’.  Basically this process involves colouring every pixel of the drawing in flat solid colour with no anti-aliasing, shading or anything else – just flat blobs of colour right up next to each other.  I tend to use colours similar to those I want to use in the final product but you don’t have to.

So here, I’m putting in the flat colour for the first few leaves…

To combine the colour with the line art like this I put the line art in the top layer and set that layer to ‘multiply’.  Then I paint my flat colour in the layer below.

Here’s a bit more flatting done…

(Here you can see I’ve accidentally painted the flower properly with final colours in the flatting layer.  I could have wiped it all out and made it white but I knew there wasn’t much I wanted to do with that part of the picture so I left it.)

Generally I paint the flats using the polygon selector with anti-aliasing off so I get a clear division of one colour or the other with nothing in between.  Once I’ve selected my area I just fill it with solid colour.

Finally when all the flat colour is done it looks like this (without the linework on top of it)…


So with the linework we’ve now got to this…


I really love flatting images, I find it repetative but nice and it makes me feel relaxed.

(4) Next I complete the detailed colour and shading for each flat area.  This is where the real digital painting starts and I find in a lot of ways I can paint in my PC just like I paint on a canvas.  I can’t always get the same effects digitally but I do have the advantage of the back button which will undo my last few changes – I wish I had that on paper sometimes!

Here’s the painting done for the leaves but not yet the gecko…

And here’s the desktop with the gecko painted fully too…


(5) Finally I put on any borders I need and save the fullsize image, then reduce the size for the web and it’s ready to go.

Here are my final coloured pictures…



Days 45 and 46 – Three-Banded Armadillo – Ink and Digital Colour

From the same issue of National Geographic I was looking at a few days ago I found a great picture of a Three-Banded Armadillo.  They are such unusual creatures and I always think they look really cool.   So  sketched this one…

My Sketch Above with Nattional Geographic Reference Photo below.

Then I inked the picture with watersoluble ink and added some greyscale tone using water…


Then I scanned it in and coloured it digitally…


I think he’s a pretty cool looking little dude!

Day 42 – A Chinese Tea Farm in Ink and Water

I love reading the National Geographic Magazine.  It’s like being able to travel and see loads of interesting things without leaving the comfort of home.  I was tidying out a bookshelf when I came across a really old issue from 2010 about Mount St Helens:



In it was an article called ‘The Forgotten Road’ about an old trade route in southern China where they used to trade horses and tea.  There was a beautiful photo of a tea farmer in southern Yunnan province drying his tea.  In the background was, what I think was, his home.  It was obscured by the drying tables for the tea and was at an angle but I could see enough to use it as the basis for a sketch.

I tried something new with this sketch.  I used the reference photo for some of the colours and a number of the details but I drew the man’s home from straight on and in the photo is was at an angle.  I made up what I couldn’t see and added other elements which weren’t there at all.  Since the builing he was living in looked really old I drew a person who might have been there a few hundred years ago in my picture.

I inked the sketch again with the Kuretake water soluble pen and then again used a brush and water to draw the ink out to make a grey scale wash.

Here’s the finished ink drawing…



I felt I had better control of the ink the second time around but I still found it to be brillliant fun!

Once I’d scanned it in I began to colour it in Manga Studio.  I started using the colours I could see but quickly added a whole raft of colours which weren’t there.  I used the three cell shading technique I’ve been working on lately but blended the shades afterwards so that the colours worked well with the ink style.  Here’s the final picture…


I like this one much more than the boat picture I did yesterday.  It has better tonal range and the light is coming strongly from one side which, for me,  helps add to the drama of the moment.

The method I used to paint this digitally could very easily be adapted to traditional watercolours.  I might think about doing that in the future if I’m feeling courageous.  🙂

Days 27 and 28 – Pokemon, Turtles and an Apology

To keep up with sketching everyday I’ve decided to use a smaller notebook as I can more easily carry it around and that gives me more time for drawing.

So here’s my notebook pages for the last two days..





I started of with some lovely Pokemon to get warmed up, and because I like them – all credit for their creation to the wonderful Tajiri San.  You can see that the grey shading pens I was using do not give a very even result – they’re really patchy which is not what I want.  I guess I need to get some alcohol based markers.  They’re supposed to be much better.



Then today I drew a patterned ink turtle.  I began with several photo references  so I could get the turtle shape right.  Then I just let my doodling hands do their thing…which was fun!  Here are the final inks…




You can see that my line work is quite shaky in this drawing – mainly because as my breathing got worse I took more Ventolin which gives me a tremor.  I can work around it by working fast but when I needed to draw slower smaller lines it showed up.

Generally, I quite like this picture plain like this but, once I had the image scanned in, I couldn’t help adding a little shading.  Then one thing led to another and I ended up using just a dash of colour to give it a little punch.  He’s my completed image…





Apologies for not posting for a while.  My chest infection got a lot worse and , even though these drawings were done about ten days ago, I didn’t want to post things without knowing I’ll be up and around to answer comments.  Anyway, after 4 days in bed and a third course of antibiotics I feel like I’m on the mend – at least enough to answer comments!  The next three posts after this were all done before my health got worse too.  I’m going to allow them to be published every couple of days now I’m getting better.  (It’ll stop me getting ‘stir crazy’ in my home for all this time!)

Manga Scenery – The Lake

Today I had a look at painting a full manga scene based on a young lad fishing at a lake.

I began with a rough sketch:



Then I drew it again in ink and scanned it into my PC:

lineart fishing lake


Next I blocked off certain areas and gave each one a seperate colour so I can then easily select different sections of the image.  This is called flat colour:

flats fishing lake

Then I coloured the background and foreground.  Rather than colouring in flat colour and adding shadows I decided to paint each area using the watercolour brishes in Manga Studio.  I guess I’m still struggling to find the style I ultimately want to go with.  My feeling

is that this will come with experience.

Here’s the final picture:

Fishing Lake_FIN_WEB

Manga Dragon – first colour

So although I’m going to change my dragon design I thought I’d use the old design to play around and look at what colour she’s going to be.  My favourite colours are actually opposites on the colour wheel – blue that’s really close to purple and yellow that’s really close to orange.  I gave these a try.


First I painted in the flat colour…

DRagon COlour Flats


Then I added some shading and changed the eyes.  In making my ink drawing I’d put the shine for the eyes on the left and then went on and put the shadows for the whole picture on the left too which is wrong.  To correct this I deleted the drawn eyes and repainted them digitally with the shine on the right.  I also removed some line work on the nose which I don’t like.

Here’s the shading without the drawing over the top:

Dragon shaded colour


And here’s my final dragon – well the first draft anyway…


Dragon Colour FIN_WEB

All of this except the border was done in Manga Studio which I find much easier to use than photoshop for this kind of work.



The Blue Fish – Shadow exercise.

To help me really consolidate my new understanding of painting shadows I painted a blue fish today as an exercise.  The idea is to really make use of this new way I’ve learned to reduce the strength of a colour as it get’s darker.  When I first tried this I was using orange to drop the strength (saturation) of the blue colour (since orange is the opposite to blue).  However, orange has a very bright natural tone and it kept lightening my tone too much so I used an orangy brown to drop the colour strength of the blue and that worked really well giving me a bluey-black colour.

I used a strong midtone background to my fish so that I would have to work to get the fish to show – creating much lighter areas and much darker areas.

It was a fun little exercise.   🙂

Here’s the felt-tip doodle I based this exercise on:

Felt tip pen sketch of fish

This is my plain mid-tone background:


And here’s the competed exercise:

BlueFish_FIN_WEBIt was painted in gouach but I tried to use the colour a bit more like watercolour, especially near the top.  I could have got a similar effect using white gouach but I though that the interesting mottled watercolour effects suited a watery subject.  What I was aiming for was to have a fish which looks like it’s local colour is the same as teh background, so that it’s shape is picked out only by shadows and highlights.  I think it’s almost there.

Practicing Shadow Colours…

I did a quick exercise on shadow colours today.  I used red, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink and then worked out how to make a suitable shadow colour for each.  Rather than just painting blocks of colour I make it into a little owl.

SHadow Colour Exercise

Here’s a table of how I made my shadow colours:

shadow colour tableIt worked reasonably well.  I found that, with the yellow shadow, I needed to use blue as much as purple to reduce the saturation.  I think this is because the darker shade of yellow is a brown and this has some red in it so having blue in the mix counteracts the red.

The bit that worked teh best is in the greens:

Saturation and tone diagram

I can see in this one that the midtones have a higher saturation than the darker tones – this is what I’m trying to do.

I’m going to do one more shadow colour exercise tomorrow and then I think I’ll have cracked it in terms of understanding how it works.  I’ll still have a long way to go with actually putting this into practice, but at least I will know what I’m aiming for.


Owlets and Shadows – Part 2 of 2

Here is me second little owlet painting (A6) where I’m using the advice on how to paint shadows from my painting tutorial book.

I realised when I painted my first owlet (last Friday’s post) what adding a complementary colour is doing to my shadows – it’s reducing the strength of the colour and making it more grey.  I really understood this when I looked for that effect in real life.  Here is a picture of some curtains:


I can see in this how as the colour gets put into more shadow it gets darker but it also looses strength (the colour washes out of it and it looks more grey).  Looking at the shadows in the material above they are going more grey and right down to a greyish brownish black.  If chroma didn’t reduce when light was lower then the dark sections of these curtains would be a very rich strong dark brown.

Thinking about this it makes sense.  In our eyes we have two types of light sensing cells – rods – which are very sensitive but only pick up greyscale images – and cones – which pick up colour.  Now our cones are less sensitive than our rods so as something gets darker they pick up less colour because they are functioning less well.  This must be why this effect happens with shadows.  It all makes sense.


So I made a quick (10 minute) painting of a couple of owlets:


Owlet2_FINFor the shadows here I used a darker brown and then added a little blue (of the same dark shade) to drop down the strength of the colour.  I think it works OK.

Because it’s taken me ages to really understand this shadow colour method, I’m going to do a few more little paintings over the next few days to really make sure I keep hold of this new understanding I’ve got.

PS:  It’s been really interesting over the last week or so while I’ve been struggling with this shadow colour issue to see from both the perspective of a teacher (which I am) and from the perpective of a student who’s simply not understanding (which I also was).  I found I had to use the teacher part of myself to help the stuck-student part of myself.  First I just kept getting myself to try again until I realised that it really wasn’t working.  Then I found out and removed the obstacle I had to learning which was that I was still too interested in how the gouache works to focus on the problem.  And then by isolating the actual part I found difficult, I finally understood it.  Now I’m just going to push that understanding in with some practice.  🙂  It’s been a really interesting journey.