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…



Fishing, a Baby and Some Rocks…

This week I didn’t have too much time for art (still recovering from my cold) but I did manage some simple stuff.

The first was a sketch of some rocks with water running over and around them.  I found it really challenging.  I would like to paint a watercolour of this and my idea was to try to do a value sketch so I could see where the complicated light and shadows are in such a situation.

Here’s the sketch, such as it is…



Then I went on to draw a relaxing fishing scene.  I got the idea for this painting from some work I’m doing with the children in school.  We’re planning to make sillouette pictures of the Great Fire of London.  I was thinking about that and then wondered if I could make a painting using sillouettes of fishing – my favourite relaxing passtime.  (I haven’t fished since the summer but if it’s not too cold and if we’re both well, my son and I might go out this weekend.)

In terms of planning this one was easy.  I just made a sunset coloured wash – all reds and oranges and yellows and then sketched my fishing scene over the top.

Initially I was going to ink my scene onto the paper over the wash but my pens didn’t take kindly to the paint and I didn’t want to ruin them so I painted the black stuff using gouache black.  At the end I put in some highlights using yellow mixed with some gouache white.  Here are the results…


The last thing I worked on this week was a Madonna and Child sketch in my sketchbook.  I got the idea from a Christmas card which somehow escaped my post Christmas clear-out.

I drew it in pencil and then inked it using a watersoluble multiliner.  Then I used water to move some of the ink to add some tone…


I like how most of this turned out, but you can see some errors.  For instance I used the water soluble pen in the baby’s hair to give it some texture when I should have used a water resistant one so that the ink there didn’t move when I toned the hair.  Oh well, as our head teacher has on her door…

“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate!”

PS:  Just to see what it was like I also coloured this picture digitally…


I used the Manga Studio watercolour brushes to add some texture.

Days 29 to 31 – Animal Managery

I sketched out some animals in my notebook and used their shapes to kind of fit close together (ish).  Here is my line work:


Then I shaded them with pencil..



I really liked this effect – with an ink outline and the shading in pencil.

For ages now I’ve been looking for a way to illustrate in a comic style which I like and am happy with.  I’ve been playing around with different styles for years now.  However,   I just spent a few hours colouring the above  ‘Animal Managery’ drawing .  I did this in Photoshop and used a cell shading style with a mid, light and dark version of each local colour.  I did it straight over the top of the pencil and ink drawing – setting the drawing layer to multiply.

Here’s the result…


I think I’ve stumbled onto a style which I finally really like.  I’m going to follow up on this!  🙂


Digital Painting #4 – Using ‘flats’ and Vector Drawing

Today I’m going to review how and when I use something called ‘flats’ to help colour and shade digital art easily and how that fits perfectly with using the photoshop pen-tool to draw vector curves and paths .  I used to use flats all the time because they allow me to accurately control each individual part of the picture when I’m doing the final colouring and shading.  The same is true of the pen tool – the level of control this tool gives the artist is amazing.    I use both of them much less now – really just for tricky parts of an image because, while they give me good control which is fast to use, they make the final image too tight and clean.  I want a loose feel to my digital art.  It’s just a personal choice.  That said, using flats and the pen-tool is a technique I have found extremely useful at times and can produce some really excellent artwork.

But what are flats?

Well flats are sections of your picture which you can easily select and work on individually.  This is done by going over your picture and seperating each part you want to work on seperately by colouring it in a different colour.  These don’t have to be colours you’re going to use in the end product, they just need to be different from each other.  In a way flatting out a picture is just like making a mask for each part of the image – just like you would if you were using an airbrush to paint in a more traditional way.

(If you still need more info on this try this excellent tutorial: Farlow Studios Tutorial on Flats

Here’s a very simple example I drew a year or so ago using Photoshop 6:

This is my original sketch of a woman wearing a bikini:

1_OriginalSketchSo the first thing I did, after scanning the sketch into my machine, was to draw my line art using the Photoshop Pen Tool.  This tool is amazing because you can draw completely accurately anything you want, but it takes a bit of practice.  Instead of drawing a line you kind of map it out using the controls of the tool.  It is quite complicated but I found it well worth learning because it is SO powerful once you get to know it.  It’s one of the few things I would import an image into Photoshop for rather than sticking exclusively to Manga Studio.  Here is a great guide on how to use the tool:

Falling Knowledge Pen Tool Tutorial – You Tube

So here’s my pen-tool line-art:


Although you can see this image as black ink on a white background, the pen lines are actually drawn on a transparent layer in my art software (Photoshop 6) so that I can put colours etc. in a layer below and still see my pen lines.

Now in this picture I only have two basic areas – her body and her bikini.  There are two parts to the bikini but they are seperated by by lot of space so I can afford to use the same colour for both parts with out being at risk from accidentally colouring or shading one part while I’m working on the other.  While I don’t have to use any particular colour for this I decided here to use something like my final colours to save a bit of time.

So this is what my flats look like:


Notice there are no gaps between colours.

So seeing these flats with the pen lines showing looks like this:


Then I can shade and colour her skin and her bikini seperately and easily.  The following image includes the skin shading and highlights but the bikini is still plain:


And this next image is with the Bikini coloured and shaded too which finishes of the picture:


I’m not really sure what professional digital artists do – use flats and the pen tool always, sometimes or never?   Maybe it depends on what they’re doing and the final effect they’re trying to acheive?  If you are a professional digital artist I would love to know what you preference is with respect to using flats and vector lines in your artwork?     🙂

For me, I think I use them when I feel I need to, or if I was asked to do it that way for a particular project.  The only bad thing about both flats and the pen tool is the lack of being spontaneous and natural in your drawing and colouring.  These methods tighten up work and make it look kind of professional but they also somehow seem to suck the life out of it if you’re not careful.  Generally nowadays I prefer to draw and colour directly wherever I can.

(All Images unless otherwise explicitly stated are © Jo Fox, 2015)