Photoshop tutorial: Digitally paint a beautiful animal-headed portrait

Learn elegant brush techniques to produce enchanting artworks.


This artwork was created for a Tiger Translate event in Thailand, an exhibition and concert organised by the beer brand to showcase the work of up-and-coming musical and visual artists. It was painted by Ratinan Thaijareorn – aka Ise – a Thai painter whose art draws on fine art and fashion, as well as symbolism.

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Ise is an artist pushing digital painting in innovative new directions, inspired by a range of creative traditions. 

In this Photoshop tutorial, she takes you through the process of how she creates her work, first roughly comping the arrangement of elements using reference photos and then applying layers of brushwork above them to produce the final piece.

STEP 1

First, I start by finding pictures, photos or images from a variety of sources. Then once I’ve found them, I roughy merge them into one picture so I can see what they’d look like combined and get a sense of the composition. I then used these elements to create a line drawing of a tiger.

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STEP 2

Once I finished the line sketch, I began the painting process, starting with the tiger’s head. At every stage, I compared it with the photo of a real tiger to make sure I didn’t create a poor representation of it.

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STEP 3

Before I begin painting, I always carefully select the right brush to use. For example, here I used the dry media brush set, because these brushes achieve a very similar effect to what you can get from a real, handmade brush. I use a Wacom tablet so that I can paint layer by layer as if I were painting oils or watercolours.

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STEP 4

Using a set of brushes that I made myself at a Master Diameter of 12 pixels, I sketched the tiger’s face with eyes, nose and mouth. I created these starting with dark layers, and building lighter layers on top.

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STEP 5

Adding a fine line of tiger fur between layers makes it look more realistic. I used a white-orange shade to give it a deeper colour tone.

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STEP 6

Once I finished painting the tiger face, for the next step I moved on to paint the hand. I chose a beige colour and painted a gradient of shades, using the Airbrush tool, following the contours of the hand and fingers. This tool is a great way to create tonal gradients between the light and dark colour areas, in a way that looks more appealing.

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STEP 7

Here, I redrew all the strokes for the rest of the elements, over the top of the sketch using Photoshop’s Pencil tool. When I finished, I adjusted the stroke’s colours to suit how each element should appear.

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STEP 8

I used the Airbrush again here – at a Master Diameter of 100 pixels – to apply a gradient to the coloured strokes to give them more tone and volume. Colour adjustments were easy to achieve using image adjustments such as Color Balance or Hue and Saturation.

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STEP 9

After I finished creating the line art elements, I began painting a base layer of each of the painted elements. I separated each object layer-by-layer to make painting them easier. Again I used the Airbrush to create tonal gradients.

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STEP 10

To create additional elements such as the musical notes, I drew and airbrushed these in a separate document – before copying and pasting them into the main composition.

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STEP 11

I made a new layer with a Color Burn blending mode, and used this to add more highlights and shadows. I used an auburn-coloured brush to add shadows that fitted with the colour scheme of the whole composition. As these are on a separate layer, if the effect is too strong, you can modify it using Photoshop’s standard tools (Image > Adjustments, or through the Adjustments panel).

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STEP 12

I painted a new tiger-lined pattern, dragged it on an image as a new layer using the Darken blending mode to create a tiger cloth pattern on the jacket.

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STEP 13

To create shiny highlights, I used a white brush to paint them on a new layer, and then applied the Gaussian Blur filter to this layer to make it seem more realistic.

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STEP 14

You can often further enhance compositions by adding more highlights and shadows, and apply a light blur to the lowest layer (or layers, for more complex pieces. Here, I used a Gaussian Blur filter to make the planets and diamond appear less prominent.

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STEP 15

The wording for the type was chosen by the client. Finding the right font for this was a matter of trial and error. The final stage was to add the client’s logo.

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