Behind the Scenes- Digital Painting in Corel

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I absolutely love digital painting with Corel Painter. When paired with my Wacom Tablet it is about as close to traditional painting methods as you can possibly get on a computer. I’ve found that with all the apps and filters out there available for turning a photo into a painting most people don’t understand what it is I do to create my custom digitally painted portraits. Here is a little behind the scenes rundown of how I prepare an image in Photoshop and paint it in Corel Painter.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes
The original photo I started with

The first step is to take the image into Photoshop and tweak the colors. One big key to making a painting look realistic is adding contrast to the image by making the brights brighter and the darks darker. I also will sometimes change the color tone depending on what look I am going for. For many of my oil portraits I like to add a warm golden brown tone to the image. I will sometimes add a light canvas texture as well. If I need to composite the subject onto a different background I also do this in Photoshop first before taking the image into Corel.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes
After Photoshop edits

I then open up my image in Corel Painter and make sure the paper I want to paint on is selected. I usually choose “Artists Canvas”. If I am going for a lighter look or planning to print on fine art paper instead of canvas then I will choose the “Soft Press Watercolor”. The paper only interacts with certain bushes. when you paint with those brushes they will pick up the texture of the paper that you choose adding texture and dimension to the finished painting.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the ScenesCustom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes

Once I have my paper set I then quick clone my image. What this does is place an additional blank canvas layer over my image. It allows me to pick up the colors from my photo and pull them through to the canvas rather than having to mix my own colors in the color picker. When you quick clone the top layer is automatically set to 50% opacity so that you can see your image underneath. At this point I select the smeary round oil brush in a largish diameter and start painting in rough strokes to set the boundaries of my image. Once I’ve got some broad strokes of color laid in I turn the top layer to 100% opacity. I then make my brush smaller and start painting in details.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes

I always zoom in and start with the eyes. These are the soul of any portrait and I want them to speak to the viewer. Of course they never are from the get go and I always go back to them at the end as well to make the absolutely perfect. When painting in the details it is important to follow the lines of the face and the way the light moves. You don’t want to paint in lines that are perpendicular to the shape of the jaw or move across an eye smearing your paint. It is just like working with real oils on real canvas, minus the drying time and adding in a LOVELY undo button!

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Once I have the face details pretty well laid in I will zoom out and begin on the clothing and hair. For these I use the smeary flat brush as it adds a bit more texture to my strokes. This is where the tilt and pressure sensitivity of the Wacom tablet really comes into play. As I tip and rotate my pen, just like I would a traditional oil brush, I can change the direction and thickness of my strokes. The pressure I apply to the pen affects the width of the stroke just as pressing a paint brush flatter on your canvas affects the stroke. It really is impossible to get the variation needed for a quality digital painting with a regular mouse or inexpensive artist tablet that does not have tilt sensitivity.

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Just as with the face it is important to follow the curves of the hair and the way the light moves on the clothing. You also want to make sure to vary the width of your brush to accommodate for smaller and larger areas and add variety to the strokes. I also vary the feature of my brush (a setting that determines how close together the bristles are) to add definition to the hair.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes

Once I have completed painting in all my oils the final step is to add some definition to the colors and add texture. I use the square chalk to do this. The chalks are one of the sets of brushes that will pick up the texture from the paper. I will zoom in on areas where there are contrasting swathes of color (for example the lips or the whites of the eyes) and use my eyedropper to select a color. I will then enhance that color a smidge in the color picker; making it more saturated or lighter/darker. I then will carefully apply the color with a light hand around the edges of that color zone. This adds texture to the color as well as more clearly defining the line between two different sections of color. I will also use the chalk at large sizes to pick up colors from the background and dab them around for extra texture as well as to more smoothly blend the background colors together.

For the very final touch on some images I will add a texture overlay in Corel or in Photoshop. I don’t do this to every image and the choice on whether to do it and what texture to use is highly influenced by how the image will be displayed. If I am going to share on the web I will add the canvas texture to show how it will look when printed, but when actually printing to the canvas it does not require the texture to be added. Sometimes for a more rustic look I will add a paint strokes or scratches texture in Corel. There are so many options I usually experiment with several before settling on a final look.

Custom oil portrait painted in Corel Painter| SmithSquad.com | Behind the Scenes

And there you have it. All told these paintings take several hour and usually are completed over a period of many days. I like to walk away from an image and come back a day later to see if I still love it or if it needs more tweaking. Sometimes I get frustrated with a certain painting not coming together the way I want and have to walk away for a few hours or even a few days to reset my brain and get back to work.

As you can see these custom works of art go far beyond adding a simple Photoshop texture or running through a computer program. I spend time and effort perfecting the details and painting each image by hand, just as I would with real oil paints on a real canvas. And just for fun, here are a few examples of running this photo through some of those programs/filters so you can see the difference.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.10.36 AM Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.09.39 AM Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.06.46 AM

I would love to create a custom digital painting for you. You can contact me using the link in the menu for a custom quote or simply jump on over to my Etsy shop to place an order. If you’d like to take a look at my completed paintings to order a print of your favorite you can see them all on Fine Art America.

Do you do any digital painting? What are some of your favorite methods, brushes, papers, etc.? Would you like to learn more about digital painting? What kind of tutorials would you like to see me do in the future?

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11 comments

  1. It’s amazing what we can do with technology these days. I mean, that looks like a PAINTING! I know that was the end goal, but my goodness, the attention you have to detail is remarkable, such as the decision to create more contrast between two different sections of color, like on the chin. That’s something I’d never think to do. Wonderful, educational post!

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