Course overview Course overview
Portraiture for digital mediums
This course goes over different color and texture rendering techniques for creating believable human portraits. Special attention is given to facial features drawing on surface structure, skin rendering (i.e. translucency, hue/saturation/value and color temperature, etc.), layered studies, and background/foreground manipulation. It also explores sci-fi portrait subjects as part of the options given to paint through the course. By the end of the course, students should have created one to two fully rendered portraits. Learn how to start a portrait from start to finish beginning with a pencil sketch, then lighting, color scheme, create realistic facial features, and emotion into our compositions for a successful digital portrait painting.
Digital Portrait Painting WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
Bringing out the best in talent
Mélanie Delon is freelance digital illustrator with much experience with clients and publications, they include Spectrum, Ballistic Publishing, Ubisoft, TOR Book, Random House, Orbit Books, Penguin, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Imagine Fx magazine, and Elixir 1, Norma Editorial, D’artiste Digital painting 2, Elixir 2 2007, Opale 1 2014.
Digital Portrait Painting Student gallery
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Jul 29, 2019 - Oct 14, 2019
Love your digital portrait class, miss Melanie. I think I'll miss you!
She's not afraid to repeat the same feedback where necessary, I appreciate her patience.
Melanie is amazing and I learned so much from her. I am so grateful for all the time she spent coaching me and helping me improve. Wonderful teacher!
Mélanie is by far the best instructor I've had at CGMA so far. She is an amazing artist and shares her knowledge! And she also gives helpful feedback, like really telling you what does not work in your drawing and why.
Melanie is a very nice and helpful person—she actively participated on the forum, answered every question, and her feedbacks were great. She really cared about her students and helped us to improve.
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Per Aspera Ad Astra
Interview with Elias Aboulkacem
Elias Aboulkacem shows us what it takes for his brick layer to see the stars in Mélanie Delon's 8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.
My name is Elias Aboulkacem and I am currently working as a Concept Artist at Piranha Bytes in Essen, Germany. I graduated from Games Academy Frankfurt in 2011 and was fortunate enough to be able to land my first big project as a freelancer half a year later: Firefall. Since then I have been working on various titles, small and big, including Evolve and Might & Magic X: Legacy. In 2017, I joined the team of Piranha Bytes.
Ever since I found CGMA in my second year of study, I have enrolled in various of their online courses to improve on my weaknesses, challenge myself, get more feedback and opinions from industry professionals and become more informed about the requirements of my field. A year ago, to improve on my illustration skills and faces, areas where I was very uncomfortable, I chose to take Mélanie Devon‘s Digital Portrait Painting course.
As the theme for the project I took inspiration from the Latin saying „Per Aspera Ad Astra“, meaning that hardships are required to achieve greatness.
After some brainstorming I had a basic idea for the composition and the elements I would use: It would be the character taking a break on the tower he built toward the stars, just as he broke through the clouds, to look up at them.
I wanted to equip him with outdated breathing equipment, goggles and a more modern jacket to ground him in the time. I tried to keep the props used to a minimum and as framing devices.
I originally did a photo shoot experimenting with how to do the light from the top overexposed and graphic, but in the end I decided I wanted to go for a softer look for the mood and inspired by Mélanie Devon‘s work.
An interesting approach Mélanie showed us was the use of CMYK to select colors by using the mouse to slide these in the Color Picker menu. It‘s unclear in Photoshop that you can do that, so I never knew: Click and hold on a one of the letters and move left or right to decrease or increase their value respectively. Here she would use the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow values in addition to the Lightness, Brightness and Saturation sliders to tweak her colors, which I tried to do aswell throughout this class.
The lighting setup I chose was pretty simple: A spotlight from above with the shadows being lit by the light bouncing off of the clouds and jacket.
As part of the assignment I created some more compositions, trying to have the face bigger in the frame and also making it more readable. The problem with this appoach was that the story I wanted to tell was more unclear.
So in the end I went back to the first color studies, starting to fix the issues Mélanie pointed out: The colors were too similar and the light was getting too white. I chose this color scheme because I wanted to show the character working day and night and the sunburn at night would tell that. Also it creates a nice warm-cold contrast, the warmth moving through the cold. The blue and purple hues dominating the scene also gives a sense of calm and mystery.
The towers in the background give additional upward momentum, the clouds, stairs and the trowel are for framing and to lead the eye back. Still, this composition needed adjusting: His right arm needed to be more understandable and it needed more room. Stars were added to add interest to the background and guide the eye.
The face needed a lot of fixing and tweaking, so I shot further reference trying to choose how to move forward.
A big part of the struggle was including wetness from the clouds, the sunburn from working through the day and the unburnt skin in the areas where the mask and goggles where covering the face. In the end I ended up dropping the wetness in favor of readability. For the same reason I changed the shape of the unburnt skin to one big shape instead of two seperate ones. Mélanie also suggested adding strap marks.
Mélanie pointed out that the sunburn was too flat and the nose not integrated enough into the face: The tilt was off and the transition to the cupids bow needed work. Little details like the light at the eyes and the contrast needed to be pushed. The arms were also too flat at this point and the background could use more interest.
At this point I decided to change the jacket to a different type. While I have found references for high altitude clothing online, I could not find it posed like my character or get a good understanding of it. Mélanie adviced me to go check it out at a local clothing shop, which I did:
Doing so and also getting advice from the employees turned out to be invaluable: I learned a lot about the types of jackets you would wear high up, how the layers work and other little details while wearing them.
Finally, cleaning edges with lasso tool and adding some contrast to add clarity and define materials better:
In the end I was very happy with where I got. Mélanie Delon was a great and passionate teacher, who taught me a lot about patience and different ways of using colors in Photoshop. Her feedback was always on point, helping me see my blind spots and allowing me to tackle those. The progress really showed me how valuable it can be to take some extra time to find or shoot the perfect reference. I would like to thank Mélanie, CGMA and Piranha Bytes for this experience.
Interview with Cindy Chu
Illustrator Cindy Chu shows us how she sharpened her skills to create the fiercely cute Katana in the 8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.
Hi! My name is Cindy Chu and I am an illustrator from Hong Kong, currently living in Denmark. I got into art at the very young age of five. Growing up with Japanese manga and animation, I was fascinated by the interesting characters and amazing stories in various styles. I dreamt about being a professional illustrator from a young age, but could not find any formal education platform to sharpen my skills in Hong Kong. I took every opportunity to train my technique at school and community projects and have always kept painting as a hobby since then. A year ago I decided to reconnect with my life-long passion and become a better artist. Words cannot describe how happy I was when I accidentally found CGMA and the portrait painting class! It was exactly what I needed
For the ongoing assignment of the Digital Portrait Painting course, I wanted to create a character with interesting contrasts. I also wanted to introduce some Asian elements into the painting without necessarily adopting the anime drawing style. My character, Katana, is a modern samurai who enjoys being cute and girly but at the same time has a strong soul. I gathered some pictures for inspiration on her appearance and her weapon.
Silhouette & Hair Style
I had a relatively clear image on Katana’s hair style from the beginning as I wanted her to have a sharp silhouette. Katana kept her hair short as it was more practical for her samurai training. I did some research on Asian hair styles and found that hair bands and fringes are common for young girls. However, I decided to remove the hair band mid-way through the painting and focused on the shininess/light reflection of the dark hair and the movement of the hair strings to increase dynamism.
Simplicity is a personal preference in terms of color picking. I selected black and red for Katana’s dress because those are my favorite colors to dress in as well! Katana is a girl who enjoys being feminine without going overboard. I want to keep a balance between complex details (lace and ribbons) and simple color (Black and red) so to reflect her personality. Her dress helps her to stand out from the blue smoky background which is a key element for the Asian touch.
Once I decided the primary colors I experimented with different secondary colors like wine red, electric blue and minty green for the butterflies and her make-up. I found that a warmer color was needed as the blue background took up a large portion of the canvas so I settled with a purple butterfly at the end.
It was important to add enough detail on Katana’s dress to reflect her girly personality and to keep the painting interesting for the viewers. I gave her an outfit with a lot of Lolita details like lace trimming, thick belt, ribbons and layers. The butterfly on the weapon emphasized on the contrast between the hardness of the artificial weapon and the softness of the nature.
During the class my instructor, Melanie, also provided really good feedback on how I can improve my painting. In my original concept there is smoke covering the entire background. Melanie suggested to use the smoke as a visual aid guiding the audience to the weapon and the butterfly. She also pointed out that I could use a stronger light contrast on the weapon creating a focal point to capture the viewers’ attention. Without her feedback I would not have been able to push my painting to its current level.
Before this class my biggest challenge was creating a composition that captures the viewers’ attention. I had a lot of ideas but found it difficult to combine them in a painting. During Melanie’s class I learned a creative process to systematically put together different elements with the best composition. I also learned how to paint small details in a realistic style to support my character’s design. I enjoyed the class a lot and found the learning extremely useful for future projects. I am surprised by how quickly I improved since I joined my first class in CGMA and I cannot wait to equip myself further with other classes in the up-coming months.
Out of the Comfort Zone
Interview with Julia Lerchbaumer
Artist Julia Lerchbaumer shows us how she challenged herslef in rendering not one but three portraits in the 8 week course Digital Portait Painting.
Hi, my name is Julia, I am from Austria. I’m working as a professional 2D Graphic artist at IGT Austria for nearly 7 years now. I am responsible for in game graphics of the casino slot games we create inhouse. Which include logo design, creating video content, symbol design, layout design and so on. The company made it possible for me to participate in the amazing CGMA course “Digital Portrait Painting” taught by Mélanie Delon. I attended this specific course, because I wanted to develop my skills when it comes to human portraits, as this is one of my main focuses at work. I am amazed at how Mélanie managed to push my limits and to encourage me to try new stuff. She taught me so much and I really want to thank her for that.
Aurum is latin and means gold. A main focus in the games I work on is creating pretty female characters, which need to attract gamers and represent the mood and theme of the game. I wanted to sharpen my skills, when it comes to female face features. Our game characters have to be pleasant to a wide range of customers. So, I needed to learn how to push the most feminine facial features, like lips and eyes, to look pleasant to a wide range of people and meet the general beauty standard--Full lips and detailed, big eyes. I wanted to use purple/pink and gold to create a perfect complementary contrast and an overall warm mood. Painting the liquid gold was a challenge. It was difficult for me to make it look realistic and let it follow the face structure of my character, without ruining it.
In absolute contrast to my Aurum portrait, this one here should represent melancholy, silence, bleakness and darkness. It should be visible and perceptible that he feels all alone. I got my inspiration from watching my boyfriend playing God of War. I must admit, I am not a gamer at all, but I really like the character development Kratos went through in the first God of War games to now. His design is amazing and the whole game has such a great mood. So, I did this first sketch. My goal was to make a sort of melancholic and cold, sad portrait of him. As the game was implemented a realistic style, I also wanted to achieve a very realistic portrait look at the end. Because of that I needed to start working with dull and dark colors, to contrast the kind of color palette I usually use at work (bright and saturated colors).
The center of attraction should be focused straight through the middle of the picture, where the light rays come from above. I wanted to point out his sad expression, then lead the eye further down to his hand holding the axe against his chest and to the snow/ashes in his other hand. This has something to do with the story of the game itself. There was a really moving scene in the game that made me cry and I wanted to capture this essence in my portrait: A brutal fighter, a good father to his son, and a loving, caring husband.
She has no name yet but I fell in love with her design and want to make her an OC. My first intention behind this was to make it look like one of these old black and white portraits. My first inspiration for the centaur portrait came from this image and others like it. Later on, this design turned out way more futuristic, with really strong and artificial light. I chose the bright background light to create a nice contrast against her black skin and “mane”. The black skin came to my mind when I searched for some inspiration for this portrait. I stumbled across pictures of black horses. The different light reflections on their fur made them look so magnificent. I wanted to reflect this in my portrait. I thought, “Why not?”, she is a fantasy creature. I was able to use this certain feature along with the long neck, the pig, pointy ears and the flat nose and forehead line.
Fleshing out the Faces
This week was about cleaning up the mess. Defining facial features, review skin colors and adjust lighting. Kratos got a little bit left behind at this point because I concentrated more on the other two portraits, as they needed way more correction than he did. At this stage of the two portraits, I merged everything together and started painting over the whole thing. There was no use of collecting layers at this stage, because I already knew that they were not in any way final. I worked on the light of Aurum a bit more and had a lot of trouble with her face. Especially with the gold that gets poured over it. I was not sure if I should make it massive or subtle, just like a hint. In the first picture it looked like lemonade and in the second attempt it was way too overwhelming and ruined the whole structure of her face. Her eyes still looked off. They were too far apart from each other and looked like they got pushed inside her head. Her nose gave me headaches as well, as I never managed to get it right. Thanks to Mélanie’s precise instructions, I managed to get everything in shape and correct my skin tones and bone structure later on.
Same with the centaur lady. The first sketch looked dull, everything looked flat and the lighting was lame. The light was nothing special and the character’s features looked boring. I was told to push everything way more and use some intense color as second light source, to make everything pop out. Even if the light source is not realistic. I needed to be more confident and try it, as it will help me make my portrait way more interesting to look at. As I mentioned before, I wanted to reflect the same effect a pure black horse coat has, but I was too shy at first to use this on a humanoid creature. Mélanie told me to be more confident with what I am doing and want to do. She grabbed my sketch and slapped in a very dark brown all over the character and it already had a huge impact on the whole look of it. Then she started to shape her face and body structure just by adding light. I was amazed and motivated by that, as you may see in the huge step I made between the two graphics.
This was a big step and the hardest part of this artwork was getting his face to feel right and recognizable. He is such an iconic guy and I wanted to do him justice. I worked this stage over and over again and still wasn’t really satisfied. But I really love his beard.
I merged the last week’s steps and worked all over it. Also here, Mélanie had to tell me that I don’t have to be shy when it comes to adding colors to human skin. It is just about the right amount of it. I added way more different hints of color in his face now, to make him look more alive and made of flesh and blood. In the steps before, he looked dead. Because I just used a blue and grey color palette. I reworked his eye shape and position as well as the shape of his nose and mouth. It was a bit difficult for me to shape his lower lip, as the upper part of the lips is covered by his beard, which makes it harder to get his expression right. I also started working on tiny details, such as the light that shines through his ear from behind and the tiny veins in it. The scar across his eye, every single hair of his beard, added stroke by stroke, same as the fur of his armor. This part was full of adding more and more details to the whole character.
For Aurum, this step was a killer. It was so hard for me to make her face as symmetrical as possible, without flipping her every minute or copying parts to the other side. I wanted to make her face symmetrical, because I was taught that this is the best way to make a character look appealing and beautiful. But I soon realized that this is not the case. Maybe it is in the model industry, but not in real life and not in this course. For me, noses are my kryptonite. I hate drawing them and I really struggled with the look of it. But Mélanie managed to make me understand how to get things straight and look nice. She erased the whole nose I had done before and showed me again, how to construct it from scratch. How it gets affected by the light from above and how I achieve a soft transition to the face. And she also helped me to get rid of that alien look of her, in the next steps. I don’t know exactly why I had so much trouble with the nose. Maybe it was because of the many different shapes which come together in one single body part. The nose is also the part which gets affected by so many light sources at a time. I also made the nose stick out way too much. It was more prominent than the eyes or the mouth which I actually wanted to be the main focus here.
Dark centaur lady looks pretty good already. I tried to tweak the realistic, human aspects a bit here. Making the spot between nose and forehead just as a slight curve. Giving her a very long, bowed neck, long, pinned ears and an almost black skin, like the fur of a black horse. The idea to give her this intense lighting was a very good choice. Dull pink, sort of orange, light from the back and then this crazy blue accents, from the top right corner. I love it. Playing with the light, and giving her more and more contour through that, was so much fun. I also had no problems with getting her facial features looking good, because she does not have to look like a human. A humanoid fantasy creature does not have to follow all the rules a human face has to.
In the end I love how every single one of my final portraits turned out. Kratos needs some extra work, as I could not manage to finish him during the 8-week course. I never imagined that I would be capable of creating such great artwork. Why? Maybe because I felt so secure in my comfort zone of simple characters and animal paintings. I absolutely want to continue with the paintings if my time schedule allows it. Aurum is pretty much done. I like how she is and don’t really want to change her. The centaur, well, she needs a haircut. As she is the only one of the three characters with hair, this part of her needs way more attention from my perspective. I rushed her hair style and sadly made it look like a fuzzy mess, especially the part at her neck. I want to make it look way better by defining the curls more and giving them in shape.
At the beginning of this course, human characters were not my strength at all. I already struggled with positioning the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) right. Then I had to overcome my fear of using many different skin tones. But I learned to add details like a slight red or orange blush at the cheeks of your character, to make them look more alive or adding blue inside of the eye ball and much more.
I’ve grown a lot from this course. I’m now able to use my new gained skills to improve the quality of our company’s and my personal art. I gained a lot of self-esteem from this course and improved everything in my digital portrait art skills. The feedback was amazing. Melanie managed to do it with so much joy in her voice and encouraged me to give my best and follow her precise instructions. In all my years as an artist, I never had such a great teacher like Mélanie. She always had constructive critiques. Helping you see the flaws in your work and understand the way of improving it. It was not just slapping colors here and there and viola, done. She told you why you have to put this color there and what it has an impact on. She told you right away what looks good in your artwork, not why it is bad. I did my best to follow her instructions as precise as I could. She always thanked me, for my submissions, before she even started giving feedback on them. She really appreciated everything that her students did in this course and she showed it. That is what makes her a good teacher and I definitely recommend her course to all my friends, colleagues and other artists.
You can see Julia's other here here: https://www.deviantart.com/wildemaehne
Interview with Lucia Chuang
Lucia Chuang takes us through her process for creating a delicate Mermaid and her sea worthy companion in CGMA's 8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.
My name is Lucia Chuang and I’m from Barcelona, Spain. I graduated from digital design at ESDI University of Pompeu Fabra. I love drawing and comic art. After school, I landed a job at an illustration studio (Escletxa studio) as a concept artist and motion graphic designer. After two years I had to leave this job to help run my family’s business. We have a Chinese restaurant in the Olympic port of Barcelona called Pato Pekin. I have been working in the Catering sector for more than 10 years and only recently I decided to return to my artistic skills. I wanted to learn more and improve my painting level, so I signed up for several 2D illustration courses at CGMA.
The goal of this assignment was to create a detailed human portrait. We’ve learnt step by step how to paint a realistic human face (skin colour, eyes, nose, mouth, hair, final skins details…).
We’ve also worked on how to create an interesting composition and dramatic lighting. Photoshop was used for this assignment. I chose to paint a Mermaid because I love this mystic character! To make her more interesting I added a seal that would interact with her. I wanted to paint my mermaid in a little cartoonish style but with realistic details, that's why the proportions of her face are not as true to a real human.
I got the design inspiration from a Pinterest mermaid painting done by the artist Loish. This painting has a beautiful colour palette made with complementary colours of blue and orange. I also used Pinterest to find references for the seal and the background colours and for the lighting ideas.
I began with some rough sketches to find a good composition. I worked with a very small file because at this stage I didn't want to go into the details yet. For my composition, I was looking to find dynamism and movement. I avoided painting the face just in the middle of the canvas and I decided not to paint a very closed portrait and just to leave some space in the background to add some additional details later. I followed the rules of thirds, and put the centre of interest in one of the bottom intersections. I tried to create an organic and circular rhythm in the composition for a good eye read, connecting all the elements and focusing the attention onto the characters’ faces.
To give the character more life and a natural feeling, I chose the three-quarter position because it’s a more interesting pose. I made her body a bit curved, avoiding straight lines to give her more dynamism.
To make the light work I used two lights. The first light was the main light and affects her face and part of her body. The second light was more diffused and affects the background. I decided to use the sunlight for the second light in the background. The light is very important because it connects all the elements together and helps the viewer where to direct their attention to.
As mentioned earlier, my palette was inspired by one of Loish’s painting which has a strong contrast between the background and the character using complementary colours. So first I found a mid-tone for the base: a greenish dark blue for the background. Then from the base colour, I modified the parameters (saturation, brightness, light, C/M/Y/K) and created new ones for the skin tones. For her hair, I chose a red-orange vibrant colour. This method allowed me to create new colors according to the base colour, so I had full control over them making my palette to work perfectly. I used a soft brush with texture to mix and blend them. Using this kind of brush on a very low pen pressure gave me so many colour variations, thus creating a good integration of all the elements.
I tried to find a mid-tone colour for the base (greenish-blue), and I contrasted my character with a vibrant complementary colour (red-orange)
I adjusted the colour parameters to create new ones. I used a soft brush with texture to blend colours with the background and create more variations.
Painting the face of the character was a slow and intricate process. I decided to paint the eyes of the mermaid looking directly towards us creating eye contact-- this makes a powerful connection between my character and the viewer. The biggest problem I had with her face was creating the appropriate volume and lighting. I found it hard to avoid muddy colours for the shadows and also when trying to create a natural skin tone. At first, I tried to use as many different variations for her skin (reds, yellows, pinks, greens...), but I used too many dark shadows and too much contrast that it didn't work. After Melanie's correction, I finally improved the painting with softer lighting which added more clarity to her face, making it more lively.
Another difficulty I had was patience when painting the details of her face. Never before had I painted that many details in such a small area and that was a big challenge for me. For example for her eyes; I had to use a very tiny brush and paint all the details stroke by stroke (eyelashes, pupil glows, skin texture glitter, eyebrow hairs) and I couldn't rush.
I had in mind that my character was underwater, so her hair had to have movement and lightness. I chose straight and long red hair for her. For the base of her hair, I started with a big soft brush and painted a big block of dark brown colour to create its shape. I kept the outline with soft edges to integrate (and blend) it with the background and her face. Then I picked up the same base colour increasing the light a bit, and with a big brush, I painted the hair’s highlights. With a smaller brush on low pressure, I gradually increased the light to work more on the highlights.
Once the base for light and shadows were done, I defined which area I was going to add more detail and more texture. That was because I didn’t need to add detail to all her hair, just the area that was closer to her face which is important in the portrait. With another very small fine brush, I added quick brush strokes following the direction of the hair to create texture. With the blur tool, I was always blurring all of the ends of the brush strokes to integrate them to the rest of the hair. I also used the background colour to paint small brush strokes all around the hair contour to blend it with the background. In the end, I corrected the final light. In another layer, I added this colour in the lightest part of the hair to increase the hair’s shine. Last, I added some little details with tiny brush strokes using all the different colour variations of the hair.
THE BACKGROUND AND DETAILS
For the background I didn't want too many details, I just added a few of them to help understand the story I wanted to tell in my painting. I added some silhouettes of seals and small fishes, some water reflection, and some bubbles to contextualize the mermaid in the sea.
For the mermaid, I wanted to add a few little details too, because I didn’t want to visually overload it. I searched for several references like shells to design her bra. I did many tests, but at the first ones didn’t cut it because I painted them too flat. After getting Melanie Delon's advice I chose to simplify the design of my bra, and the final result is two simple big shells with a pearl in between. She also instructed me to create volume and realism on the bra.
I wanted to decorate her hair with some starfish, which complimented the colour of her hair. To give her an air of a Fantasy character I modified her ears to make them look like fishtails, and I also added gills on her arms. Lastly, I integrated the mermaid's tail with the background’s colour and added some water reflections on her tail, hair and part of her body.
For the details of the seal, I only added fur to its skin, some whiskers and also some light water reflections.
The final step was working the dramatic lighting. Here I felt that my colours were a bit too greenish and that the level of saturation was too similar. I wanted to softly give her more life and make her pop from the background. What I did was to adjust her colour balance, hue, saturation and contrast. I slightly desaturated the background and increased the red colours of her hair and her skin. This was a very quick process and I didn’t need to repaint anything, but it gave the final result a noticeable improvement.
This assignment was really interesting and I had lots of fun doing it. I have learnt so much during the process! I’m very satisfied as to how my portrait turned out, and I'm impressed with the improvement and results I have achieved with this course. I’m very grateful for my teacher Melanie Delon and CGMA. I strongly recommend this course!