How To

It took me a while to work out what I've been doing with the photo drawing. It seems it's called smudge painting! I've been describing it as 'drawing over the top of photographs', but now I know it has a name. The fantastic thing is that you can take a really low resolution photo, or a poorly lit photo, edit the colour, contrast and whatever else needs changing and then re-draw it into something that will print at high res and really looks as if it's professional. Very much fun!

If you think you could do better, then that's great, go for it. It's really not that hard; you don't even have to be able to draw.

Here's my method:

  1. Make a copy of the original photo so you still have the original to go back to.
  2. Open the photo in your photo editor (I'm using PaintShop Pro) and set the white balance to bring the colours as near to normal as you can (unless you like the colour cast the photo has).
  3. Adjust the brightness and contrast if you need to.
  4. Crop the photo to the area you want for the final portrait.
  5. Enlarge the photo to the size you would like your final painting to be. I use 5000 pixels square because I like the square shape and that's about as big as my computer is happy to handle without any lag on the tools. That size will print to more than 16 inches or 42 cm without problems.
  6. At this point I close the photo in PaintShop Pro and re-open a copy in Sketchbook Pro, but that's because I prefer the interface. You can stay in your photo editor if you prefer.
  7. Duplicate the photo layer, locking the lower layer and setting it to transparent. This gives you a fallback to copy anything you delete accidentally.
  8. Add a new background layer beneath the others, set it to a bright colour and lock the layer. I like to fill the background with bright red because it's easy to see any mistakes in erasing. Save the file.
  9. Start work on the photo layer. Erase any background you don't want, working carefully around the whiskers. You could just erase the whiskers and re-draw them later, but I prefer the effect you get just by smudging along the length of the originals. Use a small eraser for the intricate bits and a larger one for the big areas of background.
  10. Zoom in and work around the edges of the image using the smudge tool, smoothing and smudging in the whiskers and all the open edges. I like to have it set around 15 to 20 pixel diameter for rats, or maybe 10 to 15 for larger animals such as dogs and cats. If the whiskers cross over one another, smudge along the lower one first and then along the upper. Save the file.
  11. Lock the transparency on the working layer. Pull the colour along each whisker to remove any taint from the former background. If there is still some colour you need to remove, pick a colour from elsewhere and dot it along the whiskers, smoothing it along the length with the smudge tool. Save the file.
  12. Experiment with the settings on the smudge tool to get the best for the type of fur you want to draw. My usual settings are Opacity 50% and Strength 30%. A coarse wiry coat will need a harder setting than a smooth soft coat. Always smudge in the direction of the fur, but experiment to see if it looks better if you draw in a back and forth scrubbing motion or whether it looks better if you make all the strokes go the same way. I find it usually works best to begin at the outside edges of the image and work my way in, so that each set of strokes overlaps part of the set before. Save the file under a new name so you can revert if you decide you don't like the effect you are creating.
  13. Ears and smooth skin will look better with a larger, softer smudge than the fur. The shine on a textured dog nose can be made by dotting it on with the spray tool.
  14. Zoom in on the eyes and smooth out any pixellation, being careful to keep any reflections.
  15. While you're zoomed in on the image, bring each part of the image into view a screen full at a time, smoothing any areas you've missed.
  16. Choose a good colour (or image) and add it to the background layer. I really love black backgrounds, but sometimes picking a colour from the image and filling it into the background layer works really well.