Say, what? Step-by-step!

So I recently posted a step-by-step, mini-tutorial I suppose, on my Instagram (@courtneytrowbridgeart) walking through how I completed my latest illustration in a series I’ve dubbed my LA alter egos. BUT, I had no idea that IG’s character limit was 2,200 and ya’ll know I like to talk. I had to massively edit down what I wrote to get it on there, so I figured it was a good time for a new blog post.

Cover image

Let’s get started! Maybe one day I’ll actually have some time lapses, but I need to focus on work and finding work right now (also, I might be alone here, but I really love to learn from reading vs. video…video is great too, but it makes me get sleepy after about an hour). Anyway, this is a tried-and-true method that’s great for comics because you can really assembly line it and work in stages and it’s really fun.

0 Block in

1. Block in – Using reference, I block in the figure. I’ve erased parts of it while I was working (In attempts to use my sketch layers with my line art…it didn’t work) so it’s a little patchy now. But it’s this sloppy. (She looks like Busy Philipps to me here!)

1 Sketch

2. Sketch – Then I do a second pass over the first to get some actual detail in. Everything is pretty worked out now.

2 Lines

3. Lines – Then it’s all about lines for a bit. The Rotate tool is my friend and I sometimes will use the Pen tool on particularly smooth long lines, making sure it doesn’t look weird and noticeable next to the ones I did by hand and that the stroke weight matches. You kind of have to muck those up a bit, though, and I would use it sparingly if you’re not just going to do the whole thing in vector. Also, get in there with the Liquify tool if you draw a line that’s almost perfect except for one little part – insta-fix!

3 Flats

4. Flat color – Next, I add flat color under my lines. I generally just use a hard brush so it still feels like painting. I like to do the entire figure to separate it from the background like a mask on one layer, and then I do each different color/area on a separate layer on top clipped down to it (ie clipping mask), so I don’t have to worry about the exterior outline anymore. I pretty much always have to come back and adjust these layers as I continue on and see I’ve bled a bit past the edges, etc.

4 Recolor lines

5. Recolor lines – Then I recolor the lines to match the flat colors and soften the overall look using a new layer clipped to my line work with either a Normal or Color layer (here it’s just Normal). This is an easy step, but I left it all on it’s lonesome because I think the change it has on the image is really a big one!

5 Face contour

6. Face contour – This step seemed necessary for a close-up like this one to really carve in our features in a graphic way. Thinking about lighting a little, but not doing anything dramatic. Also added a hair shine with a hard brush and erased into it first with a hard brush to shape it, and then with a soft brush to push it back (some of the erasing was done later with other layers on which is why it looks a little weird in parts until you see the other layers back on below).

6 Gradient Blush

7. Gradients and blushing – Here I pushed the tattoo color back a bit to fade into the skin, then I start adding some blush and makeup colors, and add gradients to the hair, sunglasses and body using a couple layers for each section. These are typically Multiply layers and sometimes I screw around with the opacity. I use all the flat color layers as masks to speed stuff up and I really like using CTRL + H to hide the marquee selection lines so I can see what I’m doing.

7 Gradient Shadow

8. Gradients and shadows – Then I just keep pushing the shadows a bit more, especially by adding that big one under her neck. I also like to use the Gradient tool to add one large swath of gradient down her entire figure, but for her I knocked it back a lot since I wanted her complexion to stay pale.

8 Highlights

9. Highlights, details and paint over – Now I add a bunch of highlights and do some paint over on messy parts. I stroked the sunglasses frame and lenses to make them pop a little more and I decided I needed some background interest, so I added these polka dots in from a black and white image and recolored them and then added a stroke around them to keep up the graphic feels. I think I actually added in elements of the background at some point earlier on….but you get the idea.


10. Color balance – I always do some degree of re-balancing the colors in my image and I also do it as I work along, not all at the end. Experiments! So like, when I darkened the background I needed to lighten the hair (which also required that I paint over my now too dark line work on the hair). The change in background from the is just a circular royal blue gradient on a Multiply layer that’s stretched with the Transform tool. There’s a little vignette added to push the eyes in, and then…my favorite…I often will fill my canvas with a warm pink or orange on an Overlay or Soft Light layer and will just screw around with the hue and opacity (this one is a pink Overlay at 15%) until I get something I like. It usually adds that extra oomph and is basically the same thing as added one of those photo filters.

And suddenly jewelry has jumped onto the image (which are two things I own)! I added them afterward because it needed it and I kind of always meant to add it in but got lazy and then did it at the end. :D These were both done using the exact same methods as I used above for the rest of the image.

And I thought my heart logo looked cute on this one. Thanks for checking this out and hope you found it useful! <3 <3 <3