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


LA alter egos


So, I created a drawing that inspired the start of a series of illustrations I’m dubbing my LA alter egos. There really is something amazing about the creative fashion in this city; it’s not just about the colors and the bare skin, but also how fashion isn’t ageist here. Sure, everyone’s judging everyone in the end, whatever, but I don’t feel old and weird here if I want to have my stomach out or wear short shorts. It’s nice. But, seeing as I don’t have any tattoos, I thought it would be fun to get all my fashion fantasies out.


Yes, I’ve always wanted that snake tattoo secretly, but I don’t really know about the permanence so for now I prefer to encourage my dude to get more tattoos.

Stay tuned for another blog post coming up, so I can post the looooooong version of my step-by-step on the second image, so expect progress shots and lots of helpful long-windedness. <3

mermaid time again



They never get old.

Sketch from my sketchbook was cleaned up and recolored in Photoshop, then colored away!  Honestly, the anatomy positioning of the mermaid is total crap (sooooo wooden), but it was fun to color and I still like how it came out.