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I start off by sketching to generate some ideas. I know I want butterflies, lots of
them. The process eventually leads to a small sketch at the lower corner of my page. Its
a girl unravelling into a swarm of butterflies, her tattoo peeling off at the same time. I
havent painted tattoos before and the butterflies I know will be a nice challenge. I scan
it in, clean it up, and then choose a square format. The drawing is only a guide, so I
know I will have to fix the anatomy later. I try to keep in mind what needs to be
done, because things can get a bit messy.
Create a portrait using every colour in the spectrum as your
palette. Bao Pham shows you how
started out drawing anime
then slowly moved to more
realistic subjects. By the time
I discovered painting it was
the summer before college. My first oil
painting was a small self-portrait. I
remember being very timid with the
paint, and was afraid to make any
mistakes. By the time I was finished, I was
hooked. It wasnt about the paint as much
as it was about using colour to create
pictures, and the possibilities that opened
First taste
of colour
I start small, at 1,500px, because
it enables me to paint large, broad
strokes without the drag of a larger
file. The small dimension also prevents
me from going into detail early.
Choosing a bright yellow as my
background, I start laying down all
the colours I can think of. I use the
Colour Picker in Photoshop as a
guide to how colours fade into
one another. I use several custom
brushes to generate texture, as
well as some ideas of what to do
with the background.
Using a simple Hard Edge Round
brush with Spacing set to 15 per cent,
I indicate where the shadows and light
are on the figure. I add touches of rosy
up. I continued to paint and it wasnt until
my last year of college that I began to
grasp the concept of colour.
I took to colour pretty naturally and
have always been comfortable using it. I
constantly think in colour and lately it
has been the driving force for most of my
paintings. Colour is everywhere; if you
stop and look you might find a palette
already picked out for you.
For this workshop, Im going to be
using Photoshop and little bit of Painter
to create a portrait using the whole
spectrum of colour as my palette.
Painting is a back and forth process for
me, so dont take the steps too literally.
I generally paint everything at once and
then keep flitting between steps, refining
it until the very end.
It takes time to understand colour,
and its only through observation and
experience will you be able to achieve
your desired results. Trust your instincts
and experiment as much as you can.
orange on the nose, lips, and cheeks to
warm up the face and add some life to it.
Its better to have more information than
you need, so I often paint very soft shades
of colour anywhere I see fit.
Experimenting can really pay off.
November 2007 79
In depth Liberate your colours
Bao Pham
Bao is a
residing in
Iowa, USA. He came
from Vietnam to the US
11 years ago at the age of
11, and has been drawing
ever since. He just
graduated with a BFA
in painting from the
University of Iowa.
DVD Assets
The files you need
are on your DVD in
the Bao Pham folder in
the Workshops section.
SOFTWARE: Photoshop
CS3, Painter X (demos)
ur in the spectrum as you
t u
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For quick indications of the butterflies, I use another custom brush. It is set
to Jitter (in Brush Dynamics) between the foreground and background colours. This
helps me lay down multiple colours at a time. Its also set to Scatter, and the
randomness will help me visualise how to best portray the swarm of butterflies.
Go around
By this point, Ive already merged
the sketch with the colour, and I continue
to work on the figure to bring out the
form. Its important to also follow the
shape of the form instead of simply going
straight through it. This process not only
helps define the form, but it reminds you
how you are seeing the form in space. Are
you looking up, down, from the right, the
left, or straight at it? Asking myself
questions about the image keeps me on
track with what I want to achieve with it.
Soft Light
There are times when painting
alone cant get me that bright colour or
that deep dark shadow I want without
covering up what I already
have. To help me I change
the brush mode to Soft
Light. Depending on the
value and saturation, I can
make the bright brighter,
and the darks darker,
while at the same time
making the colour richer.
Picking dark blues and
purples I create a gradient
towards the bottom to darken it, and
a light yellow with a spackled brush
to brighten up the top left.
I continue to model the figure and
start finding the features of her face. Im
nearly to the point where I think the
From this point on, I always work
on different layers to further refine the
image. Layering is the greatest advantage
of working with digital painting
programs. It enables me to paint on top
of my image without disturbing what I
have underneath. It also enables me to
layer my colours and textures to give my
painting more body and substance. I
usually merge the layers when Im
satisfied with what I have to keep it neat.
colouring part is complete, and I have
things all set to start painting. I enlarge
the image to the final size I want it to be:
for this painting its at 4,000px.
I take a break to separate myself
from the image. Coming back with a fresh
eye helps me see anything that might look
off. I decide to redraw the construction
lines on another layer and work from that
to get the perspective and anatomy fixed
up. This is a good way to reinforce your
painting when you cant visualise it.
During the whole process, I have a good-
sized mirror beside me so that I have a
live reference to work from.
Showing emotion with your
character can be a difficult thing, and
again the mirror is a great tool. Study your
own expressions. Pay
attention to how
subtle shifts of the
features can greatly
change the emotion
youre trying to
portray. Sometimes,
its necessary to
By switching the brush mode
to Soft Light, I can make the
brights brigher and darks
darker, and colour richer.
November 2007 80
Dont get discouraged
easily if things arent
starting off well. Theres
a tendency for us to
compare our work with
better ones out there,
and doing this while
painting can be very
discouraging. Painting
takes time and a good
amount of work to get it
right. Dont expect to put
down a few strokes and
be happy with it,
because you have
thousands more to go.
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Warp tool
If you have Photoshop CS2 or CS3,
you can use Edit>Transform>Warp. This
enables you to manipulate a 2D image in
a three dimensional way. Its handy if
you have trouble visualising how a flat
image would look on a curved surface. I
use this tool to make the tattoo look like
its curving with the surface of her arm.
Working on her arm, I notice its a bit
short, so I select the section I want to
extend and paste it to a new layer. I
adjust it to the right length and paint on
top of it to match layer underneath. Once
Im happy, I merge the layers together.
exaggerate certain features to give the
expression you want,. For the girl, Im
trying for a sad look of acceptance,
because although she is fading away, she
wont really be gone. Shell just become
a part of her surrounding.
Add to subtract
I dont always use the eraser to
remove what I dont want because I find
it can get rid of too much. I usually pick
the colours surrounding the area and
then paint over it. It might be a habit I
developed from painting with oils, but I
find it gives a nicer and softer edge. You
also create layers of paint in the process.
There are times when I just have to erase,
usually when there is texture underneath.
Her shoulder looks a bit empty, so
I try to play with different shapes to see if
it leads me anywhere. I find a brush I had
made a while back, and its curving shape
really helps accentuate the roundness of
her shoulder. Since Im still unsure if it
fits, I leave it and continue to other parts
of the painting. Later, I come back and
decide that its leading the tattoo in a
different direction, so I erase it. I move
the tattoo up towards the shoulder, which
takes the weight off her arm and creates a
nice secondary focal point.
Custom brush
My butterflies need refining. I
create a new document and quickly paint
a more recognisable butterfly shape. I set
it to the same setting as the previous one
and recreate the swarm on a new layer
There are four main brushes that I
use to smooth things out. The main thing
to remember when blending is keep one
finger on [B] and another on [I] to switch
between the brush and the
Colour Picker.
On a new layer, I use
the Round brush that
Ive been painting with
to start on her skin, then
a very soft custom brush to
refine it. I have a fine
Spackle brush that I use
to create more texture
where I need it. The
last brush is textured,
which I use as a Smudge
tool for the smaller areas
where the larger brushes
become clumsy.
Refine the background
The background looks a bit chaotic
right now and the texture is a bit
prominent. I want to soften it, but also
want to avoid blurring it. I decide to take
it into Painter; I use the Loaded Palette
Knife to smooth out some of the texture.
I like the way the
Palette Knife pulls the
colours around, kind
of like the Smudge
tool in Photoshop,
but much more
natural. I then take it
back into Photoshop,
softly reapply the
textures, and then try
to ease the transition
of the colours.
The swarm
I save the most time consuming
part of this painting for last. This is when
I start to realise what Ive got myself into,
and how much I dont know about
various species of butterflies. I decide to
collect more references online to study
their shapes and patterns. Once Ive filled
my head with the hundreds of images
that I saved, I go to work. For each of the
butterflies, I only paint one of the wings,
mirror it, and then transform it to fit the
perspective. Some of the patterns are from
existing butterflies, while most of them
are inspired by references. From time to
time, I would duplicate a butterfly or use
the existing pattern to make new ones.
Final touches
Once the swarm is done, I take the
painting into Painter and use the Palette
Knife. I lightly paint each butterfly with
the colour surrounding them to push
them back into space. Back in Photoshop,
I flatten the layers, duplicate it, then blur
it with Gaussian Blur at about 55px, set
the layer mode to Soft Light, and then
reduce the Opacity to 15 per cent. This
might seem strange, but the process gives
the painting a soft glow and unifies it.
Now, Im done.
Blending is basically picking the surrounding colours and
lightly painting with a large, soft brush.
November 2007 81
In depth Liberate your colours
Work with
Have several paintings
on the go to take full
advantage of your time.
Painting can be time
consuming and boredom
can easily set in. Often, I
have to take breaks to
get away from a
painting; with several
paintings already
started, I can work on
any of them until Im
ready to go back to it.
By taking that break, I
can come back with a
fresh perspective and
get inspired again.
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