Digital Art Tutorial: Making a Crash….

Crash Cover photo  Final

Greetings, fellow art lovers! Graeme Jackson here, with what promises to be a fun, if not instructive read. The rather clumsy title of this little article refers to Crash Soirée, a character that I have the pleasure of working on with the extremely talented writer, Andrew (Andrez) Bergen.

Crash Soiree logo

Look! It’s a shameless plug!



When we launched Crash’s very own Facebook page, I quickly decided that it needed an appropriate cover photo and thought it may be of interest to document the process. I should mention however, that I am a self-taught artist, so this will not be a tutorial in the strictest sense. I have no desire to derail the progress of other artists with my complete lack of knowledge regarding accepted methods and techniques. I’m also well aware that many of the steps I take along the way are a little, well, redundant. Instead, I merely hope to illustrate MY particular way of working. If it is of any use to others, great. If not, what can I say? I’m just making this up as I go along…

I should also mention that the above image was created in Photoshop utilizing the excellent (and free!) David Nagel series of brushes, in addition to a couple of custom brushes of my own making (more on that later). I’m going to assume that anyone reading this has at least a basic knowledge of the software. If any of the terms I use are a little confusing (layer styles, masks etc), consult your nearest browser. I’ll try to explain as best I can, but I ain’t writing a manual here.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!


Step 1. Basic line work.

Crash Cover photo 1

Or, as I like to call it, kicking it old school! I always start a piece with a line drawing. Always. I’m simply not good enough to start slopping on the pixels and working up silhouettes. Sue me. Usually, I’d do a few thumbnails, or a rough color piece in preparation, but that wasn’t necessary here as I knew exactly what I wanted before I started. The composition is a little static, but as it’s meant purely to showcase the character, it seemed appropriate in this instance.


Step 2. Lay down The Flats (Very!) Basic color.

Crash Cover photo 2

Once I’m happy with the line drawing, I knock the opacity of the layer down to around 30%, then create a new layer underneath. Onto this layer I block in the colors, in a very basic, flat way. I try to use what I think will be the midtones of the colors I’ll be using, so that later I can quickly add highlights and shadows without much effort. Another benefit of this approach is that it makes sections of the image very easy to select with the wand tool. This allows me to paint sections of the piece very quickly, on different layers, without having to worry about placing color in areas I don’t want it to go. Time saving tip kids!

I should also note that here, I was toying with the idea of making Crash’s cape red. No……just…


Step 3. Add Shadows and Highlights.

Crash Cover photo 3

With that completed, I create another new layer on which I’ll start to give the picture some form. I can’t stress enough how important it is to utilize multiple layers, and to ignore the compulsion to merge them. I’ve lost more than one piece by working too much on a particular layer, then being unable to make corrections when the piece got away from me. As long as your layers are organized and appropriately named, you shouldn’t get lost in them. Some artists whose work I follow use literally HUNDREDS of layers in their art. I ain’t quite that bad, but I use a few.

Enough digression! Alrighty then, where was I? Ah yes….the stage of the painting I refer to as “The ugly period”. The stage where I’m just trying things out, and I don’t particularly care how rough it looks. Seriously though, it gets a little rugged. If the painting was a date, it would need one heck of a personality to get dessert. At this point, I’m just throwing the highlights and shadows onto the piece in a very unrefined way, working out where the various light sources will be. I know I’ll be able clean it up in later stages so I’m not particularly concerned. One thing I am sure of, is that there will be some rim-lighting involved. I love rim-lighting. A whole bunch. J.J. Abrams has his lens flare, I’ve got rim-lighting.

But as you can see, it’s already starting to take shape.


4. Adding a bit of background.

Crash Cover photo 5

Happy with the progress so far, I decide to throw in a background. Andrew, total gentleman and collaborator extraordinaire that he is, provided plenty of resource material to help me find the tone of the character and the world he inhabits.  One in particular, the Bop City Music Hall, takes my fancy.

  • Firstly, I fill the background with black, using the paint bucket tool.
  • Then, selecting a piece of one of the photographs (Bop City), I paste it onto another layer on top, with the layer set to the multiply mode, which makes everything but the lightest elements transparent.
  • I create another layer, set the mode to overlay, and throw in the yellow light over the top.
  • I create another layer and select Filter> Render >clouds. This throws some ugly looking, and completely unrealistic clouds over the layer, in black and white.
  • I then chose Filter> add noise, to render this in a series of grainy, monochromatic dots. To this I add a motion blur, which stretches it out to resemble rain.
  • Lastly, I change the layer style to Hard light, which allows the layers underneath to show through.

Overall, I’m happy with the characters relationship with the background. It’s mostly temporary, but already I can see the light from the sign reacting with Crash in an interesting way. Cool.

5. Detailing the face

This is the part that requires the most time, as I smooth out all the brush work (on a separate layer! Always a separate layer!) and basically clean everything up. I mostly use the Nagel skin brushes, as they give the skin a lovely, realistic mottled effect, rather than a plastic looking finish. There are a few stages to this (with a fair amount of experimentation) as you can see below….

Crash Cover photo 6

First detail pass, but somethings a bit off…..

Crash Cover photo 7

Ahh, he was a bit wimpy. A quick copy and past of everything from the neck down allows me to scale it up nicely……

Crash Cover photo 8

It’s all in the eyes…. but what’s up with that nose?

Crash Cover photo 10

Ok, I should probably stop and chat a while with this one, as there’s a bit going on. To make the necessary adjustments, I used a couple of methods that have served me faithfully.

Firstly, I wasn’t happy with the nose. It seemed far to thin to my eye. To amend that:

  • I selected the area I wanted to manipulate with the lasso tool and use Edit>  Copy Merged. Important! Never ever, ever warp, distort, scale or otherwise mess with the original layer. Stuff happens; Emails, Facebook notifications, poor attention span, screaming kids. Any and all of these can cause you to lose your mind and make poor decisions. If you wreck it, it’s essentially permanent! This is bad. Instead, copy merged, then paste and you are given a brand new layer to play with that contains a copy of the offending area, leaving the original intact.
  • Once I’d scaled this new layer how I wanted, I chose the eraser, with a soft edge and it’s value set to around 25%. When brushed around the edges of the layer, it allows you to blend seamlessly. While I was at it, I used the same technique to give that grin a bit more pop, using Edit> warp.
  • Lastly I add some pores to the skin. There’s a lot of different methods on how to go about this, but I’ll give you mine. The Nagel series contains a blemish brush, which in essence, is a low opacity particle brush. I take this, and on a different layer (are you noticing a pattern yet?), selecting highlight and shadow colors, begin painting onto the face. Not too much! It’s really easy to go overboard. I then copy this layer.
  • With the first of the “pore” layers, I select Filter> gaussian blur, to well, blur it a bit. Just a tiny amount.
  • Then I knock the opacity back to around 50%. I then experiment with the opacity level of the other “pore” layer until I have a pleasing effect. It’s not overly noticeable, but it makes all the difference.
Crash Cover photo 12

Face seems a bit flat. I need to increase the depth of shadow on the right side and underneath the left eye. I simply paint solid black onto a new layer, drop the opacity back to where it looks appealing and voila! Simples.

6. The home stretch.

Crash Cover photo 15

I decide to fix the background, as it’s a little rough. I remove the first “rain” layer and create a custom brush (tutorials on how to do this not included…). Basically, it’s just a stretched out dot. I increase the spacing on the brush stroke, and paint it into the background. I then use a motion blur filter to achieve the desired effect. I also detail the rope, jewel and bowtie.

7. Finishing touches.

Crash Cover photo  Final

Once I’ve finished detailing the rest of the costume,

  • I create another new layer, to go over the top of everything.
  • I chose my custom rain brush, set the spacing and size jitters to effective levels and add the option of a little angle jitter. Not much, just a touch, to give the rainfall a random appearance.
  • I then choose another brush (this time the “pore” brush from the Nagel series) and do a little brush work on the shoulder. By copying the layer several times, it becomes opaque and takes on the appearance of rain hitting his tux. Well, that’s the hope anyway.

And done! Thanks for clicking.



About the artist:

Hand picked at birth by a cadre of world class assassins, Graeme spent the first 20 years of his life training to become the deadliest man on the planet. His skill reached it’s zenith in August of 1995, when he mastered the ability to kill a man from 1000 meters using nothing more than a stiff wind and a toenail clipping. To this day, Marcy Glover has no idea what caused the untimely death of her husband, but rest assured, he had it coming.

Upon finding the love of a good woman, Graeme turned his back on his blood-soaked career, and has since spent every waking moment in the pursuit of life, liberty and good lasagna. Amidst this whirlwind of personal growth, Graeme was surprised to find he wasn’t half bad at drawing. While it is still considered unwise to sneak up on him when he’s holding a pencil, he does seem much happier. His dry-cleaner however, remains inconsolable.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Logical Quotes

Logical and Inspirational Quotes

Douglas Ernst Blog

Bare-knuckle commentary mixed with pop culture.

Real Life Reading

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges

The Epicurious Texan

On a quest to find fabulous food, delicious drinks, and amazing adventure

Entertaining Stories

Just a fiction writer, trying to reach the world.

The way I see it.

One's destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things.- Henry Miller

James Harrington's Blog of Geek and Writing

All Things Writing and Geek, in one neat little blog!

Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Kate M. Colby

Soft Sci-Fi, Dark Fantasy & Nonfiction Author


BIG on Comics!

Granite City Comic Culture

Online space for the comic scene in Aberdeen.

Advance Comics

Everything you need to know about Indie Comics


Because the World is a terrible place

%d bloggers like this: