The Circe painting I currently am working on has been quite educational for me. I have looked at various tutorials over the past few months for painting realistic hair, fabrics, skin, etc., and have finally put enough puzzle pieces together to realize a technique that works for me. Most tutorials out there, especially the Youtube videos, are pretty crappy simply because the artist is trying to paint and talk at the same time, and unless they have a teaching background fail at getting the basics across. Some do provide the basic info, but no specifics as to application. Here, I will hopefully get some sort of message across as to how I finally got skin to look photo realistic, and not “plastic” looking.
Attached you find some detail pics of my current work in progress. The Jpegs are lower resolution than my actual painting, so will not look nearly as good as what they would in Gimp or Photoshop. First, a word about brush shapes. The brush shapes can be found stamped in the detail pic of the woman’s arm. The solid black circle is the “hard round”. The one beneath is a “soft round”. The soft round seems to be a circle that is solid at the center and fades to transparent at the edge. As a result, a 1″ circle stamped with this brush will only appear to be about a 1/2″ wide (this may change according to your drawing resolution… the lower the res, the less fade will show). The soft brush sample I show is about the same size as the hard on canvas, but the actual brush size setting used is twice as big as the hard. The next stamp looks like a bunch of stippling, this is a custom brush you can easily make or find online. That is what I use to make realistic skin texture. Finally the 3 dot brush, which I use for hair strands.
In the overall figure of the woman (background removed), you can see the legs are only roughed in. I begin with a “hard round” brush with about a 60% black color (in the color selection box, the very bottom edge of any color goes from full black to full white… everything in between is shades of grey). I will select a darker color and rough in shaded areas, and finally add whiter colors to block in highlighted areas. Sloppiness does not matter here, since inner color edges will be blended and over-painted outside edges will be shaved off with the eraser tool. The soft round brush is used to blend color edges (the hard round, while it can blend more pixels and is faster leaves ugly scars… burned ghost circles). Blending can be done with the smudge tool or by adding more levels of color with the paintbrush tool. The stipple brush is the secret to adding skin texture. I use the smudge tool with it, and rub repeatedly over edges of color change- the greater the color difference, the more texture you will see. Without the texture, the skin will look like smooth plastic instead of real skin with pores, creases, etc.
Finally, little details like moles, dots, scars, etc are added with the hard round brush at various sizes. The color depends on the brightness of what your painting on. Moles and scars are actually really easy… just use the burn tool to darken an area, then use a smaller brush size and go over a bit of that with the dodge tool, this time going a bit lighter or as light as the original color. The darker area is the shaded side of the mole/scar AND its shadow. The lighter part is the raised part hit by whatever light source is in your painting. The size and darkness of the shadow area will affect the perceived size or depth of the skin detail (think of pics of the craters on the moon).