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Painting a Portrait with Corel Painter

Basic Lesson in Painting a Portrait in Pixels

In this painting lesson, I will show you the basic steps in painting a portrait in pixels, and with the addition of an appropriate title and a border, will turn it into a poster. An Epson 1280 printer was used to print the portrait. I used Corel Painter 6 to do the freehand portrait painting of the writer, Franz Kafka (1883-1927).

The meaning of Kafka's strange, dream-like stories still stirs debate today. He lived less than forty-one years and most of his works were published after his death. He led somewhat of a double life: in the daytime, he made his living as an administrator with the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute, and in the evenings, he burned the midnight oil, writing works of fiction.

To begin the portrait drawing

I opened a file 10 x 8 inches, with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. This is a large file, which will cover an area larger than your screen size, so while you rough in the basic shape of the head, zoom out to reduce the size to 25%, but for details, zoom in to full size. You could use smaller file dimensions, but I wanted to eventually print out a large picture, so I was concerned about pixelation.


portrait painting beginning

When sketching the portrait

It is important to get the right proportions. I used a pencil brush sensitive to pressure to do the sketching. Instead of a white background, you may wish to use a toned background. In working on facial features, I prefer to work on the eyes first, since I find this helps me get the other features right. I worked with the pencil brush, and also with the opaque flat brush, adjusting size and opacity. I also used some of the watercolor bushes. Remember that the white of the eyeballs is not really white.


portrait light values

I then began to fill in the light values. I used mostly the opaque flat brush and the camelhair blender. It is crucial to get the values right, but the nice thing about digital painting is that you can easily correct mistakes as you go along. The initial color I used for light values would eventually be replaced with a blue-purple color, since I decided I wanted a somewhat surreal effect, in keeping with the kind of mental landscapes that Kafka created.


painting darker values

I started working on the darker values and the hair.


working further on portrait values

I changed the lighter value to a bluish hue and darkened the darker values. I also worked on the clothing at this point.


eye closeup

Here is a closeup of the left eye.


portrait background

I changed areas that were not quite right in value, and added the background. I made the image on the canvas into a layer so that I could work separately on the background. Where the edges around the portrait needed tidying up, so that the portrait and background looked unified, I used the eraser tool on the layer.


later stage of portrait

I made additionall changes, including altering the ears and shifting the mouth (which is easily done using selections and layers), adjusting the orientation of the shoulders, and deepening the shadow areas. In order to ensure your proportions and values are right, the following two techniques are very useful. One, rotate the image 180 degrees on the screen, and then carefully examine it upside down for anything that does not look right. Second, rotate the image horizontally, so that left becomes right, or look at a copy of the portriat in a mirror. Mistakes in value and proportion will stand out when you do this.

I decided to slightly rotate the head more vertically, and did a hue adjustment in photoshop to achieve the violet purple color of the face to create a somewhat nightmarish effect in keeping with the eery atmosphere found in his writings. I did a levels adjustment using adjustment layers to modify the shadows.and ensure that the suit was a neutral gray.

I left the work for a while so that I could take a fresh look at it. When I first started this project, my idea was to create a somewhat ghostly, distorted interpretation, but after some time passed, I decided to do a more accurate rendering of Kafka's features, while still projecting a sense of strangeness. I shortened the length of the face and the nose, using the "transform" tool. I further worked on the light and shadows and added detail to the eyes. If you look closely, you will discover a hidden feature in his eyes, although this may not show up well in the lower resolution jpg image. I modified the mouth and hairline to achieve a closer resemblance. I also adjusted the background lighting to create a more balanced effect on the left and right side of the face. Below is the final result.The original rif image file has a resolution of 300 pixels per inch.


final result

Remember, when you've got the artwork close to where you want it, stop. There's a certain point where fussing with it too much can make it look overworked, so quit while you're ahead. If you would like to see the final portrait as a Kafka poster, which is 13x17 in., take a look.




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