advanced photoshop

Paint neon colour portraits: Part Two

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General, by Adam Smith

Learn how to create vibrant and luminous colours in your portraits, using Adobe Photoshop

Everything in its place

Up until this point, the image has been painted as if it was one layer.  With everything coming together to form this more extensive sketch, it’s time to prepare it for the next step.  I’ve cut out the pieces of feather and butterfly and pasted them into a new layer.  This will make changing them easier later on.


First, turn the butterfly layer off and out of the way.  I’ve decided that the dress will be sheer as it wraps around her shoulder.  To suggest the texture of the fabric pick a darker value and slightly saturated variation of the skin tone and gently brush it on with a soft broad stroke.  The warmer colour will contrast nicely with the cool skin tone.


Add in strips of saturated blues to indicate where the fabric is folded.  It looks too pink now, and the blue of the fabric needs to come back.  Once again, use a large soft brush to gently brush on a very saturated blue, pressing harder where the fabric concentrates on the chest.  Add more strips of blue to bring back the folds.

Finalise anatomy

The right arm needs some special attention, so with some references on hand, I make the correction.  At the same time, I work on refining the facial features by picking colours from the surrounding area.


The focus now is on the anatomy of the figure and it should be finalised before moving on.  When smoothing the skin tones, use a large soft round brush and pick from the surrounding colours.  Gently airbrush the surface while maintaining some of the brushwork underneath.  For smaller areas, use smaller brushes to maintain the edges between the forms.


Move onto the hair and start breaking down the large shape.  Think of it as ribbons moving against and into one another, twisting and curling as they pass through each other.  Use dark shapes to accentuate the shadows and to suggest the separation of the layers.

More hair

Work with a large brush to “comb” out the ribbons of hair, and then decrease the brush size to slowly breakdown the larger shapes.  Create a new Overlay layer and brush on a mass of dark blue to set some of the hair back.  Also, use a bright blue-green colour to pull some of the front hair forward.

Bright eyes

On the same Overlay layer, brighten the eyes using bright blues and turquoises.  To contrast with the blue of the eyes, brush on some violets, pinks, and yellow.  Vary the colours to get the effect you desire.  The brightness and saturation of the colours brings the focus to the eyes and draws the audience in.

Tweaking the figure

With the figure almost finished, go back and examine the alignment and anatomy of the figure.  Use the Liquify tool again to realign the eyes and the lips, and finish off the figure.

Tweaking the design

Add interest to the design of the dress by creating a pattern with the blue and orange.  Reference the design after birds and butterfly patterns to tie it in with the flying butterfly imagery.

The secondary character

With the figure finished, it’s time to flesh out the butterflies.  Keep in mind the general movement of the group and how it can add to the composition of the painting.  Keep them on a separate layer so that they can be moved to work with the composition if needed.

Flapping leaves

Think of the butterfly as two triangular leaves attached to each other, flapping in the wind.  Start with the general shape, varying the moment that each one is in motion.  Once that has been established, create the pattern using references, remembering to stray a little to keep the design unique.


As you work on individual butterflies, it is easy to loose track of them as a group and that can create clutter.  Take a step back and edit.  Change a colour if it contrasts too much and remove it entirely if it’s too busy.


Add some magic to the painting by sprinkling some dust around the butterfly and on the figure.  Once again, it adds visual interest, movement, and an otherworldly quality.  Add in moderation and appropriately or it can cause confusion.


Once the painting is finished, flatten it and make a duplicate layer.  Set it to Screen and apply a Gaussian Blur set around 20 to create a glow.  Lower the Opacity to keep it subtle.  Duplicate the Screen layer and set it to Overlay to deepen the colours. This also helps tie everything together.

Discover part one of this tutorial here!