To this day, nothing is equally as complex and simple to paint as the human face with all its intricacies. In this tutorial, we will address all these elements, take a look at the general proportions and anatomy, as well as discuss believable skin tones and texturing.
Starting with an empty canvas, add a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+N) for the sketch and choose the default round Paintbrush with Size Jitter and Opacity set to Pen Pressure, then begin to sketch. Using the guides on an extra layer may help, as well as using reference photos if needed. With practice, you won’t need either any more.
You need some background colours, which are applied with rough strokes of a hard-edged (rectangular) brush for an instant painterly effect. Then pick colours according to the background, blobbing them onto a new layer. Blues and purples would be complementary (opposites to green), while orange, red and pink are analogous colours (adjacent to green), giving the palette a harmonious kick.
Using the hard-edged round Paintbrush with Opacity set to Pen Pressure, block in the colours. You don’t need to be precise, as you just want to get the colours down to see how and where they fit best, picking them from your palette with the Eyedropper tool. Remember to add a new layer for this beneath the sketch.
Now you can have a look at where the light would be coming from. Adding dramatic lighting to a portrait greatly enhances its effect, so paying attention to this is worth it. Using lighter or darker shades of the same colours causes everything to look pasty, so we’ll use different colours altogether to achieve a more lively look.
Armed with that knowledge, start adding rough highlights and shadows. Always keeping in mind where the light is coming from is vital, as it will keep the shadows consistent and make it clear which raised parts of the face are affected strongest by the light, such as the forehead, nose, chin and cheekbones. It instantly adds depth and form.
At this point, grab the Smudge tool with a low setting (20-30%) and choose a speckled or otherwise rough tip. By setting the Opacity Jitter to Pen Pressure and manually changing the Angle Jitter and Scattering, you can carefully blend the colours. You don’t want to overdo it, as too much blending can cause a very muddy, undefined look.
Eyes are not almonds or even flat surfaces, but orbs that are sitting in the eye socket. There are tear ducts on the inside corner, which shouldn’t be forgotten, and not just an upper lid but also a lower one. The iris sits on top of the eyeball, and the pupil is visible through a hole in the iris.
Noses are essentially triangles. The bridge defines not only how big or small a nose is, but also how the nose tip is shaped. And then there are the nostrils, which always have a slightly bulbous appearance. Noses are the most prominent feature in a face, so it’s good to put some thought into them.
Lips have many shapes but are never totally straight, nor are they flat. Just like pretty much everything in a face, they are curved, both horizontally as well as vertically. Their skin is mostly riddled with vertical wrinkles, which should not be forgotten. The corners of the mouth are not pointy but rounded, a little like the eye of a needle.
Ears are funky things, and getting them right is vital for realism. There’s the helix, which is what gives the ear its shape, and the antihelix, which is the curved part inside the helix. There is the lobe, and above that is the antitragus. And that little piece sticking out right over the ear opening is the tragus.
Let’s add some more shadows around the eye, defining the eyelids. Use the round Paintbrush for this as before, and if you haven’t done so yet, lower the opacity of the sketch to better see what you are doing. Making long strokes following the curve of the eyelids helps, as it gives them a nice smooth form.
Once happy with the eyelids, you can start work on the eyes. You should never use white for them, as surrounding colours should be reflected in them. So pick a green hue and paint using curved strokes. For the tear duct and corner of the eyes, choose dark orange. Remember the eye in the shadow should be much darker.
You now need to add the iris and pupils. Add a new layer, select the round Paintbrush with all special settings switched off and stamp the brush onto the eye where the iris should be. You can then erase the bits that go over the eyelid. Do the same for the pupil, then merge the layers.
To make the eyes more realistic, you need to blend the edges of the iris and pupils slightly into the eye. Then choose a lighter shade than the eye colour and, using the round Paintbrush (Opacity set to Pen Pressure), lightly paint around the pupil. This creates a first hint of light reflecting in the eye.
Bearing the light source in mind, define the nose. The skin around the nose tip and nostrils is often slightly redder, so using a dash of orange or pink here works really well – also for the nostrils themselves – rather than black. Using angled brushstrokes helps bring out the shape of the nose bridge, and curved ones help with the tip and nostrils.