My art is a blend of traditionally drawn line art in pen on paper and the digital free-hand coloring in Corel Painter program using Intuos 3 tablet. This walk-through is a typical example of how I go from the line art to the final colored version and also shows some of the digital painting techniques that I use often.
Traditional Line Art in Pen
After I directly sketch in pencil on the paper, I clean and ink the lines in the next phase. My lines are inked using a ballpoint pen. I use Quink refills by the Parker brand in black for all my line art. This ink is quick-drying, and their tip is reasonably sensitive to pressure, so I can do strong primary lines with varying weight as well as secondary lines light and thin with one pen. The viscosity of the ink is perfect for the way I draw. And their ball tip never produces the dreaded, random "blobs" that many cheaper ballpoints do.
The pencil lines are erased after the inking is complete, and the image is scanned. The scanned image usually requires some clean-up for small stray lines, but mostly for dust specks that the scanner picks up.
Preparation of the Scanned Image
Once the image goes through the basic cleaning, I lessen the contrast and brighten the entire file. The lines are then colorized to have a sepia tone. Finally, I choose a "paper color" by adjusting the red-green-blue in a photo-editing program. I usually select a light to mid-tone that will be among the main colors planned for a given piece. I wanted purple, magenta, and peach for this piece, so I decided to give a peach color as a "paper" color. This file ultimately serves as the "canvas" layer in the version of the Corel Painter I use. It will be fixed as the bottom layer upon which all subsequent color layers will be placed.
The first layer I set up in Corel Painter is always for the "Background Wash". This sets the tone and mood of the piece and always worked quickly and loosely. The tools I use are wet media brush types called "diffuse water" and "salt". In digital painting programs, you can set the diameter of the "brush", the opacity of the color in percentages (the lower the number, the more transparent the color), and of course, the tablet is pressure sensitive so the harder I press against it with the stylus, the deeper and more intense the color saturation. I constantly change the size of the brush diameter to give a more natural look to my wash. I also hand pick the color from the color wheel, shifting the colors quite often to suit my needs. Here I used various shades of purple, magenta, and some orange. When I use the "salt", I also change the opacity of the effect and the diameter of the brush/tool often to achieve the natural look to avoid the "stamped" look.
Lifting the Wash and Adding Stars
Next, I lift (remove) some of the washes from the main figure area, using "gentle wet eraser" which can be set at different opacity strength and size like any other tools found in the program. I set the opacity fairly low (8 to 20%) and the tool tip diameter size relatively on the large side to give a diffused outline rather than a sharp masked edge.
On a separate layer, I put the stars with "soft charcoal" in the dry media selection. Tip size is set small for a sharp point with opacity usually at or close to 100%. I have used light blue, pink, and some light orange for the stars.
Here is a close-up view of the stars at the lower left of the image. As mentioned earlier, stars of various sizes and focus range are created by changing the opacity, size, and the tool tip diameter. The blurry "glow" can be easily added by using the same "soft charcoal" tool set at low opacity with tip diameter size much larger than what is used for the central bright "spot".
Plumes of Gases along the Outline of the Figure
In the next stage, I added the feathery plumes of gases to the outline of the dancing figure on a new layer, situated on top of all other layers. Since what I wanted for this piece was inspired by many photographs of the nebula formations taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, I wanted the figure to appear as if being born from clouds of gas and dust particles.
I start this stage by giving a fairly thin line highlight outline to the figure with the "soft charcoal" with opacity set at 100%. Next, I reduce the opacity level to 40% to 60% range, and reduce the tip size to do the "hair line" plumes radiating outward from the outline of the body. I randomly wiggle the lines and let the ends feather, so the lines look like fine roots or lightning branching.
I go over these fine lines with a soft application of the same colors set at lower opacity (6 to 12%) with the tip size slightly larger to give the blurred "glow" appearance.
Here, in this close-up, you can see the the gas plumes painted along the highlight on the dancer's body.
Details of the Dress
The bright details of the dancer's dress is added in a separate layer with the same "soft charcoal" tool. Outlines done in smaller tip size with 100% opacity, with the "glow" effect added over with a soft touch application of the same color set at lower opacity and larger tip size.
Fabric Detail, Bubbles, and the Rest for the Finish
The highlighting is completed throughout the dancer's body. The blurred "glow" effect is intensified along her neck, arms, and upper thighs to give the illusion of 'illumination from within'.
On a separate layer, I do the secondary highlights for the 'fabric' streaming around the dancer. Her costume is what gives the feeling of weightlessness and indicate the flow of the movement in this image. Soft, light pink is applied in "soft charcoal" with low opacity on broad area, while the same color in higher opacity with sharper tip is added along the edges of the fabric. The 'bubbles' get their highlights in lines and spots on the same layer.
The total number of layers utilized in this image was 7: canvas, background wash, stars, dancer's outline highlights, gas plumes, costume details, and fabric details. I am a minimalist when it comes to the number of layers used. There are many digital artists who regularly utilize dozens or over a hundred layers in their works.