Sylvannas Windrunner: Photoshop Painting Tutorial

I've already done two color studies of this character, but while Sylvannas in her Undead Queen persona turned out really well, the younger Ranger General Sylvannas was, um, bad. (For one thing, I misread my reference picture and made her hair blue. In my defense I was playing a blue-haired elf at the time, so it didn't seem weird at all.) So when I needed a subject for my adventures in painting faster and with less useless detail, I thought I might give her another chance.

The bones of this painting come from an old sketch that had never been finished, in part because there were some underlying proportion issues that I just couldn't seem to resolve.

We'll start with an unadulterated scan of the real world sketch, which formed the first layer of my Photoshop file. Problems that need solving: Head too big. Torso too long. Anterior pelvic tilt over-exaggerated. And, y'know, no feet.

Problems fixed using copy, paste, scale and rotate. Not too hard, right?

With a little increase in contrast, I can select everything close to white and delete it. This leaves me with something vaguely like lines. Then I need to add more lines to finish the form.

Referring to the lines throughout the process is useful, but once the color is well established I try to use them as little as possible. I paint under the lines, and use them as a guide for now. First a broad underpainting just to lay the colors down in approximately the right place, and then a bit of refinement on another layer. (Note the palette in the corner. Start with limited colors, complicate them later) Also I need to put in an estimated placement for the background.

Now she needs some background. Given that she is primarily blue, I wanted something in the orange family, for the pleasant complimentary relationship. I wanted to imply ground and foliage without going into too much detail, so I used a large brush and just tried to lay out a tree-like structure.

Now the hair is a problem. The color is sticking out in the bad way. Using a low opacity brown I need to bring it down to a strawberry rather than a true blond. It's also now time to trim the colors to the body shape, and complicate the colors by using a brush at about 50% opacity, then selecting colors from areas that have already been painted to continue.

Time for some details. All the metal bits, and a little refinement of her face and hair.

Finally, copy all active layers into a single layer and drop the brightness way down. Then go in with the erase tool set at 25%, and create highlights. (Depending on the picture you can also create a 'bright' layer and erase away the shadows. The layer on top tends to be dominant, so it just depends how dark you want the final piece to be.)

When you're happy with that, you may want to run a filter or two to help break up it up. In this case I used watercolor and film grain.

Also her eyes need to glow.

And here's my final. There are still things that need doing (the front boot cuff has blue where there shouldn't be any, her near eyebrow has a squiggle in it, and I'm not sure I like how the 'frame' around the background looks with highlighted bits in it) but at some point you have to just say 'good enough' and move on.