Theory of color and technique of drawing in Photoshop

In the process of drawing, you need to remember a lot of things: layers, exposure / lighting, shadows, highlights, surfaces, materials, textures, transparency, reflections, composition, color temperature, and so on.

Bow (Think Layers)

Before you pick up a brush (or tablet pen), you need to think about a few things. Well, in fact, you don’t need to sit and think about them, all this should happen on the machine.

  • Feel the volume and angles of the form.
  • Where does the light come from?
  • Try to understand whether there will be any falling shadows.
  • Should there be reflected light on surfaces?
  • What is the overall color of the scene? (as if the light, which is reflected from everywhere).
  • The presence of mirror surfaces. Maybe the surface is shiny / wet, and at the same time it is located in such a way that it reflects the source of light (say, the sky)?
  • Exposure Level Maybe there is so much light that the scene is more than white? Or maybe it is so dark that even the brightest point disappeared in the dark?
  • Is there fog or haze?
  • Surface texture

Please note that most of these items apply to realistic style. Brush stroke style should be chosen so that it does not violate the stylistic and color harmony of the image. Also, perhaps you choose a style that excludes certain colors or textures, focusing on other things. Nevertheless, even in the cartoon illustration there are simplified elements of realism. Do not try to hide under “this is not my style, so I will not understand this.”

About Light

In fact, there is only one light, and it is simply reflected. You can see the light (that is, the photon) only if it hits the retina of the eye. When light touches the surface, it does two important things: first, some part of it is absorbed – colors are born that way. Red apple reflects for the most part, relatively speaking, red wavelengths, the rest are absorbed, turning into heat or something like that. Therefore, black objects are heated in the sun. In any case, the light is always reflected from different surfaces in different ways. If the surface is uneven, it is reflected in a random way, like a tennis ball that hits a rocky terrace. If the surface is smooth, then the angle of reflection of light can be predicted. The mirror, for example, is very smooth, so that the light is reflected from it without being distorted, and we, accordingly, can see our reflection.

Please note that all surfaces reflect light, just the reflection from matte or uneven surfaces will not be so bright.

Depending on where the eye / observer is located, it may see the light and its reflection points on a rounded surface, such as in the image above, differently. Say, a puddle is not such (unless its edges are due to surface tension), and therefore, watching from a certain angle, you will see only a brilliant reflection. Point reflection occurs only where there is a point source of light, such as, for example, the sun, a light bulb, or a small window.

Photo 1. Reflections, though weak, are also present on clothes. I stretched the sleeve of my shirt with two fingers to get a flat surface between the two marked points (I moved the camera, not the sleeve).

Around us there is a great many objects from which light can be reflected, so that almost everything is more or less illuminated. For example, the sky is a source of blue dome-shaped light. And then there is the earth, walls and other surfaces. In space, by and large, there is only one source of light – the sun. However, if you look very closely, you can see the light, a very faint light coming from Earth on the dark side of the moon. Well, there is still starlight, which, I think, is even weaker.

When light falls on the surface and is reflected from it, it changes its color. If it falls on another surface of the same color as the surface from which it has just reflected, then the color of this other surface will look even more saturated.

(The color is still too red for skin)


Sunlight is much brighter than the light of the sky, which is brighter than the light in the room. After some time, our eyes adjust to such changes, and we can also adapt to the lighting by squinting or focusing on the subject. We do it on the machine, so the fact that our vision has a kind of limitation is not so obvious. We can see this limitation by shooting on a camera. If you take a picture indoors, the windows will be overexposed (bright). In this case, you can try to adjust the exposure level, but then what is in the room will be underexposed. This can be an advantage. For example, if you place a character in the background of a drawing, where it is darker, then its silhouette will stand out in a relatively well-lit room.


I give examples of various materials, and how I work with them.

  • clothing – almost no reflection points, only light and shadow. If the fabric is very thin, then the light can pass through it, creating some scattering.
  • Leather – can sometimes shine, and, therefore, have points of reflection. And, and also – do not make it too saturated.
  • Trees and wood – matte; also, not too saturated (something like gray / brown / ocher).
  • A rock – a bit like cloth. The surface is often too rough (both at micro and macro levels) to have reflection points.
  • Plastic – Reflection points and reflected light appear to be painted in plastic color. Also, plastic can be translucent.
  • Gold – gold is not orange. I use black, then desaturated orange with a greenish tinge, and further, yellow and white to paint it.
  • Silver – more or less like a mirror.
  • Metal – if I paint armor, I slightly increase the brightness, but not too much for medium tones.
  • Clean metal – it is something between gray and silver surfaces.
  • Glass – most often just transparent with distortion. Reflection points are often white and appear suddenly. In the case of windows, you may have noticed that seeing what is inside is easier if a shadow falls on it, as bright reflections overshadow what is behind the glass.
  • Wet objects – many points of reflection may become transparent (clothes, for example), and the stones will become more saturated, with clearer details.

Translator’s Note: the screenshot shows the scheme of transition from shadow to light in various materials: 1) flat “clay” – smooth transition 2) “plastic” – sharper jump from shadow to light 3) “metal” – very sharp rise from shadow to light


Shadows are fairly flat and generally less saturated than the lighted side. Ambient light is easiest to see in the shadows. As the distance increases, the shadows become more blurred, a phenomenon called diffraction.

Shadows do not multiply with only ONE light source.

Color of the skin

Consider the environment. The light is brighter on the outside as well as on the outside and the skin color appears less saturated due to the blue ambient light of the sky and its blue reflections. Sometimes the skin tone even changes toward purple for this reason. This statement is especially true if the person is in the shadow.

Inside (where there are no windows, only light bulbs) the light is warmer, and the skin tone gets more red and orange subtones.

The color of the skin in the shade can sometimes change to green, especially if there is something green in the room (wallpaper, plants, furniture …).

In a white room or bathroom, the skin tone will appear rather pale, close to the colors of the surroundings, and there will also be less contrast between light and shade, due to the large amount of ambient light.

In a room where there is only one bright source of light, shadows are likely to be almost black.

… from all this it follows that the tone of your character’s skin, the light and shadows on it will directly depend on where it is located.


On the human body you can find many different shades. For example, the parts of the body covered with clothes, tan less. Areas of the pubis, hip, and chest are fairly pale. Shoulders and forearms often tan more strongly. However, the reverse side of the forearm will be paler in most cases. The skin on the knees and elbows is slightly darker. You can also find many shades on your face, such as pink cheeks, and for men, the jaw may be gray or almost green due to the bristles. The best way to deal with the nuances of the human body is, of course, to do research. Do not forget that animals, monsters and objects also have many shades. If you depict everything in one tone with the same intensity, it will be quite boring.

Some shades are due to ambient and reflected light. The shoulders and other “protruding” surfaces may, for example, acquire a blue tint due to the reflection of the sky.

Rich gradients – The gradients between light and shadow are not just the color between the color of the shadow and light. If the light and the shadow just mix, it looks very lifeless. If you look at the pictures, you will see that the gradients on them are saturated. It is very easy to notice if the saturation is removed.

Subsurface scattering – bright light can penetrate surfaces of some materials, bounce off other surfaces, and then fade again. This will increase the saturation and make the surface as if illuminated from the inside. In the case of the skin, we sometimes see a similar effect on the tin transitions between light and shadow.

Photo 2. From above the leaves have a shiny surface, so sometimes we can see there a blue sky reflection. The light passing through the sheet makes its reverse side more saturated – such an effect can be observed in the case of, for example, ears and fingers, which will appear very red if illuminated with a powerful light source.

Photo 3. Subsurface scattering at fingertips. The light on the left side of the thumb is perhaps the light reflected from the index finger.

Photo 4. Note that the border of light and shadow appears only when overexposed. On the thumb, it is not so clear.

Color relativity

Colors and brightness are relative. Using various tricks, we can make the observer think that it is a different color, or, for example, that the color is darker than it actually is. Sometimes the choice of color can be limited, as if you are working on shadows. Applying a hard border of light and shade, you can add more details with a limited choice of colors. And yet, the use of gradients can be quite useful to change the color so that the observer will not notice.

Colors with the same brightness are relative in terms of tone. A common mistake is to draw one detail very rich – then something will seem gray next to you, and to compensate for this, you will increase the saturation and the other detail too … as a result, the whole picture will be oversaturated.

True color

It is very easy to get involved in adding glare, and because of this it can be difficult to understand what color the object really is. Instead, add some shadows to add volume.

Make it Square and Simplify

Work with large brushes in order to avoid unnecessary strokes. Below you can see a bad example and a better example. In the second example, I actually did not do a lot of things – I simplified it in general. It’s just amazing what can change if you do a little more here and a little there. Of course, I spent a little more time on the face in the second case – a bad face can ruin everything. Sketched from source image.


A drawing is a hierarchy of important and less important details. For example, if you are creating a pin-up design, the figure and the silhouette as a whole are most important. In comics, silhouettes are drawn in thick lines, while less important details are drawn in much thinner lines. In the process of drawing you do the same thing, only with the help of brush strokes! You use the difference in hue, saturation, brightness, transitions, clarity, detail, and composition to bring the observer to the semantic center of the image.

If you draw everywhere exactly the same way – then the drawing will be flat. You can send an observer to the most important elements, but as soon as he looks at them, something interesting is needed in order to hold his eyes, for example, relevant details. The number of parts in one place should be proportional to the amount of time that the observer delays his gaze on this place.

You can see the examples created by me:

(A) Important Forms

(B) texture

(C) Both

Sometimes getting involved in details can be very dangerous, especially at an early stage, since the details in the light and in the shade can be completely different. In the second picture (B), I worked through all the details to show you what it would look like if you just jot down the details without thinking about the important forms (A). (C) still looks a little weird, but this is due to design problems. Side view will allow you to get to about this level, plus, the anatomy is rather strange, and the image is harder to read.

A is a form without details, B is details, and C is both. Be careful, and do not overdo it with B, the form should be read!

Perspective and construction

There will not be a long lesson on perspectives; instead, I’ll just show how much it gets easier if you make several guides along which you can align the shapes / environment in the drawing process.

If you don’t really want to paint the environment just because all these perspective lines are very tiring, you can use a simple two-point perspective and make the details at random. It is amazing how much easier it is to build the forms correctly with just a few guides (at least for me). Guides should not be perfect or appear to be right. There is a risk that your work will suffer if you fail to quickly improvise, and you have to do everything in the ruler. To begin with, draw the horizon line, and then the lines radiating in rays in a random order, then simply trim and go to the outline.

In the picture: flexible, straight

For example, a couple of quickly hand-drawn lines that help me align my shoulders and all that. When drawing people, it may be useful to draw a “spine” for alignment purposes.

Linear Sketch

Exaggerate – This is one of the coolest drawing tricks – you can exaggerate certain details, like your hips or chest. Haha, no, I’m serious. This is good when important bends are drawn more clearly.

Simplify – The advantage of drawing over photography is oversimplification. In the photo you have a lot of distracting details. When you draw, you can get rid of objects that do not belong to the scene. Wrinkles and small protrusions can be eliminated to get better lines. A frequent mistake that I notice is that someone draws the abs (I mean the abdominal muscles) and blocks it with hatching. It is better to leave the lines, especially if you are going to work with color, because in this case the contrast between different color areas can function as lines.

Harmonize – another definition for this advice is “smoothness”. Unlike what I mentioned above, this item is related to the relationship between the parts, and how the lines intersect each other, becoming more powerful and coarser. Try making some smooth lines that you can work on later.

Stylize – If you are working with style, constancy is important. You can turn bends into hard edges, or make lines sweeping and sine-like. I prefer a combination in which I turn a bend into a hard edge at some point.

Line thickness – Apart from some exceptions, I am not a fan of drawings with lines of the same thickness. Below, I tried to give a few tips on how and when to change the thickness of the line.

  • The lines are thicker on the shadow side, thinner on the side of the world.
  • The closer the lines are to the observer, the thicker they are and vice versa.
  • Silhouette lines are thicker, parts lines are thinner.
  • Lightweight materials depict thinner lines.
  • Thin lines look good in detailed works.
  • Thick lines look good in simple shapes.
  • Thick lines go well with flat colors.
  • Thin lines go well with realistic style and elaborate volumes.

Also, you don’t always need lines. Sometimes, if you just hint at it, drawing its tips, the eye will complement the missing. As examples, such places where the skin is as if compressed, for example, lips, buttocks, chest, etc. A good move is to make the line a bit thicker in the gap area. Examples are places where clothing is stretched over muscles or … something else.

Finally, some illustrations. The first one was made in Photoshop (5.5) using a Wacom tablet, so there’s no need to talk about the quality of the lines, but I think the idea is clear. The second is the ink job done a few years ago.

When drawing some lines that are left from the outline or design can harm you. You can separate shapes with something other than black lines, for example, a different brightness or a bright line. Here are some possible solutions and what they convey.

Linear sketch can be processed several times, and then we will draw on top of them, and they will gradually disappear. This illustration is not complete.


I did not conduct research a few years ago, and I regret it. You will not get good right lines, if you just guessing and picking – and in the drawing only so far you can go. To work easily and quickly, you need to learn how to draw without even thinking about the design of something (anatomy, for example). So you can concentrate on the picture and details.

Spread your drawings. Do not swing the pencil, moving from one detail to another. Always check the basic proportions, and do not get carried away with the details too early. Leave marks on important places. It will be something of the signal flags that you follow.

Try to study only one topic at a time. You will not be able to juggle and run a hundred-meter at the same time. If you want to learn a new material / tool, start by drawing something light, such as fruit. If you want to learn how to draw people’s faces, work with familiar material so that you don’t have to suffer with it. If there are a few things that you are not coping with yet, you simply won’t understand exactly what you are doing wrong. The number is also important. I would not recommend, for example, to study anatomy with tools for carving wood.

Linear drawing – learning to work with a pencil should not be anything more than a few pencil sketches on paper. Over my research I spend several hours, 10-30 minutes per sheet (A4). I do it only a few times a month, but I definitely see progress. And just imagine what would happen if you did this several times a week for years.

A couple of examples of my research. In this case, the sources were comics (the study of postures) and photographs (the study of individuals).

Work with color – when I work on this theme, I use Photoshop and, most often, an image from the Internet. I duplicate the document, and delete everything from the second. Then I begin to place the color patches in their approximate places. After that, I gradually increase the amount of detail and improve accuracy in color or brightness. When the image becomes similar to the original, when viewed from a distance or with narrowed eyes, then everything is ready. I always work with a brush as large as possible to work through a particular part. I do not take the color of the original with a pipette, but the windows with the image and work always have the same size so that I can see the error. If you want to complicate the task, make windows of different sizes, or, for example, reflect the original, or even paint something from life.

Examining the statue:

The first work created in the Open Canvas, the second – in Photoshop.

Figure legs. Here I tried to be as minimalistic as possible.

The second job is not really a study, but rather an example of how to “clean” the work, which, in fact, is not necessary when conducting research.

These are works copied from the source, although I allowed myself to add some lines and a certain style.

One of my first studies.

What to study

Learn everything! You need to create in your head a huge library of shapes and other things in order to draw intuitively. It will take a whole life or so, so start now!

Human anatomy – one of the most important topics that you should look into. Even in monsters one can notice something from human anatomy.

  • Study the whole body. Use photos, anatomy books, statues or real people.
  • First we look at the face. If you make a mistake in just one line, the whole expression on your face will change. Explore this topic by looking at your friends or yourself.
  • Hands are also an important (and difficult) topic.
  • Feet can also be a difficult object, not because of the lines, but because you need to put your character on the ground so that it does not seem like he is falling or the earth is leaning.
  • Examine casual clothes. It is important to know how wrinkles appear on clothes, what are different types of clothes and how they look in public.

Gestures and styles – need variety and fresh ideas. Learning new styles is a pretty good idea.

  • Draw what you see – your friends, people in a cafe, on the bus, or somewhere else. What does a man’s posture look like when he tears off the door? Reaching for keys? Scared by the artist? :)
  • Marvel. How do Marvel artists depict the human body with lines? What details are important, and what can be simplified?
  • Modesty Blaise, or some other comic book style, at least a bit like a realistic one. Creating gradients from white and black only is not an easy task.
  • Manga or style that you like. Again ask yourself how an artist turns human anatomy into lines and color spots? What parallels can you draw between different styles?

Wednesday – placing a character in any environment really enlivens him. I should study this topic carefully myself.

  • Landscapes with fields, mountains or anything.
  • Thick forest or jungle.
  • Urban or industrial “landscape”.
  • Rooms – for example, a room with furniture. Bored, I know. Honestly, he still did not do it.

Buy a book about animals – … and paint them. A good way to create a monster is to turn several animals into one.

  • All living things. Mother Nature has spent millions of years developing everything that surrounds you, so you’d better explore it all.
  • Horses, cats, dogs, birds. These topics are especially important, as we meet with them most often.

Mechanics – need to practice in this topic, it is useful when drawing robots or droid-destroyers.

  • Cars of different models.
  • Digging and working machines.
  • Military vehicles.

Static objects from life – in fact, everything around you. A good theme to practice drawing in general is because of simple shapes — you don’t have to deal with shapes or complex textures.

  • Fruits, flowers, skeletons, sculpture, food, rusty metal parts

Self criticism

Analyze what you are doing wrong. It is very easy to lose sight of something when you look at an image for too long (which you will, of course, have to do in the process). Try turning the pattern upside down, reflecting in the mirror (I use the disk), zoom in and out (or move away by yourself). Do not consider drawing too closely. In Photoshop you can also make a “new look”.

You also need to accept the fact that if you have been working on something for a long time, this does not mean that the work has some value. You need to be willing to sacrifice the time you spent drawing if it looks bad. Even if you are satisfied with the details, you may need to change them. Sometimes the problem is not in the details, but in something related to them, such as, for example, the brightness of the background or the perspective of another detail.

In order of importance

In general, certain aspects of drawing are more important than others.

Design – what do you want to draw? Your object and composition should look good at the very beginning. If this is not the case, then no treatment will fix it. Do not think that you will be able to save work later. If the pose looks wrong now, then at the end it will look the same, even if Rembrandt himself drew it.

Brightness – for everything to work out well, you will need to use brightness to create the shapes. With the help of brightness, you can combine and separate forms.

Example 1:

In this figure, with the first version, obviously something is wrong. Each form has both light and shadow. The second version is already better, but only one type of brightness is used there. In the third version, different forms have different brightness. Maybe there is a problem in the design – the picture is not very interesting, I must say.

Example 2:

Here both color and brightness are used to separate the foreground and background, although I don’t like this design either, there are also problems with the design.

Colour – You can lose a little color (hue and saturation), and it will get you away. If there is something wrong with the colors, it’s probably a matter of brightness. A little advice – if you have gone through the previous steps and everything is OK, then tools that regulate color balance can help to create fresh images. However, in my experience, the best colors are the ones you chose from the beginning.

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