A detailed step by step of a realistic lion as painted by resident airbrush artist ‘Haasje’ of the orange airbrush forum. See his website and facebook profile by following the links at the bottom of the page or read on to learn some of the cool techniques employed by this awesome artist.
Board: 53x70cm Schoellershammer 4g
Airbrush: Iwata CM-C CM-SB
I started out with searching for a reference photo where the light was a bit interesting (generaly these nature pics seem to be made to give the clearest image of the critter possible which doesn’t make for any interesting shadows). With photoshop I cut out the part I wanted to paint (a lot less background) and adjusted the darklights a tad to get a bit more shadow and enriched the colors a tad.
As this isn’t going to be a portrait and no one will notice if I don’t follow the reference exactly I used a projector to get the basic sketch on the paper. When drawing the sketch I search out the light/dark areas and some reference lines with animals I also indicate the direction the fur/hair is going.
For the background I used flesh-tone to indicate the light /dark areas at the bottom. The top, which is just dark had a 1st layer of sepia which I also used to make the transition between the light and dark area. With transparent yellow ochre I went over the whole light area. With transparent blue I went over the areas that had to be a tad greenish (yellow below a transparent blue = green). The top got a layer of brown ochre and burnt umber.
As the colors of the background where a tad too bright I did a white wash with a very reduced transparent white to push it a bit back. With transparent yellow ochre I enriched the bottom a tad again and with burnt umber the top.
To make it easier for myself to keep the detail up I’ll do the lion in parts. With the tiger this was a tad easier as you had the black stripes that easily defined the border between areas. In this case I’ll take the transitions between light and dark in the face which means I’ll have to do a tad larger areas than I’d like.
With sepia I very roughly mark out the darker areas after that I use daggers and dots to indicate the direction of the fur and color in the darker areas where needed trying to aproach the grey scale as much as possible. This means that if I would use photo shop to make a black and white image of my lion and the reference I’d want the greys to come out the same.
I do step 2 at the same time as constantly doing daggers and dots gets a tad boring. With an electric eraser I further define the hairs keeping a close eye on the direction they go. With an eraser pencil I lighten the light areas and make the hair a tad fuzzier where needed. As there will be a couple of more layers I’m not too precise here except for the eye areas but I do keep a close eye on the direction of the hairs as they in a large part will be responsible for giving the illusion of depth and shape.
Something I came up with but didn’t try on the tiger is to use a water color pencil on the tad out of focus hairs. I apply quite a bit of pencil and go over it with a wet finger in the direction of the hair. This gives a nice out of focus effect (didn’t use it much in this layer but will certainly use it more in the last few layers).
1. The 1st layer of sepia and erasing is done. While doing the sepia I try to stay as close to the greyscale as possible. The erasing of the hairs will ruin this but the light/dark areas will remain visible through them making it easier to stick to the correct light dark values in later steps. It will also keep shining through making the background hairs in the darker areas darker. Erasing in this step is done with the pencil eraser to lighten where needed and to make hair a bit fuzzier/out of focus, the electrical eraser was used to do individual hairs and harder textures.
2. With transparent yellow ochre, brown ochre and brick-red ochre the first color is added I apply the colors roughly in the areas where its needed but am not too careful yet as this is pure background and needed to give the hairs some debth. In the eyes I am a lot more careful as not a lot more will be done there (eyes got yellow in the light areas and brown in the transition to the dark areas). Just to be sure, coloring it like this only works with transparents as opaques will just cover all the work you did before.
3. With blue and sepia I went into the areas that are either white (around the nose) or where more whitish (top of the head). As the top of the head already had some yellow in it I used mainly sepia there as blue would become greenish. The dark around the eyes got some blue as did the shadow parts of the hair. I did deviate a tad from my reference here the top of the head was basicly the same color as the whole face but looking at some other pics of lions some had some other color here and I thought it would make for a more interesting picture (I do stick to the grey values and hair direction of the reference ofc)
4. Another layer of erasing, a repeat of the erasing step before only a tad more careful as this will remain a lot more visible.
5. Yellow ochre as these will be the final color steps (except maybe some tweaking in the end) I’m nor pretty carefull with where I apply my color.
6. Brown ochre
7. Red ochre
8. With burnt umber I did the darkest parts and applied shadow where needed (looking at the grey scales), I also did detail hairs (loads of daggers) where needed and in the transitions to the dark areas. With a mix of black and umber I detailed the area around the eyes a bit further.
9. White washed the eyes. With a mix of +/- 1 white, 2 water, 2 base I “glazed over” the eyes
10. With a very reduced yellow ochre and brown ochre I added a bit more color back to the eyes where needed and redid the highlights.
11. With an eraser pencil I lightened some areas and fuzzied-up the hair again, with an exacto knife I did the individual hairs. I do use an electric eraser in this stage also but only in the very light areas as with the electrical eraser you have a bit less control than with a knife (it leaves a pretty clear start and end point).
The work itself is considerably lighter than most posted pics as most were taken in the evening with my phone.
For the manes the process is the same as for the fur only I use longer strokes (pic 1 (sepia step) & 2 (erasing with eraser pencil and electrical eraser)) as the hairs are longer. Especially in the first erasing layer make sure you do some hairs in random directions that don’t go with the flow. Unless you’re doing a model with perfect madeup hair there will always be some hairs going against the flow.
With an exacto knife and a light blue pencil I did the individual hairs on top. The knife are for the “infocus” hairs and the ones with the pencils for those a tad in the background. In this stage I also “repair” those annoying dots you sometimes get at the start or end of an electric eraser line. With the knife I make them to individual hairs camouflaging those dots. This will only work if you do the background first.
A nice trick (use it a lot when doing human hair), take a couple of hairs you did with the pencil and go over a small part of it with an exacto knife, it will look as if the out of focus hair reflect a bit of light (watch out, you do this only in places where it could actualyl catch light)
Got some more fur done. This was a repeat of the steps posted earlier, only at the end I went over the “light” shadow area with a reduced burnt umber and the darker shadow areas with a mix of black and umber as the hairs in the last step would otherwise stand out too much. Don’t over do this and make sure the paint is reduced enough else you run the risk of going to dark you want to have all the work you did before shine through and all the shadow areas should already be in there. This is just to prevent there from being white hairs in your dark areas.
The rightside of the head was done as described earlier. As this part seems to be slightly out of focus/blurry I refrained from adding too much detail with the exacto knife in the last phase and relied more on the eraser pencil which gives a more blurry effect.
When doing a picture in phases like this it’s a good idea to first think about the order in which you are going to do it to prevent one running into problems later on (its a good idea to think about it however you’re going to do it… I know it hurts).
The chin has hairs going overlapping the manes. The manes inturn have hairs overlapping the small part of the body thats visible. Were I to continue with the head (which looks reasonably logical) I’d have to either paint all the manes between the hair of the chin or redo all the hairs in the chin that fall over the manes. To prevent this I’ll do the body now 1st and than the manes under the chin. After that I’ll first finish the face as the manes on the right side partly fall over the face again.
The dark hairs / manes on the body I first did with sepia (and this is just a question of loads of dagger strokes/long lines), after that the same again with burnt umber. This didn’t look dark enough so it got another layer of daggers with a mix of umber and black. When doing hairs like this I try to reduce my paint as little as possible and crank up the air pressure that way you can put down the lines quickly in one stroke. A pencil or brush would also have been an option but I only thought of that when I was already done.
Probably the last step by step for this one, the whiskers.
With the tiger I did before this one I did the whiskers partly with an electrical eraser as that is a tad prone to error I wanted to try a different aproach (not involving one ).
1. With a white aquarel pencil I drew in the basic shape of the whiskers.
2. With a blue greyish aquarel pencil I drew a small shadow line on the whiskers (keep an eye out for where they cros eachother you don’t want a shadow line from a hair going through the hair thats on top)
3. With white I went over the whiskers (reduced my white quit a bit and reduced the air presure so I had the control to slowly follow the lines)
4. With a mix of black and burned umber I faded the whiskers into the fur (good thing they seem to startout black and than turn light) With an exacto knife I did some highlights
5. The same as in step 3 but now with transparent yellow ochre to color them a tad.
A. Most of you will be familiar with this but I thought I’d show it anyway. As the nose area is going to be mostly white and pretty tight (no overlapping hairs sticking out) I didn’t want any brown overspray from the manes there (the chin area below it has a lot of hairs sticking out so I didn’t mask that as overspray there is actualy usefull to blend it). Using a transparent piece of paper I copied the area I wanted to mask and cut it out. As I didn’t want a realy hard masking line here I made sure the mask was lifted a tad from the paper.
The face is done only the agony of yet more hair left. As you can see with the hairs overlapping each other (mentioned earlier) it’s important to do the parts in the right order.