Digital Portrait Painting Fom Life

May 21st, 2020

Have you ever tried to paint a portrait from a live model? 

digital portrait painting from life

The process is challenging but very rewarding. The advantage of painting from life is that you can see and experience the color of the model and the light in it’s purest form. This will really help to improve your sense of color. Scroll down for more examples of digital portrait paintings from life and a process breakdown…

These digital portrait paintings were done from a live model. The poses were about 3 hours long.  My setup for digital painting portraits from life is Photoshop on a 13″ Macbook pro with a Wacom Intous 4 tablet. This setup is nice and compact and is very portable. It also doesn’t take up a lot of space so it is easy to set up in a life drawing workshop or classroom.

digital portrait painting from life

digital portrait painting from life

Digital Portrait Painting Process

The process I use to paint these portraits is exactly like I would in traditional material like oil paint or watercolor.

The advantage of digital is that it enables quick editing and revision. Because of the software and digital painting tools like layers, adjustment layers and custom brushes I can experiment with techniques, brush strokes and colors.

See below for some process images.

Step 1: Drawing

digital portrait painting process 01

Every good painting begins with a drawing. Because I wanted a realistic/naturalistic look, I spend as much time as needed to get good structure and placement. At this stage I can even start to achieve likeness of the model.

Step 2: Block-In

digital portrait painting process 02

With a good drawing in place, I can quickly establish the major shapes of color (and value). In this example, the skin is blocked in as one mass of color. The hair is also blocked in a s a large dark mass along with the smaller shadow shapes in the face. The green is added to the define the color and shape of the shadow.

Step 3: Color Variation

digital portrait painting process 03

I add variation of color in the major shapes of skin, hair and shadow. This color variation, also known as ‘temperature shifts’ keeps the color vibrant and life like and helps to add to ‘realistic’ feeling skin and hair color.

Step 4: Dark Accents and Highlights

digital portrait painting process 04

The dark accents in the hair and the features help to create more contrast. The highlights in the forehead, cheek and nose help to create the illusion of form.

Step 5: Rendering and Finishing Touches

digital portrait painting from life

To finish a painting, I focus mostly on refining edges. This means I make soft edges to help the forms turn, for example in the cheek and forehead. I also sharpen some edges and add details in the features, especially the eyes.

With the time remaining, I also add finishing touches like hair details, splashes of color in the background.


If you want to learn digital painting techniques and how to paint realistic, high quality portraits and digital paintings in photoshop, check out my course, The Laws of Color

laws of color photoshop bundle

This course you will learn how to use color and get consistent results. The course also has multiple portrait demos, still life demos, detailed handouts, homework exercise and more.

->Click here to learn more about the course…