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Create stylized characters

By Renée Chio
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 13th March 2015
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Renée Chio's female characters are eye-catching and memorable, but how does she achieve that distinctive look? Read on to find out more about her creative process


This tutorial will explain the creation process for this particular illustration. Though each one of my works are treated differently, they all share similar techniques and methods. But what's really special about this drawing is the way I resolved some material depictions that I had never done before, like the tutu – taking advantage of digital techniques and Photoshop tools. The approach might not be the most practical for me nowadays (I made this drawing a year ago), but it definitely helped me learn how to use some tools smartly by comprehending the material I was being challenged with.

In any case I'll explain a bit of the thinking process that led me to this procedure, so that it makes sense. Hopefully it'll help you apply these techniques to your own work too.

I mostly use a digital painting technique that involves using only one hard brush, but some materials in this illustration required brushes with certain properties. All of these special brushes will be explained in detail along with the
download links.

The process also includes the use of some layer properties, shortcuts, filters, transform tools, composition, and color, among other things. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


I get an 800 x 600 canvas at 72dpi. I tend to work on a small canvas because it forces me to focus on the important things of my illustration, such as composition, instead of worrying about details early on.

On a new layer, I sketch using a round hard brush at 100% opacity. I prefer to control the opacity with the pressure sensitivity of the tablet (I've got a Graphire4), so this lets me sketch very lightly and define important forms at the
same time.

At first I usually use a warm color because it's much easier for me to work with. However, in this case, I changed it to a dark blue because it works better with the palette I had chosen. This level of roughness is enough for me to start coloring it.

In the Brush window, enable Transfer and select Pen Pressure in the Control drop-down menu

Lighting and composition

I created a new layer underneath the sketch and using the same hard brush, only larger; I started to define the basic lighting and anatomic forms very roughly. The color of the sketch will define the tone of the shadows, so all colors will move to the blue tonal range, the darker they get with the shading. This will make the whole image feel a lot more integrated. At the end, I painted the wall on the back to frame the subject a bit more.

Fun fact: As I was coloring it, I decided to add the bra because of censorship in some social networks. It turned out to be quite an improvement for the composition.

Shadows tend towards blue

Hiding the sketch

Hiding the sketch is not the same as hiding the layer. I always keep the sketch in my illustrations, not only because it's what separates elements but it's also the soul of the drawing and deleting it makes it feel lifeless. What I really do is just paint the sketch.

First, I selected the Sketch layer and locked the transparency in the Layers window (this won't allow me do anything in the transparent area). Then with the Eyedropper I picked the color closest to the sketch and painted that area.

There were parts that I left dark on purpose, like the nostril, because it worked as occlusion shadows. As for the tutu, I mixed the different shades of pink to keep that messy look, though it got a different treatment in the process which I'll explain later on.

When using the brush, press the Alt key to use the Eyedropper without switching between tools

Polishing the important things first

In this stage I cranked the resolution up to 300 dpi. Here I could start polishing from the most important thing in my composition, then moving outwards to the least important. Using the same hard brush as before, I mixed colors with the Eyedropper and the pressure of the pen until I started getting a very soft finish.

For the hair, I defined some locks with shadows and at the end I used the Smudge tool to smoothly pull the ends outwards.

Renée spent much more time doing her face than the rest of the illustration to make it stand out

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