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The following is an excerpt from Digital Painting Techniques: Practical Techniques of Digital Art Masters. Compiled by the team at 3dtotal.com, Digital Painting Techniques, Volume 1 offers digital inspiration with hands-on insight and techniques from professional digital artists. Here, Richard Tilbury shows you step-by-step how he digitally paints fur.

Painting Fur By Richard Tilbury

Software Used: Photoshop

In this tutorial I will be attempting to paint fur, and for this exercise I will be using a wolf as a context to create the image, in order for it to make sense and not appear just as a semiabstract picture. Before starting to paint, I search the internet for various references and photographs to help guide me in the creation of a convincing representation of fur. When you begin to look at your subject, which in this case is a wolf, you will realize how varied it is, not only from animal to animal but also in the types of fur evident in a single type of creature, such as our wolf. When I began researching the subject I soon discovered how wolves vary in color and how their fur changes in length across their bodies. For example, the fur around their legs is quite short and looks almost matted, similar to a bear, and yet around the shoulders it is longer and shaggier in appearance. So with our research done and references gathered, let’s paint!

Step 1

Once you have enough reference material at hand it is time to make a start, which I will do by filling in the background color of a blank canvas with a non-descript warm gray, over which I can create a new layer for my drawing of a simple outline of a wolf (Fig.01). I always like to get rid of the white early on – any tertiary color is suitable really, and this is only a personal preference.

Fig 1

Step  2

On a new layer I start to paint in the key colors, which compose mainly of warm browns and yellows in this instance. As there will be no definitive shadows and highlights I have sketched everything in on one layer. In Fig.02 you will notice that I have made some provisional rough marks below the shoulder to denote some of the thicker fur that appears darker beneath the surface, similar to a husky. I use a paler color along the edges to show where the light manages to show through, and basically paint in the main areas. You will also notice that the brush marks also roughly follow the direction that the fur has grown, as indicated by the arrows.

Fig 2

Step 3

The next stage involves using a custom brush in conjunction with the Smudge tool so that the edges may be softened somewhat and create the appearance of numerous strands of hair. In Fig.03 you can see the shape of the brush in the upper left corner along with the marks it produces, and in Fig.04 you can see the settings used, which are simple enough. Notice that the Spacing is turned down in order that the brush leaves uninterrupted lines when used. With the brush size set quite small, select the Smudge tool and start dragging outwards from the edges – you may wish to alter the strength on the toolbar to around 55%.

Fig 3

Fig 4

You can see how this has made a difference in the latest version. I also use a standard Airbrush set to between 1 and 3 pixels wide and add in some more hair to help blend the sections. Remember that you do not really need to illustrate every strand of hair, but rather just a few here and there to suggest the illusion of fur.

In the case of the head, I paint in some lighter areas using various tonal ranges and omit any real detail. I place a few random lines around the neck line to help blend the head and body and suggest some longer fur, but do not labor on this. The eye, nose and mouth areas are darkened to help the overall impression, but you can see that the picture is much improved from just a minimal amount of detail.

Step  4

So far I have tried to create the impression of fur using tonal ranges, a small amount of smudging, and with as little attention to painting actual individual hairs as possible. What I have essentially aimed for is a good and general impression with as much economy as I can muster, so that I have a clear target for finishing the picture. Now that I have established the key areas I will begin the process of refinement.

In Fig.05 I use the same Airbrush as in the previous section to paint in a series of fine strokes that help blend the various tonal passages and show actual strands of fur. These range from the neck to the top of the back and follow the rough direction of the body, but keep mindful to draw in random directions in order to add a natural feel. You can see, particularly on the shoulder area, that the dark sections flow towards the back as well as the chest, and some of the lighter hairs on the neck are almost at right angles to the general flow.

Fig 5

Step 5

We now reach the final phase of the tutorial which proceeds along the same lines. I add in more fine strokes as well as a few that are a bit wider, to resemble some clumps of fur. Remember to vary your strokes in direction and width as well as the color. So, for example, in darker areas add in some lighter strokes, and vice versa.

In the final version (Fig.06a – b) you will notice that I have left rougher and wider strokes along the shoulder to portray the thicker fur, and kept the finer strokes to areas towards the outer edges and head. The crucial thing to remember is randomness. The last areas to be completed are the eyes, a few facial details, and a color change to the background.

Fig 6a

Fig 6b

Excerpt from Digital Painting Techniques: Practical Techniques of Digital Art Masters, Volume 1 by 3dtotal.com © 2009 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Painting Techniques can be purchased Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

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