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Tutorial: Photorealistic Portrait of a Cat, Part 2

Tutorial: Photorealistic Portrait of a Cat, Part 2

Originally Published December 2010

In this two-part tutorial, we explore how to reproduce photographic detail using Photoshop paintbrushes. There are two very different areas of this painting. The foliage was covered first, in last week’s tutorial.

ic:At the project's completion, the painting looks just like the photo, especially at this small size.

We painted each leaf or “blade” of the foliage on it’s own layer, making sure to save the transparency (blank) area of each layer as a channel. Today, we’ll call up those selections to add a layer of texture to many of the blades. This will make them look really photographic.

ic:A close-up of the photograph, showing the fur details.

For the cat’s fur, there’s no easy way to reproduce all those little hairs. If you want the result to look photographic, you need to recreate something with the same level of detail as the photograph. It helps to zoom in (as shown here) when painting the fur. Notice that the white hairs seem to be on top of the ones below. Under the white hairs there are some brown hairs of various shades. At the bottom there are black hairs. So we’ll work with three layers named Black (bottom), Brown (middle), and White (top). This makes the job a bit easier, and it also gets great results. Let’s get started!

ic:Block in areas of color, at full opacity, to serve as the base for the cat.

As you can see above, I’ve already finished the eye. I won’t be covering that today, to keep this tutorial reasonable in length. So, after painting the eye, I created a new layer, located at the bottom of the layer stack, with all the foliage above. This makes sense, when you think about it. Now, as you paint, you don’t have to worry about painting over the lines into the foliage. Since they lie above the cat layers, they block any “overpainting” we might do. So, insert a new layer, call it Cat Painting Base. Using a brush at medium hardness and 100% opacity, quickly block in the major shapes (see above). Don’t belabor this part: when you’re done, nearly all of this will be covered over. Why paint it at all, then? I find it helps to have the general colors in place, rather than, say, white. It’s a traditional painting method that works well here, too.

ic:Just above the Cat Painting Base layer, add a new layer called Black. Paint the darkest details here.

Before you go any further, I would recommend that you lock the Cat Painting Base layer, just to make sure you don’t paint on it by mistake. Click on the black lock icon to lock it. Then, insert a new layer, and name it “Black” or “Dark”. This will be the darkest colors, and they will be overlaid next by lighter and lighter colors. Most of the detail comes in the next two layers, so don’t spend too much time here. Notice that I added some dark browns and purples to the ear and the top of the head.

ic:All the middle values are added here on the Brown layer.

Lock the “Black/Dark” layer before moving on. Insert a new layer above the “Black/Dark” layer, and name it “Brown” or “Middle”. As you can see above, there’s a LOT of brushwork going on here! Keep in mind that you don’t need to do the whole cat in order, as shown here. Actually, I painted the three layers for forehead first, then the ear, then the nose and chin. Use the same three layers for the whole cat. I zoomed in to each separate area in order to see and copy the details.

ic:The white details come last. The fur is now done.

You know the drill by now: lock the Brown layer, and insert a new one, calling it White. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can go back down the stack to the Brown or Black layers at any point. In traditional acrylic painting, you can’t do that; you must paint the darks, middles, and lights in order, and there’s no going back, without a lot of headaches. I’m just pointing out, once again, one of the many advantages of working digitally.

ic:Zoomed in at 100 percent, you can see how the paint (right) is far from exactly the same as the photo. At smaller sizes, however, it looks pretty darn close.

The above comparison shows that you don’t need to get every last hair exactly right. I didn’t work this closely zoomed in, and I don’t recommend you do that, either. What you’re trying to achieve is similarity of pattern, of texture. Keep zooming out to “fit on screen” and check your progress. This is a slow process. The next part, adding texture and detail to the foliage, is fast.

The foliage, which was painted in part one, lacks the details needed to look truly photographic. You can see what I mean in the following.

The untextured leaves on the left are smooth. In order to quickly (and very effectively) add some realistic detail and texture, we’ll add a layer above each leaf (remember there’s a separate layer for every leaf), with a texture image on it. We’ll set that layer’s blending mode to Overlay, and boom, we’re done! In the example on the right, you see two different texture images at work. The top area uses a “spotty” kind of image, and the other uses one that has lines in it. Here are the texture images used:

ic:These are texture images downloaded for free from some generous soul on the Internet.

To add the texture: highlight the layer of the leaf you want to add texture to. Go to your texture image, select an area, and copy. Click on the cat painting file, and paste. It creates a new layer with the texture. You will need to resize (Edit > Transform > Scale) and rotate it (Edit > Transform > Rotate) and move it until it covers the leaf area completely. Now, remember those selections you created last week for each and every leaf area? Here’s where they prove their worth. Go to Select > Load Selection, and pick the selection for your leaf from the drop down, click the Invert checkbox, and click OK. Make sure you’re on the texture layer (it’s highlighted and active). Now, do Edit > Clear. This removes all of the texture that is NOT on the leaf. Change the texture layer’s blending mode to Overlay, and you’re done! For this painting, I added texture to the in-focus, close-up leaves only. You may find that lowering the opacity of the texture layer helps in some cases.

Thanks to Lassekorsgaard on Deviant Art for the free textures. The two used above come from his very generous download containing 90 great textures. Enjoy!

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