HOW: my workflow

For the very first time, I’m going to write a more detailed article about the workflow behind one of my cell-shaded coloring. I’ll try to be as explicit as possible.

WORKFLOW _ STEP 1: Sketching
Nothing difficult to understand about this first part. First of all I sketched the volumes, then I looked for refs for the mask (in this case I had to search for a lot of pictures about Japanese oni masks. I found some lion-looking ones, which I got in love with). I had to draw every single detail of the mask… I wasn’t familiar with the subject, so I needed clear guide lines. Usually, my sketches aren’t this detailed; when I work with topics I know well, I sometimes draw the whole lineart directly during the inking part. That’s what happened with the three lanterns here.

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WORKFLOW _ STEP 2: Inking
Again, nothing strange here. Many people ask me “how the hell can you do such a clean and sharp inking? Is that a vector path? Is that some algorithm stabilizing your line?”. Well, no, nothing like that. My “””secrets””” are just four: firm hand, good control of my wrist motion and – most of all – the magic of patience and Ctrl+Z. Really, I’m the walking embodiment of that “stroke-ctrlZ-stroke-ctrlZ” meme you see sometimes on the web.

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WORKFLOW _ STEP 3: Flat coloring
This is a very important part. An important, long and pretty boring part! Precise flats are SUPER important for next steps. Sometimes I do them on the same layer – using my brush in “behind” mod – sometimes I arrange them on different ones… It depends on what I think I’ll need in the future. In this case (since I knew I were going to apply textures with layer masks) I did the flat coloring on 5 different layers: lanterns, mask/skin, dark hair, kimono and fair fur.

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WORKFLOW _ STEP 4: Basic lighting
This is the most important part of my method. The color I use for the shading makes all the magic, giving a precise direction to the atmosphere you want the pic to get. In this case, I used a very dirty light red in “multiply” on the whole thing. It gave the character a pretty violent aura, which is what I wanted. In the meanwhile I painted the background, using the palette I applied previously on the character, in order not to use too many different colors: the risk of creating chromatic confusion is always very high. Using a few colors is always safer. After adding the whole shading, I proceeded with the lighting, made on a layer in “screen” mod.
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WORKFLOW _ STEP 5: First details
Step 5, where I start caring about littler details. I did the following adjustments: I defined darker shadows where light wasn’t applied (like on fangs and gums), I made lanterns shine, I painted the glow of lanterns on near surfaces, like arms, hair and kimono. In the end, I added cooler tones on shaded parts, like on the lower hands and on the fair fur.

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WORKFLOW _ STEP 6: Texturing and final adjustments
The texturing part was extremely complicated, but also super satisfying. I created some seamless textures getting inspiration by stuff on the web and applied them carefully, trying to respect volumes. The line between “flat” and “volumetric” is extremely thin when talking about applied textures. A clever use of specular lights made the pattern shine, detail I really appreciate.
In the end I played a little bit with adjustments and curves. Mostly, I made “blues” go more towards “greens”. Some touch of “vivid light” here and there made hair and lanterns glow more, creating more shades of orange.

At last, always remember to sign your picture!

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I really hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope you got some useful pieces of advice.
Sooner or later I’ll try to write new articles about different color techniques. But until them, be good and stay safe!
That’s all folks!

In case you missed, you can admire the final product on my HOMEPAGE and look… IT MOVES (thanks to my amazing web designer)!