Women faces

01 Jul 2015
  • posted by Veerle Pieters

Today I'm going to show some illustration work that unfortunately never saw daylight as the project got cancelled. The work evolved along the way but it was one of my biggest struggles in Photoshop & Illustrator so far. The path was like thousand tiny little lessons in drawing. The ability to illustrate real faces is a skill that I don't really master so the creation of these illustrations helped me in becoming better at it.

Trial and error

The process is very much trial and error. In school I learned to draw what you see. One of the most important steps to master. We learned to draw the interior of a cathedral, and other types of interior, all kinds of objects and still lives,… Drawing people and portraits took about a week, and that's it. There was just so much, not to mention the different techniques of painting, water-coloring, pencil drawings…All these different drawing classes felt more like crash courses. It was up to me to learn all of this myself after school hours. At the end of my 3 year of art school I evolved a lot in these different techniques, all from zero really.

However, my time at school is a long time ago, so working on portraits felt like a new beginning. The real difficulty was the expression on the face, the shading, lines, tones, textures, and reflection etc. These faces had to look real, full of expression, and live. Those are slightly harder steps to make. One of the mistakes I often tend to make is that I want to keep too much detail. Guess that's typical of being a perfectionist. It's just a hard thing to do, and I believe it's a skill, to see the necessary lines that are needed to have a complete illustration that looks finished and polished. That's why I admire illustrators like DKNG that can create something very recognisable with only a few lines or shapes.

The other thing I struggled with was finding the right style. A style that has some personality to it. At first I was convinced that I should draw these portraits in Illustrator and not using Photoshop at all, but I quickly changed my mind. Somehow I couldn't find a perfect way to express the style I had in mind. I wanted a mix of nice clean flat and subtle watercolor. Using brushing in Illustrator is totally different than in Photoshop. In Photoshop you actually paint by the pixel, but in Illustrator it's all vector-based and the effect is totally different. It was not what I was looking for.

My process in short

The most time consuming part was not the actual drawing of the face, instead, it was finding the most logical and efficient steps of going from a pencil sketch to a final illustration. All faces were all drawn by pencil on paper first, and then scanned and placed into Illustrator. Then I traced (using the Pen tool) them all into detail, eyes, mouth, hair by hair etc. I made sure everything was all layered and well organized. Then I copy pasted those different shapes into Photoshop, with the scanned sketch in the background. I used each shape as a selection to paint inside. Some of the elements where completely drawn in Illustrator such as the eyes, and hair details, and then finished off with some brushes in Photoshop.

Painting using a Wacom tablet

Once in Photoshop I was actually painting the face using all sorts of brushes, but mainly this wonderful set of Kyle's Watercolor brushes. They're really wonderful to work with! At first I started painting using just a mouse, but that didn't really work well since you can't make use of the pressure sensitivity of a brush. It didn't give me the result I wanted, and it got me really frustrated. So I decided to buy a Wacom Intuos pro tablet (medium). It was again a learning process (still is), but I enjoyed using it for these kind of illustrations. It takes a bit of time to master, but it's really wonderful to work with.


Most of my time went into finding the right brush. There are so many brushes and also the way you can use the brush. Then you can also play with the layer mode and the opacity of a layer, plus the brush itself. The possibilities are endless and to me it felt like a search and exploration that didn't find its end. The first face took me at least 5 times as long as the last one, if not even longer. I don't remember how much I started over and over. It was a learning process, but I had a lot of fun. Moments of frustrations are quickly forgotten once you see things evolving the way you envisioned. Patience is a great virtue :)