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How To Paint Poison Ivy

Even though Comic Art is traditionally rendered with slickly inked line work, a snazzy cover painting often times serves as an instant eye-catcher to attract the attention of a potential reader. In fact, comic artists such as Alex Ross are known for painting up the cover and sequential interiors of their comics as well, resulting in an extremely realistic and mesmerizing visual experience for the reader.

So throughout this three part series I’m going to give you an inside look into my process for digitally painting your own comic book illustrations – and the star of today’s demonstration is non-other than the seductive and sadistic Gotham Siren from the DC’s Batman universe – Poison Ivy!
 

Here in Part 1 you’ll learn all about how to plot out the initial draft for a digital painting as we set out to establish an appropriate pose for Poison Ivy and articulate the key aspects of her design.  In order to express Ivy’s personality, attitude and the potent allure she’s so well known for, we’ll harness the principles of powerful body language to bring her to life on the page.
 

Unlike a traditionally inked comic book illustration, the final line work won’t need a high degree of polish. In fact as we continue adding to the painting, building it up through to completion, the penciled line work won’t even be visible in the finished product.
 

So once the rough sketch is complete and we have a clear idea of the general composition, placement and pose of the character - we’re now ready to move straight into the base colors.
 

Each section of the art work is filled in with a flat mid-tone. This step is just like coloring in a coloring in book. All you really need to ensure is that the base colors you’re picking sit together well and complement one another, while doing your best to keep inside the lines.
 

After the flats are done it’s time to move onto the base shadows and highlights. This is where we really start to see the illustration take form for the first time. At this point, we still want to work broadly, considering where the core light source is in the scene and shading the character accordingly. It’s important to focus on the larger, primitive shapes here, rather than the interior muscle groups so that we can create an overall base line for the lighting setup.
 

To increase the realism of the environmental lighting, our next step is to create the highlight and shadow overlay layers. Not only will this allow us to add color to the lighting itself, but it’ll also make the illustration’s color palette much more enriched and aesthetically pleasing to look at.
 

And that will complete Part 1 of our digital painting of Poison Ivy. In Part 2 we’ll build upon what we’ve learned in this tutorial and bring the illustration through to a much finer degree of articulation as we render the facial features, hair and refine Ivy’s forms.
 

I hope you enjoy this comic art tutorial and that you get a ton of value out of it.
 

Thanks for watching!

-Clayton
 

Software Used: Photoshop CS6
Hardware: Wacom Intuos 3

 

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TRANSCRIPT
 

Hey how ya doing, it’s Clayton here from How To Draw Comics . NET and welcome to today’s demonstration! In this video I’m going to be walking you through the time-lapsed recording for a digital illustration I painted up of Poison Ivy a year or so ago.
 

So to start off with, we’re here in Photoshop, and I’ve opened up a brand new document set to an A3 resolution, perfect printing size for a poster. You can see that I’ve already got a rough draft sketched down onto the canvas for Poison Ivy’s pose, proportions and the general composition I want her to be framed in. The looseness of these lightly drawn lines helps to capture a certain level of energy and flow within the gesture. This is important because it helps to avoid a pose that seems contrived, instead making it appear more natural. It creates a sense of movement and energy, as if the character has life to it rather than just being a stiff, lifeless mannequin.
 

Whenever I’m establishing the pose for a character I really try to express who they are through the way in which they move and hold themselves. Non-verbal communication is important, especially in comics since it’s predominantly a visual medium and body language can play a powerful role here. Most of us are familiar with Poison Ivy, the seductive villainess from the Bat-Man series who ensnares her opponents with an intoxicating allure impossible to resist. Of course she also holds dominion over nature’s plant life, controlling vines as if they were bower constrictors to capture, restrain and crush her victims.
 

So, I want to try and convey some of those iconic characteristics in the pose I’ve picked for her. She’s leaning back, leg up, elbow on knee at a relaxed, carefree rest. There’s nothing threatening in her demeanour whatsoever and as I build up her anatomy and place in the facial features, I’ll use those elements to further enhance the entrancing attraction Poison Ivy is so well known for invoking. 
 

At this point I’m beginning to sculpt her anatomy based on the basic pose I’ve already blocked out. Although I’m keeping the underlying muscle groups in mind, my main concern is in capturing a compelling shape for the arms, body and legs. In fact, I almost try to exaggerate the anatomy, making it stylised to give it more of a visual impact. So I’m thinking about where the curves and angles along each contour are going to occur, keeping the outline sharp and energetic.
 

To make the pose more dynamic I’ve looked for areas where I can foreshorten the anatomy to create additional depth within the drawing. For example, if you look closely, Poison Ivy’s body angles back and forth in perspective along its entire length. We’ve got the head tilted forward as it rests on her hand, partially framed by the arm that’s leaning against her knee. The neck then receding back into the body, only for the torso to be pulled into the foreground again as it leads down into the pelvis. From there we have one leg raised and the other at rest as it pops out even further, protruding into the bottom right corner of the canvas. Her arms also have variation in the way they’re posed and the degree to which they’re foreshortened. This is really the key to making the poses of your character’s look interesting – try to avoid having them appear uniform, testing out the positioning of each limb and the body as a whole, especially in the prototyping stages of the drawing.
 

Most importantly a good pose should look like it has weight to it. This makes it look convincing and adds mass to the form we’re trying to convey her body as having.
 

I’ve taken down the opacity of the sketch layer to 41% and created a new layer above it for the design phase of the illustration. This is where the facial features and hair style are roughly drawn in as well as her costuming. Her anatomy will also be further refined in this step.
 

Poison Ivy’s facial expression is another key contributor in conveying her personality and mood to the audience. You can see her sultry eyes, arched by thin angled eyebrows and her puckered full lips framing a confident smirk; her features coming together to help Ivy exude a dangerous attraction.
 

We really want to let the viewer in on who this character is. So every element should say something about her. It doesn’t just stop at her provocative pose and facial expression, even her hair is styled and outfit designed in a way that lends to her lustful qualities.
 

So now that the design is roughed in for the most part, I’m going back over the outside contours of her anatomy and articulating the shape. I’m really looking to get the correct amount of thickness within her forms, particularly around the upper thighs and lower legs. Her arms are also polished up to reflect the shape I’m looking for there as well. She should look muscular and strong, but not so much so that she loses her feminine allure. Because of course that’s a key characteristic we want to preserve when it comes to Poison Ivy.
 

You can see how the line work, although not 100% final, has a sharp, but streamlined fluidity to it. This helps to stave off any stiffing of the character as we take her further toward completion. We want to try to preserve the natural gesture of her pose, the soul of the drawing if you will, to ensure that when the piece is complete it’s got some life to it.
 

As I make these adjustments I’m flipping the drawing back and forth to double check for mistakes and fix up any areas of the illustration that don’t quite look right. By mirroring the art work I avoid tunnel vision and get a fresh perspective on the composition.
 

With the drawing done it’s time to move onto the coloring stage and to set the mood for the piece I’ve filled the background layer with a dark, desaturated green, adding in some slight hue variation and textures above that using a custom brush. What I’m attempting to do here is to set the stage for the foliage filled background I intend to drop in behind Poison Ivy later on in the piece. For now though, just so I don’t become distracted from the main subject, I’m going hide this layer and set up a new layer group that’ll house the local base colors for Poison Ivy.
 

Each section of the character has been delegated to three specific layers for her hair, skin and outfit. Starting with the skin, I’ve picked a very diluted, blue green and begun filling in the exposed areas of her body using a flat, hard edged, completely opaque brush. Since these are the local colors for the character there should be no tonal variation whatsoever. That’s why this stage is often referred to as flatting, because the colors being laid down don’t vary in lightness or darkness, they’re simply a neutral mid-tone.
 

As for her costume I’ve chosen a hue that’s a touch richer and deeper than her skin in value, but still remains on the same spectrum. What’s important at this stage is that all the colors are complimentary and sit together well. A color wheel can help with this but in all honestly, a lot of the time you can use your own eye to tell whether or not the colors you’ve picked are going to create an aesthetically pleasing palette to work with.
 

So you’ll notice that the warm colored hair I’ve chosen, even though it’s essentially the stark opposite to the green hues we’ve laid down thus far is a direct compliment to them. What you want to avoid are colors that vary dramatically in terms of vibrancy, brightness and contrast. For example if her hair was a bright, saturated orange instead of the muted, dark amber we’ve gone with here, chances are it’d create a visual inconsistency in the palette already established.
 

Now that the flats are done for Ivy, I’ve returned my attention to the background, where using an assortment of custom texture brushes and multiple layers, I’m building up an abstract version of the organic environment that’ll be surrounding her. In my mind, I imagine her sitting on a bed of foliage, trees and forestry surrounding her. I’m not concerned at all with any of the details yet, I’m thinking broader than that, focusing on the larger portions of the background that’ll frame Ivy.
 

Color is also a major factor here, since as I compose a bulk of the background with broad splashes of colored silhouette, I’m also building upon that base color scheme. To help enrich this combination of hues, I’ve blended in some warmer reds, oranges and yellows using variety of overlays. I like the direction this is going in, as now there’s almost a toxic feel to the colors we’re working with. Yet at the same time, the combination maintains its appeal. It’s almost as if the environment has been exposed to some kind of radioactive agent, which I think fits in perfectly with Ivy’s character.
 

Now I’ve switched back to my Palette Knife Brush and I’m creating new layers above the flats for the base shadow and highlight pass. Starting at the top, I’m working my way down the length of the figure using a darker and lighter version of each of the mid-tone colors to lay in the shadow and highlight tones for each section of the character. Again, I’m still working broadly and focusing on two primary considerations – light direction and form.
 

The thinking process I run through here is to first decide where the light source is positioned in the scene, and in this case, it’ll be projecting down onto the character from the top left. This tells me immediately where the shadows and highlights are going to occur across the character. Next is form. As I roughly lay in the shadows I’m breaking each part of Poison Ivy down into basic 3D geometry, asking myself what surface planes will be lit and which ones will curve away from the light.
 

With the base shadows and highlights painted in, I’m now creating a new layer named Shadow Overlay, which I’ll set to the Multiply blending mode. As I airbrush over the shadowed areas of the character once more with a diffused, blue/green hue, what this allows me to do is add an overlay of color to the darker tones. We’ll also give the lighting itself some color since in reality, natural lighting projects color of its own, which overlays the environment along with the people and objects within it. For the highlight color I’ve switched to a warm, yellow/orange tone, and created a new layer above the Shadow Color and set it to Overlay. Not only do these Shadow and Highlight Overlays enrich the color palette for our illustration but it also makes the lighting much more realistic.

 

And that wraps up Part 1 of our Poison Ivy illustration. Next we’ll get into the nitty gritty details as we refine this villainous vixen to a much higher degree of polish.

 

I truly hope you got a ton of value out of this video – if you haven’t already, be sure to Subscribe for more Comic Art tips, tricks and tutorials. Until next time, keep on creating!
 

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