View Full Version : Digital Painting Tutorial - The Lute Player

08 August 2005, 07:05 PM
This was a pretty quick and fun picture I did in part as a respite from a more grueling piece I had been working on. I thought it would serve well as a comprehensive digital painting tutorial for a loose, fun style, covering all of the main issues confronted in putting together a simple picture.

Here's the finished image:

To highlight the comical nature of the scene I chose to contrast a fairly detailed rendering of the lute with a more exaggerated and loose handling of the donkey himself. The text for this picture reads:

The donkey took especial pleasure in music, so that he went to a celebrated musician and said, "teach me your art, that I may play the lute as well as you do."
"Ah, dear little master", answered the musician, "that would come very hard to you. Your fingers are not quite suited to it, and are far too big. I am afraid the strings would not last."
But no excuses were of any use. The donkey was determined to play the lute. And since he was persevering and industrious, he at last learnt to do it as well as the master himself.

I started with a really rough and simple sketch, about 4" x 5", to establish the basic composition. I then scanned the sketch into Photoshop for final adjustments.

On a whim I tried flipping the head and felt the picture worked a lot better (that whole contrapposto thing), which I probably never would have thought of if I weren't working digitially (I was repositioning the head in Photoshop).
To wrap up the sketching stage I reduced the opacity of the scanned layer and did a quick draw over on a multiply layer in Painter (IX), using a custom brush that mimics my pencil work:

Lastly I did a quick overlay to establish how the shadows would fall, and to approximate the associated light source. I tried several different positions for the light, making sure the strong cast shadow didn't compete too much with the main figure.

I first toned the canvas with an orangey color in Painter, under the sketch multiply layer, using a buildup brush. This breaks up that awful whiteness, and gets me seeing into the space. It also sets the stage for the color scheme.
I then laid in some solid areas of color over the orange tone and under the sketch layer, in Photoshop.

I collapsed the layers and quickly painted in all the main elements with a grainy bristle brush, working at about 25% zoom level so the entire picture fits on screen. The pencil work and the toned canvas are absorbed by the brushwork, but the shadow cast on the wall is kept on a separate layer so I can fine tune it later.

I continued modeling the forms, adding detail, and closing in on the final color and lighting scheme. I don't work the whole picture to the same level of detail here, but just enough of it to establish the scene. Working too much of the picture at this point wastes time because that just means more elements I'll have to readjust later as I continue homing in on the final scheme. But working too little of the picture means there won't be enough information to establish the scene strongly enough.

I felt the image wasn't integrating well with the white page, so I refined the composition to address this. The music stand breaks deeply into the white area, but retains a lot of white space in and around itself (kind of like a "half-tone"), while the folio on the floor and the candle bring some white into the main image. I also lightened up the wall quite a bit, to further integrate the image with the page, and brought down the saturation in a few areas to establish the final color and lighting scheme.
I plotted the wall shadow using a reduced size image for the perspective:

I used only three (custom) Painter brushes for this picture, shown below in order from course to fine. With each of these I vary only the size as I paint (using the bracket keys "[" and "]" for quick changes on the fly). With the Grainy Round brush I do, however, also vary the graininess for certain applications.
Because I strongly established the scene in step five, painting in the details of the music and stand, rapier, candle, costume, etc. goes very, very quickly, with few side tracks or reworks.

I paint as much as I can zoomed out, but eventually need to zoom in for the detail work. The lute has a lot of strings (15) each casting its own shadow. To paint these I used the grainy round brush, set to paint straight lines. I laid down a dark instance of each string, then a light instance on top of that, slightly above and to the left, giving the illusion of form to the strings.

I darkened up the shadow areas quite a bit here, and worked into the wall texture to break up the edge of the main cast shadow. I also finally got around to painting that darn candle.
I added the shirt bits to bring more whites into the main picture (see note on step five), and also to break up a few of the dark areas of the main image.
I made one more pass at the pegs because I wanted them to have a fair amount of detail without looking too slick compared to the rest of the picture.

You can see more details of the pic if you want on my site:



Here are some links to a couple of other tutorials I did for CGNetworks, as well as one on my own site:

The Girl in the Iron Shoes tutorial on CGNetworks (

The Frog King tutorial on CGNetworks (

Giant Killer process on my website (
(Giant Killer finished image with details (

08 August 2005, 07:41 PM
Superb work....excellent and a very nice final piece...thanks much for posting...


08 August 2005, 09:46 PM
Great tutorial!! I loved seeing how you work, your step by step was very informative, thanks a million for posting, I sure did learn something!

08 August 2005, 10:32 PM
Yeah, agreed, excellent tutorial. Thanks for sharing your insights and processes.

08 August 2005, 04:29 AM
EXCELLENT tutorial (and excellent piece of work)! I'll add this to the sticky thread of tutorials.

08 August 2005, 05:04 AM
Great piece of artwork and one of the best tuts I've seen in awhile. I love the way you build it up, especially one of the earlier steps is interesting, where you block in the shaddows then do the "wash" to cover the white areas. That's very helpful. Your style has an excellent looseness to it with nice textures.

Thanks a lot, it's much appreciated!

08 August 2005, 06:56 AM
Chris Beatrice,

Thanks for this tutorial! It's great!!! :thumbsup:


08 August 2005, 09:32 PM
Wow thanks so much for this, love to see artist's workflow. It helps us beginners alot to be able to get into your noggins. :)

08 August 2005, 11:55 PM
great tutorial~

08 August 2005, 01:35 AM
I didn't know that professional painters start out with sketches that even I could make. Having never seen a tutorial of a professional looking painting like this, I guess I just assumed that they start painting and poof, a masterpiece. This step-by-step really has helped me to see and learn what is behind the masterpiece.

Bravo. I hope I can use this process to create my own paintings in my painting class this semester! Thanks - you the man!

08 August 2005, 01:59 AM
Some of my colleagues have pointed out that my prep work is much less developed than is typical. That's because I really like to develop the ideas in "paint" not by "drawing", especially with a piece like this where I want the brushwork to be fresh and lively. I also generally have a pretty good mental image of what I'm after before I start painting. A lot of illustrators do a pretty well developed, tight bw and then kind of color it. Lots of different approaches work, but most of us struggle for a while before we discover what works for US. I guess what I'm saying is, what works for me doesn't work for that many other artists, which is why it probably took me a long way to come to it, to take the plunge and just start painting with only the vaguest map of the image. In fact, you may not belive this but most of my MORE elaborate images have much LESS developed sketches! For me it's more about getting something on the "page" to "break it up", so I start to see things in the mess. I don't know what your current skill level is, or what you want to do with your art, but maybe this approach will work for you too.

You might want to check out these other tutorials of mine to see more of what I mean as far as just the bare minimum of prep work, and how the picture can still change dramatically as I develop it (particularly evident in Giant Killer, where the final composition doesn't really match the initial sketch at all). I'm also going to add these to the initial post.

The Girl in the Iron Shoes tutorial on CGNetworks (

The Frog King tutorial on CGNetworks (

Giant Killer process on my website (

Giant Killer finished image with details (

Enjoy, and thank you all for the kind words.


08 August 2005, 02:24 AM
I don't know if your style/process is going to be the right one for me, but I can say that I think your style/process is very inspiring and something that I am definitely going to have to try out. I think it is so cool that you care about those who are aspiring young artists enough to make these step by steps and show them a way to get to a masterpiece. As a "newbie," seeing amazing works of art in their final stage all the time (gallery's, forums, websites) can be daunting. It is easy to think, "I'll never be THAT good." However, your tutorials have shown me how one can develop from nothing to something. From scribbles to masterpiece. Thank you so much for your time. I'm looking forward to trying this stuff out in class!

08 August 2005, 03:37 AM
That's exactly right, and probably another good point that a lot of beginning artists don't realize - it's really a process of continual adjusting. Looking and adjusting. If you're working on a picture, and it's feeling "daunting" as you said, just identify one thing "wrong" with it and fix it. Then find another, and fix that. These observations and corresponding adjustments come in all varieties: that lute color is a little too saturated; that hoof form is flattening out; the donkey's head is too big, etc. All different problems with different solutions. Count yourself lucky if you can see the problems. Just fix these one by one and you'll be surprised that the piece starts to fuse together. All artists do this to some degree, though many are more methodical than others. I, for example, literally make "punch lists." I just make a written list of all the "problems" I observe. One by one I work through them, and believe me the "fixes" all add up. You would be amazed. At some point you don't see any more significant problems. So you show it to some colleagues for crit and of course they come up with some more observations. Often these are things you simply didn't see, because you get desensitized to the image, or simply because we all see certain things more easily than others. So maybe you make some more adjustments, and finally the piece kind of closes itself up to you. It becomes complete, like it has a protective coating over it or something, telling you, "hands off, I am my own independent thing now; I am no longer a work in progress!" Some things could be improved, but you don't want to "open the patient up again", so you move on to the next one.

One of the hallmarks of good art, good sports performance, whatever, is that it looks easy. In some ways that is what makes it good. When you look at it you see confidence, spontaneity, etc. That is so misleading to others trying to learn. Don't let that fool you! For 99.9% of the artists out there (me included) this did not come without a long struggle, and even the process of creating a new piece today has many low moments, moments where I'm not sure if I'm going to pull it out of the fire. I can say unequivocally that all of my greatest pictures (to me) have seemed to me like they were going to be my greatest failures at some point in their development!

Take care,


08 August 2005, 05:02 AM
I've read everything you said and appreciate all of it. You've really helped me more than I can explain. CG talk is such a valuble thing! Talk about getting one on one help from the pros!

09 September 2005, 06:03 AM
Hi Chris,

Just want to say thanks for the wonderful tutorials! I really like your style and the dynamic technique you use for your painting. I think it works much better to paint freely over a loose sketch than to use very tight, final drawings, and then 'coloring them in'.

You're an inspiration! Look forward to more of your work!


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