The rivers and eddies of hair
Painting hair isn’t, obviously, like painting a face. Doing a tutorial on it is a wildly different experience than a face tutorial. Why? A hair doesn’t have any static features. There is no way of telling you where to place a strand of hair the way I can tell you where the nose goes. There’s no anatomy of it, except that it has a certain weight and is likely to fall a certain way, and even that you can mess with because there is hair spray and gel and whatever else you might stick in it (blood or whatever, haha).
So. I’ve done the best I can. I’ve worked on this for a fair while (longer than I’d like to admit) and now I’ve finally added the finishing touches. This tutorial is for you guys, you CGtalkers. I’ll add it to my homepage later for posterity (along with my other tutorials there), but it’s dedicated to this wonderful community, and I’m hoping others will join in and keep this particular corner of CGtalk alive and kicking.
Throughout the tutorial you’ll see some little tips and tricks added to the actual instruction pictures. Some of them are the brushes I’m using, some are tips directly related to the painting of hair, and some are just thoughts I thought I’d add as I went along.
Instructions: The first thing you need to do is to decide on the colour of the hair. This hair will be brownish, but with a wee touch of gold in it. The darkest colour I’ll pick for it is nearly black. This is usually true of ALL hair colours - even the lighter blondes where you’ll end up painting over a lot of the dark tone, but it’s still better to have it there underneath than to go too light. Once the colours are picked (make it one highlighter, two midtones and one shadow), just block in the shape of the hair.
Important: WORK ON A LARGE CANVAS. I can’t possibly stress this enough - if you’re going to do really nice hair, work big. If you’re putting it into a full-body image and you don’t think you can work big enough… eep, wrong: work big and then shrink it down to fit into the rest of the picture.
Starting out with a bright colour and then spending the rest of the time trying to darken it down with shadows. I can’t stress enough how much it helps to do it the other way around. With skintones, it’s best to start with a midtone, but with hair – it’s always helpful to begin dark. And the biggest mistake of all: not realising that hair really needs a level of detailing that 500x500 pixels won’t give you. If you want this level of detail (not necessary, really, but if you do) work much bigger than that.
What’s done next is the blocking in on the large locks of hair. Just smoothly sketch in where you figure the strands will fall. The trick is to think of the hair not as a lot of individual strands at this point, but of it as thick sections that you will later work to detail down into individual strands in places. Pick colours at your leisure - starting out with the two midtones that you chose. No highlighting at this point.
A lot of people start painting hair by painting the strands. Some won’t even block it in, initially, but start frantically sketching in strand after strand on top of each other. The end result of this will often look like a clump of straw pulled together. Hair naturally separates into locks. It’s really, really hard getting this result if you’re not painting it in sections - you’ll have to somehow, miraculously, paint every individual strand and somehow get them to flow in the right directions.
Pick a spackled brush now and try the clumps of hair out. What I mean by that is that you sketchily paint over the hard edges of the individual locks and just get a feel for how the locks will end, if they’ll curl up a little and just the general ‘feel’ and ‘flow’ of the hair. Since there aren’t, like I mentioned earlier, any static features of a hair it is so easily affected by the environment around. It’s pretty good if you get the flow of it down right at this point… From hereon, there will be detailing, and detailing, and detailing and if you realise later that you messed it up here, you will be more than a bit peeved.
So just get a feel for it. See if it falls all right considering the wind, the general look and check if you’re actually happy with the hairstyle.
Not considering the wind - a skirt blowing in one direction, for instance, and the hair in the other. Not considering the weight of the hair (short hair often being fluffier, long hair heavier) or the effect that items might have on it (tiara weighing it down, ribbon pulling it up).
This is where the fun starts. You can now begin thinking about the fall of the light, the effects of colours around the hair (I’m making this easy for myself, the background is pretty much the same tone as the hair, but if it hadn’t been I would have had to consider it here) but most of all just smoothing out the hard blocks of hair and giving it some smooth nice flow. I’ve got a perfect brush for this. When I just want to quickly smooth the hair out, I’ll use a regular round brush with soft edges, but if I want to give the locks of hair semi-sharp edges in places… I can be clever and use a brush that has one side that’s sharp and one that’s soft (as seen in picture). Try making one, it’s awesome.
Try starting to break up the blocks - into smaller sections while still keeping the bigger ones. Not as easy as it sounds.
Common Mistakes: Just painting over the blocks of hair. Big no-no. We still need the blocks, it’s just that we’re adding some more.
Continue to both soften the hair AND break the blocks of hair up. Since we have those individual sections flowing in different directions, it will already start looking like ‘hair’ at this point. Continually use only soft-edged brushes and don’t care if the result looks too-smooth or smudgey at this point. It won’t later. Don’t forget that the different locks of hair will have impact on each other. Where they meet, they might either shadow one another or merge together.
Starting to draw in individual strands already. I know it’s a bitch to wait for so long - the detailing is the fun part - but when it comes to hair, there’s really no rushing ahead.