Digital Art and realistic Painting

Skill Level: Advanced / Views: 2666

This tutorial explains how to create a photorealistic picture in Photoshop with the most basic tools using a graphical tablet, at the example of one of my own images. It's mainly based on my own experiences and shall give an overview about the whole material and the painting process.

Theta on 1:56PM Mon, 29 September 2008


My tutorial had some conflicts with the new system at Renderosity and so, it couldn’t be saved after the relaunch. Well, I took it as a chance to create a new one – as I wanted to improve my old one anyway. I have received many positive comments on the old one, and I’d like to thank every one of you who left a comment, because they’ve helped me a lot to create a new one.

As I’m sitting here and thinking about Digital Art and Realism, I also want to thank everyone who have commented on my pictures and helped me during the years. I’ve learnt a lot from many excellent artists and it wouldn’t be possible for me to reach this level of artistic mastery if I hadn’t received all the help. So it also left me a reason that I should pass on the help I once received to others – and now pass on the knowledge I’ve gathered over the years.

So as the last tutorials I’ve created, I hope that this is helpful to you. It’s mainly for advanced users, but could also be interesting for beginners. However it’s very difficult for a beginner to start with this sort of quality – because you have to gather some experience first before you're able to understand what I describe here. I guess you won’t understand everything if you’re a beginner, but just take the steps here as hints and little tips for your own procedure. Further on, don’t try starting a picture at this level as your first attempt in Digital Art, it won’t work. It’s not because you lack talent or are not able to understand, of course not! – but you’d learn more and more effectively if you don’t expect your first steps into Digital Art to be photorealistic masterpieces because too high demands at your own abilities could prevent you from learning and adapting new techniques. What I have written here is no code, just an idea how it could be done. If you don’t get it right away – it’s also aimed for you to have a first look at what is possible, and what you can achieve one day. Even if you don’t reach the level demanded in this tutorial, you get an overview how it works and which tools and techniques are used – which helped me once when I used to be a beginner. I understand that it can be frustrating if you think you’ve followed all the steps described here and don’t get the wished result anyhow – but just don’t give up, try again, that’s the key. Art is like craftsmanship, it doesn’t come from one day to another, but with the time, you’ll get the feeling of the whole process and then can proceed. Just believe in you that you can! So maybe you’d like to look into some of the steps here again when you have painted 4-5 images already – maybe then, the tutorial might be more helpful to you.

This is mainly thought and aimed as a tutorial, but it will also feature some of my personal views about Digital Art, Art in general, technique and also some philosophical thoughts about painting and realism, because it helps you with the painting while you think and reflect on what you’re actually doing. And it’s easier for me to explain the single steps if I try to link it with some abstract ideas because you’ll have to transfer the written word here onto your own picture which will come easier if I give some thoughts about painting in general. Skip them if they annoy them, but I hope they’re interesting for you, at least they make the tutorial much more readable, and not so like a teacher’s book;).

If you’ve read my old two tutorials: this is completely new, I’ve written every passage again, and not just a copy from the last one. This one is longer, because I’ve talked more about painting in general and more about the technique, not so much about the tools. I cannot guarantee to you that this one is better than the others, but for sure I can say: I put more energy into writing this one;). Hope you like it, and let me know what you think. Leave a comment, or write me an IM, and tell me what you like or what you don’t like. All my works are not really finished, I’ll always find time to work over them, and it’s quite the same with this tutorial. From time to time, I’ll improve it – if you tell me what you don’t like about it.


If you have real suggestions please let me know. I have read someone wishing some step-by-step screenshots and have added them.

However if you want to discuss about the necessity of realism, or to paint real-existing persons or similar, please I'd ask you not to leave an abrasive comment here.

Thank you

Tutorial Comments

pizzaface2101  4:17PM Wed, 02 October 2013

Thank you for this tutorial. Yes its quite advanced for my current skill level (very novice) but still, I like a challenge..

rayshawcross  10:32AM Sat, 19 September 2009

very usefull one of the best love it thank you

Theta  7:19AM Sun, 30 November 2008

@Tedc: the reference image was ca. 300x400 pix approximately. My final image features 10 times more. Now think for yourself how many details a picture of 300x400 pix has and how many details you can see in mine. Na?

Butchr  10:47AM Sat, 18 October 2008

This will be added to my archives of "how its done" items. Thanks for taking your time to unselfishly share this with all . . . .B

TIMMYLYNN  12:17AM Fri, 17 October 2008

Thank you. That was very informative and interesting!!! peace and love

Tedc  2:31PM Thu, 16 October 2008

I must admit that the reproduction is fantastic,but to my way of thinking it's to 'photographic'. Art hould reflect the way the artist visualizes the subject. Perhaps a bit more artistic license would have done the work more justice. However a great tutorial

Renderbrant  12:18PM Thu, 16 October 2008

Thank you very much, this is superb, I will be having a go at this during the weekend, many thanks. :o)

Ace10  2:32PM Tue, 14 October 2008

Thanks a Million for all your time putting together this tutorial!It must have taken you ages from your free time. Its the best yet and really helpful.To share your knowledge is so unselfish and makes RR. Thanks again Alec

romanceworks  1:59PM Tue, 14 October 2008

Thank you so much for sharing your impressive skills, knowledge, and talent. Really enjoyed your detailed tutorial and learned a lot. And the photo-realistic results are superb, and yet, as you say, it has that painted look that is so appealing. :o) Carol

Theta  8:24AM Tue, 14 October 2008

@thebasstard: I'd never try to force someone adapting my thoughts. Don't take it as an offense what I have written. But to me, I have never ever seen a photo being as beautiful and skillful as a picture of a real existing person. I'd stare one or two seconds at a photo. I could stare forever into the eyes a painter has created. That's the difference to me.

mininessie  2:33AM Tue, 14 October 2008

great tutorial! really good"! thanks for sharing!!

thebasstard  9:29AM Mon, 13 October 2008

Great tutorial! I may try it, when I have a tablet, even if I wouldn´t chose an existing person (exception: he or she pays me ;) ). I can´t understand why existing people are used for these paintings and I think the photographers are right here. Why makin´the whole efford for an image everybody could take in a few seconds with a camera? I adore photorealistic paintings in historical,fantasy and sci-fi images, cause here the original doesn´t exist and so the painting would open a view to a new and different world.

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