“As Lost as I Get” ~ Doctor Who painting #2 WIPS & Finished Art

Sometimes when I’m looking at other artists’ wips I’m amazed at how the sketch and each step that follows on the way to a completed painting looks like a completely logical and natural step from the previous. My paintings often take a more meandering path, which I’m going to share here as both an example of a workflow that feels ineffective and roundabout but through persistence ends up in a pretty good place.

I liked my last Doctor Who painting so much I decided to make another. This time, though, I didn’t want to just reproduce a reference, I wanted to make a unique scene. Season 2 punched me in the feels and I’m still sad about it, so that seemed like a good place to draw inspiration…

Here’s where it ended up:

As Lost as I Get - Doctor Who fan art painting by Majoh in Photoshop
Click to see it huge

But where it started was a little different:

doctorwho2_abortedsketch1 doctorwho2_abortedsketch2

Right about here was where I realized I didn’t like where it was going. The Doctor looks out of character with his back turned and even though he totally did dump her when he put the teleporter on her, it’s not quite right. I thought he’d look better with his head looking back at Rose, so I made another sketch (maybe 10 minutes? I didn’t spend long here, I don’t like sketching I guess. :D)


Okay, I like this one better. Let’s spend another 5 minutes figuring out where the lighting might be. It’s never too soon to think about lighting, and even though this is loose as all get out it tells me a few things: the light is behind them, putting his face mostly in shadow and hers a bit lighter.

It also means I’ll get to do rim lighting which is like my favorite thing ever (I abuse it constantly and should seek help).


This next step looks like a big jump, but it’s not really. It’s just a quick buildup of paint over what used to be the sketch. I’ve flattened it down to one layer and the sketch is pretty much buried in the digital paint by now. I did a hue/saturation shift on the whole thing to see what it might look like in a red and yellow palette, but now it just looks like a phoenix is exploding behind them. doctorwho2_wip03_rough_lighting_coloring

More refinements, especially on their faces. Ugh, these faces suck. Time to get some reference art (probably could have done that sooner).

I took a couple screen grabs from the Season 2 finale to use as reference:

How long are you going to stay with me? Forever? Haha, we’ll see about that.
Dumped AND sent to a parallel dimension – damn dude, that’s harsh.

doctorwho2_wip04_rough_lighting_coloring doctorwho2_wip05_fixing_faces

Here I decided I didn’t like the exploding phoenix background. Since this whole thing’s on one layer, I just painted over it with the dark blue. Took 1 minute. I instantly liked this new direction way better – now the characters pop out more. Time to get to work on those faces. doctorwho2_wip06_bluebg_more_face_fixing

References for the win! Also worked on the Doctor’s suit a lot, it was looking pretty clownish before with those sharp highlights.doctorwho2_wip07_bluebg_sparklies

More work on faces. Faces are somehow the first and last thing I do in a painting. Getting the faces right is super important to me, so if it’s not quite right yet I go work on something else for a while to clear my brain, come back, and immediately see what’s different between my painting and the ref. Nudge / resize / repaint / repeat. doctorwho2_wip08_face_fixes

As usual, my work trends towards low saturation / greyness (probably because I sample colors out of the painting itself instead of out of a dedicated palette) so I occasionally punch it up with the brightness/contrast adjustment and the saturation sponge. doctorwho2_wip09_details_faces_sparklies

Aw what the hell, let’s repaint her face again. AT LAST, I AM HAPPY WITH IT!As Lost as I Get (I Will Find You) - Doctor Who painting by Majoh

As Lost as I Get – Painted in Photoshop CS6 in about 7 hours


Named after one of my favorite songs, because I’m convinced these two will somehow find each other again.

More Process Talk


I painted the whole thing with this “Rough Round Bristle” brush and didn’t add any textures or gee-whiz Photoshop effects besides good old saturation adjustments.


My love affair with the “Sharpen” filter continues. I apply it at the very end (on a duplicate of the painting’s layer) and it makes everything look just a bit rougher and more like real paint.


This painting took a while to get where it was going, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The end result is easily one of my favorite pieces of art.

For those curious about layer setup, here’s how I usually work. Painting exists all on one layer near the bottom, and experiments go on a layer over it (which gets collapsed in once I decide I like the experiments). Sketches and WIPS get stacked on top and turned “off” visibly. This way, all the WIPS and refs and sketches are contained in one tidy file instead of a dozen files.




Tenth Doctor fan art painting steps & progress

You know what the world needs? Another rabid Doctor Who fangirl! (And another piece of Doctor Who fan art while we’re at it.)

Click this series of progress shots to view it much larger – I guarantee it’s sketchier and rougher looking at actual size than appears in its shrunken down form below:

Tenth Doctor fan art painting progression Majoh

Here’s the finished piece, “Tenth Doctor”. Painted in Photoshop CS6 ~ finished 2/23/2014.

Mandi Grant Tenth Doctor David Tennant Doctor Who fan art Photoshop painting
I was going to write something clever here but all that came out of my keyboard was DAVID TENNANT HOTTTT~~

Alrighty, let’s talk about how this painting was made!

Tenth Doctor: Reference!


It’s almost always a good idea to use a reference when painting. I kept this pic open on my second monitor throughout most of the process. I don’t like to trace or use grids or anything, because half the fun here for me is in capturing a subject’s likeness and characterizing it a bit, even if it’s not photograph-accurate. (That’s what photos are for, I’m an ahrtist 🙂 )

And my inspiration for this painting’s rough, brush-stroke-y style comes from the GODLY Isabella Morawetz. See her art here.

I’ve always wished my art looked less rubbery and airbrushy, and this painting in particular has been a sharp departure from that style. I studied her work and tried to apply some of her techniques in this painting (I mostly see my own techniques, for better or for worse, in it though).

Tenth Doctor Wip 01: the sketch

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh sketch wip01

I do my sketches in Photoshop and I keep them super loose. I don’t like to spend long in the sketching phase.

I know some artists are awesome at getting it perfect in the sketch and then just “color inside the lines”, but that’s never worked well for me. My work looks stiff when I take that sort of calculated approach, so I like to just slop some rough shapes and lighting in and move on.

I work on two layers here: “layer 1” is the default white canvas (sometimes I color it in, but on this particular one I just left it white) and “layer 2” is the sketch.

The biggest mistake I’ve made at this point is in his face – I don’t think this looks much like David Tennant yet. Face is too short/stylized, and you’ll see that mistake gets perpetuated into the painting for quite some time. I’ll talk later about how I corrected it.

Tenth Doctor Wip 02: rough colors

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh colors wip 02

On “Layer 1” (under the sketch) I rough in the most basic of colors. I try to get the full range of values in at this point and figure out where the light sources are going to be.

The sketch is pretty thick and bulky though, so I end up coloring on its layer, too – and once I’m working on the sketch layer, I flatten it into the background layer so everything’s on one layer. When painting like this, I tend to use layers only for experiments – if the experiment is a success, I flatten down. If not, I just toss it.

Everything’s muddy and mushy at this point, but that’s okay. Oil paintings have that muddiness and that’s the look I’m going for here, too.

Tenth Doctor Wip 03: refining things

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh painting wip 03

I work all over the place, adding detail, strengthening the sense of lighting, and adjusting his face. Still not quite right, though.  Since this is all on one layer, moving/rotating things is done by making a selection with the free selection tool. I like to make the edges jaggedly, like this:

Photoshop painting tip: jaggedy selection edgeJaggedy edges means I don’t have to work as hard to blur hard-edges after I’ve moved it. It’s just easier to make the new position “fit” – sometimes I can’t even find the edges if they’re good and jaggedy enough.

Tenth Doctor Wip 04: fixed his head

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh wip 04I moved his eyeballs up and lengthened his nose, mostly. This fix came after a night away from the painting. It’s good to split a painting up over a few days because when I come back fresh, I immediately see what’s wrong with it and fixing it is so much easier.

I also moved his hand down – I deliberately departed from the reference on his hand position and then decided that was a bad idea, so I moved it back to where the reference shows it. I thought it would look better with the sonic screwdriver isolated and not overlapping his head, but it turns out I like the overlap.

This is an interesting point in a painting’s development – by now, it’s far enough along that it’s unlikely I’ll scrap it or decide it’s not worth finishing, but there’s still hours of work ahead to get it where I want it.  Sometimes I’ll get a painting this far and decide that while it’s technically sound, I’m just not that excited about it so I abandon it anyway. I’m excited about this one, though, so I push on.

Tenth Doctor Wip 05: hours of details & refinements

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh completed without sharpen filter

^^ There’s my Sunday afternoon.

Something I’d like to point out here is the importance of letting colors mix. On his suit lapel there’s hints of purple and blue – I meant for his suit to be an almost grey blue, but these additional colors help bring it to life and add interest.  It’s not a photograph, after all – that means I get to have fun sticking purple and pinks where they don’t necessarily appear in the reference. 😉

The rough textures were done by hand, using a tiny textured brush in Photoshop. Nothing too fancy, just a lot of “scribbling” and hatching. I have (or at least had) a bad habit of refining my shading until everything looked like rubber. I’m mostly beyond it, but sometimes I have to consciously remember to let the hard-edged brush strokes and other “roughness” stay in the painting.

Something that helps a lot here is to look at some oil paintings on Google Image Search – a lot of oil artists just leave things blocky and rough, and it looks great.

Tenth Doctor Wip 06: with sharpen edges

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh completed with sharpen filter


How’s this for a Photoshop cheat? Filter > Sharpen More adds that “painted with a palette knife” effect in one click. I didn’t apply the filter until I was “done” with it and I retained the soft original on its own layer in case I ever do want to touch it up.

Here’s a close-up comparison of the original vs. sharpen more:

Tenth Doctor photoshop painting fan art Majoh compare sharpen vs unsharpened

I like the sharpen more effect – it makes it look even more like a painting and brings out the highlights pretty nicely. Maybe it’s just a trend that’ll go out of style in a few years, but for now I’m enjoying it enough to leave it on. It’s kind of weird to hand over such control over my painting’s appearance to a Photoshop filter algorithm!

But there you have it – David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor as a brush-stroke-y Photoshop painting! Yay!

Armada 2014 ~ Wips 01 and 02

Continuing right along in my “let’s repaint old stuff” kick, here’s my 2007 version of Armada:

Armada_2007Painting all those boats was both fun and time consuming. I spent easily 12+ hours on this, just picking at detail. But the lighting has always felt too stylized to really call this one of my best works.

Well, it’s been 7 years, let’s see if I’ve learned anything:


Needs more ships!

I’m digging it. I think I’ve gotten a better sense of perspective and lighting. This one’s pretty early in development, so things will change. For one, I think the ships are kinda hard to see now that I’m not staring at it at 300%.

It’s important to stop and look back sometimes and see how far you’ve grown as an artist. I think I’ll spend some time this weekend wrapping up these “paint it again” works. I still haven’t started Astrid 2014, but this has been a fantastic way to warm up.


9 years of my “Astrid” painting tradition

My new year / winter tradition is to paint a new picture of Astrid, a character of mine who wears big fluffy dresses and has big fluffy hair. She’s pretty fun to paint. Oh, and she has a pet dragon.
Annual Astrid painting: every year I paint the same girl going on new adventures!

This year’s will be #10. It’s pretty cool to think that I’ve managed to continue this tradition for a full decade (it began in 2005). Some years I see big jumps in my artistic growth – the goal, as always, is to set the bar high for the coming year!

See all of the Astrid paintings up close by clicking on the image above. I think my favorite is still 2011’s, where she’s trying to keep her magic moth out of her baby dragon’s mouth.

I’ll start Astrid 2014 pretty soon, so watch this space for all the exciting sketches and thrilling developments. 😉

Demon Breeder revamp wips

A year and a half ago I made this painting of a made up character called the demon breeder. (Those are her pet demons :))

I like it well enough, but it’s not my best work.

So I thought I might have fun improving it. I saved a new version and started doing little touch ups. Within 10 minutes I got completely carried away and started repainting entire swaths of the painting, starting with the demon’s head (symmetry is a crutch of mine, and I’m trying to break free of it in new works).

Then on a whim, I slammed the contrast up and the brightness down and loved the difference – so the whole thing is darker now as you see on right.


For all of my new paintings (this year and beyond!), I’m enforcing a simple rule on myself: it must have a foreground, middle ground, and background. I’m always in awe of the sheer amount of depth other artists pack into their paintings, and getting more practice with depth would improve my work. Hence the trees in the background and the leaves in the foreground. Simple, but much better than my old “character in a void” habit.

Salmon run wip 02

More progress on “Salmon Run”! I worked on a few different paintings today, but most of my time went into “Salmon Run”, which I’m painting in Photoshop CS6.

This is where we left off last time:



And here’s where I left off today:



This is the long, sometimes tedious stretch of a painting’s development. 🙂  I sort of worked in passes, doing all the bodies to a certain level of “done-ness”, then all the heads, then all the fins, then smudged the background a bit, and kept going over and over it until everything arrived at this point. I think it’s still looking a bit disjointed (some fish are sharper, some blurrier, some have hard highlights and others have none) and the sense of light got a little lost. These things will get fixed up in the next iteration.

Good thing I LOVE painting fish!! Last year it was bettas, this year it’s salmon!

Watch me paint: Red Riding Hood WIP 10

It’s been over week since I last worked on Red Riding Hood, but I’m pleased with my recent progress: Red Riding Hood WIP 10 ~ Photoshop CS ~ Mandi GrantNew things:

  • Better arm pose
  • Basket
  • Sword (NOW it feels like one of my artworks, lol)
  • More progress on wolf positions (but I’m not sure they’re a complete improvement over the sketch, I think more work is needed on their arrangement before I finalize them)

Painting technique: roughed in thumbnail

Here’s a thumbnail of a painting I spent about 30 minutes on this morning:


Looks kind of done, doesn’t it? Nah, it’s nowhere near done. 😀 Here it is closer up:



It’s pretty rough. But everything is there. The light source, the dark parts, the light parts, an understanding of the colors, and the general “feel” of the piece. It looks almost finished when viewed as a thumbnail.

Even better, with less than an hour invested into this painting it’s much easier to decide whether it has any potential. Should I scrap it or refine it? Well, if I squint, I can see a good approximation of how it might turn out if I spent another few hours on it. This method takes out quite a bit of the guesswork.

Working this way has revolutionized my work, which is why I’m sharing this technique with you, aspiring artist! I used to paint a picture in segments: character 1, then character 2, then the background, etc, with little regard for the cohesive whole. I wouldn’t know what something was actually going to look like until hours into the work. Oftentimes trying to “tie it all together” at the end was tough.

Everything in this fish painting is on the same layer, which gets rid of the often counterproductive separation of “background” and “foreground”. Background blurs with foreground, and that’s okay – the murkiness is lifelike, and areas of contrast can added later as the painting is built up.

Next time you start a new painting, rough it all in first. Just work on one layer and hit everything – all the characters, all the background elements. Then zoom out to a tiny thumbnail and decide – is this going somewhere I like? And if not, at least you know after 30 minutes, instead of after 6 hours.