Gretchen Bartz is a SketchBook artist who comes from a background in traditonal media She created this amazing piece to contrIbute to the Art For Hope project. Purchase a print today and proceeds go directly to BuildChange. Tiger reference from Rob Bixby, via Flickr, Attribution 2.0 generic license.
I like to start with a background layer, and a dark base color layer for the subject that follows the basic outer outline of the reference. The base color in this case is a black. Not a preselect black, but a custom black from the color wheel.
I think this black was the darkest red value. I then lock this layer’s transparency. Next, I used small sized charcoal tool with medium opacity to start laying in some basic colors. My goal when starting my digital journey has been to use as little computer assistance as possible, so I select my own colors from the color wheel, rather than sampling from the photo. The eyes are a separate layer with locked transparency. This helps when adding the light and shade with airbrush, so it is even and I can work right up to the edge of the eyes.
After the charcoal tool, I use a small size round blender on high opacity and apply it in a back and forth motion through the black and orange markings, making sure they follow the stroke of the fur. This gives more of a realistic look and weaves the colors into each other, as fur would do.
Moving down, I put in the nose and whiskers. The whiskers are on a separate layer, so I can still work on the tiger layer without disturbing them. Whiskers are just about the only feature I draw with the pencil tool, and when I lock their transparency, I can airbrush over certain parts of them to add the color variations that whiskers have. Also, the tips can be tapered and made less sharp by using a soft eraser on low opacity (with the layer transparency unlocked).
I did some more blocking in and some refining of features. A large sized airbrush on low opacity can be used to change some of the color and value without disturbing the stroke of the charcoal. I changed the background to a cool green with blue in airbrush to complement the reddish orange on the tiger and to give the look of light filtered through foliage. The shoulder side of the cat is airbrushed to give that fuzzy receding look of distance, keeping the focus on the face.
I unlocked the transparency of the tiger layer so I could pull out some hairs and soften the edges of the face. Again, here, I used the small blender brush, at high opacity, so it could really pull the color into fine hair. A few long ones are pencil, but then soft eraser used at the tips.
Working on the cheek fur, I cut a piece of the reference photo for viewing. Having just a piece of the photo really helps when I have to work zoomed in and need to see my reference at the same time.