Digital Portrait Painting | CG Master Academy

2021 | Spring Registration - Only 1 Week Left!

Registration for our Spring Term closes in 1 week. Enroll Now!

Digital Portrait Painting

An 8-week course on creating fantasy portrait illustration through the usage of composition and strong dramatic lighting

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Portraiture for digital mediums

This course goes over different color and texture rendering techniques for creating believable human portraits. Special attention is given to facial features drawing on surface structure, skin rendering (i.e. translucency, hue/saturation/value and color temperature, etc.), layered studies, and background/foreground manipulation. It also explores sci-fi portrait subjects as part of the options given to paint through the course. By the end of the course, students should have created one to two fully rendered portraits. Learn how to start a portrait from start to finish beginning with a pencil sketch, then lighting, color scheme, create realistic facial features, and emotion into our compositions for a successful digital portrait painting.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (or equivalent)
Skills level:   Intermediate to Advanced
Prerequisites:   Head Drawing and Construction

Digital Portrait Painting WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

expand all
collapse all
Research/finding the concept, idea/photo references | Harmonious color scheme: color temperature, color theory, contrast, symbolism in colors | Preparatory sketch/ thumb sketching/ the good brush/apply the first colors | First lighting
Dynamic composition | Working the background: the importance of it, empty space | Character placement, front, ¾ and profile | Light: dynamism, contrast, first steps
Facial proportions: architecture, defining facial features, color blocking | Skin colors, skin brushes, texture | Eye shape, color, and details | Eye contact: captivating the viewer, emotions
Mouth: lips, shape, expression, & texture | Nose & ears | Main light, sculpting the face with shadows & light, volume | Perfect blending (how to)
Designing the hair style | Photoshop brushes for painting hair; hair colors and textures | Define silhouette, body attitude | Second light source
Realistic details, fantasy touch (like scars, veins, etc.) | Costume: fabric, pattern | Adding useful items/elements and play with symbols to create a strong background story | Good integration, interaction between elements
Improving the light and mood | Soft vs. strong light | Contrast, brush, layer mode | Ambient light, bounce light, special effects | Mood
Final adjustments | Light & color correction | Final touches | Add more mood and intensity to your portrait and just have fun!

Bringing out the best in talent

Mélanie Delon is freelance digital illustrator with much experience with clients and publications, they include Spectrum, Ballistic Publishing, Ubisoft, TOR Book, Random House, Orbit Books, Penguin, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Imagine Fx magazine, and Elixir 1, Norma Editorial, D’artiste Digital painting 2, Elixir 2 2007, Opale 1 2014.

Student interviews


April 21st!

Spring TERM Registration

Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021




April 21st!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

Have you taken a course with us before?

Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

Have you taken a course with us before?

Per Aspera Ad Astra

Interview with Elias Aboulkacem

Elias Aboulkacem shows us what it takes for his brick layer to see the stars in Mélanie Delon's 8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.

Per Aspera Ad Astra




My name is Elias Aboulkacem and I am currently working as a Concept Artist at Piranha Bytes in Essen, Germany. I graduated from Games Academy Frankfurt in 2011 and was fortunate enough to be able to land my first big project as a freelancer half a year later: Firefall. Since then I have been working on various titles, small and big, including Evolve and Might & Magic X: Legacy. In 2017, I joined the team of Piranha Bytes. 

Ever since I found CGMA in my second year of study, I have enrolled in various of their online courses to improve on my weaknesses, challenge myself, get more feedback and opinions from industry professionals and become more informed about the requirements of my field.  A year ago, to improve on my illustration skills and faces, areas where I was very uncomfortable, I chose to take Mélanie Devon‘s Digital Portrait Painting course.




As the theme for the project I took inspiration from the Latin saying „Per Aspera Ad Astra“, meaning that hardships are required to achieve greatness. 

After some brainstorming I had a basic idea for the composition and the elements I would use: It would be the character taking a break on the tower he built toward the stars, just as he broke through the clouds, to look up at them. 

I wanted to equip him with outdated breathing equipment, goggles and a more modern jacket to ground him in the time. I tried to keep the props used to a minimum and as framing devices.



I originally did a photo shoot experimenting with how to do the light from the top overexposed and graphic, but in the end I decided I wanted to go for a softer look for the mood and inspired by Mélanie Devon‘s work.



An interesting approach Mélanie showed us was the use of CMYK to select colors by using the mouse to slide these in the Color Picker menu. It‘s unclear in Photoshop that you can do that, so I never knew: Click and hold on a one of the letters and move left or right to decrease or increase their value respectively.  Here she would use the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow values in addition to the Lightness, Brightness and Saturation sliders to tweak her colors, which I tried to do aswell throughout this class.



The lighting setup I chose was pretty simple: A spotlight from above with the shadows being lit by the light bouncing off of the clouds and jacket.





As part of the assignment I created some more compositions, trying to have the face bigger in the frame and also making it more readable. The problem with this appoach was that the story I wanted to tell was more unclear. 




So in the end I went back to the first color studies, starting to fix the issues Mélanie pointed out: The colors were too similar and the light was getting too white. I chose this color scheme because I wanted to show the character working day and night and the sunburn at night would tell that. Also it creates a nice warm-cold contrast, the warmth moving through the cold. The blue and purple hues dominating the scene also gives a sense of calm and mystery. 

The towers in the background give additional upward momentum, the clouds, stairs and the trowel are for framing and to lead the eye back. Still, this composition needed adjusting: His right arm needed to be more understandable and it needed more room. Stars were added to add interest to the background and guide the eye. 





The face needed a lot of fixing and tweaking, so I shot further reference trying to choose how to move forward. 



A big part of the struggle was including wetness from the clouds, the sunburn from working through the day and the unburnt skin in the areas where the mask and goggles where covering the face. In the end I ended up dropping the wetness in favor of readability. For the same reason I changed the shape of the unburnt skin to one big shape instead of two seperate ones. Mélanie also suggested adding strap marks. 



Mélanie pointed out that the sunburn was too flat and the nose not integrated enough into the face: The tilt was off and the transition to the cupids bow needed work. Little details like the light at the eyes and the contrast needed to be pushed. The arms were also too flat at this point and the background could use more interest.





At this point I decided to change the jacket to a different type. While I have found references for high altitude clothing online, I could not find it posed like my character or get a good understanding of it. Mélanie adviced me to go check it out at a local clothing shop, which I did: 



Doing so and also getting advice from the employees turned out to be invaluable: I learned a lot about the types of jackets you would wear high up, how the layers work and other little details while wearing them. 

Finally, cleaning edges with lasso tool and adding some contrast to add clarity and define materials better: 








In the end I was very happy with where I got. Mélanie Delon was a great and passionate teacher, who taught me a lot about patience and different ways of using colors in Photoshop. Her feedback was always on point, helping me see my blind spots and allowing me to tackle those. The progress really showed me how valuable it can be to take some extra time to find or shoot the perfect reference. I would like to thank Mélanie, CGMA and Piranha Bytes for this experience. 



Interview with Cindy Chu

Illustrator Cindy Chu shows us how she sharpened her skills to create the fiercely cute Katana in the 8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.



Hi! My name is Cindy Chu and I am an illustrator from Hong Kong, currently living in Denmark. I got into art at the very young age of five. Growing up with Japanese manga and animation, I was fascinated by the interesting characters and amazing stories in various styles. I dreamt about being a professional illustrator from a young age, but could not find any formal education platform to sharpen my skills in Hong Kong. I took every opportunity to train my technique at school and community projects and have always kept painting as a hobby since then.  A year ago I decided to reconnect with my life-long passion and become a better artist. Words cannot describe how happy I was when I accidentally found CGMA and the portrait painting class! It was exactly what I needed



My Portrait



For the ongoing assignment of the Digital Portrait Painting course, I wanted to create a character with interesting contrasts. I also wanted to introduce some Asian elements into the painting without necessarily adopting the anime drawing style. My character, Katana,  is a modern samurai who enjoys being cute and girly but at the same time has a strong soul. I gathered some pictures for inspiration on her appearance and her weapon.


Silhouette & Hair Style


I had a relatively clear image on Katana’s hair style from the beginning as I wanted her to have a sharp silhouette. Katana kept her hair short as it was more practical for her samurai training. I did some research on Asian hair styles and found that hair bands and fringes are common for young girls. However, I decided to remove the hair band mid-way through the painting and focused on the shininess/light reflection of the dark hair and the movement of the hair strings to increase dynamism. 


Character Colors 


Simplicity is a personal preference in terms of color picking. I selected black and red for Katana’s dress because those are my favorite colors to dress in as well! Katana is a girl who enjoys being feminine without going overboard. I want to keep a balance between complex details (lace and ribbons) and simple color (Black and red) so to reflect her personality. Her dress helps her to stand out from the blue smoky background which is a key element for the Asian touch.

Once I decided the primary colors I experimented with different secondary colors like wine red, electric blue and minty green for the butterflies and her make-up. I found that a warmer color was needed as the blue background took up a large portion of the canvas so I settled with a purple butterfly at the end.






It was important to add enough detail on Katana’s dress to reflect her girly personality and to keep the painting interesting for the viewers. I gave her an outfit with a lot of Lolita details like lace trimming, thick belt, ribbons and layers. The butterfly on the weapon emphasized on the contrast between the hardness of the artificial weapon and the softness of the nature. 

During the class my instructor, Melanie, also provided really good feedback on how I can improve my painting. In my original concept there is smoke covering the entire background. Melanie suggested to use the smoke as a visual aid guiding the audience to the weapon and the butterfly. She also pointed out that I could use a stronger light contrast on the weapon creating a focal point to capture the viewers’ attention. Without her feedback I would not have been able to push my painting to its current level.



Final Thoughts

Before this class my biggest challenge was creating a composition that captures the viewers’ attention. I had a lot of ideas but found it difficult to combine them in a painting. During Melanie’s class I learned a creative process to systematically put together different elements with the best composition. I also learned how to paint small details in a realistic style to support my character’s design. I enjoyed the class a lot and found the learning extremely useful for future projects. I am surprised by how quickly I improved since I joined my first class in CGMA and I cannot wait to equip myself further with other classes in the up-coming months.



Out of the Comfort Zone

Interview with Julia Lerchbaumer

Artist Julia Lerchbaumer shows us how she challenged herslef in rendering not one but three portraits in the 8 week course Digital Portait Painting.  

Out of the Comfort Zone

Hi, my name is Julia, I am from Austria. I’m working as a professional 2D Graphic artist at IGT Austria for nearly 7 years now. I am responsible for in game graphics of the casino slot games we create inhouse. Which include logo design, creating video content, symbol design, layout design and so on. The company made it possible for me to participate in the amazing CGMA course “Digital Portrait Painting” taught by Mélanie Delon. I attended this specific course, because I wanted to develop my skills when it comes to human portraits, as this is one of my main focuses at work. I am amazed at how Mélanie managed to push my limits and to encourage me to try new stuff. She taught me so much and I really want to thank her for that. 





 Aurum is latin and means gold. A main focus in the games I work on is creating pretty female characters, which need to attract gamers and represent the mood and theme of the game. I wanted to sharpen my skills, when it comes to female face features. Our game characters have to be pleasant to a wide range of customers. So, I needed to learn how to push the most feminine facial features, like lips and eyes, to look pleasant to a wide range of people and meet the general beauty standard--Full lips and detailed, big eyes. I wanted to use purple/pink and gold to create a perfect complementary contrast and an overall warm mood. Painting the liquid gold was a challenge. It was difficult for me to make it look realistic and let it follow the face structure of my character, without ruining it. 




In absolute contrast to my Aurum portrait, this one here should represent melancholy, silence, bleakness and darkness. It should be visible and perceptible that he feels all alone.  I got my inspiration from watching my boyfriend playing God of War. I must admit, I am not a gamer at all, but I really like the character development Kratos went through in the first God of War games to now. His design is amazing and the whole game has such a great mood. So, I did this first sketch. My goal was to make a sort of melancholic and cold, sad portrait of him. As the game was implemented a realistic style, I also wanted to achieve a very realistic portrait look at the end. Because of that I needed to start working with dull and dark colors, to contrast the kind of color palette I usually use at work (bright and saturated colors).



The center of attraction should be focused straight through the middle of the picture, where the light rays come from above. I wanted to point out his sad expression, then lead the eye further down to his hand holding the axe against his chest and to the snow/ashes in his other hand. This has something to do with the story of the game itself. There was a really moving scene in the game that made me cry and I wanted to capture this essence in my portrait: A brutal fighter, a good father to his son, and a loving, caring husband. 


Dark Centaur


She has no name yet but I fell in love with her design and want to make her an OC. My first intention behind this was to make it look like one of these old black and white portraits. My first inspiration for the centaur portrait came from this image and others like it. Later on, this design turned out way more futuristic, with really strong and artificial light. I chose the bright background light to create a nice contrast against her black skin and “mane”. The black skin came to my mind when I searched for some inspiration for this portrait. I stumbled across pictures of black horses. The different light reflections on their fur made them look so magnificent. I wanted to reflect this in my portrait. I thought, “Why not?”, she is a fantasy creature. I was able to use this certain feature along with the long neck, the pig, pointy ears and the flat nose and forehead line. 




Fleshing out the Faces 



This week was about cleaning up the mess. Defining facial features, review skin colors and adjust lighting. Kratos got a little bit left behind at this point because I concentrated more on the other two portraits, as they needed way more correction than he did. At this stage of the two portraits, I merged everything together and started painting over the whole thing. There was no use of collecting layers at this stage, because I already knew that they were not in any way final. I worked on the light of Aurum a bit more and had a lot of trouble with her face. Especially with the gold that gets poured over it. I was not sure if I should make it massive or subtle, just like a hint. In the first picture it looked like lemonade and in the second attempt it was way too overwhelming and ruined the whole structure of her face. Her eyes still looked off. They were too far apart from each other and looked like they got pushed inside her head. Her nose gave me headaches as well, as I never managed to get it right. Thanks to Mélanie’s precise instructions, I managed to get everything in shape and correct my skin tones and bone structure later on.



Same with the centaur lady. The first sketch looked dull, everything looked flat and the lighting was lame. The light was nothing special and the character’s features looked boring. I was told to push everything way more and use some intense color as second light source, to make everything pop out. Even if the light source is not realistic. I needed to be more confident and try it, as it will help me make my portrait way more interesting to look at. As I mentioned before, I wanted to reflect the same effect a pure black horse coat has, but I was too shy at first to use this on a humanoid creature. Mélanie told me to be more confident with what I am doing and want to do. She grabbed my sketch and slapped in a very dark brown all over the character and it already had a huge impact on the whole look of it. Then she started to shape her face and body structure just by adding light. I was amazed and motivated by that, as you may see in the huge step I made between the two graphics.


Facial Details



This was a big step and the hardest part of this artwork was getting his face to feel right and recognizable. He is such an iconic guy and I wanted to do him justice. I worked this stage over and over again and still wasn’t really satisfied. But I really love his beard. 

I merged the last week’s steps and worked all over it. Also here, Mélanie had to tell me that I don’t have to be shy when it comes to adding colors to human skin. It is just about the right amount of it. I added way more different hints of color in his face now, to make him look more alive and made of flesh and blood. In the steps before, he looked dead. Because I just used a blue and grey color palette. I reworked his eye shape and position as well as the shape of his nose and mouth. It was a bit difficult for me to shape his lower lip, as the upper part of the lips is covered by his beard, which makes it harder to get his expression right. I also started working on tiny details, such as the light that shines through his ear from behind and the tiny veins in it. The scar across his eye, every single hair of his beard, added stroke by stroke, same as the fur of his armor. This part was full of adding more and more details to the whole character. 


For Aurum, this step was a killer. It was so hard for me to make her face as symmetrical as possible, without flipping her every minute or copying parts to the other side. I wanted to make her face symmetrical, because I was taught that this is the best way to make a character look appealing and beautiful. But I soon realized that this is not the case. Maybe it is in the model industry, but not in real life and not in this course. For me, noses are my kryptonite. I hate drawing them and I really struggled with the look of it. But Mélanie managed to make me understand how to get things straight and look nice. She erased the whole nose I had done before and showed me again, how to construct it from scratch. How it gets affected by the light from above and how I achieve a soft transition to the face. And she also helped me to get rid of that alien look of her, in the next steps. I don’t know exactly why I had so much trouble with the nose. Maybe it was because of the many different shapes which come together in one single body part. The nose is also the part which gets affected by so many light sources at a time. I also made the nose stick out way too much. It was more prominent than the eyes or the mouth which I actually wanted to be the main focus here. 

Dark centaur lady looks pretty good already. I tried to tweak the realistic, human aspects a bit here. Making the spot between nose and forehead just as a slight curve. Giving her a very long, bowed neck, long, pinned ears and an almost black skin, like the fur of a black horse. The idea to give her this intense lighting was a very good choice. Dull pink, sort of orange, light from the back and then this crazy blue accents, from the top right corner. I love it. Playing with the light, and giving her more and more contour through that, was so much fun. I also had no problems with getting her facial features looking good, because she does not have to look like a human. A humanoid fantasy creature does not have to follow all the rules a human face has to. 



Perfecting everything



In the end I love how every single one of my final portraits turned out. Kratos needs some extra work, as I could not manage to finish him during the 8-week course. I never imagined that I would be capable of creating such great artwork. Why? Maybe because I felt so secure in my comfort zone of simple characters and animal paintings. I absolutely want to continue with the paintings if my time schedule allows it. Aurum is pretty much done. I like how she is and don’t really want to change her. The centaur, well, she needs a haircut. As she is the only one of the three characters with hair, this part of her needs way more attention from my perspective. I rushed her hair style and sadly made it look like a fuzzy mess, especially the part at her neck. I want to make it look way better by defining the curls more and giving them in shape. 



Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this course, human characters were not my strength at all.  I already struggled with positioning the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) right. Then I had to overcome my fear of using many different skin tones. But I learned to add details like a slight red or orange blush at the cheeks of your character, to make them look more alive or adding blue inside of the eye ball and much more. 

I’ve grown  a lot from this course. I’m now able to use my new gained skills to improve the quality of our company’s and my personal art. I gained a lot of self-esteem from this course and improved everything in my digital portrait art skills. The feedback was amazing. Melanie managed to do it with so much joy in her voice and encouraged me to give my best and follow her precise instructions. In all my years as an artist, I never had such a great teacher like Mélanie. She always had constructive critiques. Helping you see the flaws in your work and understand the way of improving it. It was not just slapping colors here and there and viola, done. She told you why you have to put this color there and what it has an impact on. She told you right away what looks good in your artwork, not why it is bad.  I did my best to follow her instructions as precise as I could. She always thanked me, for my submissions, before she even started giving feedback on them. She really appreciated everything that her students did in this course and she showed it. That is what makes her a good teacher and I definitely recommend her course to all my friends, colleagues and other artists. 

You can see Julia's other here here: 


The Mermaid

Interview with Lucia Chuang

Lucia Chuang takes us through her process for creating a delicate Mermaid and her sea worthy companion in CGMA's  8 week course Digital Portrait Painting.

The Mermaid


My name is Lucia Chuang and I’m from Barcelona, Spain. I graduated from digital design at ESDI University of Pompeu Fabra. I love drawing and comic art. After school, I landed a job at an illustration studio (Escletxa studio) as a concept artist and motion graphic designer. After two years I had to leave this job to help run my family’s business. We have a Chinese restaurant in the Olympic port of Barcelona called Pato Pekin. I have been working in the Catering sector for more than 10 years and only recently I decided to return to my artistic skills. I wanted to learn more and improve my painting level, so I signed up for several 2D illustration courses at CGMA. 




The goal of this assignment was to create a detailed human portrait. We’ve learnt step by step how to paint a realistic human face (skin colour, eyes, nose, mouth, hair, final skins details…).
We’ve also worked on how to create an interesting composition and dramatic lighting. Photoshop was used for this assignment. I chose to paint a Mermaid because I love this mystic character! To make her more interesting I added a seal that would interact with her. I wanted to paint my mermaid in a little cartoonish style but with realistic details, that's why the proportions of her face are not as true to a real human. 


I got the design inspiration from a Pinterest mermaid painting done by the artist Loish. This painting has a beautiful colour palette made with complementary colours of blue and orange. I also used Pinterest to find references for the seal and the background colours and for the lighting ideas. 




I began with some rough sketches to find a good composition. I worked with a very small file because at this stage I didn't want to go into the details yet. For my composition, I was looking to find dynamism and movement.  I avoided painting the face just in the middle of the canvas and I decided not to paint a very closed portrait and just to leave some space in the background to add some additional details later. I followed the rules of thirds, and put the centre of interest in one of the bottom intersections. I tried to create an organic and circular rhythm in the composition for a good eye read, connecting all the elements and focusing the attention onto the characters’ faces.



To give the character more life and a natural feeling, I chose the three-quarter position because it’s a more interesting pose. I made her body a bit curved, avoiding straight lines to give her more dynamism. 
To make the light work I used two lights. The first light was the main light and affects her face and part of her body. The second light was more diffused and affects the background. I decided to use the sunlight for the second light in the background.  The light is very important because it connects all the elements together and helps the viewer where to direct their attention to.






As mentioned earlier, my palette was inspired by one of Loish’s painting which has a strong contrast between the background and the character using complementary colours. So first I found a mid-tone for the base: a greenish dark blue for the background. Then from the base colour, I modified the parameters (saturation, brightness, light, C/M/Y/K) and created new ones for the skin tones. For her hair, I chose a red-orange vibrant colour. This method allowed me to create new colors according to the base colour, so I had full control over them making my palette to work perfectly. I used a soft brush with texture to mix and blend them. Using this kind of brush on a very low pen pressure gave me so many colour variations, thus creating a good integration of all the elements. 


I tried to find a mid-tone colour for the base (greenish-blue), and I contrasted my character with a vibrant complementary colour (red-orange)



                                I adjusted the colour parameters to create new ones.  I used a soft brush with texture to blend colours with the background and create more variations. 




Painting the face of the character was a slow and intricate process. I decided to paint the eyes of the mermaid looking directly towards us creating eye contact-- this makes a powerful connection between my character and the viewer. The biggest problem I had with her face was creating the appropriate volume and lighting. I found it hard to avoid muddy colours for the shadows and also when trying to create a natural skin tone. At first, I tried to use as many different variations for her skin (reds, yellows, pinks, greens...),  but I used too many dark shadows and too much contrast that it didn't work. After Melanie's correction, I finally improved the painting with softer lighting which added more clarity to her face, making it more lively.



Another difficulty I had was patience when painting the details of her face. Never before had I painted that many details in such a small area and that was a big challenge for me. For example for her eyes; I had to use a very tiny brush and paint all the details stroke by stroke (eyelashes, pupil glows, skin texture glitter, eyebrow hairs) and I couldn't rush. 





I had in mind that my character was underwater, so her hair had to have movement and lightness. I chose straight and long red hair for her. For the base of her hair, I started with a big soft brush and painted a big block of dark brown colour to create its shape. I kept the outline with soft edges to integrate (and blend) it with the background and her face. Then I picked up the same base colour increasing the light a bit, and with a big brush, I painted the hair’s highlights. With a smaller brush on low pressure, I gradually increased the light to work more on the highlights.

Once the base for light and shadows were done, I defined which area I was going to add more detail and more texture. That was because I didn’t need to add detail to all her hair, just the area that was closer to her face which is important in the portrait. With another very small fine brush, I added quick brush strokes following the direction of the hair to create texture. With the blur tool, I was always blurring all of the ends of the brush strokes to integrate them to the rest of the hair. I also used the background colour to paint small brush strokes all around the hair contour to blend it with the background. In the end, I corrected the final light. In another layer, I added this colour in the lightest part of the hair to increase the hair’s shine.  Last, I added some little details with tiny brush strokes using all the different colour variations of the hair. 




For the background I didn't want too many details, I just added a few of them to help understand the story I wanted to tell in my painting. I added some silhouettes of seals and small fishes, some water reflection, and some bubbles to contextualize the mermaid in the sea.


For the mermaid, I wanted to add a few little details too, because I didn’t want to visually overload it. I searched for several references like shells to design her bra. I did many tests, but at the first ones didn’t cut it because I painted them too flat. After getting Melanie Delon's advice I chose to simplify the design of my bra, and the final result is two simple big shells with a pearl in between. She also instructed me to create volume and realism on the bra.


I wanted to decorate her hair with some starfish, which complimented the colour of her hair. To give her an air of a Fantasy character I modified her ears to make them look like fishtails, and I also added gills on her arms. Lastly, I integrated the mermaid's tail with the background’s colour and added some water reflections on her tail, hair and part of her body.



For the details of the seal, I only added fur to its skin, some whiskers and also some light water reflections.





The final step was working the dramatic lighting. Here I felt that my colours were a bit too greenish and that the level of saturation was too similar. I wanted to softly give her more life and make her pop from the background. What I did was to adjust her colour balance, hue, saturation and contrast. I slightly desaturated the background and increased the red colours of her hair and her skin. This was a very quick process and I didn’t need to repaint anything, but it gave the final result a noticeable improvement.

This assignment was really interesting and I had lots of fun doing it. I have learnt so much during the process! I’m very satisfied as to how my portrait turned out, and I'm impressed with the improvement and results I have achieved with this course. I’m very grateful for my teacher Melanie Delon and CGMA.  I strongly recommend this course!


Painting with Patience

Interview with Marcellino Tan

Marcellino Tan talks to us about his 8 week journey to capture the meaning of his heavenly portrait in Melanie Delon's Digital Portrait Painting course. 

Painting with Patience


My name is Marcellino Tan from Indonesia and currently in a journey into the creative industry. I spent a year studying Concept Art in Vancouver Film School and my first life drawing session got me hooked up with the human figures and portraits. I love how complex and graceful they are. Since then I've been studying the topic for almost 3 years. I believe Melanie's Digital Portrait Painting class will help me improve my understanding on portraiture and my painting skills to be a better illustrator and concept artist. So I am grateful that I have been given this opportunity to share my thought process behind this artwork.



Inspired by the Renaissance Painters I decided to take on a more religious topic. I had a pretty clear idea about what I want to do for this class and been eager to create my version of the painting of Virgin Mary. The design concept is based on a belief of the TRINITY and the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Faith.I took pictures of myself doing the gesture that I want and searched some pictures of female portraits along with pictures of dove which will represent the TRINITY(The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit).I hope to present a heavenly and pure figure that will represent the relationship between God and human.



On the early stage I was thinking about a more metaphorical approach for this piece by having a bit more of fantasy theme as seen from my thumbnails.



But then after the first feedback from Melanie, I decided to keep things more simple but further telling the story that it’s supposed to be telling. Her face would be the center of interest looking up towards heaven. She is surrounded by 3 doves that work as framing devices for her face to keep our attention towards her.



Facial Proportions

I wanted to present a woman who is calm, innocent, and unstained by the world, so lighter colors with less saturation worked better in this case. Getting the nose right is always a challenge to me, so I stepped back and studied the fundamentals of nose construction and anatomy even more. In the end, the fundamentals along with Melanie's feedback on how to paint the nose by using a brush with soft edges and a bit of a grainy texture solved my problem as the brush strokes easily blended to create the impression of soft forms in the nose.


I spent most of my time painting and refining her face throughout the whole process. Her head was too long for a head that is tilting up. Shortening the head and adding a  plane to the bottom it helps create the impression of better perspective. This is the problem that I carried until the final stage and decided to correct it in the end. The better way is to really solve this kind of fundamental problem early on to avoid difficulties in messing with the colors and renders that I already did. So by working on this piece, I learnt a good lesson.


Silhouette & Hair Style

The hairstyle is pretty simple as I don't want to attract too much attention to this part. I have to always keep reminding myself that The woman relationship with the doves are what makes this picture. By keeping the hair quite flat in the shadow helps me to push the contrast between the face which have a lot of details and the flattened hair.




Storytelling & Dramatic Lighting

Instead of adding additional details at this stage, I reviewed the overall picture and the relationship in it. As far as the story goes, this piece tells a story about the woman, Virgin Mary who is so loved by God thus been blessed for eternity. Therefore the Halo and the doves. It also represents the human relationship with God.

Originally I wanted a top down lighting, as if it's a light directly from heaven, but I pushed it to the front left a bit more to add more dynamism in the picture and contrast the stoic and vertical portrait. Warmer light and cooler shadows helped balance the color composition and controlling the cast shadows so they won't be too harsh on the figure is a good idea to preserve the heavenly theme I wanted to achieve.



I got rid of the lower half of the background and extended the sky as Melanie suggested because it fits the story better. The muddy brown took away from the concept of innocent and unstained in the picture.


Perfecting Everything

Basically if I could get my message across within the picture then it is done. But in this case I kept working and tweaking the portrait to really enhance the story that should have been told. A light had been enhanced for this final stage to get the heavenly theme across.
At the end of my process I still felt that something is off about the picture. I have lost the relationship between the Woman and the Doves, so I did some changes that would keep the relationship in the picture and help communicate my story better.


Working on one project for a long duration is definitely challenging for me. I have a tendency to rush into things and get them done quickly only to find out I'd made so many basic and fundamental mistakes. This project really tested my patience in the context of taking my time to think so that I could solve as many problems as I could in the early stages. It makes the later stage more enjoyable.

Decent and basic understanding of head construction and facial features are the essential things to take this course. Melanie has helped me to create more interesting composition with the portrait through her knowledge, technique, and experience. She does provide some knowledge about facial features, but it is always nice to have learnt and understand those things before as it will make the learning process even better in this class.

Be humble when taking any class or when learning anything. Try to apply the techniques and the concept that our mentors teach and always feel free to ask them if there's anything you need help with. Personally I think Melanie always give great and constructive feedback. She wants to know my goal for the image and then she did her best to give feedback based on that. She really appreciates our individual taste of art and will push us to that particular direction.


You can see more from Marcellino on his site or follow him on instagram.
Instagram : @mace.tan

The Mysterious Mermaid: crafting story with details

Interview with Reiniere Aimée Blokhuis Liu

Reiniere Aimée Blokhuis Liu breaks down how steady work and feedback helped to create her mysterious mermaid in Digital Portrait Painting

The Mysterious Mermaid: crafting story with details

Hi everyone, I’m Reiniere Aimée Blokhuis Liu (or Renée, for short). I’m from Utrecht in the Netherlands, and I live in San Jose, California with my husband and cat. I’m an artist in my free time, drawing in phases throughout my life. I went through an acrylic paint phase that transitioned into oil paint, and then my in-between-jobs situation allowed me to take in-depth drawing and digital painting classes through CGMA. 
I chose Digital Portrait Painting because out of all subjects, I mostly enjoy drawing or painting faces, and I wanted to become better at painting them — digitally, specifically. Also I love using a lot of colour in my work, and this class is taught by Mélanie Delon whose art and colour use I really admire. All in all it was a perfect fit!



I got my design inspiration from my love for mermaids. Who doesn’t love drawing them? Because they live underwater, their design allows for fluid, weightless lines and shapes, which are very pleasing to look at and soothing to draw! My goal in creating this portrait was to evoke a sense of mystery, and from the start I also wanted to include a sense of danger. I like the idea of mermaids not just being cute and pretty, but awe-inspiring and maybe even a bit dangerous. 


The three-quarter composition shows my character looking straight at us after she spotted us from the corner of her eye. In the first sketch I made her look more sad and secluded, looking down and away from us, but through the lessons I learned that eye contact has so much more impact on the viewer, so I changed her gaze. The added jellyfish give the composition more dynamism and contribute to the sense of mystery and danger.

Colour Choices

Colour choices were easy. We see my character in her natural habitat, under water, so I chose dark green-blues, purples and a bright turquoise as the accent colour. I thought it would make sense to make her skin purple: as there’s not as much sunlight underwater there’s less need for melatonin, so in my mind her skin would be an almost translucent blue-ish. Combined with the fact that she is red-blooded, her overall skin tone would come out as purple. 


Facial Proportions

When it comes to painting facial proportions, my main challenge is to not draw the head and eyes too large or the nose too small for the style that I’m aiming at. I like drawing a face in cartoon proportions, but even then I have a tendency to overdo it. I think this comes from back when I learned to draw through copying cartoons and anime characters as a teenager. It’s a certain style that can work great in cartoons and line art, but less so in a more realistic painting style. Knowing that weakness, I try to draw the head and eyes slightly smaller than I feel they should be, and then they usually turn out OK. But sometimes it’s hard to ignore those feelings!


Silhouette & Hair Style

For her hair, I definitely wanted to achieve a flowy and weightless look. First, I drew the shape of the hair and then I refined it according to Mélanie’s instructions, which basically meant first defining the shadow and highlight areas and eventually drawing a lot of tiny strands of hair. That was not exactly how I expected to draw hair, but I think it turned out beautifully. I still struggle with hair, especially coming from a cartoon style background where hair is way less refined and often has clear and simple highlights.Coming from a cartoon style background where hair is way less refined and often has clear and simple highlights, I still have a hard time defining beautiful shiny hair with appropriate highlights, but this week’s lesson helped me a step in the right direction.




The story around my mermaid character is that she’s a hunter, luring in her prey (fish) with the glowing marks on her face before catching and eating them. I wanted to make her slightly dangerous and mysterious instead of just cute. I surrounded her with glowing jellyfish because they add to the sense of flow, danger and mystery. They might aid her in hunting! Her ears are actually gills to allow her to breathe underwater (she hears through tiny ear holes behind these gills, in case you were wondering :) ), and her skin is covered in shiny scales from her chest down. These features further alienate her from us humans and add to the sense of mystery. 


Dramatic Lighting

I decided to keep the overall atmosphere dark with a soft light coming from the top, and soft secondary lights from the jellyfish and her face marks. Because she’s underwater, the light is much more diffused and causes less contrast. Not very dramatic, but using her bright turquoise eyes combined with her glowing face marks as focus points brings back a center of attention and adds drama. 

Perfecting Everything

During the final week my mermaid truly came alive. I love adding final highlights and details. I’m very happy with how she turned out, and I haven’t worked on her since I finalised the painting. If I really had to, I would probably try to redo her hair and make it even softer and more flowy, but I really like how she is now. She’s a character that definitely deserves more exploring! I think her scales gave me the most trouble. I had never drawn scales before and they were so repetitive. I think I could definitely do a better job next time, but I like how they turned out for now. 
I improved the most in drawing realistic skin. I try to apply what I learned about skin in all my new paintings. The brush I made during this course is also one of my most used brushes now! I think I’ve grown a lot as a painter, but truth be told, I have a hard time remembering everything and applying all the new knowledge gathered over multiple courses to my new paintings consistently. Growth not only comes from lessons but also from plain practice, which I don’t do often enough. Filling out this interview definitely confronts me with this truth and motivates me to start practicing more again.
Mélanie is a fantastic instructor. I definitely recommend following her course. She’s kind and helpful, and your painting knowledge will improve so much from working with her. I just applied all the feedback she gave me even when I couldn’t see the problem like she did (for example, she repeatedly told me to use more light in the face, and I just couldn’t see why), and my portrait came out so much better! So if you’re interested in learning to draw better portraits, don’t hesitate to sign up for this course. 
If you want to follow my art journey, make sure to check out @reiniere.aimee on Instagram! See you there and good luck!


Accessorizing an Aristocrat: details that bring life to digital portraits

Interview with Laura Gomez

Artist Laura Gomez shows us how slow and steady work and attention to deatil can improve your rendering in her project for Digital Portrait Painting.

Accessorizing an Aristocrat: details that bring life to digital portraits

My name is Laura Gómez and I’m from Guadalajara, Mexico. I graduated with a Visual Arts Bachelor Degree at the University of Guadalajara where I learned traditional arts and techniques. I later switched into digital arts on my own. I have taken many online courses about it, some of them here in CGMA, which I’m very satisfied with. You can check some of my other works here in the Character Design for Animation and Creature Design for Film and Games students interviews. 

As a traditional media painter, I always tried to achieve the same quality in digital media, but I was unable to reach it. My digital paintings and portraits were never as good as my traditional paintings. That’s why I decided to take this course to improve my digital painting skills and to become a better artist.



Getting Started

I always wanted to try a portrait in Rococo style and this was the perfect opportunity to do it, so my references were essentially paintings from that period. I really like the soft, pastel colors and the overall feminine feel of this style. I also got inspired by very beautiful fashion photos I found on the internet, which I decided to mix with the historical painting to get something with a more contemporary look.

My portrait was quite simple, very focused in the eyes of the character. From the beginning I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the portrait, so it had no major changes in the composition, which is a classical three-quarter view of the character’s face. My goal was to create a really detailed portrait of a nobleman with very androginous looks; not strongly masculine or feminine. So far I have had a lot of fun with it because some of my friends think he is a boy while others believe he is a lady. Mission accomplished.




Colors and Facial Proportions (week 3-4)

I envisioned the picture in blues, mostly pastel blue, which was a very popular palette of the Rocco style I chose. I decided to use a complementary light yellow instead of the gray used in my reference paintings. I also planned to use a lot of gold in the details, which I used for the character hair. I matched the facial features of my character according to the theme of the painting. As an aristocrat I gave him very pale, fair skin, with light blue eyes which matched the general color scheme. I focused a lot on the eyes, and the lips, which was the most difficult part for me to resolve. 




After Melanie’s feedback, I adjusted the light, and added a secondary light for extra contrast and more volume to the portrait. I also made some changes and adjusted the size of the ears, lips and the shape of the eyes.


Silhouette and Hairstyle



Hair was one of the biggest changes in my portrait. The first shape of the hair was just fine, but later I realized that I wanted something more glamorous for him, so I added more curls and loose hairs, which in my opinion added a lot of personality to the character. They make him look more vain and in some way, carefree. Changing the shape of the hair was one of the important points to really achieve the image that I had envisioned for my portrait. 





The costume and jewelry was one of my favourite parts to work on. I added a lot of small, frivolous details in the costume: gold embroidery, laces and pearls. I wanted to give him an elaborate costume which was typical of the wealthy and aristocrats of the time, but in order to keep it elegant, I tried to not overdo the ornaments. It took me a long time to finish all these details, but it was a process that I really enjoyed. 



For the costume I used some photos from clothing of the 17th century as reference for the embroidery and the rest of the details. For the earrings and chains I mixed my fashion reference pictures with historical jewels, and I chose pearls for the earrings because apparently they were very popular at that time. Before painting the embroideries I did some tests before choosing the final design. 




Dramatic light and Detailing Everything 


Light was the final touch that made the painting visually striking, as you can see, the difference between weeks 6 and 8 is huge, and is all just increasing the principal light to achieve it. After the final feedback I made some small changes in the general lighting and I detailed some areas, like the hair, to give them more definition. Color corrections were a great help, I removed some of the yellow light and I subtly added more blue and red to the final image. In the end I was very happy with the results! I liked it so much that I kept working on my own to finish the second portrait that we started in week 2.



Final Thoughts

My previous experience as a traditional painting helped me the most in this course. I don't mind spending a long time working on a single painting, but this process helped me to realize that it’s perfectly valid to do the same in a digital canvas, where I tend to rush the entire process. This course helped me to find the right way to work without the feeling that I have to finish as quickly as possible. (Img Week 6, week 8, week 2 second portrait, second portrait)

The color picking method that Melanie showed to us, the importance of dramatic lighting and learning the correct way to paint skin and make it look alive, were, in my opinion, the most important improvements for my digital art. After this course I can see a huge difference in the quality of my pieces, and I’m really, really happy with the results. 

Melanie´s feedback was always on point and very clear, I applied all the suggestions that she made to my portrait and I turned out great. In my opinion, this has been one of the best courses I have taken here at CMGA and I encourage everyone to not hesitate to enroll in it! 

Painting a Fantasy

Interview with Ciel Pierlot

Ciel Pierlot tells us how she created her D&D inspired half-orc with guidance form Melanie Delon in Digital Portrait Painting.

Painting a Fantasy

Hi, I’m Ciel Pierlot. I first put pencil to sketchbook in middle school because two of my friends were artists and it seemed like the thing to do. Fast forward three years and I end up attending a serious magnet school for the arts. But it was only a few years ago that I decided to pursue art fulltime as a career. 

My family recommended CGMA to me and once I had a good look at the CGMA website, I knew the classes wouldn’t be a waste. The number of respected industry professionals teaching courses drew me in and when I saw the examples of Melanie Delon’s work. I signed up for her class right away. I had a lot of experience in lineart and comic-style work, but I had always wanted to improve my painting skills. Melanie’s portraits were not only beautiful and fantastical, they also showed expert technical skill that I dearly wanted to emulate. 


Week One - Basics: 

I’m a writer. The curse of being both a writer and an artist is that either you spend too much time drawing your characters and not enough time writing them or vise versa. This painting was the former. I had an idea for a half-orc character, but I didn’t quite know what she looked like in my head. 

I pulled a lot of skin tone references from Dungeons and Dragons art books and experimented a bit with what orcish features I wanted to include. I didn’t want to use too many inhuman features because I knew that that wasn’t what Melanie’s class was about and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to learn from her by focusing too much on big tusks or anything like that. For the clothing, I took inspiration from a different fantasy source -  the leather coats that encompase most of the armor in the video game Dragon Age: Inquisition. 


Week Two - Composition: 

Since I was painting a character with very straight hair, I didn’t want a line that cut horizontally across the painting, as I thought that would be too flat and wouldn’t provide any points of interest. I switched it so that both the hairline and the character’s gaze would be following a diagonal line instead and then bisected that with the vertical tattoo going through her eye so that the eye would draw the most attention in the painting. 


Week Seven - Dramatic Lighting:


I don’t have as much practice working with dramatic lighting as I’d like, so when I began this piece I wanted to make certain that I’d be using a strong source light. I tried to lay out the face so that the eyes were looking up at the light from the shadows to create a sense of despondency and isolation. 

I struggled between warm lighting and cool lightning. That struggle is probably still visible in the red toned backlighting and the almost bluish toned high light source. In the end, I decided that I liked the contrast and didn’t try to adjust things so that one would overwhelm the other.


Week Eight - Perfecting Everything:

I loved working on one piece for the entire class. I have a bad habit of wanting to see the finished piece so bad that I forget to actually properly finish it. Because of the drawn out nature of the course, I was able to better notice imperfections and missing details, and I felt as though I had plenty of time to address them. 

Since the class finished, I’ve had even more time to perfect additional tiny little details that I never would have noticed without Melanie’s help. I was able to draw out the orange tones in skin to better convey the natural luminescence of skin, even fantasy-green skin. There were also a number of tweaks I made to the eyes and mouth, just to up the contrast and get everything more defined. 



Final Thoughts

I’ve been studying traditional fine art since I was 13, and my past experience in anatomy, particularly facial anatomy, helped immensely. There are certain parts of the face that are so much easier to get right if you’ve spent months drawing the same boring skull in a classroom over and over again.

In terms of skills that I improved upon, I was able to really learn a lot more about skin undertones - Pinks in the cheeks, oranges where skin is thin, blues around the eyes. I also got a lot more experience working with different types of photoshop brushes. In the past, I’d mostly been lazy and stuck to the same two brushes, but during this course I was regularly using about five. 

To my fellow artists interested in taking this course: Do it. Melanie is fantastic about breaking down different areas of the face and giving each one the attention it deserves. In her feedback, she not only addresses issues, she gives creative ideas for improvement and her constructive criticism gets right to the heart of whatever problem you’re having. I know I certainly didn’t regret it, and neither will you.