Color Mini Tutorial

July 28th, 2006 | Posted in Tutorials

I was hoping to put together a step by step tutorial of my digital coloring technique for MAD while working on this “Hell’s Kitchen” parody, but it has become obvious to me that a real tutorial will take a great deal of time to compile. I tend to paint areas in spurts and often render background elements completely before laying in flat foreground color, and that makes it hard to follow. Also, it’s apparent to me that I will have to use screen captures to demonstrate palettes, selections and brushes in order to illustrate the steps fully, rather than just saving the image itself as I go. That will be a time consuming process and this deadline won’t allow me the luxury. That said, I did save my painting at various stages to give some idea of the process. This was done in PhotoShop CS2 using the Wacom Cintiq. Details on prepping the page for coloring including scanning, etc. can be found in this post.


The completely colorless inked image is in a previous post below. Here is that same section of the splash with some color added. I always start in the background and work my way forward. I begin adding flat colors using the paintbrush tool. I turn off the pressure controlled opacity so the color is completely flat in most foreground areas, but in the background I like to use slightly transparent color so the palette is a bit more monochromatic. Not true monochrome at all, but just so the colors have a similar tint… it’s a little like atmospheric distortion. So, the pots and pans in the background all have a bluish tint like the mirror/glass surface behind. The kitchen on the show has a “red” side and a “blue” side, made up of small tiles of different shades of the color. I simulated this using the filter>pixelate>mosaic filter to create a somewhat tiled look, and then blurring it using the filter>blur>blure more filter. I don’t use filters much as I think they have an inescapable digital or surreal effect, but I’d still be painting tiny tile squares right now if I hadn’t. I also did some rendering on the pots and pans, glass and flames at this point. It’s easier to render background stuff fully before you work on the foreground. I start with some flat color added to the chef.


At this stage I have changed my mind about the color of the apron… green will pop him out of the red background better. I have finished with most of the flat color, the rest of the base color I will add as I paint.


I begin with the rendering. I start by selecting the flat fleshtone with the magic wand tool. This masks it off like frisket film, and I can be loose with the brush. Using the pressure controls for brush opacity and size, I go in with a fairly big brush and start laying down a slightly darker flesh color to begin creating form and depth to the features. I will continue to work darker a little at a time, building values and contrast. I select a strong red and reduce the brush opacity to 20% to wash reds into the skintones in the nose, cheeks, knuckles and other areas where the skin tends to be redder. I also add a “highlights” layer above the ink layer. Here I add some effects to the flames, like the “sparks” that are flying off of him. I’ll use this layer anytime I need color or highlights to go over the inks.


I continue to get darker, getting some contrast in the deeper areas of the face. I also start adding highlights as well, so I can get a grasp on how dark the dark areas need to get. Obvious highlight areas like the end of the nose, the cheeks and lips are first. I use white for the couple of really bright spots, but mostly use just a very pale flesh tone.


Here we are pretty mush done with the skins tones. I remove the selection and start rendering other areas like the clothes. I still work in the face and skin, as I’ve added darker shadows and highlights in the hands and features. I add some blue/greens at 10% opacity to the beard area. The work has gotten into a detailed enough stage that the small brushes and tighter painting don’t require selection masking. I start adding shadows to the hair as well. I am always using the paintbrush tool and size/opacity pressure control with the Cintiq.


The rest happens fast. It’s quick work to select the red areas of the background chef’s uniforms, create a darker red for shadow and paint in the folds. I do the same with the apron, selecting it, creating a darker color and washing in the fold shadows, building the value darker until I get to the deepest folds. Then I go lighter and paint the highlights to the brightest points. I paint the stains and letters. I select the stair railing and do the same, and so forth.

The flat color acts as a mid-tone, and I work from there to the darks and to the lights in almost everything I paint. Later I may wash over areas with a transparent color with a brush set to “multiply” to make the colors a little more analogous, like the spots on the apron. Right now they are too garish and they should be tints of the apron color itself, rather than looking like surreal blobs of opaque paint.

That will have to do it for this “tutorial”. In the future I will do a more ambitious one. Back to work!!!


  1. Matt. says:

    That is great work and a great technique of coloring you use. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m an amateur on using Photoshop, however. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think you mentioned this; I apologize if you did though, when you are applying the basic color (such as the skin) do you also use the magic wand tool? I have found that if you have, say, crosshatching and using this tool sometimes it won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t flow into the tiny spaces or more isolated areas. I guess a good example would be his hair, how do you color such tiny spaces?

  2. Tom says:

    I think you are referring to the “paint bucket” tool as opposed to the “magic wand” tool. The paint bucket fills a contained area with color, whereas the magic wand selects an area of color, isolating it like it was masked off with frisket film. I do not use the paint bucket took for color fills for the very reasons you cite. It would not work regardless, as I do the color on an entirely different layer than the inks with no lines whatever to contain the bucket fills. I paint on a blank background layer, with the linework on a layer above, almost in the manner of painting an animation cell. Sorry this was not clear. There is a link in the tutorial post to a post about scanning ad prepping the work, and that explains this process.

  3. cedricstudio says:

    Wow, this is great info. I do a lot of coloring in Photoshop myself, but I picked up a couple of extra tips from your post. Thanks a bunch.

    You didn’t mention this, but I really like how you sometimes don’t color the background all the way to the edge of of a foreground element. I assume that’s to help the foreground pop a little more. If so it works nicely.

    Thanks again. Very inspiring stuff.

  4. opsman says:

    Nice Work on the finished pic, looks mighty fine to me.

  5. opsman says:

    I love the finished pic.

  6. Trevour says:

    Thanks for this exceptionally informative tutorial! It’s already helped me realize some of my own frustrations in Photoshop coloring.

    Gordon Ramsay – a perfect subject for caricature! The guy seems like a real nice person outside of the kitchen – but standing over the hot plate – LOOK OUT!!! That fuming anger comes from his ultimate passion, I think.

    And of course, I can’t wait to see the rest of the parody!


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