Painting a Spot Illustration, Part 1: The Line Drawing


I created this illustration in a uStream broadcast earlier this month. You can view the archived video here.

I will be creating a series of posts explaining the making of this illustration in-depth. For part 1, here is how I prepared my line drawing for painting in Photoshop.

FYI, I’ve reviewed some techniques about preparing line drawings in a former post here. Many of those techniques will be used again.

About the Sketch

I used a simple ballpoint pen drawing for this painting. Because my style is more painterly, the quality of my sketches can vary from simple and clean, to very very rough. This type of sketch is about as refined as I get. I placed the sketch on its own layer in a new Photoshop document.


Preparing the Line Drawing

  1. Adjust the levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) to up the contrast between the black pen and white paper. This sketch in particular didn’t take a lot of adjustment because the pen was already pretty bold.


  2. Select the sketch layer and copy it.

  3. Go to the Channels palette (Window > Channels). Create a new channel by clicking the button at the bottom. This results in a solid black channel with the default name “Alpha 1”. Paste the sketch here.

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  4. Go back to the Layers palette and click on the sketch layer to select it. Now go to Select > Load Selection. In the channel drop-down menu, select Alpha 1 (the channel you just created) and click OK.


  5. All of the whites on your sketch layer should now be selected. Push Delete. Deselect the selection. Your layer is now just black line and transparency.

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  6. After doing this, the line drawing tends to look too light. To fix this, lock the transparency of the layer and fill it with black.

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    Or you could use any other color for that matter.

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    In fact, if you keep the transparency locked, you can paint and color on the line at your leisure, which is the main reason I like this technique.

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Now, of course there are other ways to get rid of the “whites” in a line drawing. You could set the layer to Multiply, for example. However, this is the best method to use if you plan to experiment a lot with the color of the line drawing.