Soft Pastel Styled Painting Using Blending Modes




These pictures are all come from one picture, and it only takes a few minor changes thanks to blending modes. In this tutorial, I will share my tips on how to achieve a soft pastel styled effect using blending modes.

Materials and Techniques

The core of this method is keeping the layers separated and using layers with different blending modes. All the shadings and textures come from the blending modes layers above the base layer. Locking transparent pixel and layer clipping make the shading process more efficient and help keep the layers organised.


• Layer blending mode

The default blending mode of a layer is [normal], which shows the colour on this layer as it is. Whereas in some other blending modes, the colour shown depends on how the applying colour interacts with the colour below this layer.

When shading is concerned, it is convenient to categorise the blending modes according to their functions: darken, lighten, or both.


Here are some examples of how blending modes affect the resulting colours:


The blending mode I use are [multiply], [overlay], [hard light], and [glow dodge]. People have different preferences and there are many other blending modes that can achieve different effects. So, it is better to try different blending modes and find the ones you like best.


Here is a tutorial that shows how blending modes work:


• Lock transparent pixel and layer clip

[lock transparent pixel] allows you to paint on an existing layer without changing its shape and transparency. This function is useful when you need to adjust the colour.


When a layer is clipped to the layer below, only the parts that overlap with the base layer are shown. When multiple layers clip to the same layer, these layers do not clip each other. It allows us to use layers with different blending modes in different areas of a certain object.

• Brushes

The brushes can be divided into three groups according to their purpose: line art, shading, and texture.


Line art: Textured brushes such as a pencil brush or something similar are fit for this style. To achieve a pastel look, it is better to combine the use of a sharp brush for the outline and a softer brush for some details.


Shading: These brushes are for the major parts of shaping the structure. It is better to use brushes that have texture while the texture is not too complicated. Otherwise, some structures and details would be masked by the texture.


Texture: These brushes are used to add extra textures in the end to add more depth and to make the painting more realistic.


Here are the brushes I use:

Process: Sketch and Line art

The sketch is not shown in the final picture, as the layer will be hidden after finishing inking. In this case, the style and completeness of the sketch do not matter, as long as you are satisfied with it.


After finishing the sketch, lower the [Opacity] of the sketch layer to make it easier to see the inking line. Create a new layer on the top of the sketch layer, and use a sharp pencil brush to draw the outlines. Then hide the sketch layer, use a soft pencil or pastel tool to draw more details to have a more pastel-like result.

Here shows the difference between line art with or without additional details:

I paint the line art in two different layers (shown as red and blue). Because I am going to change the colour of line art later, separating the liner art would make it easier to make such adjustments.

Process: Base Color

Because all the shading are clipped to the base colour layer, it would weaken the effect of those layers if the base layer was semitransparent. In this stage, the colouring does not require any texture yet. Bucket or 100% opaque textureless brushes are the choice for the base colour.

I separate my base colour into three parts, which are shown as different colours below. These three parts do not affect each other when shading (because all the shading layers are clipped to the base colour layer). By doing so, it is easier to control the shading area when different parts are intertwined together.


After all parts are covered, pixel lock each layer and paint each part’s base colour. I prefer to keep the background colour on because it serves as a reference for the base colour.

Process: Shading

The shading of the three parts of the base colour has been down separately. However, the process and techniques are the same. So I show the three parts as a whole.


• Shadow

Clip a [Multiply] layer on the top of the base colour layer. Paint on the layer with a cold tone colour. In this picture, there is a weak light source from the upper right. So, the shadow is mainly on the bottom left side. Now the shadow looks a bit unnatural, but we can leave it here for now because there will be adjustments later.


• Light

Clip a [overlay] layer. Paint on the layer with a warm tone light colour. This step is to depict the structure of each component in the picture.


Clip a [glow dodge] layer. Use [air brush] to add more warm light to the picture. Then the light would look more prominent. Because the light of glow dodge mode is quite strong. It is better to reduce the brush opacity when using it.

• Details

Add a [hard light] layer to add some details including reflective light, highlight, and different tones

• Textures

Add another [overlay] layer on the top. Lightly brushing with textured brushes in both dark and light colours. If the texture patch looks too obvious, using the airbrush tool erase some parts off to lower the opacity.


• Line art colour

Now the black line art looks out of place. Change the line art colour by using [Lock transparent pixel] or clip another layer above. I recommend do this step after shading instead of the inking stage because the colour of line art can be adjusted according to the surrounding colours.


Process: Final Touch

• Textures

Use texture material to add some extra textures.

Find [Material palette] and select [Monochromatic pattern] > [Texture].

Drag the selected texture to the painting area.

Then select [Overlay texture] in [Layer Property].

Finally, adjust the opacity of the texture layer if the texture is too heavy


Here are the textures other than the default ones I use:

• Tonal correction

I use [Correction layer] to do some final tonal correction. It adds an extra layer on the top, which is convenient for final adjustment as a whole picture.

The way applies it is simple. Just follow [Layer] > [Correction layer] and choose the mode you need.

I used [Colour Balance] to make the overall tone a bit warmish and [Level Correction] to give the picture a higher contrast.


A comprehensive tutorial of using different correction layers:

Here is the final picture:

Fast Rendering

Here is the part of making more pictures based on the first one. This process includes changing the base colour, adjustments of clipped layers, and sometimes other new elements.

To change the base colour, select the base colour layer, and paint the parts where the colour needs to be changed.


If the colour looks inharmonious (when the clipped layer is ON), check each clipped layer to see which one needs to adjust. This is likely to happen when you have a dramatic change of colour.

For example, when I make the blue night version, I painted the LIGHT layer into blue instead of light orange in the original painting. Besides, I added another [multiply] layer with light blue colour to fit in the night theme better.


I added some other elements in the derived pictures as well.:

One of the ducks gets a little hat in the other two pictures. The way of painting the hat is the same as the other part.

In the blue night version, the two seeds are glowing like lanterns. An additional [hard light] layer with yellowish colour would work.


Here are the final pictures of two variations:




Thank you so much for reading to the end of this long tutorial. Hope you find some of the techniques useful. If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section below. I will do my best to answer you ASAP :D






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