Creating a Comic Cover in Clip Studio Paint

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1. Transitioning Traditional Fundamentals into Digital Media

Many traditional artists want to create art digitally, but may feel overwhelmed by the amount of hardware and software options available on the market today. This tutorial is written for those artists who want to bridge their traditional painting knowledge into the realm of digital art by using, in my opinion, the best digital painting software on the market, Clip Studio Paint.

2. Hardware Recommendations for Clip Studio Paint on PC/MAC and Mobile devices

Just about any desktop computer built in the last ten years can run Clip Studio Paint smoothly. For those PC/Mac enthusiasts though who want the best experience using Clip Studio Paint, I recommend to buy the fastest Core Quad CPU you can afford. CPU’s with more than four cores won’t give you any performance advantage, unless you are running multiple other programs at the same time as you are creating in Clip Studio Paint.

Since Clip Studio Paint utilizes the CPU more than a GPU, even a low end graphics card will run Clip Studio Paint effortlessly. And as far as system memory is concerned, I recommend at least 8GB of RAM for a PC or Mac. However, if you find you love to work in big sizes with hundreds of layers, you should have 16 to 32 GB of RAM.

In order to paint and draw as close to the traditional experience as possible, I would HIGHLY recommend using a pen display monitor such as the Wacom Cintiq line of pen display monitors. Using a mouse or a regular tablet is an exercise in frustration for the traditional artist. So save the tears and invest in the best pen display monitor you can afford.

If you want to start painting digitally with minimal hardware research, technical experience and financial investment, get an IPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. All current IPad Pro models will run the iOS version of Clip Studio Paint like a high end PC with an expensive Wacom Cintiq monitor, but at the fraction of the hardware price. Add a keyboard to an Ipad Pro and you will be able to use the handy short keys that will dramatically increase your work flow in Clip Studio Paint.

In fact the vast majority of the cover illustration I am using as an example in this tutorial was created on a first generation 12.9 inch IPad Pro using the first generation Apple Pencil along with a Logitech keyboard. However the image captures in this tutorial are from the PC version of Clip Studio Paint. Both iOS and desktop versions of Clip Studio Paint are nearly identical in layout. Both also have the same tools and features. I use Clip Studio Paint Pro version for both my PC and Ipad Pro.

3. Color Mixing Digitally Vs. Traditional Pigments

One of the biggest advantages of painting digitally is mixing colors. Digital color mixing is closer to mixing spectral light and is much more efficient than working with the limitations of real pigments. Mixing traditional paints, especially when going from dark to light in water based paints, takes a lot of consideration in that white pigments have bluing agents in them that will lessen the vibrancy of warm hues. The result is that the paint becomes a bit greyish when adding titanium or zinc white to warm paints. But in digital painting we are freed from the limitations of bluing agents in white pigments and can paint from dark to light without inadvertently greying warm tones.

This close up shot of a watercolor illustration I did is an example of the limitation of traditional water media. The girl’s warm skin tone and hair was painted only from light to dark. I did not paint in lighter opaque tones of paint over darker transparent ones in risk of greying out the highlights of her skin, so I was constricted to using the white of the paper for the lighter tones.

In this digital painting created in Clip Studio Paint, I was able to paint from both light to dark and dark to light without risking the loss of vibrancy to the highlights in girl’s skin tones and hair.

We also don’t need to consider the chemical properties of how certain pigments react with the media they are being applied to when painting digitally. Pixels have no drying time to boot, so working digitally is much faster. You can become much more playful color mixing digitally than traditionally mixing.

Another huge advantage creating digital art is that you can undo hundreds of brush strokes or drawing marks (short cut key CTRL Z for PC or CMD Z for Mac and iOS). There are many tools in Clip Studio Paint that can adjust the hue, temperature, saturation, Chroma and value of colors once painted.

4. Digital Brushes Vs. Traditional Brushes

This is kind of a touchy subject for artists and I can totally see different perspectives to traditional brushes versus their digital counterparts. Digital brushes can feel clunky and clumsy in execution, even when using the best styluses to a traditional artist. In my experience no digital brush in any software program with any digital stylus comes close to a kolinsky sable brush or an Iwata Custom Micron airbrush in terms of subtle execution of control. However Clip Studio Paint offers tools in its layout that can come close to adjusting control of brushes on the fly.

5. The Clip Studio Paint Workflow Advantage

Clip Studio Paint has an incredible workflow design that is totally adjustable to optimize your personal demands. Clip Studio Paint allows you to customize your tool tabs so that you can make adjustments to your brushes on the fly.

To do this, Click on the Window drop menu and click on Tool, Sub Tool, and Tool Property tabs. The Tool Property tab will allow you to adjust everything from the size of the brush, opacity, how it mixes with colors already applied, and how soft or hard the paint is applied.

6. Understanding and Working in Layers

One of the first big hurdles in painting digitally for traditional artists is working in layers. Layers are transparent digital surfaces that become opaque as you apply paint, text, objects, lines or solid colors on to. There are two main types of layers: a Raster layer which the vast majority of digital art is painted and drawn on and; Vector Layers which objects can be created on such as text, logos and simple shapes/line art. Images created on a vector layer can be increased or decreased to any size with no degradation of image quality without having to manually adjust resolution. Clip Studio Paint automatically does the math for you when adjusting a Vector Layers size. As incredible a tool Vector Layers are, I will be focusing on the more common Raster Layers in this tutorial.

Raster Layers are by themselves transparent until you start painting and drawing on them. Once you have applied any level of opacity on a layer you can ‘lock’ the layer so as to stay within the opacity and shape of paint you have already applied.

To do this you will need to go to the Windows tab and click on the Layers Window. You will now be able to see all your layers, add or delete layers, change their properties, merge layers and lock layers to name just a few commands.

To lock the layer, click on the layer you want to lock and make sure the layer is highlighted and then click on the Lock Layer Icon just above the list of layers. To unlock the layer, click on the Lock Layer Icon again.

To add another Raster Layer, click on the Add Raster Layer Icon and to delete a layer, highlight the layer you would like to delete and click on the little trashcan layer

I personally like to limit the amount of layers I use. I have separate layers for the sky, background, characters, characters clothes, foreground and lighting effects. That’s it. Some digital artists love having dozens if not hundreds of layers.

7. Drawing and Composition

I love to draw in Clip Studio Paint because I can work fearlessly. The digital layers won’t wear out no matter how much erasing and reworking I do. Clip Studio Paints’ customizable layout allows me to adjust my tools without having to open up additional windows or tabs as I work.

Here is my initial sketch for a cover commission of Terry Mayo’s The Wicked Righteous Variant Issue #6. I began the gesture of the pose, which is a series of S and C curves to indicate movement.

I used the stock Color Pencil found in the Pencil Sub Tool tab. The exact color I had drawn with is 9A5347. You can recreate this color my clicking on the Color Tab key in the Tool Menu which will prompt the Color Settings window. Type in 9A5347 next to where it reads HEX and it will change the color to that corresponding color code.

8. Traditional Experience in Digital Media: Working with Reference

Even though Clip Studio Paint includes customizable 3D models, I prefer to use real world photo reference as much as possible. This comes from years of painting traditionally, where costly mistakes can be easily avoided by first creating photo-reference. When I am not using a real model, I will pose an artist mannequin to help me understand how the lighting sculpts the basic forms of a figure.

9. Setting up Layers Part 1: Subject Sketch, Background Sketch, & Foreground Sketch

Once I had a rough sketch of ‘JC’ from The Wicked Righteous, I created a new Raster Layer to sketch in the background and foreground of the abandoned trailer park in the story’s post-apocalyptic Southern California world.

I created a new raster layer and traced over my initial rough sketch of JC to refine the pose with the help of the mannequin photo reference.

10. Setting up Layers Part 2: Subject Tones, Background/Foreground Tones and Painting the Sky

With JC’s details defined, I started the painting process. I worked from opaque to transparent paint. I used the stock Oil brush and maximized its opacity in the Tool Property tab. If you don’t see the opacity slider in the Tool Property tab, you will need to activate it by clicking on the Wrench Icon in the Sub Tool menu which will bring up the Sub Tool Detail window, then click on Ink and check mark on the box next to Opacity. An eye icon will fill the box and you will see the opacity slider on the Tool Property tab.

I re-sketched the background by hand looking at the photo reference I taken without the aid of Clip Studio Paints’ perspective rulers, as I like to have a loose and more organic quality to the final illustration.

Next I created a new Raster Layer between the bottom Paper Layer and the Background Sketch. I used the Oil Paint brush to block in a cool grey (ABAFBB) in the buildings, trees, and foreground.

I created a new Raster Layer between the Background Sketch and the JC Sketch. On this new layer I chose a warm grey color (B8ACA8) and blocked in JC.

I had gone back just under the Background Tone Layer and created a new Raster Layer which I labeled as Sky. I switched to the stock Soft Airbrush in the Tool Menu. I adjusted it to the softest setting and again maximized its opacity. I chose a light warmish yellow-grey color (F2ECE8) and sprayed it over the entire sky.

I then had lowered the radius of the spray by using the Brush Size slider. I slid the opacity to about 15% and sprayed a more saturated hue of light turquoise green (D7F1FF) just about to the middle of the sky, corresponding to the temperature of the sky in the photo reference.

11. Transitioning from Monochrome Warms and Cools to Full Color

As I had sprayed up into the sky I decreased the opacity and increased the saturation of blue on the color wheel until I had transitioned into violets at the upper most part of the sky. This opaque monochrome to transparent pure color method allows me to harmonize colors without the risk of having either muddy colors or too saturated colors. This process will be repeated for the character and background elements.

12. Adding Lighting Effects

To paint in the Sun, I created a new Raster Layer above the Sky Layer and went into the Layer Blending Mode drop menu and clicked on Add (Glow). This allows you to paint in lighting effects. I always use the Soft Airbrush when painting in lighting effects with Add (Glow). I went back to this layer to create the Sun’s double lens flare later on once I had painted in the palm trees.

13. Character Painting

I now had begun my attention to paint JC. I first duplicated the sketch of JC and merged the sketch with the JC solid tone layer beneath it.

Next I had painted in JC’s skin tone with a solid opaque orange-grey (B98D7F) using the Oil Brush set to maximum hardness. I then had gone to pure white (FFFFFF) and started to sculpt out the highlights from the shadows on her skin, clothes, accessories, and hair. I adjusted the hardness of the brush as I went while I had rendered her highlights. I also had started to sculpt out some more darks in her skin tones by lowering the opacity, increasing value and hue saturation of the paint.

I started to create separate layers for JC’s top, jeans, and hair with the help of the selection tools. I blocked the various colors for her hair, top and jeans with the Oil Brush with solid opaque colors. I lowered the opacity along with the paint density of the Oil Brush and painted in pure white to adjust values from dark to light. I then had strengthened the darks by increasing transparency and saturation of the colors to create the darks.

14. Background Painting

I merged the Background sketch with the Background Tones and had begun to block in my paints going again from solid opaque monochrome colors to more transparent higher saturated glazes. I used the Oil brush, and adjusted its paint opacity, size, density, and hardness as I rendered in tighter details. I tried to stay loose and kept the brush strokes as organic as possible. I locked the background layer then sprayed in some highly saturated, transparent greens and yellows on the palm trees.

15. Polish and Textures

I returned back to JC to render in the details in her hands, features and clothing. I blocked in her shoes and painted in her dagger. As I went from opaque to transparent I continued to increase my color saturations and values. I also had begun to switch to the soft airbrush. I toggled between the color mixing on and off while using the airbrush to create subtle transitions in skin tones and how light refracts off her top.

At this point the series creator, Terry Mayo, asked me to add a burning flag in the foreground which I went and painted in on its own layer.

I rendered the flames first by using a soft airbrush directly on the trash can layer with an orange color. I then painted in the flame glow on the Lighting FX layer using the Add (Glow) layer mode with a very light yellow color. The flag was painted with a combination of the Soft Airbrush (in color mixing mode) and the Oil Brush. The trash can was painted with the Oil Brush and the Rough Pencil to add texture.

The text on JC’s top was created by using the text tool and choosing a font downloaded onto my PC. Clip Studio Paint will automatically detect any fonts you have already installed on your system. When you use the Text Tool, it will create a Vector Layer the text will be written on. The text was then shrunk, converted as a Raster Layer (by clicking on the text layer in the layer tab and clicking on Rasterize), then Free Transformed (Edit-Transform-Free Transform) to fit the perspective and then using the Mesh Transformation tool, to form onto the shape of her chest (Edit-Transform-Mesh Transformation). The text layer then was further textured by erasing it with the hard erasure tool and then the layer was merged on to the layer with her top.

I continued to add darker, more saturated transparent shadows with both the Oil Brush and Soft Airbrush. I changed both brushes hardness as needed. I added more lighting effects on JC’s top as light shown through the fabric by using the Add (Glow) layer with the Soft Airbrush.

The foreground concrete was blocked in using the Oil Brush and textured with a custom texture brush and the stock Rough Pencil. I made my signature with the Oil Brush and Freehand Transformed it to finish the illustration.

16. Final Advice for Traditional Artists

Once you get your hardware set up and you are ready to paint with Clip Studio Paint, just have fun with the program at first. Goof-off and doodle! Be reckless and see how all the brushes work, how some blend differently than others and get comfortable with Clip Studio Paints’ layout. Your fundamental skills forged in the traditional way of working will begin to shape how you interact with the program and your hardware to develop your own way of creating digital paintings.

The Wicked Righteous is © 2019 by Terry Mayo.