Digital painting GIMP walk-through – The duel



Have you ever stopped and marveled at wonderful works of digital art and wondered if YOU could achieve the same? Well wonder no more! Here is my amateurish attempt at breaking down and providing you the components needed to assemble your masterpiece!

Welcome to this beginner’s walk-through of my third digital painting ‘The Duel’.




What you can expect:

  • Clear indications of each small step which I feel brought the piece to the next level.
  • More down-to-earth explanations.



Steady there!  As this is my first walkthrough, let’s quickly go through some general pointers:

  • Commit to investing some time in your pieces

Don’t be too easily discouraged early on in the process. If your initial drawings are looking awful, try investing at least a couple more sittings to improve them. Never give up!… too soon.

  • Do not be afraid to change up your plan

Whatever you envisioned your drawing to be at right at the beginning is not set in stone. If a pose or composition is not working out, don’t be afraid to erase and redraw a whole arm/leg/character/whatever  as mistakes and changes are cheap in digital art.

  • Get feedback

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Forums are a good place for this and you’ll find many people willing to help.


What I used:

  • A pressure sensitive drawing tablet.

I actually attempted my first digital painting without setting up pressure sensitivity!   You can achieve almost the same thing in terms of blending colors but it is much more difficult. I used the Yiynova MSP19U drawing tablet.

  • Paint software

I used GIMP. Photoshop will definitely do, and I suspect Krita will also do. Make sure you can set your device to ‘Screen’ mode in Edit->Input devices:


The combination of the Yiynova tablet + GIMP + dual monitors resulted in some weird problems for me and I solved it by installing a very specific development build of GIMP (gimp-stable-i686-2014-01-26).

  • Vector graphics software

Inkscape. Used it to create some geometric shapes for the background.



Back in my World of Warcraft playing days I used to have a consistent casual 5-man party which comprised of Malaysians, Australians, and a kid from Hong Kong.  This excellent experience gave me an idea for a cool T-shirt design.

The concept I had in mind was to illustrate how easy it is nowadays for individuals of very different cultures and geographical locations to clash online in anything from huge epic battles to grueling individual duels. There should of course be cool looking robots to represent their avatars and these avatars should exhibit several features of their respective player’s cultures.

Here were some rough sketches I made while deciding on poses and basic designs of the robots.


The t-shirt design didn’t turn out so well, but ah well, it at least served as a good reference for this digital painting.



General technique

I have always been clueless with colors and if you are anything like me, I recommend using the ‘underpainting’ technique which is basically doing everything in grayscale and then overlaying colors. 


Draw lah!

In Malaysia and Singapore, we speak a weird form of english known as Manglish/Singlish. (Lah/Liao/Lor/Ah)s are inserted randomly at the end of our sentences for different meanings. In this case Draw Lah! is for emphasis and simply saying “Let’s get on with it!(Drawing)”.

blogpost_001_theduel02 I start by creating a 3000×3000 pixel canvas in GIMP(This is around the recommended from my own googling). I then make blotches in the general shape of the poses of the dueling robots. I had tried starting from lineart previously which is fine, but I decided to try a different technique this time. The blotches should be of the darkest color of the form. Using the pencil tool I add some of the simple details using a lighter gray.
newbieinsight Edges and corners should be the lightest colors! This seems like such a simple obvious thing to know but it takes a little getting used to if all you’re used to up til now is doodling and sketching. Add a bigger,rounder surface area to the corners to give a more realistic worn down chunky look.
blogpost_001_cubeexample_02  blogpost_001_cubeexample_03


I don’t invest a lot of time into the details just yet and work a little on the overall composition.

blogpost_001_theduel03 blogpost_001_gimpsoft blogpost_001_gimpbrush

I use a big soft brush and add a glowy highlight right in the middle of the scene to give a subtle “light at the end of the tunnel“ effect. My thinking was that the robots will be zooming through this tunnel dueling in a vortex-like atmosphere representing the cyberspace.The straight on attacking poses were not exciting me so I tilted them slightly to make them a little more interesting.

It’s always nice to give your background several layers to add a sense of depth so I start by adding a rough foreground layer to the background section. I am quite happy with the overall composition at this point, but not with the poses just yet.


 blogpost_001_theduel04a I shrunk everything below the robots’s waists to give some sense of perspective. The knight now looks more like he is jumping towards the viewer. I really shouldn’t have at this point but I start to work a little on the details of the robots because that is my favorite part of the process. The scene is still looking bland though, so i add some cool effects in the next step.



blogpost_001_theduel04 A strong secondary light source in the upper right corner and some floating/flying debris brings the scene to life!
All the general elements of the scene are there and I start to really refine the details in the next step.


newbieinsight Add a secondary light source to make your paintings look more realistic and interesting. If the light source is coming from behind your objects, add a backlight effect.Flat surfaces with solid colors are boring, so use a soft brush on your flat surfaces to give them a nice gradient finish.
blogpost_001_cubeexample_03 blogpost_001_cubeexample_04 blogpost_001_cubeexample_05


newbieinsight Adding some floating/flying debris and particles can help generate some excitement in your action scenes.
blogpost_001_theduel04a blogpost_001_theduel04



blogpost_001_theduel05 I use more extreme values of black and white to add more definition to the dueling robots. Because these are mostly metallic objects we are coloring in, do not be afraid to add extreme whites to foreground objects for highlights at this point. Other materials like skin and fabric would probably require a slightly different technique.
The robots are really beginning to take shape! But two things were bothering me up to this point. First I really wanted to emphasize that the knight was a knight and make him hold a shield so I changed up his pose. Secondly the knight’s chest piece was really really ugly so I redid that too.
I start adding layers to the background and I thought it’d be cool to have some japanese architecture behind the samurai and western architecture behind the knight You can see some japanese archways and buildings in the background at this point, but I chose to discard some of them and we’ll see why in the next step..


newbieinsight An easy way to add some detail to your solid smooth objects would be to add grooves. An easy way to do this is to draw the groove as a relatively thin dark colored line, then adding a thicker lighter colored line on one side and a thicker darker colored line on the other side ( You have to figure out which side is correct ).
blogpost_001_cubeexample_05 blogpost_001_cubeexample_06


newbieinsight Having sleek wrap around armour as opposed to boxy armour adds an extra level of refinement to your character designs.
blogpost_001_bodydesign_old blogpost_001_bodydesign_newSexay!.


newbieinsight Adding layers of reducing levels to the scene is an easy way to add depth to your pieces.


blogpost_001_theduel06 More details!.I further refine the details by adding some medieval engravings to the knight’s shield and tweaking the samurai’s design. In the picture above I was experimenting with some glowy effects emanating from behind the robots.
I tried several techniques to get the “shallow” kind of look for the shield details, and I found the best way for me was to paint it in as normal, and use the smudge tool to soften the edges.


newbieinsight Try to experiment with the highlights and backlighting. Adding more backlights or upping their intensity can sometimes result in a nice effect.
blogpost_001_backlight_old blogpost_001_backlight_new


The background was looking kinda boring to me, so I decided to add some sci-fi circles in the background.Try to use a lower level of gray for objects that are further away from the viewer.

newbieinsight If you need to make uniform geometric shapes try to use a vector program. I used inkscape to make a rough draft of the sci-fi circles I want in the background.

Some cut and paste operations later and I end up with the blocky version of the sci-fi circles you see in the picture above. You can see now that parts of these sci fi circles now obstruct the vision some of the background layers, but I decided that it was better and kept it this way.


blogpost_001_theduel07 blogpost_001_gimpbrush blogpost_001_gimpcloud

Whooosh!. Using a cloud brush I add some mist effects in between layers. Using the smudge tool I make strokes on the mist I just made towards the centre of the piece to make it seem like there is some sort of suction going into the heart of the vortex. At this point I notice my robots are beginning to blend into the background so I try to simulate some photography effects in the next step to bring more focus to the foreground objects.


blogpost_001_theduel07  blogpost_001_theduel08 I add a solid white layer behind the robots and play with the opacity to try and lighten up the background. Using a soft brush I darken the corners to apply a vignette effect. These 2 steps definitely helped to make the robots stand out more. Being happy with the results, I now start to think about adding some color.


blogpost_001_theduel11 blogpost_001_gimpoverlay

Add an overlay layer above all other layers and start coloring!
The beauty of the underpainting method is that you can easily experiment with different color schemes. Try adjusting the hue and saturation of your color layer and you may surprise yourself by discovering a color scheme you never thought would work!


newbieinsight Fade out color at corners and edges to make your objects look worn and weathered.


newbieinsight Color the lighting on your objects based on the color of the light source.
blogpost_001_cubeexample_06 blogpost_001_cubeexample_07


newbieinsight Paintings typically have a consistent tint throughout the piece, and I try to do this by adding another overlay layer, filling it in with a color, and adjusting the hue.I find I really like the the yellowish tint and decide to go with that and we’re almost done!
blogpost_001_theduel09 blogpost_001_theduel10 blogpost_001_theduel12



As a finishing touch I add some lightning trails behind the robots to show the general path they were following during this epic duel. I add some ambient lighting sourced from the lightning to the robots and debris.


newbieinsight Use strokes of a soft brush to add ambient lighting.
blogpost_ambientlight_before blogpost_ambientlight_after



Phew, that took longer than expected but we’re done! After all that I feel I need writing classes more than I need drawing classes.

I hope you enjoyed this walk-through and learnt something from it. As I mentioned before I am still a novice, and I hope to show improvement in the next painting I attempt. If you have feedback or criticism send me a message and let me know! okbye!

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