Teaching Digital Painting

First of all, learning Photoshop is essential for almost any 3d application and is required for all advanced courses.
When I teach digital painting, I break it into four major steps.
  • Basics of Photoshop – General PS Skills
  • Introduction to Digital Painting  –  Sphere
  • Digital Painting with Color   -  Apple
  • Digital Painting for Realism  - Student’s choice

Introduction to Digital Painting  –  Sphere

Students are expected  to paint this reference image using Photoshop  including the background, shadows, reflections, & specular highlight.  This is a really simple project and I demonstrate it in a matter of minutes.   Yet the students always complain because I make it look so easy, so I end up repeating again after their first attempt.     I also introduce some technical vocabulary, which is not necessarily needed, but I feel that it helps them to know what to look for.   This is an easy project for students to draw what they know and not what they see, basically fake it.  Hence, pointing out the elements of light and shadow, helps them to try to draw what they “see”.  Otherwise they almost always overlook the ground reflection and reflected light. 
While they are painting, I mention that once they master this, which it is easy to do, the next project, painting the apple, will easier than they think. 

Shadow Diagram3


Umbra – (Latin for "shadow") The area completely obscured by object or the “Hard” shadows
Penumbra – The area partially obscured by object or the “Soft” shadows
Core Shadow -
Specular Highlight - This is a reflection from a light source and is the bright spot of light that appears on the surface of a 3d object. The smaller the highlight the shinier the surface, the larger the highlight the more the surface defuses the light.
Reflected Light – Is a faint light reflected or bounced back on the object from the surfaces surrounding it.
Mid-Tone – The tonal value mid-way between the highlight and shadow. Sometimes referred to as halftone.
Value – The gradation of tone from light to dark or of color luminosity

Digital Painting with Color   -  Apple

With this project students are expected  to paint an apple from a reference image, which I usually provide, using Photoshop  including the background, shadows, reflections, & specular highlight.  Once they have completed the sphere, they will find painting the apple easier then they think.  I generally brake this up into a number of steps because it is hard to really understand then steps if they have traditional painting experience. 
So why do I have them paint an apple?  Honestly, it is not that hard.   If I told them to paint a self portrait, it may look too old, too young, nothing like themselves, and most likely not even human.  But an apple, even beginning students will have success with painting one, even though it may look nothing like the original reference.   My main goal is for them to understand the basic process for painting digitally. 
The apple on the left was painted by a senior and it was his first painting ever, traditional or digital.  The Apple on the right was painted by a 9th grader it was also her first painting.

Digital Painting for Realism  - Student’s choice

This last project is a lot more open ended and many students don’t even get to this far and end the semester with the apple;  I am OK with that.  Everyone comes with different backgrounds, experiences,  and drive and my curriculum is very student centric.   I always have a handful of students who want to take it farther AND I WANT THEM TOO. 
The self-portrait is a 10th graders final project.
The painting below is called “Looking for Answers” was the her final senior project and she won Scholastics Art & Writing National American Vision Award.  The painting was showcased at the Smithsonian in Washington DC for a year.