Quick Tip: Overlay

When I’m working on a portrait and I can tell something isn’t quite right, but I’m not sure how to fix it, one of my best strategies is using Photoshop. I’ll scan or take a picture of my art, import it into Photoshop, and then overlay it on top of the original reference photo. By changing the opacity of the layers, I can see which parts of my drawing line up with the reference photo, and which parts don’t. 

Here’s a pastel drawing overlayed on top of the reference photo, with the drawing’s opacity lowered. You can see the differences, especially in the top ear and the shadow under the snout, but overall things line up pretty well.

It can be really frustrating when you’re trying to figure out why your portrait doesn’t look the way you want, and you just can’t see the little details that weren’t quite right. Overlaying the two pieces digitally is a really nice method for helping catch those errors. I recently used it to fix the shape of an eye on a dog portrait, and was so much happier with the adjusted piece. 

Another benefit of using this method is that I can check the colours and contrast. While colours in a piece are always going to be somewhat different from the reference photo, oftentimes I tend to lower the contrast in my drawings compared to the reference. By this I mean my dark areas aren’t as dark, and the light areas aren’t as light. 

I’ve gotten much, much better at this over the years, but importing a photo of my drawing is a nice way to check this. Once the photo of your drawing is on your computer, try changing the contrast. If the drawing looks much better with darker darks and lighter lights, you may need to adjust those areas in your drawing. 

I don’t always use this method when I’m working on a portrait, but if I’m really stuck it can be so helpful! Next time you’re stuck on a portrait, try taking a picture and comparing it with your reference photo!

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