Before going any further I just want to stress the importance of ALT modifier in Photoshop, especially with the brush tool. The brush tool behaves like a color picker when ALT is pressed and when released its just a brush tool. Trust me when I say it makes your job a whole lot easier.
Create a new document(CTRL+N) of size preferably 2000x2000 px. I usually like to work on high resolution pictures because it lets me add a lot of details if I want to. Start with a rough sketch. It doesn't matter how it looks because that is just a skeleton. So don't dwell on it trying to make it look perfect.
Color Palette: It's always good to have in mind, a basic color scheme (like color of the jacket/hair/scarf) and mood of the picture that you wish to portray. Choosing the right colors makes a huge difference. If you are a beginner don't think much about the color palette just ensure that your drawing has a few darker, lighter and mid tone shades of a color. Don't be afraid to experiment and have fun. If you ask me to paint 'First Snow' again, I would choose some different shades of Red color.
You can just pick up (ALT+Brush Tool) some colors from the background and use them on your subject or foreground. Here's a little chart of the colors I have used in this painting.
Background: For this particular piece I wanted the girl's face/scarf to be the primary focus. So I kept the background simple. Create a new group, call it 'Background'. Create a new layer 'B1' and fill it with color f7e7ce.
I have just used 2 default brushes, a hard round brush and a soft round brush but varied opacity and flow. Take a hard round brush: size 400px, range mid tones, exposure 52% and burn the area on the top left as shown. Similarly with an exposure set to 22% dodge the area on the top right.
Create a new layer and call it 'B2'. Even if I don’t mention it for every step in this tutorial, it’s almost always a good idea to use a separate layer for each step. If you are not happy with the result you can always delete and start over again. Take a hard round brush set to opacity 55% and flow 45% put some random dots on canvas with colors B0687B, E2AEA5 and EACCAE.
Again on a new layer, using a hard round brush roughly draw the shape of some trees.
It's time to block the base colors and shapes. Make sure that you create a new group for each logical section of your painting (scarf, hair, face, shirt etc).
I am not an expert at lighting but I know the basics enough to notice that the shadows are cast opposite to the direction of the light. The light source is on the top right but not completely behind her. So the highlights would be on the right that are closer to the light source and shadows will be on the left. I have just burned and dodged it to show exactly that.
Start laying down the shadows and highlights by adding some darker and lighter shades of the base color by using a hard brush with opacity 50-75% and flow 50%. Looks shabby in the beginning but not to worry we will work on them as we move along.
Blending: As a beginner I used to use smudge tool a lot. But now I don't recommend smudging the colors as a technique for blending. Here is the technique that I use. Take 2 colors say 'A' and 'B'. With a soft round brush opacity set to 50% and flow 50% paint the color 'A' somewhere in between 2 colors. Now with the same brush and same settings add the color 'B' on top of it. That's the intermediate color ‘in between’ them. For a smoother finish just keep overlapping the 2 adjacent colors that's it. This technique is used through out my painting whether it's painting trees or clothes or her face. I hope you got what I am trying to say here. If not, the picture below should give you a better idea.
Scarf: First let's go to the 'Scarf' group.
Blend the colors in, using the technique that I have shown earlier.
On a new layer add few folds where the scarf's being pulled down and some more here and there where you think it would wrinkle/crease.
To make it more appealing add few white stripes to it, again on a new layer.
For the stripes: Just pick some colors (ALT+Brush Tool) from the Red scarf for the shadows/highlights instead of going to the color picker window.
Jacket: Now that the scarf is almost done let's move to the 'Jacket' group. We have already blocked in the colors.
Nothing much to say, just blending the colors using the same technique.
Folds on the shirt: Think about the places where the fabric either drapes or pulls. Usually you see more wrinkles at the joints if the subject folds their arms, legs etc. In the figure, the position of her right arm is almost straight. So adding a few folds to that sleeve would be enough. But the left arm is slightly bent at her elbow so we need to add a lot of folds on to that sleeve. If you notice the folds on your clothes you wear, they aren't parallel to each other. So for the folds just add some dark and light strokes of blue color at an angle.
Use smudge tool for this as it is very convenient to pull them or drape them around as you like.
Face: Start sketching a general shape of the face, no need to add details at this stage just some colors from your color palette.
I am not going into details how to paint all the features as I have already done a tutorial on how to paint faces. You can follow the same steps (eyes, nose and mouth) but instead of smudging go with the blending technique. You can check out my tutorial here if you want to.
Define the nostrils and add shadows and highlights on the nose and lips.
Eyes: Getting the eyes right is very important as they convey emotion. Go with huge puppy eyes and a tiny mouth if you are looking for an innocent look. That usually works with my husband if I want to get something done ;-)
Hair: Drawing the hair is pretty easy than most people think. Take some time to study how hair falls/curls up. If you look at some photos of hair for reference, you will notice that we usually can’t make out the individual strands of hair. The hair appears more like some individual hair meshed together to form locks of hair. So what I am trying to say is try picturing it as some sections of color and start blocking them, later you can go in and add the details.
Create a new layer 'H1' under the Group 'hair'. Use a bigger brush to define the volume/sections/lock of hair and the smaller brush to paint in the details. Define the general shape and color of the hair. If you don’t want to spend the eternity on getting the hair right, choose a hair style that's just falling down straight.
Make a new layer 'H2' and you can turn into a clipping mask if you don't want to color outside the shape of the hair. Pick a color darker than the base color and start adding some sections with a hard brush of size 20-25 px set to opacity 60% and flow 65%. I have used fade control instead of pen pressure because not everyone has a graphics tablet.
On a new layer 'H3' using a hard round brush of size 15-20 set to opacity 50% and flow 50%. Play around with opacity and flow and you will notice some color variations that are fun to look at. Add some more strands with a color that's lighter than the base color keeping the light source in mind.
Using a hard brush of size 10px keep adding some more darker and lighter shades of the base color other than the colors you have already picked.
It’s the same technique that I mentioned earlier in this tutorial. Don't forget the ALT key to pick adjacent colors.
Now it's time to add some details to the hair, using a brush of size 1-3 px add some fine hair.
Picking the right shade plays a very important role here. For instance if you take this section of hair.
Rotate your canvas if needed.
Don't end them abruptly with hard edges. The colors should flow from one section to another.
Some more. Add some darker fine hair here and there
I usually zoom in to 100% while working on details but every now and then I would like to see how it's coming along. For this I have to zoom out. The constant zooming in and out used to annoy me a lot. Recently I have discovered a cool feature. I am not sure whether the older versions have this or not but cs5 does. Go to Window → Arrange → New window for . Basically you can view the same PSD file with 2 different zooms simultaneously
I love painting each fine strand of hair myself without using custom brushes though it is time consuming and a lot of pain.
In that shadows you can't see any detail in the hair so just burn those areas using burn tool. I know eyes hurt but the more you add the detail the more realistic it looks. Have fun!!;-)
Trees: The trees that are closer to her are darker and more defined. The trees that are farther away from her almost fade away into the snow/fog/background. Go get your eraser tool set to mode: brush and opacity 50-80% and start erasing some trees on the right side.
Finishing touches: I’ve added tassels to the scarf, outlined the shirt and scarf so that the girl pops out from the background adding more sharpness to the image. I’ve also shrunk the background to lessen the empty spaces to the sides for better composition.
Snow: For the snow I have used a brush by [TODO] and varied the transparency. I saw to it that the face isn't entirely covered with snow because I wanted to showoff her pretty face ;-)
If you have any questions please feel free to ask me. I would be happy to answer you. I hope this tutorial will be of some help.