Create a Heroic Firefighter Painting in Photoshop

Firefighters do so much to help keep us safe. In this tutorial, we will honor our firefighters by creating a digital painting that depicts a firefighter coming to the rescue. Let’s get started!

Step 1

We begin by creating a new document in Photoshop. Simply select ‘File’ > New

Step 2

Here we decide on the dimensions we’ll be working with. First, we need to work in high-resolution, so the first option I always select is typing ’300′ for the Resolution. Now I type in the dimensions of the canvas. In this case I put 9 inches for the Width, and 11 inches for the height. Don’t be too calculating at this stage, as altering the dimensions can be done literally in a few seconds using the ‘crop’ (C) tool in Photoshop.

Step 3

Now that we have our canvas ready, it’s time to fill it in with a fairly light neutral gray. This is to ensure our eyes won’t get strained at this early stage. To do this, simply select the ‘Gradient Tool (G) and select a light gray from the Color box.

Step 4

The next step is to make intense study of what we’re going to depict, in this case, a firefighter. I gather some photo references for the general pose and attire. I keep the reference material next to the canvas window for convenience. When I have enough information on the subject matter and familiarize myself with the subject matter, I decide to begin the sketch. I create a new layer in Photoshop for the preliminary work.
At this stage, I use a hard-edged brush with Opacity selected under the Brush Options Menu (F5). At this early stage I’m only concerned with capturing the pose of the figure, so I keep things fairly loose and focus on that, while being conscious of the proportions of the figure. I work with a fairly low opacity here, roughly 20% to keep things nice and light. Remember to focus on gesture about all else at this point, and try to avoid getting caught up in details. All the details in the world won’t mean much if the general anatomy and the gesture of the figure is weak, so make sure you’re very patient at this stage.

Step 5

After I vaguely sketch in the pose of the figure and am happy with the general look of the image, I create a new layer to fill in the details. I want the line work to be as clean and crisp as possible, so I spend quite a bit of time for this step. I also consider this step the most important, as solid line work will ensure that the painting process will be relatively faster and easier as well, since we’ll essentially just be painting in within the line work, so we don’t have to worry too much about shapes and such. Really do take your time here.
With that said, I lower the opacity of the preliminary sketch down to roughly 50%, and begin drawing on the new ‘sketch’ layer. My brush setting here are petty much the same as before; Hardness set to 100% and Opacity set to roughly 20-25%. I draw in more details, such as the facial features and attire of the figure. I also put special care in drawing the attire faithfully to the reference material to ensure the costume is credible in regards to looking as it should. When I’m happy with the line work, I delete the preliminary sketch as it’s no longer needed. I also name the final line work ‘sketch’ for its layer.

Step 6

With our line work complete, it’s now time to think about the color theme of the image. In this case it was a no-brainer; A natural color theme for the subject matter would focus on very warm tones so I didn’t really have to think about this too much, I admit. Begin by selecting a fairly dark orange color, and fill it in your canvas with the Gradient (G) tool. I do this all in the ‘Background’ layer, while having the ‘sketch’ layer up at the top to ensure my line work shows through the image.

Step 7

I decide to do some basic shading on the background layer. I choose brighter and warmer tones coming from the bottom of the image to vaguely imply fire, and some cooler tones at the top half of the image to bring in some cooler tones to the image as well (the cooler tones can represent the sky). It’s important not to get too caught up with detailing here; In fact, don’t focus on details at all, and always use a fairly large brush at this stage to avoid that trap. Always imply at this stage, do not clearly define.

Step 8

Once I’m happy with the Gradients laid down, I decide to begin focusing on the character. I decide to create some new layers for this. ‘Skin’ for the face, and ‘Costume’ for the attire. Using the HSB sliders, I manually select the colors for the skin as well as the clothes. I’ll be using both the HSB slider as well as the Color Box throughout the painting process to get the best results. To make sure you have the HSB slider on’ simply select ‘Window’ > ‘Color’.

Once you have the color box open, ensure that the colors are in HSB mode. If they’re not, click on the upper right corner box of the Color slider and activate ‘HSB’ mode.

I choose a fairly saturated red tone for the helmet, with dark variation of yellow for his satire, as well as a pink/orange mid tone for the skin. Notice I’m also quick to apply shadows and highlights; In this case I choose the light coming from the top left for a natural look, and shade the helmet accordingly tot he light source. I also darken in his eyes using a darker variation of the skin tone to imply a shadow which would be coming down from the helmet. Always consider your light source(s) early during the painting process to ensure everything comes together.

Step 9

Here I decide to bring out the highlights more according to the light source, so I add lighter variations to the helmet, face, and attire all while keeping the light source in mind to make sure everything is unified. As a standard procedure, I usually do all my shading with a hard edged brush early on during the painting process, as I’m more concerned with blocking in forms; Smoothening things out is fairly easy and comes later during the process. I also decide to make the background even more dynamic by implying some fire here and there. To do this, I simply select an orange color that’s much brighter and paint it in with a soft edged brush.

Step 10

I begin focusing a bit more on the face and helmet, as that will be the focal point of the entire image so I want to make sure I give my most attention to it. To do this, I bring out lighter tones using the HSB slider and add lighter variations of the existing colors to give the image a more realistic feel. I’m not shy about pushing the values here; The stronger the value/lighting of the image, the more believable the results will be. Again, I’m doing all this shading exclusively with a hard edged brush, which is perfect for blocking in at this stage.

Step 11

Once I’m satisfied with the work on the face, I decide to focus on the attire a bit more. I decide to focus now a bit more on the attire; More specifically, on the intricate patterns of the suit. To ensure I don’t make any serious mistakes to the work I have already done on the costume, I decide to paint in the stripes on a new layer, titled ‘stripes’. Looking closely at reference photos, I add the appropriate colors to the attire. That means choosing a bright yellow color and a neutral gray for the patterns. I also create a new layer for the axe and title it accordingly. I color pick from the helmet and apply the same reddish hue to ensure the image is nicely unified.

Step 12

After working so much on the figure, I decide it’s time to give the environment some work. I want it to be more natural looking and dynamic, so I use a cloud brush to create some intricate texture work here and there, using darker and lighter values from the background. There’s no right or wrong way on how to do this, just make sure you experiment a lot and work on separate layers to ensure you don’t lose the work you have already laid out should you not be pleased with the result. Using the Crop tool, I also expand the canvas a bit on the top for two reasons; There will be some typography for this project, and I want the character to have a bit more room to breathe as well, as everything was a bit too cluttered for my taste.

Step 13

I work on the character and background here a bit more, cleaning out and refining the helmet for a more realistic feel. I also begin to play around with some detail work on the helmet, using fairly small brushes to define the wear and tear on his helmet. Another thing I do here is add some fairly cooler tones on the top of the background where the ‘clouds’ are implied to give it more contrast against the warmer tones. Finally, I repaint the shape of the axe as it wasn’t looking too convincing previously.

Step 14

I work on the helmet a bit more and bring some typography to it using the ‘Type’ Tool.

I also do some more detail work on the background, hinting at some flames very subtly towards the bottom of the image. I refine the clothing a bit more here as well using smaller brushes. I work on the gloves a bit more, smoothing them out a bit here and there as well.

Step 15

I focus on the helmet a bit here. The first thing I do is duplicate the ‘Firefighter’ font layer and merge it. This will allow me to edit it a bit further. I hit ‘Cntl + T’ on my keyboard to bring up the Transform menu and use the ‘Warp’ tool to edit the text so it follows the shape of the helmet.

Step 16

I bring in a cloud texture from for the background and set it to ‘soft light’ to give the background a bit more punch. Additionally, I decide that the image needs some lighting up. To do this, I select Image > Adjustments > Levels from the menu and lighten up the values of each layer.

I work on the helmet further, doing some texture work using just a small edged brush and placing random ‘dots’. Looking at reference photos, I add another shape to the helmet, the golden shape around it. This helps give the helmet more definition as well. To help the figure pop out a bit more from the background, I use a small edged brush and add rim lighting at the bottom right of the image. This can hint at the reflecting fire coming from the background as well, so it works quite nicely.

Step 17

I decide to paint the glass on his face. Doing this is simple; I paint in a white color first all around the face and lower the opacity significantly. Next, I decide to paint the reflections to make the glass material more obvious. I do this using a hard edged brush.

Step 18

I want to add more drama to the scene, and really bring the picture together by giving the clothing some wear and tear to really help bring out the tension in the scene… That and the image is looking a bit too clean for my taste, it needs some serious detail work at this point. To do this, I use a soft edged brush and pick out some fairly dark values and add it to the costume on a separate layer. To give it a more realistic feel, I also delete some of the brushwork using a soft edged brush as well. I also add some typography to the helmet using the same method I described before, writing in the words ‘New York’. I also revise the axe a bit more using a combination of soft and hard edged brushes, making sure to sharpen off the edge of it using a white color to really help bring out the shape some more.

Step 19

The image is coming along well, but the helmet needs to look more convincing. I look at some reference photos of various firefighter helmets and costumes, and decide to refine it a bit based on the new gathered information. I add some more shapes to the helmet, including a sort of valve. I also bring in more texture to the helmet using small brushes here and there to give it a more rusty feel.


The image is pretty much finished at this point; I do a bit more detail work on the costume using the methods I described previously and we’re finished! I hope you found this tutorial useful. Have fun creating your image and don’t hesitate to drop me a line for any questions/comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *