Arghh I really hope that’s not what anyone actually thinks… I get the “BRUSHES??” question almost every single day without fail, but the reason I have a hard time answering isn’t because I’m trying to ~protect my secrets~ or anything. (That’s totally silly, especially as I believe that the idea that specific brushes would make your art any better is… highly questionable at best.) It’s because the brushes I use aren’t mine to redistribute. As in, aside from fiddling with program defaults I hardly ever make my own brushes - I trawl the internet for free (or if warranted, paid) Photoshop brushes that other hardworking creatives make available. I cycle through many brush sets, delete the ones I don’t like, and what I end up keeping comprises my current “brush set.”

This presents a couple of problems in terms of sharing. I would feel bad about uploading my brushes because they aren’t “my” brushes. I didn’t make them. It’s like that unspoken rule amongst online stock artists - free to use in your art, but don’t claim as your own. You’ll say I could just credit, which I’d love to do, but the thing is I’ve tested so many brushes and combined so many sets that I don’t remember who made what anymore. I didn’t have any reason to keep track. And even then, not sure the original makers would appreciate me redistributing.

OH MY GOD sorry for the longest and ultimately most unhelpful post ever. To make up for it here’s some information and a list of great free brush sets that I may not necessarily use anymore, but I know I downloaded at some point (keep in mind I use Adobe Photoshop and all info following pertains to that program only):

FIRST. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. I actually use Tool Presets, NOT Brush Presets. For those who don’t know, a tool preset saves information for a brush such as color, opacity and flow, so you don’t have to adjust it each time you switch. You should definitely learn to use and save your brushes as Tool Presets because they speed up productivity and are pretty much better in every way.
Z-PS-Brushes-V6 and Z-PS-Brushes-V2 - so, these already come as tool presets (.TPL), not brushes (.ABR), they’re equally easy to install and I can vouch that both sets are amazing.
fox-orian’s Essential Illustration Brushes V3 - this is the original set where that famous “hexagon” brush I use in some of my works came from. Got a lot of questions about that brush…
Tony Hurst’s Tones Brush Set No.1 & Tones Tool Presets - I’m not sure if I use these sets anymore but they’re all useful and have great texture.
DITLEV’s Digital Watercolor - I’m pretty sure these brushes are huge and therefore sort of lag on my computer, but they do have a wonderful watercolor-ish effect. I use these sometimes for color blocking.
DanLuVisiArt’s Brushes - A very famous free brush set, probably the first result on deviantART, for good reason. One of the first I ever downloaded, I still use some of these, it’s an amazing set for digital painters. Highly recommended for beginners.
sandara’s Brushes - Another highly recommended set for beginners. Simple, basic, very useful.

Okay… tl;dr but hope that helped in the end! And like I said - the best “brush advice” I can give is to be proactive. If you’re feeling sick of your current set, wipe it and really spend some time testing out new brushes. DELETE the brushes you know you’ll never use (not only do the suck up your computer’s resources since you have to wait for all that shit to load, they are distracting.) Keep yo’ shit ORGANIZED. And most importantly - don’t FIXATE on the idea that only “good brushes will make my art good.” That’s total bull. Brushes are ultimately tools for your art, they are useful but they won’t make up for actual artistic understanding. A great watercolor painting is great because the artist painted it well - you don’t look at it and go “oh, it must be because they used Winsor & Newton watercolors.” Many digital painters create incredible things with the defaults. In the end it’s up to you to push your resources to the limit!


Process shots for The Young Man from the East (original post). Digital painting from references, Adobe Photoshop + Cintiq 21UX tablet.

Random related art tip: One of the great aspects of digital painting is the freedom to adjust the entire color scheme of a painting very easily. Notice I start with a very dull-colored sketch, then through Overlay layers and other tweaking slowly bring in much brighter and more interesting colors. Mess with the Levels/Saturation/Whatever CONSTANTLY during your process, not just at the end. Once you have a color scheme you like, use that eyedropper tool like crazy to make sure your additional rendering includes the new colors.

I know you get a bunch of these (and I know a bunch of people say that) but what drives you to finish a really time consuming piece of artwork? I can't seem to finish big ones! I want to start a Tumblr blog for my pieces (that I haven't exactly finished), but the little doodles I've done don't feel worthy enough to post online. I have the attention span of a horse fly... d'you think you could give a little advice?


Here’s the thing, which might be surprising… I never let myself “commit” a ton of time to an artwork unless I can already see the end result in my head. When I commit a long time to a painting, it means that there’s already a certain way I imagine the piece to look and only x amount of hours put into it will achieve what I want. If you have really good, well-thought-out vision and plenty of references and/or research to back it up, the hours of rendering work should come naturally.

Remember - time spent doesn’t automatically equate to great art. The danger of spending too much time on something is getting too attached to an idea, making you blind to any flaws; a poor initial composition is still just going to end up a well-rendered but poorly composed piece, and you won’t be able to start clean because you’ll think “I’ve spent too long on this to let it go.” Further, it’s much, much harder to take criticism on something you pour too many hours into.

I am in no way saying that being dedicated can’t lead to great results. Plenty of artists create only very involved and time-consuming pieces, and it’s amazingly admirable of them. But if that’s just not your thing right now, you shouldn’t feel bad about it! If you’re like me (short attention span!), mentally telling yourself “I have to spend a million hours on this piece! It’s gotta be BIG!” is a sure way to get discouraged and impatient unless you are incredibly enthusiastic about the idea. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of time in order to post it on your artblog. Listen to people’s feedback, look at inspirational work, and collect reference photos. Sketches, studies, and idle doodles are just as important, if not more important, than an artist’s “big pieces.” Each one will nurture your skills and make you more confident for the next piece, until one day you’ll have spent double, triple the time you normally spend and you won’t have even noticed!

Process shots for He Who Fights with Monsters (print). Digital painting from references, Adobe Photoshop + Cintiq 21UX tablet. Mostly default hard-edged round brush with opacity jitter, some oil-effect brushes for early color blocking.

Random related art tip: Don’t be afraid to adjust the cropping of your piece even if you have done a lot of work already. You can tell from WIP 2-3 that I messed with the spacing on top, even though that involved repainting some of the background. Composition is very important, especially when you’re doing a portrait - your subject should be able to “breathe” properly, to live in the space correctly. If your character is doing this type of “dramatically looking down” pose like Reese is, the extra “white space” on top combined with downward brush strokes can really hammer the ~serious drama~ effect home.


Final process video (about 9 min) for my Sherlock violin painting. :) Will definitely try and put together a few more vids from my Livestream recordings! Thank you all for the kind responses.

My new YouTube channel: alicexzart

Gonna bring this up again because I’ve been getting a lot of asks along the lines of “how do you art…?” (said in very flattering and nice ways, of course.) This is a time-lapsed process video of one of my paintings and shows essentially what I go through whenever I make a digital painting - sketch first from however many reference images you need; then block out major color areas before working on details. I know that sounds terribly simple and you probably think it’s not at all helpful but I mean it! Never, ever work on details before “getting the big picture down.” Think of painting as slowly bringing a photograph into focus. I spend more time looking at the thumbnail of my painting then looking at it zoomed in. Always imagine your painting is hanging on a wall 10 feet away from you; if you always do this, then your sense of composition and balance will start to improve naturally.

Another thing people mention a lot about my art is my use of color, and a question I get asked constantly is “how do you decide which colors…?” There are, of course, a plethora of color tutorials out there and I could probably keep you here all day if I really tried to talk about it. But a simple rule I like to follow is to always try and keep your picture balanced. If you use a certain shade of whatever color in the foreground, put a bit of it in the background too. For example - and this is just an example, not a hard-and-fast rule - for example, if you’re painting a simple, straight-on portrait, and your skin-tones are all warm (which they often are) and the character’s eyes happen to be a cool color (just a quintessential example here, think Sherlock), then try making your background that same shade of cool color for an interesting contrast. Complementary colors are dynamic when put together. Keep photographs with beautiful color schemes (there are plenty out there) open on the side for inspiration. “Surprise” colors are also very crucial to an interesting color palette that will draw people’s attention - just throw in colors that you don’t think belong, and who knows, they might end up belonging! EXPERIMENT EXPERIMENT DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT - it’s digital, yo! You can always undo it, so don’t be afraid to douse your whole painting with random splashes of hot pink and weird minty green (like I did up there), then delete the ugly green and keep the pink that actually ended up looking quite nice. Or whatever, you know.

Gosh I am just tl;dr-ing all over the place. I just kind of brain melted here… anyway, watch my video! :)


I've been following you for a while now, I'm absolutely in love with the style you have for your paintings. I was wondering though... How long did it take you to get to the point that you could comfortably paint so quickly and "easily" (not the word I was going for, but I can't really think of another to describe it better)?


The key to painting quickly and “easily” is to not really worry about the end result and to always imagine the big picture. A big stumbling block for people who first starting out painting is to zero-in on one section of the piece (for example, the eyes in a portrait, which are fun to draw), when you should really always be looking at the WHOLE piece. It took me awhile to figure this out too! I’ve learned to always start with a quick sketch(es), then block in big sections of color and shading without worrying about details initially. Think of painting as slowly bringing a photo into focus - once you have the general idea down, the details just follow naturally.

I hope that helped somewhat!