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'Secrets of Corel Painter Experts': Torsten Wolber

In this excerpt, Torsten Wolber leads readers through the steps from initial sketch to finished digital painting.

Torsten Wolber

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Torsten Wolber: About the Artist

I studied at the Cologne International School of Design with a focus on illustration. Over the past 12 years, I have worked as an illustrator, and I switched to digital painting in 2004. Since then I have won several prizes for my digital artwork, including the Painter Master award from Ballistic, first and third place prizes in the CG Challenge, the German International Docma award, and the Corel Painter award. Most of my work reflects daily commissions for advertising, magazines, TV, and games. These include stern, FOCUS, WirtschaftsWoche, Playboy, Jung von Matt, WDR, Blue Byte, and KARAKTER Concepts.


Software: Painter, Photoshop, and sometimes SketchUp for perspectiveHardware: MacPro, Quato Intelli Proof monitor, Wacom Intuos 4 A4


Torsten WolberCologne, Germanyonline@torstenwolber.de

Artist's Statement

Frankly, I’ve never completely understood the mystery that people make about being an artist. I think that if you have a vision and the strong urge to share it, it’s merely a matter of time and hard work to find a unique way to express yourself. Tools like Painter make it easy for me to transform my painting experience into the digital world, which leads me to new inspirations by other artists, a still joyful game in which it is fun to learn from each other. I’m grateful every day to have this wonderful profession.


It’s hard to say what my direct influences are, because I always try to keep an open mind to all different influences in art. I have never developed a truly unique illustrative style, so there are a still a lot of artists from different corners of the world who influence me, and I enjoy this freedom. Because of this, my range of illustrative styles is probably a little broader than that of most other artists.

[Figure 11.1] Initial sketch.

TechniquesStep-by-Step Tutorial: “Trophies”         1.          I begin by drawing a small sketch of my idea. By small, I mean that my doodle is not more than 5 inches in height on my screen. I use the regular Acrylics, Opaque Detail Brush 3, and every now and then, I alter it to an ellipsoid shape by changing the angle and form. To prevent losing my vision of the drawing, I work as fast as I can at this stage. It shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half to complete this first step. I don’t limit myself by focusing on details right now. It’s the big picture I’m looking for. See Figure 11.1.

[Figure 11.2] Using the Divine Proportions tool to check the composition.

[Figure 11.3] Layout Grid settings.

         2.          After I decide that I like the colors, I check on the overall composition using the Divine Proportions tool and the Layout Grid. See Figures 11.2 and 11.3. I often do this right after blocking things out so I get a better idea of balancing out all the elements in my image. I start pushing things around using the Lasso tool and do some “paint-overs.” Every piece of artwork results from decisions to be made, and grids and proportions help me to easily get on track. However, I take them as loose guidelines rather than relying on them too heavily.

Even during the earliest stages of designing your image, you can get helpful hints from Painter by using the Divine Proportions tool or the Layout Grid to check your composition.

[Figure 11.4] Initial sketch.

[Figure 11.5] Paint-over with Sargent Brush.

[Figure 11.6] Dodge and detailing.

         3.          In Figure 11.4, I enlarge my initial sketch. Using the Sargent Brush tool with default settings, I do a paint-over, as seen in Figure 11.5. Using this technique is the easiest way to define wrinkles.

         4.          After Dodging, I work on the details with a fine Oil Brush. See Figure 11.6.

[Figure 11.7] Elements separated and rendered.

[Figure 11.8] Drop All into a new single layer.

         5.          After detailing each element of my picture individually (see Figure 11.7), I combine all the parts again onto a new canvas, adjust some of the colors and positions, and then Drop All into one background. See Figure 11.8. In Figure 11.9, I have combined all the different parts of my image into one layer and over-painted them using the Sargent Brush.

[Figure 11.9] Elements recombined onto one canvas.

[Figure 11.10] Partially erased brush texture.
[Figure 11.11] Overlay in 100 percent.

[Figure 11.12] Texture and

additional overlay.

I know that combing all parts of my image into a single layer isn’t a common way to work, but because I am used to working on one canvas only, this has certain benefits. For example, I can concentrate on my work without bothering to check whether I’m working in the right layer. Even more important is the fact that the formerly separated objects begin to interact with each other once again — this includes the fuzzy edges and all. Maybe it’s just my “analog habit,” but I definitely encourage you to try to get out of “safety mode” by trying this.

         6.          At this point I decide to add a textured layer to my image. I add a brushed texture but erase it in certain areas where it appears to be too dominant; it’s easy to overdo this. See Figure 11.10. I add the texture in a separate layer with Brushwork On in Overlay Mode and adjust the Layer Opacity to approximately 20 percent. See Figure 11.11.

I often add a textured layer in the final stages of my work because it helps me avoid a digital look that, especially when printed, appears to be a tad too clean and smooth.

         7.          I finalize the picture with another Overlay layer, where I add some highlights and shadows. See Figure 11.12. While in Overlay Mode, I also alter the colors where needed. I Drop All Layers again and sharpen the final image just a little bit. Now I’m done.

[Figure 11.13] “Trophies” Final image.

InsightsThe Creative Process

To begin, I need something to start working with, so I start sketching right away. My first sketches are almost always bad. (Really, I mean it!) Once I have my idea sketched out in Painter, I check my composition using the Divine Proportion tool and the Layout Grid. After that, I start painting over the top of my sketch.

[Figure 11.14] Painted with regular Oil Brush.

[Figure 11.15] Painted with the Sargent Brush.

Favorite Features

If there was one tool I would really miss in a world without Painter, it would be the Sargent Brush. You can see the difference in brushstrokes by comparing Figure 11.14 to Figure 11.15. Most people rarely use the Sargent Brush because it feels like playing the piano with a pair of boxing gloves on. Yet this is exactly the randomness I look for; it helps trigger my imagination. Even when using traditional analog techniques, I often needed this type of unpredictable factor that would lead to “happy accidents.” For example, I often started painting with a broad clumsy brush or worked left-handed.

[Figure 11.16] Organize brush sets in Arrange Palettes.

[Figure 11.17] Use fewer brushes.

Timesaving Tips

Use fewer brushes! Keep your brushes organized and few, and use Arrange Palettes to save your sets. See Figure 11.16. Beginners are often inclined to work with way too many brushes and sometimes find themselves getting lost in all the possibilities. I have 3 different brush sets for different techniques; each of them contains not more than 12 brushes. See Figure 11.17. This way it’s easy for me to locate everything quickly and easily without getting distracted.

Finished Work

My finished work is usually printed in magazines or advertisements. My biggest concern with my finished work is, “Hmm… when will I be paid?”


Q&AWhen did you start using Painter?

I started using Painter, along with Photoshop, in 2003.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started?

I wish someone had told me that Painter has some issues with color management. Tip: stick with Adobe RGB and PSD files in both Painter and Photoshop.

Did you have previous experience in traditional media?

I have had lots of experience with traditional media. Soon after graduating, I began working as an illustrator using traditional tools. I worked this way for 13 years. Sometimes I integrate my work in Painter with traditional artists’ materials by adding some traditionally made structures.

How has it been for you to learn about using art tools in a digital setting?

It’s been surprisingly easy!

Has Painter helped you define your own style?

In a way, yes, Painter has helped with this. Although I never really worked to develop my own style, Painter has helped me stick with my own traditional painting style. I love to work painterly and loose, although I have to admit that’s not always what the client wants.

"Campaign — Bosch Kitchen."

What motivates you?

I am always motivated and inspired after I share my vision with others. Feedback from my peers is still providing me with, by far, the strongest motivation I have for my work.

How has the Internet influenced your art-making process?

The Internet is a great way to get useful references and find inspiration, but discussing your work with other experienced digital artists is invaluable. I definitely recommend finding a community of peers to share thoughts and questions with. Two of my favorite sites are the German Illustrators Organization Web site and the German DigitalArtForum (led by the vey professional Daniel Lieske, who gives away all his knowledge for free).

What advice do you have for artists working with Painter?

Don’t get lost in the possibilities. Put on your blinders, and concentrate on just one problem at a time.

Links          *



Torsten WolberEducation Illustration degree

Client Liststern; FOCUS; WirtschaftsWoche; Playboy; Jung von Matt; WDR; Blue Byte; KARAKTER Concepts

Awards and Career Highlights

Ballistic: Painter Master award; 2006 and 2007 CG award; Docma award; Corel Painter award; Arno award

"Exodus of the Tree Elves"

“Anno 1404 — Harbour.”

"Anno 1404 — Sultan’s Palace."


"War of the Worlds."

"EON — Book Cover."


Daryl Wise has worked for the past 15 years as the owner/operator of StreetWise PR, a small public relations and marketing firm near the Silicon Valley. Some clients include or have included Macworld Expos, the artist Peter Max, HP, Ambient Design, Adesso, Pixelmator, GLUON, and e frontier. He was director of the Santa Cruz Digital Arts Festival for three years and is a member of Cabrillo College's Digital Arts Advisory Committee. He is the author of Secrets of Award-Winning Digital Artists, Secrets of Poser Experts, and Secrets of Painter Experts.

Linda Hellfritsch holds degrees in traditional art and graphic design. She is a fine artist, freelance commercial artist, Web designer and writer living in La Selva Beach, California. She has curated and hung both traditional and digital art exhibitions in San Jose, San Francisco, Monterey, San Clemente and Santa Cruz. Her areas of expertise include art, design, art history, and arts education. Linda works primarily with traditional mixed media although her work has required her to design and develop digital graphic arts products. This exposure to digitally produced art has awakened a curiosity and hunger to learn more about digital art tools. She has spent the past several years talking to digital artists, experiencing their work and learning their secrets. Linda's background in traditional fine art gives her a unique perspective as a traditional artist in a digital world. In her spare time, she works as a scenic painter and props builder at the new Crocker Theater in Aptos, California.