Home Art How to draw a monster step by step

How to draw a monster step by step

Did you ever wonder how to draw a monster?  I know, I know… sounds like a difficult task. But  if you allow me I will help you to unleash the power of your creativity. We will follow a step by step process and by the end of this tutorial you will have a better knowledge on how to draw a realistic monster.

The key factor on drawing and painting a realistic monster is to make it believable. Aldo you are creating a fantastic creature, the style, proportions and generally how you draw it and paint it, will give you the realistic feeling you are looking for.

So let me give you the first clue in our journey to success: “Values”. For those who doesn’t know what Im talking about, the term value speaks about how the characters are affected by the light sources of our scene. The use of the values will define the rendering of the materials in our scene. Color  plays also a key factor in this aspect, but for this tutorial we will focus on values only, so you will be able to understand better how to achieve a realistic rendering without getting distracted by other factors like temperature or saturation, more related to the coloring process.

I will draw and paint this realistic monster using Photoshop. If you want to know which digital tablets I recommend, you can check my article about “Recommended art supplies”.

Do you have problems painting values?

I think we all can agree that setting a nice illumination in a painting can be sometimes a difficult task. We always want to have our characters illuminated by a perfect dramatic light for our fighting scenes, or have them surrounded by mysterious shadows, or for several light sources at the time…. and often we find our selves defeated trying to achieve our purpose.

But, really is that difficult?

Well, it turns out, most of the time we get distracted trying to find the right colors for our lights and shadows and how them will affect the local color of the objects in the scene that we miss the most important thing…

Values are how lights affect to your scene, and in consequence how light or dark is a color. So setting a clear light and shadow map for your scene will give you the foundation to create amazing scenes full of drama, heroism, mystery… whatever the emotion you want to transmit.

So how I can set my values ?

In today´s post I will show you in a clear step by step tutorial how to paint a character in grayscale, having full control of our values and setting the illumination the way we want it. This will leave us with a character finished in black and white or ready for adding him color if we want. Let´s start.

 Values are more important than color when painting

Why? Because manipulating them we are changing how light affects the different parts of your painting. A good painter knows how to work the values of his painting in order to create a focal point within it, create and define the different volumes of the objects giving a  three-dimensional illusion of form and create also an illusion of depth. Values goes from the pure black to the pure white. Artists use to work in the gray-scale area in between both. So value is expressed visually in a whole scale of different tones of grey.

Avoid the pure blacks or whites

A good advice will be to avoid the use of pure black and pure white, because using them in an area of your painting you are killing the possibility to add information to this area, giving a sensation of flatness to it. A gradation of different tones of grey will create volume and three-dimensionality.  Check the dark areas of paintings of masters like Rembrant or Rubens. At a first glance, your eyes will identify those areas as pure black, but a closer look will show you this shadow area is made of a gradation of dark greys and there is information inside it.


Follow the path of the old masters

Depending which type of scene we were painting or drawing we will establish a different light and shadow map. The human eye is drawn to focus on the contrast of a light element against a dark one. A good example of this idea will be the paintings of Baroque artist Caravaggio, where the major part of the scene is in shadows and the focal point is established by a single powerful light source.

I think you are ready , so let´s start working

So now you know why values are so important. Our next logical question will be “how to manipulate those values?” and let me tell you, is not an easy task. But don´t despair yet, my goal here is to give you some tips and tricks that will help you to improve dramatically your “values game”.

Our task

As an example we will use a drawing I did of an Alien creature. This line art will serve you as a guide of where to put your lights and where your shadows. You don´t need super clean lines because you are going to cover them with your painting, but you need a solid drawing, with the different elements of your character well define and his proportions in order. If you don´t pay attention to having a solid sketch your drawing will look terrible at the end. Is like a building with a messy foundation and a twisted skeleton, at the end it will fall.

How to Draw your Realistic Monster

For this tutorial I will go more in depth on how to paint this terrifying creature. But because our monster is a humanoid, I will give you some basic tips on how to draw a human type body:

I will start drawing the waist , drawing it like some sort of short underwear. Once you have the waist placed then you can start drawing the torso on top of it. The torso is like a rounded box and it´s important to show the different sides of it . In this case, the right side of the torso will be totally hidden from the viewer. Meanwhile the left side will be shown clearly.

Drawing the torso

Realistic monster body 1

Remember to keep the torso and the waist separated from each other. The space in between them will be the abdominal area. The bottom of the torso will represent the lower ribs. Once both volumes are placed, create a curve line connecting both , waist and torso. This line will divide the front face of the torso ( where the chest is ). You can draw also a curve line under the chest area. This line will define where the arch of the ribs will be placed.

The size of torso will be over 3 human heads or 3 human heads and a half in height. Take in consideration our monster has a different type of head than a regular Human, this is why I used a human head as a reference so you can understand the dimensions better.


Drawing the legs

Realistic monster body 2

Regarding the legs, the size of the thigh will be 2 heads more or less. We will draw the thighs like two thick tubes or cylinders. On the side of the pelvis, the cylinder will be thicker and it becomes narrower when we reach the knees.

The knees will be drawn like two squares with two spheres in the middle representing the knee caps.

Drawing the arms

Realistic monster body 3

This monster has several arms. The ones placed on the same place than a human will be constructed like this:

  • First of all we will draw the shoulders. I’ve seen many people drawing the shoulder like a couple of egg shaped spheres. In my case I do the same , but I also like to draw the top part of this inverted egg more flat. The reason is because this allows to the descending line of the traps to continue on the deltoids. The result is a more natural and fluid body line.
  • For the biceps and triceps area, I will draw a tube for each arm. This tube will become narrower on the bottom. Here will be connected to the elbow.

Drawing the Elbow and the Forearms

The elbow will be situated on the same height of the floating ribs, on the sides of the torso.

For the forearms, we will draw also a tube for each arm. Like before, they will become narrower on the bottom part. In this case, the bottom part will be the wrist. More or less, both wrists will be aligned with the crotch on the hips area.

The Hands

The hands can be easily drawn if we simplify their shape. The palms will be drawn as squares and the dinger as rectangles. This will help you to visualize and understand better how the hand is build.

The Secondary Arms

Realistic monster body 4

The process of building the secondary arms placed below the more human arms is quite simple. You gotta follow the same principles you applied on the previous arms.

The main difference will be the claws. Our monster will have a 3 finger hand or claw instead of the human hands he has on his other arms. The process of drawing here is the same we did for the other hands, but this time instead of 5 fingers we will draw only 3 . This fingers will be longer and will have bigger claws.

The Insect Arms

Realistic monster body 5

The insect arms on the back will be similar than the ones you can see on a Mantis or a Grasshopper. I encourage you to check some insect photos online so you can get some nice references if you wanna explore newer forms.

Those arms are built in 3 parts. If we simplify them they will read this way:

  •  Two of those parts can be drawn like tubes.
  •  The big claws can be represented in a triangular shape.

As a cool detail we added also some extra claws on the joints for make the character look even more scary.

The Head

Realistic monster body 6

You can draw the head in all sorts of ways. The cool thing about a monster is you can draw it whatever you like. In my case if we breakdown the head into main shapes it will read like this:

  • The head and the neck will become one , and we will draw it as a tube or a bended cylinder.
  • The mouth will become a big hole on this cylinder.
  • The mouth will have fangs around it, Those fangs can be drawn as triangles.

If you have trouble drawing a human figure you can check my tutorial on “How to draw a person’s whole body step y step”.

Detailing our monster

Now that you have the main shapes of your character, is time to detail it.

This process is quite free and the results will depend on each artist´s inclination and taste.

In my case, I like to add all sorts of little horns , wrinkles and textures when drawing the skin. I draw this details to help me visualize how I will paint the monster and which type of textures and materials I want to convey on my future painting.

Also if you wanna paint my own drawing you will find a link for download the sketch, at the end of the tutorial.

First step: Blocking the main shapes

In this first step we are going to fill the sketch with a base tone of grey.

Divide and conquer

If you are working in digital you will create a new layer under the sketch layer. Pick a mid-tone of grey, something in the middle of the scale I showed you in the beginning of this tutorial. As a disclaimer I will say I like to paint this base layer of the character not as a unique layer. Instead of that I divided the character on parts( dividing the sketch in separate layers)  and paint them separately in different layers and create groups of layers ( arms, claws, head etc…). In this case, I only divided  the character in 3 groups and place them in folders.

The groups

-The main body with the head and almost all the arms.

-The big claw like arms on the back will be another.

– The third one will be the forearm and hand on right side because it’s placed behind of the res of arms and the body.

You can fill the sketch painting inside with a round brush, but is not my preferred method.

My method to fill the parts

What I do is to take the Lasso Tool in freehand mode and start to draw following the contour lines. I’m using the freehand Lasso Tool in this case because the character is purely organic ( no hard surfaces on it like armor plates or weapons ), full of irregular shapes so the freehand mode it will be great.

Bezier vs Lasso

You can use the Bezier Tool or the straight lines Lasso Tool if you like. But for organic shapes the freehand Lasso Tool is way faster and easier to work. Also is more intuitive and you can use it like if you were trying to outline the different parts of the character. In case your character had a some hard surfaces on it ( like an armor plate ). I will recommend you tu use the Bezier Tool. You can create nice and well define curves with it. The straight lines and the edges of your object will look clean and perfectly cut out from the background.

Cons of the Bezier Tool

The only negative part is the Bezier Tool can be sometimes a pain in the ass. Specially if you are an impulsive painter and you like to start painting right away. Once you have your selection done fill it with the mid-gray tone using the Bucket Tool . Again remember to fill a layer under the sketch. We need to be able to see the lines for using them as guideline.

Lasso or Bezier against Brush

So why should you use the Lasso or the Bezier Tool over the regular brush strokes? Which are the benefits? The answer is clean and well define borders. This will help you to define better the character against the background. Later on you can blur some parts of the contour of the figure, using the Blur Tool or the Blur Filter.

Adding color we will blend some parts of the character with the background and give more importance to other parts. The coloring process over a grayscale scene will be explained in a future tutorial. But for now, we want all our edges clean and cut out from the background so when we are painting on one of the parts we can create a Clipping Mask layer. This layer will go on top of our base layer of mid-gray tone. Doing this, we will be sure we always will be painting inside of it and not out.

Second Step: Placing your main lights and shadows

Now you have your base layer set, is time to place your main lights and shadows. For that we will need to decide from where the light will be coming. In this case I opted for the upper left side of the image, but very close to the center of the upper side. This light will cast almost totally vertical shadows , little bit tilted to the right side.

The way we will set our main shadows will be to going group by group of the different parts of the character and create a Clipping mask on top of the sketch part ( example: the big claw arms on the back group) and the base layer of mid gray behind it . This new layer will be set to Multiply mode.

Put you character into shadows

We will fill the layer with the Bucket tool using a darker grey tone. Something in the range of number 3 and 2 on the gray-scale at the beginning of the article. Be careful not to darken too much the character , play with the opacity of your Multiply layer. For this character which has a quite fair skin, I will darken it around a 20 to a 25% more over the mid-grey base tone leaving a dark grey tone right in between of the pure black and our mid-grey original tone.

Bring the character to the light

The next move will be to pick the eraser with a soft brush and start to remove parts of this new layer for letting the original mid-gray on your under layer to come out again. Doing that you will show where the light will be hitting. If you don´t feel secure enough to erase permanently  parts of your Multiply layer, just add a Mask to the layer and start to hide parts of the mask, so you don´t loose the original information from the layer, you just make it non visible.

How to do it

When removing or hiding parts of your shadow layer ( Multiply layer) follow your sketch and the volumes you created on it. Let the light hit on the top of this volumes and the shadows in the areas where light is not hitting. Later on I will cast some shadow coming from the head and falling over the throat and the chest, but you can do it now. A good example of a cast shadow is in the image below check the lower arm on the left of the image. You can see how the primary arm is casting a shadow over the lower secondary arm under it. Just remember our drawing is purely organic so the transition between shadows and lights will be more like a gradient, except in the cast shadows, where the transition from light to shadow will be more like a clean cut.

A little trick for you 

Check also how I´m letting the lower part of the torso and the legs to be darker than the upper torso and the head. This is because the light in our scene comes from the top so it will hit with less intensity the lower parts of the body. This also helps us to place the focus of attention on the main areas, which in a character are the head and the upper torso.

Third Step: develop your lights and shadows

For this part just create another Clipping mask and start to work on your shadows defining them better. You can keep using the soft brush for painting but for some details maybe you will need a more hard edge brush, so all will depend on your needs. For example when I was painting the transition point between the fangs and the skin I used a more hard edge brush for create a clearer separation between both parts. You can also start to paint on your lights using the same method than with the shadows. Use the soft brush and add some brighter grey tones in the areas more exposed to our light source.

Start playing with the background

Remember your main focus area has to contrast clearly with the background and the other secondary areas of the body has to contrast less with the background. The higher the contrast the more the eye will be drawn to it, but don´t overkill and paint your main areas with pure white against pure black.

What you can see in the image below is the development of this same concept I was just explaining you moments ago. I´m starting to suggest some shapes on the background and see how they contrast with the different parts of the character. My goal for this background is to help me to drive the viewer’s attention to the areas I want. I will try to increase the contrast between character and background more in those areas than in others. In this phase I’m experimenting with the background, painting simple shapes with blurry borders.

Keep the focus

Don´t let the background distract the viewer from the character, he is the focus of attention. Keep the background in a scale of grays with not a great contrast between them, reserve a broader spectrum of grays ( from darkest to the most brightest) for the character.

Don´t work part by part, work the character as a whole

Don´t focus in a particular area and focus on being able to develop the whole character to a 60- 70% finish. The smaller parts of the character has to be clear and well define but not fully develop. The fully rendering of the details will come in the next steps, but in this step you gotta keep focus on the whole figure. Try to keep everything in balance and if you feel that some part of character is not coming out as you like, is a good moment to stop and start working in another part. You can comeback to this part it wasn´t working later with a fresh eye. Trust me, you will come with a solution for this problem most of the times just because you allowed your mind to rest and let the subconscious part of your brain work a solution.

Fourth Step: Adding details and playing with the background

In this phase I will focus on 3 aspects of the image:

  • Increase the contrast
  • Adding details
  • Play with the background

 Increase the contrast

At this point the main shadows and lights are more or less set. As you can see in the image below I casted a shadow over the chest of the creature. The shadow will cover the neck area and it will be casted by the head.

I will be playing with the values a bit. Ways to do this are:

-I will darken some shadows for create more contrast with the lights. I can duplicate the layers with the shadows in them. Then I will play with the new layer opacity.

-Other way to do it will be to play with the contrast. You will create an Adjustment layer   and pick the Brightness and Contrast

layer option. Remember to make your new Adjustment layer a Clipping Mask so it will only affect the correspondent part of the body. Play with the layer settings and try to find the right contrast. You can mask parts of the layer if you feel some areas affected by it are to contrast. Remember also to repeat the same process for the 3 parts of the character( body , claw arms and secondary arm).

-If your image was too dark the first two options will be not viable. My advice will be to create an Adjustment layer and play with the Curves. You can increase the brightness in your character without killing the contrast using this way. Try to be subtile playing with the Curve layer. Again, remember to repeat the process in all 3 parts.

Adding details

For this part you can paint your wounds, scars and veins painting them manually, one by one or using texture brushes. There is a lot of cool brushes out there. They will give a you a great pattern to work with. You can paint over this pattern and start to give depth and volume to the different tissue.

I like to start with a layer of veins. Paint them all over the body, but in a lower opacity and with no volume. I just want to give the impression of a layer of subdermal veins under the skin.

Then I will follow adding more visible details like, wounds, bigger veins, blemishes etc…

Play with the background

As you can see in the image below I’ve been working a bit on the background. This one will not be my final option. The reason why is because I felt the background values around the head area( my main focal point) where to bright. The edges of the head where blending with the background. This will be not a problem for areas of less interest, even can help us to focus the attention on the more contrasted areas. But for the main areas we need to keep the edges clear and define.

Fifth Step: The final touches

Well this is the last step. More or less I’m going to take further the same 3 actions I spoke in the ” Fourth Step “.

  • Contrast

    I will keep working on my shadows and lights in order to push the contrast between the areas hit by the light and the areas in shadows. Leave the higher contrast for the focus areas like the head and the shoulders. For other areas try to keep a lesser contrast between the different parts of the character. If you check the image below I’m keeping the legs darker, the abdomen lighter than the legs and leaving the higher amount of light for the upper torso. and the head.

  • Final details

    Regarding the details I will keep working on them keeping in mind where they are placed and the amount of work I gotta put on them. The further away from the focal points, the less amount of work I will put on this particular detail. Those secondary details I will keep them fairly loose. The details placed in the main areas will need higher amount of work. In this phase you can go fully into the image. get close nad start to paint pores, little vain, highlights etc… Also I made the hard parts from the character, like claws and quitine plates, darker so they will contrast better with the character’s skin.

  • Finishing the background

    For the background, I decided to go for something fairly simple. The mountains on the background will be low and far away, so nothing will be taller than the character on the image. The sky will become gradually lighter from the top to the center of the image. It will happen the same for the ground. I will become lighter from the bottom to the center. This will keep the focus of attention on the center of the image. The claws on top of the character or the legs on the bottom will blend with the background in some parts. Meanwhile the head and the upper torso will appear well-defined against the background. This is a good way to keep the viewer’s attention in the main areas.

As a final touch I will recommend you to merge all the layers in one and apply a Noise Filter. For this image I set the filter to a 14% with the grain in uniform mode. This trick will unify a little bit more the values on your image. Also will give to our painting a photography look to the image adding to it some grain.

Hope this tutorial was useful to you. If you like it please hit the like button and share it on your social media by clicking in one of the correspondent buttons below.


Toni Justamante Jacobs.

Here is the link to the character sketch 


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