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Create enchanting character art in Affinity Photo with Moon Lotus Dreams

Roberta Burattini aka Moon Lotus Dreams walks us through her digital painting process in Affinity Photo…

1. Sketch & Digital Lineart

Start by sketching the overall idea, you can sketch directly in Affinity or scan a pencil drawing. Create a new layer underneath the sketch and use the Flood Fill Tool to apply a white colour. Reduce the opacity of the sketch layer and create a new layer above it for the lineart. Use a round brush to draw your digital lineart using the sketch as a guide.

2. Colours: Flat & Lineart

Below you can see the colours and tonal variations I’ve chosen to work with in small circles on the top ‘Palette’ layer. I use this as reference while working on the image.

Next create new layers underneath the lineart for each section to be coloured (I have created one for the background colour, one for the skin and one for the clothes. For the lantern, I created a group with lineart and flat colour above all else, as this element is on the forefront).

Now it’s time to apply colours to the line-art. Click on your lineart layer, pick a colour and choose the option Protect Alpha (upper right corner) to use with the Paint Brush Tool. A basic round brush will do the job. You can apply different colours on the lineart to make highlighted areas and darker areas. Note I’ve made the lineart on the shoulders and inner edge of the sleeves bright and kept it a darker tone on the arms.

3. Shading & Details


With the watercolour brush DAUB Flat Texture Free 03, draw some highlights behind the main character.

By doing this you will give some depth to the composition.


Using the Freehand Selection Tool, select areas to apply shadows and highlights. With the watercolour brush DAUB Flat Texture Free 02, loosely apply a brighter colour for the highlights and a darker colour for the shadows.

A screenshot showing Freehand Selection Tool being used in preparation for shading to be applied.

Add some details to the fabric and jewellery

Dress: create a new layer and with a basic round brush draw some ornaments and shapes. You can use multiple layers for different effects.

Crown: add some colour variations with the same principle; bright yellow for the highlights and dark yellow for the shadows.

Fabric semi-transparency effect

Start by applying a Mask Layer to the clothes colour layer.

Select a soft brush, reduce the opacity and set the colour to black. With the Freehand Selection Tool, select the parts that will need to be semi-transparent. Now paint directly on the Mask Layer to create the transparency.

A close-up showing the sleeves on the dress with a semi-transparent effect.


Select the skin layer and with a soft brush apply a darker colour on the cheeks and the nose. Then, select the base colour and draw the highlight on the nose to give depth. Apply a red line around the eyes for simple make-up and the same red for the lips.

Create another layer above the skin, set 50% Opacity and Multiply blend mode. Pick a red colour and, with a soft brush, accentuate the blush on the cheeks and nose.

Overall shading

Create a new layer above the previous, set it 50% Opacity and Multiply blend mode. Draw the shadows using the skin base colour and a round brush.


Select the eyes layer and apply colour highlights to the iris with a soft round brush (Protect Alpha on).

Shading: create a new layer, set it at 75% Opacity and Multiply blend mode. After picking a light grey colour, trace the shadow with a round brush.

4. Complex Elements


It is now time to draw the fish (Koi) coming out from the lantern.

Create a new layer inside the Lantern Layers Group. Draw simple white shapes to get an idea of which position and size work best. Once you are happy with the choice, start giving form to the fish. You can use references from books or online to get the right proportions, you can see one of the reference images I used below.

The fins being added to the koi.
The veins being added to the fins on the koi.


The next step is to apply a fish skin texture/pattern. You can create your own texture, purchase stock textures or find one that’s free for commercial use. Import the texture as image and place it on a layer above the fish. Set the layer at 15% Opacity with Overlay blend mode.

Adjust the layer to follow the fish orientation. Repeat the process for each fish then merge all the texture layers into one. Mask the texture around the fish bodies: quick-select the fish layer (Cmd-click or Ctrl-click on layer) and apply a mask to the skin texture layer.

5. Light Effects

Time to add some magic!

Playing around with different brushes and layer blend modes, you can add some magical lighting to the composition. This is how you can apply some light effects:

  • Create a new layer group and name it ‘light effects’
  • Create a new layer inside the group, pick a light blue colour and then paint with a brush of your choice over the areas that you want to highlight (I used Franketoon - Concept Master cloud brush)
  • Set the blend mode to Glow or Hard Light or Vivid Light and the Opacity between 20% and 50%
  • Repeat to add as many highlight layers as you want. Below you can see my process.

You can easily create a ‘bokeh’ effect with a customised round brush and the colour set to a light pink—see the following brush settings:

Advanced brush settings added to a simple Round Brush to make your own ‘bokeh’ brush.
Note the bokeh effect and lighting on the jewellery.

6. Extra Touches


You can use Affinity Photo’s Layer Effects to add more highlights or special effects to your composition.

Koi layer

Apply Outer Glow and set: Vivid Light blend mode—40% Opacity—100px Radius—25% Intensity—Colour=light blue (see image below).

For extra sparkle

On a new layer draw white drops around the fish and apply the same layer effect.


Select the hair layer and apply a black to deep blue gradient. This way you give the idea of black hair reflecting blue light.

7. Overall Filters & Effects

Now the drawing is finished, but there are still some filters we can apply to enhance the overall composition.


Create a new group and a new layer inside of it. Fill the layer with a white colour then go to: Filters > Noise > Add Noise (100% intensity). Then set the Opacity to 75% and the blend mode to Colour Burn.

Note the grainy texture that adding the Noise Filter gives to the image.


You can easily change your drawing to a cooler or warmer tonality.

  • Create a new layer and fill it with a blue colour
  • Set Opacity to 10%> set blend mode to Screen
  • For a stronger effect, create a new layer and use a textured brush to paint external areas with a purple colour. Set Opacity to 10% and set blend mode to Vivid Light (I used DAUB Watercolour & Washes - Flat Texture Free 04).

8. Final Adjustments

To emphasise the focal point of the drawing on the character face: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels, then shift the Black Level handle towards the right side to accentuate dark colours. Now select the Eraser Brush Tool and with a soft round brush, erase the area around the character’s face. Be sure to position this layer on top of all others.

A Levels Adjustment layer being added.
Erasing from the Levels Adjustment layer.

The end result

The final artwork.

Tools used

Hardware—Graphic Tablet

Brushes—customised basic brushes, DAUB Pigmento and DAUB Watercolours & Washes, Frankentoon Concept Master Vol. 1: Nature—note these are purchased separately and not included in the software.

About the Creator

Roberta Burattini is an Italian-Australian artist and writer who creates art and stories based on her dreams.

“Art helps the storytelling, it’s the visual expression of the feelings, places, faces and moods in my stories.”

She has used Affinity for several years to create beautiful character concepts and figurative art.

Check out more of Roberta’s work on her website, Instagram, Artstation and visit her YouTube for speed paints of her work.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All images are copyright © of Roberta Burratini Moon Lotus Dreams 2019 and used with permission.