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Digitally coloring the old masters drawings

Digitally coloring the old masters drawings

Article by Willie Jimenez

Digitally coloring rough sketches from the old masters of the renaissance

What I learned and How it changed my life.


I was a comic book colorist for years when I had decided to join the navy and I was living in Italy for three years with lots of time on my hands. I really had little interesting the drawings and paintings of the renaissance at the time. I was fan of comics and cartoons. I never really saw why I had to learn all that stuff if thats wasn’t what I wanted to do. But living in Italy I got to travel a lot and visited a lot of museums and slowly this idea started to build in my head.

As I traveled to different museums around Europe I slowly noticed I gravitated towards old sketches and etchings. This crazy idea of taking them and painting them in with photoshop really started with me buying a high quality print of Michelangelo’s sketch, known as the fury, it was such a beautiful and powerful sketch. I decided to scan it and color it in. As a comic colorist I’ve taken pencil sketches and done similar things before and I just loved the way it turned out. So I wanted to do more.


For this I got a book called “Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters” and I picked out a hand full of sketches I liked and went to work. I figured this was great practice and it aloud me to really study and connect with the sketches. My amazement was how much little work I had to actually do. I knew these sketches were sometimes the under paintings or studies of work that was never complete but I didn’t know just how much information was already there.

Sometimes a seemingly really flat drawing would just pop with just a simple flat layer of color behind it. My initial fear was don’t mess this up. Don’t want to change the painting so much that the work is unrecognizable from the original sketch. I wanted to stay true to the original intentions of the artist. Which is big thing even in comics but when I added color there was so much information there. All the decisions about lighting and form was all ready there. The forms already had a sense of volume. The values and line weights gave me so much information. So much more information then I would get from coloring in comics and cartoons. This really illuminated just how great these master are.






At this time I was trying draw on my own, but I wasn’t life drawing or looking to learn fundamentals. I was straight trying to draw cartoons and I couldn’t figure out why my drawing weren’t working. I decided to buy a few books on drawing realistically. It took a lot of work but I eventually got a hang of it. Now even when I draw the comic book style or a Japanese anime type of style the work looks so much better.

After the military I decided to go back to college and even though I decided to study animation. I kept up learning the classic fundamentals and life drawing on my own. I regret not taking a chance sooner and skipping out on that anatomy class in high school. Still learning cause it’s a lot of work, I’m not gonna lie. I think thats sort of one of the big things that hold artist back but It’s really worth it.


That fury sketch is always on my wall amongst all the other types of art I have. As a reminder to respect the masters and to never forget. You can see my old tumblr where I posted most of the painting I did over old master sketches here…


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