In the earlier post on Dragon Age fan art, I mentioned that I had a great reference for Varric and had learned from it, while I basically winged it for everyone else and ended up spending a great amount of time on shadowing. For whatever reason, clothes have always been easier to shade than faces.
Earlier I visited my old university and saw some class exercises in the works. The students had taken photos and it appeared as though the photos were run through different photoshop filters. The students then recreated those images. All were in greyscale. I assumed this was for value studies and shadows, but I don't know for sure. However, it struck me that this was a great way to simplify the shapes of the shadows and highlights and I could approach shading with this structured exercise rather than flailing about until it sort of looks right.
So, I looked up a 3/4 portrait and put it through a couple of filters on photoshop. Here's an example of photo with the cut-out filter applied.
I did this with dry brush, cut-out, stained glass, and palette knife. The stained glass one was purely to separate colors into neat little shapes so I could color-pick easily.
I traced* the woman's face since I am focusing on painting and shadows, and thought it would be best to focus on one thing at a time. Here are the results of my paint re-creations of those filtered images. *While I did trace her face, I did not trace the painted portion; however I would recommend that as a first step if you are really uncomfortable with shadows! My re-creations are not perfect, but I attempted to put in every small detail even if it seemed odd. I am not one to question the photo reference, just learn from it!
I believe going back to that Dragon Age fan art now will be so much easier for shading! I will probably do this with a few different photos for some more practice. The searching, preparing, and filtering took a minimal amount of time, maybe five or ten minutes max. Most of the two hours spent on this exercise were on painting, much of it on the first and third images.