At this point, I began to apply texture for the environment. I used good references of rocks and cliffs, and shaped it to my silhouette. The Transform tool using Warp was quite effective here, and I often used the Stamp tool to vary the patterns and then paint on top afterwards.
I made sure the texture blended well, so there were not too many weird artifacts. I also began to shape the architecture. I wanted this to feel like a town built around the natural environment, following the terrain. I wanted it to feel like a Viking setting, but without being something I have seen before.
Tone of painting
After the base of the painting was roughly done, I had a lot of image information to use for tweaking the values.
First, I used curves to get the overall value right. Then, I used both a color balance to hit the right color and a hue/saturation. The cool thing is that you can always tweak these later and paint into the mask if you are not satisfied with the result, so you haven't destroyed any pixel information this way. It pays off to start out in a structured manner so you can tweak the whole image.
I used some time here to reconsider my image, and made sure everything fitted together and blended nicely before moving on. I made certain areas darker so the highlights stood out, and added details such as small clouds around the moon, highlights on the rock formations and more coherent texture around the village. For the clouds, I used a custom brush. Later in the process I used the same brush for adding smoke.
I then moved forward with the narrative element of the painting. I wanted a lot of people with torches on the beach, and the lonely brother standing on the pier. I always have characters on separate layers, so I can go back and add or erase if needed.
I found the right color for the yellow and orange/red to achieve the perfect dynamic. I also began to add smoke from the village chimneys, and light in the windows. At that point, the village was coming to life, and there was a good balance between the colors.
Ship on fire
This step took some time. I found multiple ships that I stitched together in Photoshop then added a lot of fire around it. I still aimed for realism, so I used some time to paint on top and blend the different elements. I wanted the fire to feel dramatic as if it was devouring the ship. It added to the drama I think, and underlined the story of the lost brother. To me, the contrast between the beautiful silent evening and the violently burning ship perfectly reflected the main characters emotional state.
This was just a last final touch. When using this kind of approach, sometimes the image can get a little blurry. To make it sharper, I used the Smart Sharpen function, which can be found under Filters > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. You can tweak the parameters, so you get the right amount of sharpness and detail. Be careful to use the radius above 1.0 though, as it can make some heavy halos.
And so the image is done.
Top tip: Applying texture
This is a method in Photoshop that I have used a lot, as it gives me control of my edges. When you hold down Alt between two layers, a small arrow will appear. This means the layer is only applied to the pixels below.
As shown in my tutorial, you can make sharp silhouettes with the Lasso tool, and then make a texture layer on top and not have to worry about whether you are inside the border. This way you'll keep your sharp edges which help define the shapes.
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