This year I went on a holiday to Scotland and I was completely blown away by its beauty. All that greenery is not something we see a lot here in Portugal where the weather is sunnier and drier. Scotland also has an architectural patronage that makes you feel as if you're in a fantasy movie. Beautiful ruins in the middle of breathtaking mountains are not something you see everywhere. Basically, it was a dream trip! So, when I returned home, my head was filled with ideas and I just wanted to start painting all these things that I had seen. Having taken about 1,000 photos and a lot of them in panoramic format I had a lot of good reference material I could use to revive my memories. Two of the most striking things I saw were Glen Coe and Eilean DonanCastle. Look them up on the Internet and hopefully you will recognize my influences.
I started in Photoshop with a 4000px wide canvas. By starting with a resolution close to the final one you don't have to worry about blurred textures when upsampling. I also only used one layer throughout the process to achieve a more painterly quality. Whenever I created a layer on top for adjustments I would soon flatten the image. I usually start in black and white as it gives me more control over composition, values and especially aerial perspective, something crucial in environments. Using some textured brushes I quickly painted in a landscape with some mountains to the left. I pasted in a photo of Eilean DonanCastle and painted over it. I didn't want to conform to its forms too early.
Next came the colouring phase. Everything was still quite rough and I just needed to get an idea of the color scheme early on. Using layers in Color, Overlay and Softlight mode I used a large soft edged brush and introduced greens and blues trying not to over saturate the image. I also took care to reinforce the atmospheric perspective by tinting the mountains in the back with the sky colour. This application of color is mainly something I can use to evaluate in which direction I want to head. The final color scheme is quite different from this one.
As I painted, the shapes became more defined and recognizable forms started to emerge. Note, this is a slow process and you should continuously evaluate each step. I don't know if my work process is the ideal one, but I never get from point A to point B in a straight line. Sometimes I have to retrace steps because the painting was going down the wrong path. For this stage I mostly used the chalk brush in Photoshop with opacity set to pen pressure. The tip was still quite large and I tried to focus on lighting and shapes without getting bogged down by the textural quality of the surfaces.
The painting had too much blue in it and was becoming too "cold". The Photo Filter did the job! However, I would later reintroduce some of the blues to balance the color harmony. I also started hinting at textures like the leaves in the trees and the stone walls in the building. I tried to paint these rather than use textured brushes that closely resembled these surfaces, as I believe this gives the painting more character.
The image lacked depth and seemed as it was composed of 2D planes that simply overlapped. I erased some of the trees in the foreground and introduced a path leading to the castle. The bridge was also the first hint to the river that I would be introducing. As you can see, the process was not linear and elements were erased and added during the painting process.
In this step I made two major changes. I flipped the canvas and introduced a river. This would allow the viewer's eyes to focus on the castle first and then explore the expanse to the right. Using the Hue/Saturation Filter and confining the effect to the upper part I changed the pink hues from the sky to a more natural blue. Finally I added details like the windows and the rock to the right.
Even in advanced or final stages don't be afraid to make major changes. Digital painting is very permissive and ideal to make these kinds of adjustments. In two separate steps I lasso-selected the building and the river and shifted them to the right to balance the composition. I also subdued the detail in parts where I didn't want to lead the eye, like the tree to the left and the rock in the corner. For this stage I mostly used Corel Painter's Palette Knife and Blender brushes.
I finished of the painting by making both some overall and some localized color and value adjustments. The filters I use most are Levels, Hue/Saturation and Color Balance. I made the whole image a little bit murky by shifting the greens to desaturated browns. A final step was to apply a Smart Sharpen filter to accentuate the underlying brushwork. Don't underestimate this step as it can really make a difference.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and if you have the opportunity to visit Scotland don't miss out on it. Trust me!