Digital Painting: a in-depth walkthrough
Hello and welcome to my first little walkthrough! Recently, a lot of people asked me to write a tutorial - and why not as i have some spare time now and it`s a good opportunity to give something back to the community. I`ll try my best to give you some insight into my creation process of an environment/cityscape painting. Maybe a futuristic one? I don`t know yet, i just started the image. But i guess you and i know myself good enough to tell where this is going to result in ;P I`m planning to finish the painting in around 4-6 hours, dividing it into steps/milestones and try to explain why i did what. It is very imortant to me not to make a tutorial that you repeat step-by-step, ending in a exact copy of the image as the final tutorial image. That`s not the point and doesn`t make sense in my opinion. One should experiment and learn, not copy and paste. So i`m not too concerned about the `how ?` but i`ll try to explain as best as i can. Sorry in advance for any crucial grammar and typing mistakes, english ain`t my native language.
Just a few words more before we get started. The most techniques and knowledge are self-taught through books, practice, experimentation and other tutorials/articles of course. A big influence were the Workshop DVD`s from Yanick Dusseault and Dylan Cole - so credit goes out for sharing their knowledge. Some tips and techniques were mentioned by them or other artists before, and i surely adopted some of these. So please don`t tear me apart because you`ve seen some of the information here in other places before. Ok, enough of talking now. Seriously. I hope you didn`t run away or died of boredom already.
Basic & Brushes
- I entirely work in Photoshop CS2, but i think older versions or similar Programs should work as well. I assume that you have at least basic knowledge of Photshop or your preferred Software.
- I would highly recommend a Graphics Tablet. A mouse could work too, but that won`t be fun and you would be very limited speaking of functions like `Pressure sensibility`. I mostly have the `Size Jitter` and `Opacity Jitter` linked to `Pen Pressure`. It makes life so much easier.
- Understanding at least basic perspective is a must. I`m not mastering perspective at all and do a lot of mistakes.
Especially when it comes to landscape/cityscape painting you won`t get along without a perspective grid or some guarding lines. If one have no clue how pattern and color changes when vanishing into the distance, creating the sense of depth and 3D will be very hard not to say impossible. As i already said, i`m far away from mastering these things, but at least knowing the basics is essential. On a side note, i highly recommend the articles Perspective in the world
along with Landscape Composition Rules
- I mostly use the standard Brushes which Photoshop offers:
- 70% during a painting i use different chalk Brushes. Mainly for blocking in things such as buildings and clouds, but i use these for detailing as well. In combination with different smudging Brushes you can paint pretty decent clouds. More later on
- Just the standard round (Air-)Brush with soft edges. I use this one for blending colors, painting gradients or color correcting and shading things like water where i don`t want to have hard edges. In addition i paint soft highlights and glowing stuff with that Brush.
I rarely work with a hard-edged round Brush, except for painting little details and artificial light sources with a 1-5 px brush. For things like windows and city lights, some modified Brushes can come in very handy and save you a lot of time. I`ll address this later as well.
Let's get started
Sitting in front of a white canvas on the monitor isn`t a situation i feel comfortable with. It is pretty hard for me to start painting on a blank page, i usually end up starring on it for ages just thinking and can`t get anything down. There are many ways to start a painting; you could start with a line drawing, blocking in colors and shapes in with a big Brush, start in greyscale to get the values down... Just to name a few methods, there are a lot more. I often start with a very quick linedrawing (max. 5 - 10 minutes) and continue blocking in colors. Recently, i found that starting with a color Background works best for me. I plan to paint a moody image at dawn or dusk, so i already know what kind of colors i`m going to use. I`m working on 2500x1200 300dpi here. Not too big because i`m not planning to detail it for 30 hours and the painting is more for Tutorial purposes only plus you could up-res later on as well. It`s a good choice to work in a higher resolution than you want the final image to be. So you don`t have to worry about printing it later on, you can easier create the impression of detail and you can get some nice textures with just scribbling in some brushstrokes. What looks like senseless scribbles at 100% can look like a forest texture at 20%. Just an example, you get the idea.
- Alright, i just filled the background layer with a simple linear two-color gradient to get rid of the white and get an idea of the color scheme i`d like to work with. It`s always good to have things like that in mind before starting an image. Works best for me
- Let`s set up a perspective grid before we start painting. The Line Tool is a good choice for this job. I just added a horizon line with a slightly thicker weight and chose my first vanishing point. With a weight of 1 or 2px i draw the other lines vanishing to the first VP. When i have one half covered with perspective lines, i just duplicate the layer, flip it vertically and merge it down. Voila, there you have a nice and clean perspective grid within a few minutes. (The chaotic and inaccurate look around the VP is a result from flipping the layer and scaling down so you can`t see the single lines good anymore).
- Nothing special in this step. I just duplicated the perspective layer again, free transformed it in order to get a second vanishing point and changed its color via Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U).
- I moved the two perspective layers into a layer set on top of everything else and reduced its opacity to something around 10-20%. Now i call up a new layer and start to get some basic shapes for the landscape down. I do this very roughly with a bigger chalk brush, then use a smaller eraser for the little shapes such as docks. The perspective grid is good for orientation.
- Using a soft round airbrush in different sizes at a very low opacity, i refine the gradient. Thinking about a natural lightsource is a good idea at this stage. I paint over and over from one side to the other, always varying color, size and
opacity. This step is very important as you lay down the foundation of the painting in this step (color, lightsource, value). I take my time until i`m satisfied and eventually color correct via Hue/Saturation, Color Balance or Curves when i`m done with this step. About 15 minutes for this so far. Some of you might call this pretty long, but i need my time. I add a new layer (water) below the land so i can paint with big Brushes (very low-opacity) without having to worry about affecting the shape of the landscape. To get the impression of water, i use a very dark and desaturated tone of blue along with some colors of the sky. The little things at the bottom left are supposed to be rivers. I just erased out little parts of the land layer and painted in the water layer below. Now adding some little ripples on the ocean - hard to see because of the downscaling but we`ll get back to the water later. Remember, we`re setting up our basics here. No need for detail yet; a very common mistake i do most of the time. Don`t run into detailing too early! We first need to focus on the overall composition, that`s the most important part.