I have always been impressed by the beauty and level of detail other matte painters have been able to produce in their images of natural environments, and so I decided to try and create my very own jungle landscape. This was my first experience of trying to create a realistic jungle, and I also wanted to capture some unique landscape elements that you wouldn't normally see in daily life. As you'll see as you look through the steps of this article, the image started as a sketch of a potential real life environment, and progressed into a more interesting piece with a dark atmosphere. I wanted to capture both the curiosity and imagination of the viewer with the final result.
Step 1: Sketch:
I started my work as a simple sketch, although I had a good idea of what my final image was going to look like (Fig.01). I used a standard hard edge brush with the opacity set at 20%-30%, and then started drawing freely, trying to find the range of colours that I wanted to see in my work (Fig.02).
At first I didn't pay too much attention to the final size of the picture; as my work progressed I kept expanding the canvas when I needed to. My original idea was to create a picture of a tropical landscape in a thunderstorm, with mountain peaks that were encrusted with lightning conductors so that lighting would flow from one peak to the next through the entire picture. Later, I realised that lightning's brightness would steal the viewer's attention from the rest of the picture, and so I wisely decided against the lightning conductors.
Step 2: Mood
Once I was satisfied with the composition of my sketch, I started looking at various pictures of skies that would help to set the mood I wanted in my work. Once I'd found the photos I was looking for, I imported them into Photoshop and changed the layer mode to Multiply.
I played around with the layer transparency settings and decided to duplicate a layer and introduce it using the Overlay mode (Fig.03). By doing this, I created a gloomier thunderstorm mood (Fig.04). Another of my goals was to create more complex clouds, in terms of both detail and lighting; however I decided to postpone this until after I'd finished the detail on the mountains and overgrowth.
Step 3: References
Most of the time, I try to draw as much as possible in my paintings, however this time I wanted to create something that looked very realistic and detailed. After thinking it over, I spent several hours looking for the right photos of mountains, rocks, bushes and clouds.
It's very rare to find pictures that agree with each other; most of the time you're left making the best of what is on hand. Using the Lasso tool I cropped various pieces of mountains and transformed them in order to use them as Overlay layers in the picture. At this time I didn't pay too much attention to the difference in colours as they each had their own separate layer and I was going to balance them later on. In my opinion, it's much more important at this stage to find pieces that are similar in terms of texture and lighting.
Step 4: Integration
When my picture had the first elements of the mountains (Fig.05), I started working on the colour of the main mountain using the Colour Balance adjustments to make it more in tune with the gloomy sky of the picture. To achieve this I also used texture brushes (Fig.06).
I started to draw in the missing elements at the same time as correcting colours of various pieces in order to make the colour balance between them. Using the Clone Stamp tool I cloned several overgrowth pieces from various pictures and tried to distribute them evenly throughout the picture. During this process I used my own brushes as well as the Eraser and Stamp tools; I kept drawing until the seams between the various pieces that made up the image became unnoticeable.
The left side of the picture also received the same treatment. Using a mask I created a selection field for the distant mountains, and using adjustment layers I changed the saturation, contrast and colour balance in such a way as to create a feeling of depth in my work (Fig.07).