In my mind I pictured a dark, secluded cave, and I wanted the focus to be upon a tiny settlement inside this massive cave. Having looked through piles of incredibly atmospheric works, I was particularly inspired by John Howe and I knew I wanted to achieve an atmospheric fantasy look, very much like those sets in The Lord of The Rings films.
I started this piece by working in greyscale and roughing in the main values to create the shape of the cave. I usually start straight from colour, but I wanted to experiment with starting from greyscale since I know of many great artists who start working in values first. During the preliminary sketching process, I kept in mind the general concept I wanted, as well as allowing random shapes to conjure up the cave's organic dimensions. Sometimes, random strokes can make a subject matter more interesting and give it more energy. As such, randomness did play a part in this piece, especially since the subject matter allowed for a lot of flexibility. After some trials and paint build up, I eventually reached a stage where I felt I had captured the general mood and feel that I had been aiming for from the beginning. From there, I added another layer and started adding subtle colours, using an airbrush to "feel" the work. Personally, I think that this stage is the most important, as later stages will mainly be on rendering and making adjustments to the work (Fig.01).
Here, I tried to increase the contrast of the work and to differentiate the forms better by painting in darker tones to the walls of the cave. I zoomed in and out occasionally to tighten up some particular spots that I wanted to be the focus. Also, I rendered and gave the work more form to make the work more easy to read. I then played with some orange glows to add to the mysterious mood of the place (Fig.02).
This was the longest stage in the whole creation process. By this point I had already captured the main bulk of forms I wanted. To move on to the next level, I had to render in the details in high-res. I looked for a photo of leaves/grass and took the image to texture my brush under the brush options. To create the illusion of form, I used a technique similar to cross-hatching to paint the hills. In cross-hatching, lines are used to depict forms by placing the lines in such a way that they flow along the direction of the intended forms. Adopting this idea, I started to paint in the lines, stroke by stroke, in the direction of the sloppy hills. After several layers of line painting, I had created a cave with several hills and "bulges" (Fig.03).
At this final stage, I painted in the settlements and birds with white to increase the serenity of the work, as well as to make the composition slightly more interesting. The final touches included adding some minor highlights and shadows to accentuate the forms (Fig.04).