Gina Nelson explains the thoughts and workflow behind her vibrant fantasy image based on a short piece of flash fiction...
What are the important elements from the text to focus on?
The text introduces us to a victim and a villain. I think it's important to try and portray the relationship between the two, a feeling of tension perhaps, or maybe a sense of dominance from the villain. In the final piece the snake should look rather pleased while the tree feels trapped, almost claustrophobic. The text describes the rich branches and the thickness of the foliage surrounding the tree, this makes for a perfect setting for the painting.
What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?
I'd like to achieve a thought provoking piece filled with mystery. The piece should portray the relationship between the two subjects, although I would like to keep this very subtle. I'd like the piece to be one that requires the viewer to stop and think about what is happening without it being entirely clear to begin with. I think that surrounding our victim with foliage and beautiful natural elements will help to make the piece feel uneasy as it will be lovely to look at but will have a darkness to it that exists between the subjects.
Step 1: Rough sketches
Before I start on a piece I like to do a few very rough sketches to visualise the ideas I have in my head. These sketches can be very rough, more than anything else they're just a collection of thoughts and ideas put together side by side so that I can easily pick out the one that will work the best.
Try to get your ideas out quickly and roughly, these initial sketches don't need to be pretty
Step 2: Refine the idea and gather references
I like to spend a bit of time doing some line work to refine the idea in the rough sketch a bit before getting into any more details. This really helps me to have a solid plan in place for where I'm going with the piece, and it's at this point that I can usually tell if what I'm planning to do is going to work or not. It's also a good time to gather references. I usually make a separate PSD file with all my reference materials that I can keep open and refer to as I need.
Refine the idea so that you have a solid plan to move forward with
Step 3: Establishing basic colours and lighting
At this point I paint in some rough colours under the line work and try to establish my primary light source. In this case, because the majority of the painting will be foliage, the easiest place to start with is the face. I'll often draw some lines or a little sun on my painting to help guide me while I paint in my light source.
Always establish your light source early on as it's one of the most important parts of a painting and one of the most difficult things to change later on
Step 4: Using the lasso tool to create shapes
The Lasso tool is one of my most used tools in Photoshop
. Here I've used the Lasso tool to get my basic shapes for the snake and the leaves. This is an easy way to ensure that your drawing doesn't quickly become messy when working with a lot of fine details. Sometimes working carefully from the beginning can be easier than cleaning things up at the end. I've made 3 different layers of leaves and will quickly apply a bit of texture and lighting to them using a chalky brush and clipping masks in my Photoshop layers.
Use the Lasso tool to quickly cut out shapes and apply detail to them easily
Step 5: Time to add in a few details
When painting in details it is absolutely crucial to work with reference, especially for organic matter. I'm going to keep the details quite loose but I still want them to feel natural, I want them to feel like plants that could actually exist in the real world, even if they aren't particularly refined in the painting. For this purpose I have created a separate reference PSD file.
Using references will help to ensure that whatever you paint feels natural