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Tutorial: Feeding the Elephant

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Date Added: 24th November 2017
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A dissolve between the final render and final line art

Varun Nair demonstrates how he created his charming artwork "Feeding the Elephant," from initial idea all the way through to completed piece...


Hello guys! It's a pleasure to share with you my process in creating an illustration from my imagination. This is the workflow I would typically follow in making my personal artworks. This tutorial focuses on taking an illustration from an initial idea to the finished artwork. I begin by showing how I explore ideas in rough drawings and slowly progressing with the final sketch and color. I Hope you'll find it helpful.

Step 1: Idea and Thumbnails

At this point I don't know what the story is going to be about I just know there has to be an elephant and a kid in the scene. As a warm up exercise I start drawing some Asian elephants using Google image search. It's very important to be rough at this stage. I am only focusing on finding an interesting story or staging at this point. Slowly I start to put a little kid (almost a stick figure) in the thumbnails with the elephant.

After a few rough drawings I make this sketch with the kid feeding an elephant. I decide to go forward with this one because I like the idea, the readability and the overall shapes in the sketch.

Idea - Thumbnails

Step 2: Framing

I open up a fresh file on Photoshop and import the little thumbnail sketch. Then I scale it to fit the canvas and decide on the framing of the sketch with respect to the edges of the canvas. Once I find a framing I am satisfied with I am ready to go ahead with the rough sketch.


Step 3: Construction

I push back the opacity of the thumbnail sketch by 50% on Photoshop and start drawing on a new layer on top. At this stage I am trying to construct the characters with simple shapes, keeping form and anatomy in mind. Drawing in red helps me to remember that this is not the final sketch, so I am not afraid to draw loose and dirty. I am also figuring out the posing of the characters in this stage and also a few hints of trees and plants in the background.


Step 4: Rough Sketch

Now we have figured out the overall gesture and the construction of our forms, I reduce the opacity of the sketch again by 50%. I start paying close attention to the expressions and defining the smaller shapes within the bigger ones; the folds on the ears, facial muscles, leaves, branches etc. Throughout this stage I'm keeping in mind the focal point of my image, which is the elephant taking the bananas from the little boy.

Rough Sketch

Step 5: Inking

Now that I have a rough sketch of my scene and I am ready to show it some friends for their feedback. One of them pointed out the guy sitting on top of the elephant was taking the focus away from the point of the story and image. So I decide to remove the guy, scale up the kid a little bit and zoom in a bit more into the composition. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of showing your work to others; sometimes it makes you discover obvious mistakes which you fail to notice.

Once again, I reduce the rough sketch by 50% and start doing my final line art and inking on a new layer. At this point, I am only worrying about the fluidity of my lines. It's very important to try to improve the design and shapes from the last version and not just trace the image.


Step 6: Mood

Now that we have our final line art we can start with the color. I add a basic tone with the color that best represents the overall mood of the scene. In this case, I am going for a lush green forest scene. The line art layer stays on top in Multiply mode.


Step 7: Local Color

I add the local colors in the scene. Not worrying too much about the lighting at this point, just the actual color of every object in the scene- all in one layer, really rough and quick.

Local Color

Step 8: Light and Shadows

At this point I want to find the light direction in the scene. In this case it's lit from the top left side. In a new layer, I paint in the shadows thinking about the direction of light and how the shadow would fall on the various forms. I add a bright spot light on the focal point of the image to make sure that's the brightest part of my image. I also add a little bit of backlight to make the characters pop out.

Light and Shadows

Step 9: Color correction

Now that we have a sketched out the overall color and light in our scene, I want to do a bit of color correction to adjust the contrast of the scene. I generally prefer to do at this stage and not leave it till the end. I also paint in some contact shadows on a new layer.

Color correction

Step 10: Rendering and Cleanup

I decrease the opacity of my line art layer by another 50% and create a new layer on top and start painting over. At this point I am cleaning up the image by making certain areas more readable and some less, I paint in the details by zooming on the image. This step does not require a lot of brain power so I put on a show on Netflix while I'm noodling around on the image for few hours.

Rendering and Cleanup

Step 11: Details and Color Correction

We are almost there. I put in some subtle details on the grass and leaves and do some color correction and increase the contrast a bit more. I add a bit of cool tone on the background forest to have a subtle contrast with the warm foreground.

A friend pointed out that the image was a bit too bright on the back and it was competing with the focal point. So I made the background slightly darker, so that the attention stays on where I want people to look. Once again, always take help from an extra pair of eyes.

Details and Color Correction

Related links

Check out more of Varun Nair's artwork on his blog
Follow Varun on Instagram
Take a look at Character Design Quarterly for more tips and tutorials on creating characters


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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Sathish C on Fri, 24 November 2017 3:15pm
Thank for this man I'm Sathish I spoke with you too. I'm struggling to take line and paint without lines , now I'm cleared by you .. Really awesome varun . Keep going :)
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