Freelance Illustrator Matt DeMino uses Photoshop to create U'teg the Wyrm Breaker, a character from his mythical world-building exercise...
A while back I was brainstorming ideas for a world-building exercise. I would create heroes of legend for a mythical world, create small stories for flavor, and then paint them up. U'teg is the product of one of those brainstorms. The idea was to present this character as a strong and powerful figure who was a champion of his people. I wanted him to adhere to classic fantasy tropes while also designing some unique creatures and gear.
From here I will be taking you from my thumbnail stage to painting and finishing up with some adjustment layers. I will show you some cool techniques for beginning your painting that will help you avoid major issues and headaches in the later stages of your work. Here we go!
Most of you have seen thumbnails, so I won't go too deep into it. When you thumbnail you try to hit a mood and or a silhouette that reads well at a quick glance. So simple, big shapes do the trick. Once I knocked out a few, I looked through them and saw some that I thought I had promise. These three were the ones I thought I could take somewhere. I rendered them more fully and gave them some basic shading to help set the tone I want in the final image.
The three strongest thumbnails went on to be more fully fleshed out
Refine, blocking, simple background
This phase is pretty straightforward. I choose the rough that I felt had the most promise and I take it to a final version of the line art. I change the proportions of the image and define what I want the creatures to look like, as well as his gear and weapon. From there I block in his and the wyrm's shapes (on separate layers) with flat greys to pull them apart from the background. I add in some quick colors to help set the mood behind him.
I separate the image into three major areas: main focus, secondary focus, and background
At this stage, I've learned it's easiest to break up big chunks of the work into smaller, more manageable sections. So I've taken all the bone, leather, metal and extra bits and made separate layers for them. I lay down a base color that I will start painting the main details over, at a later time. I use a clipping mask to clip these layers (and his line art layer) onto the "base" layer of U'teg. This makes it so that when I paint, I can never go out of bounds from his silhouette.
Caption: Tip: you can right-click the layer above a layer you want to clip to and select "make clipping mask", or you can just Alt-click (option key for Mac) between two layers to achieve the same goal
This stage is pretty quick, but it's very important. This is when I'm going to really define how the finished piece is going to look. I throw in some real colors and roughly give U'teg some definition, early cinematic lighting and texture pass. When I say rough, I mean rough. Try not to let yourself go overboard at this stage, always try to work evenly across a whole painting in the early stages to make sure everything "feels" the same. It's much easier to pick out what works and what doesn't at this stage of a painting.
Quickly add some approximate colors to help get the mood
Blur, Blur, Blur!
A super simple, but very important step for me. At this point, I like to take my line art (which is clipped to the main color layer) and I apply a Gaussian Blur to it. Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. The amount you blur by will largely depend on your own linework. The goal of this is to give yourself a way to almost "cheat" your shadows and smaller details. This becomes more apparent in the next step.
Caption: This little step can save you a lot of time when it comes to rendering