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Tutorial: The Experiment

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Date Added: 23rd March 2018
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Illustrator Fahmi Fauzi shows us how he created his work "The Experiment..."


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In this tutorial I'm going to demonstrate my workflow and thought process of this illustration from start to finish. Whenever I do personal work I love to experiment with all aspects, such as composition, color and even what features a piece of software can offer to help me better visualize the piece.

Every time I start a personal illustration I start with a simple one word theme in my mind. For this one I'm using "Experiment." I will then build on any elements that can emphasize that theme. Initially I had the idea of a short story about a young witch, in her lab, experimenting with chemicals while her owl assistant watches closely, anticipating the result.


Step 1: Sketch

I always start with a super messy sketch, in very rough strokes but still readable, to see how my idea can be placed. In the past I've found happy accidents between those lines so I will see if I can explore that more to emphasize my message, or I'll just start over if I didn't "feel" anything from those initial sketches.

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Step 2: Value Sketch

I start adding rough values and make two experiments with light sources - the first with the source from behind, and the second from above. I do love both as they tell different stories. However, I chose the first one because it's more playful and less "mysterious," which is what I'm looking for. Although the second choice could work, it's much more intense and dark, and in the end it's just my personal artistic choice.

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Light Source Options

Step 3: Grey Scale and Cleaning up

My only goal is in this phase to clean excess lines and start defining the shapes better. I try not to overly render them. I always love to leave little room for further experimentation in the coloring and rendering phase. After some cleaning up I separate the Owl, the Witch, the background and the foreground into independent layers to make things easy later on.

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Step 4: Coloring

I apply color to the characters by creating new layers on top of each of them, setting it to "Soft Light" Blending mode and start coloring with any colors that come to mind. I try not to use highly saturated colors at this point; if you do there won't be room later on for other colors in further detailing. Besides Soft Light I sometimes use Multiply, Overlay and Hardlight blending modes for a coloring layer.

I color the bottles with bright and high saturated colors to emphasize the story of the piece; however it also serves as a useful focal point. Bright colors are often associated with magic or toxicity. This is the perfect little detail to emphasize the story even more.

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Step 5: Detailing, Detailing and Detailing

At this point everything is pretty clear to me, so I merge the color and grayscale layer. I render them one by one to the detail. But, still I don't want to apply too much detail on anything, just around the focal points. Notice that I start to add clothes to the owl and small details to the witch clothes; this drags the viewer's eye around, all the time adding to the story.

At this phase I also separate each character into smaller layers such as hands, hats, bottles, etc. This is just so I can fix them later without destroying other rendered layers. It's also useful when I want to add new elements part way through.

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Step 6: Corrections

As I stated before, I always leave a little room for experimentation and changes in every drawing I make. After taking a step back and looking at the whole image I realized that the bookshelf on the left of the image wasn't working, so I decided to replace it with a window, this means I can add a nice rim-light to help define the shape of the objects better. I also add some flowers and herbs in that part to add more variation to the composition, change the character size and adjust background here and there.

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Step 7: Lighting and Finishing Touches

Now, to make things more dramatic and liven up the image, I add a glow effect that radiates from the bottle onto the environment. It also works as a complementary color as the whole image was dominated with cold color scheme, so it helps balance the image overall. I usually do this when I'm around eighty percent of the way through the progress of my painting. I also blurred the background a little to increase mid-ground object readability.

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Step 8: Adding Lighting on New Layer

To add lighting without destroying a layers that's already been rendered I create a new layer on top of all my others. I set it to "Linear Dodge" blending mode with "Transparency Shapes Layer" unchecked in Layer Style. I then I use any color I want, but again avoid using bright colors as it will overexpose the whole image.

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Top tip: Color Correction

With modern image manipulation software, it's very easy to fix or even drastically change a particular part of the painting's color with just couple clicks. In Photoshop, I usually use the adjustment layers feature several times to help improve the image. You can find them at the bottom of layer panel, or just go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer.

From those Layers adjustment options, my favorite one is selective color. It's a useful feature to change particular color group in the image. For instance, if you choose red it will change any color close to red color in the image. You can explore with other available color there like white, green, yellow etc.

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Before and after using Selective Color

Related links

Check out Faumi Fauzi's portfolio
Just getting into Photoshop? A copy of Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop is your best friend
If you're looking for more inspiration and info about creating characters then take a look at Character Design Quarterly

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