Amir Zand takes us through his speed painting workflow for creating a rocky outcrop in a sci-fi setting...
This tutorial demonstrates how to kickstart painting an idea on a blank canvas in a quick way, which you will see here is not a rendered illustration, it's a speed paint, which I often do between and before my projects. These speed paintings help me to get warmed up and practice my composition and technique, as well as my speed. I'm not trying to overtell any story here, but I do want to make an interesting composition, which is not that rough to be called a doodle or exploration, and not that highly detailed to be called a rendered illustration.
Filling the blank canvas
Start off by applying a simple sketch on the canvas. What you see in this sketch is not exactly final; it's only a guide and something to start with. So, it will change and evolve through the whole process. It is noteworthy to mention that I usually use 100dpi 3000px on the maximum pixels, and that's enough for the purpose of this speed painting. So, set the sketch on the Multiply layer mode and keep it up on top, then get rid of the white canvas using the Gradient tool, and apply some shades of gray to start with.
As I continue, I start to apply some values to each side of the rock, just to get some information about the light and shadows, plus creating some more rocks using the Lasso tool. I use the Lasso tool a lot to create some simple shapes and add the lights and shadows in order to create the rock formation, as you can see in the second image below, I have explained how it works. You can freely draw any selection of shapes with the Lasso tool. Then use the Bucket tool to apply the Dark Value color (which is now black) and simply by putting the layer on "LOCK" mode you can start to paint on it and create the form that you want. It's the lighting that matters now, the way you apply your lights on the edges are what's forming the rock and gives you some information about its form and shape.
Using the Lasso tool
As I mentioned in the last step, I keep using the Lasso tool for creating shapes in this piece, and now it's time for the ground area. The same technique that I explained will be applied here as well. It's an easy way to quickly create some elements in your scene and it's not only limited to rocks, as you can use the same technique for creating characters, structures and so on, which I will do in the future steps. It's also good to mention that I still keep things in different layers, especially when using the lasso technique. I'm creating each form and element in a different layer so that I can have access to each, and apply my details. I also remove the Sketch guide layer in this step. The image below shows this process of lasso selection and applying the lights.
First round of details/avoid overthinking
It's worthy to note that I work on the whole piece at the same time, keeping up with the navigator to check the composition while flipping my image from time to time for some refreshments. Now that I feel like I have a good base to start, it is time to add the first wave of details, and by that I don't mean to take it too far but just increase the level of details for better understanding. So, I continue to add clouds in the horizon just to add more information to the place, and also to increase the contrasts and make it a better composition. I add more details to the rock and the ground area, and some highlights and shadows on the river as it appears below. As you can see these details are not applied accurately, I'm doing all of it freely and without any precision. The key is to avoid any overthinking in this process, try different things, feel free to change or replace your elements, this is the benefit of doing speed paintings. It's not like you are putting hours into one part of the rendering and then removing it, it's just a couple of minutes.
Adding new elements/use accidents
In this step I'm going to add new element to the scene just to increase the scale and make a better composition, which is a giant rock formation in the background. This is also done also with a quick Lasso tool selection and Gradient tool to fill it. It is still a good idea to have all the layers separated in these situations, as I'm not 100-percent sure of what I'm about to paint in the warmup sessions. In these moments, having the ability to add or remove anything from the background or in between of your elements is an amazing thing which is possible, if you have all your layers or at least your background, mid ground and foreground separated.
At least this way is the fastest way so you don't have to overpaint any part to remove your elements, as easy as a click on a layer and bam! It's gone... Now that I'm happy with the overall composition it's time to move forward with adding some details such as clouds in the sky, more rock textures using custom shapes and brushes on the new giant rock, plus adding fog between two of the rocks to separate them a bit. Some quick tips for creating the rock textures or clouds with your brush: one thing I do most of the time is to paint and erase with my chalky brushes or any texture brushes; by erasing it I will leave behind some remaining touches and textures which accidentally happened, so I take advantage and use those remaining as part of my painting! Look at the clouds, rock textures and the ground; you'll see what I mean.
Rescaling for better composition
Now I feel happy about my giant rock formation and the overall image, but I kind of feel like I need more room for breath in my composition, in order to add a few more elements to tell a story.
I'm going to increase my frame or canvas just to make it wider to improve my composition for further elements to add.
It's time for me to flatten my image, no more layers from this part, (it's not a must, but I feel like I'm happy with the background, so I flatten my image and reserve a copy from it). It's faster to do it with the Crop tool so I'm using it to increase the size of the canvas. The blank, white area is now a part of my frame and as it appears in the image (6B) I use the Selection tool (Command+T on MacOS / Control+T on Windows) to select my image, and then take it to the end of the blank area. If you do it too much, it will deform your image on one side, but it fills the blank area and you can start to overpaint there in order to fix the deformation, but it didn't happen in this case.