As mentioned in my previous post, there are two different ways I create a digital illustration. In this post I will walk you through my "Traditional Media" approach I used for my "Dreamer" illustration.
For creating digital illustrations I use Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.
This painting originated with the thought of conceptually illustrating the idea of 'a dreamer'. From the beginning I knew I wanted to include the moon and stars and I also wanted to creatively interpret the idea of reaching beyond the stars and into the imagination.
Original sketch: graphite on 9" x 12" Strathmore paper.
1. Painting Thin 'Watercolor' Washes
After scanning my original sketch into the computer I duplicate my scanned sketch layer and set that layer's effect to multiply. Before I begin painting I create a new layer that rests in between the two sketch layers. This enables me to add colors and values to the painting without losing view of the drawing. In between these two sketch layers I paint my color washes with a soft, transparent Photoshop airbrush. I'll continue to create multiple wash layers as I build up the thickness of the 'paint' in the artwork while always keeping the duplicated sketch layer set to 'multiply' and at the top of my layers pallet.
Photoshop layers pallet showing the layout of the sketch layers and wash layer
First steps in the thin watercolor-like washes
Examples 1 & 2 show the very thin first color washes. Before I painted on the girl or moon I chose a deep blue for the night sky and used the 'paint bucket' tool to fill in the entire canvas quickly. Unlike most of my paintings where I work from a light canvas and add on darker colors - in this piece I painted light colors over a dark background. Since this was a night scene I figured this would help me achieve the desired outcome faster. After filling in the background with a flat dark blue I chose a speckling brush and started randomly filling in lighter shades of blues to create the appearance of distant stars and galaxy dust.
The overlapping wash layers begin to 'glow' against the background.
Gradually the multiple wash layers build up a brighter and more vibrant painting. In order to maintain color harmony I continue to work with transparent brushes (usually around 35% opacity). Once I become more confident with my color scheme I start using thicker, more opaque brushes.
2. Color Adjustments
For the first few washes of my painting I kept with realistic hues found in the night sky. I liked the more smoky look but out of curiosity I decided to adjust the color contrast and saturation as seen in example 5. Instantly I decided I liked the new look better - after all, I wasn't trying to communicate reality but the vibrancy of imagination.
Now that I was confident in my painting I was ready to delete my sketch layer (Ex. 6).
Note of encouragement: if you've ever spent 3 hours on a painting
and wondered if you've even accomplished anything - you're not alone.
Out of the entire painting I had the most difficulty creating believable water ripples freehand. I ended up making a 'target' on a separate layer using the circle tool and painted it light blue. By squishing the target's height I made it into a horizontal oval.
Example 7 is my first attempt at creating reflections on the ripples in which I used the 'layer effects' option and played with the 'emboss' option. I think the ripples were successful in looking realistic in nature - but too real to match the look of the rest of the painting. I turned off the emboss effect and used the eraser tool putting it on 30% opacity erasing certain areas of the rings and making some areas more transparent creating the final result you see.
3. Working with Flesh Tones in Fantastical Lighting
One of the challenges of working with fantasy paintings is the difficulty of finding exact examples of the lighting that you need since it rarely occurs in nature. The key is taking what you do see in nature and pushing it to the extreme. The areas hit by light must be pushed brighter and the shadows made darker still. The color temperature and saturation is also increased - warm light must be more yellow/orange and cooler shadows more purple/blue.
Pushing color and lighting contrast is especially difficult with flesh tones. (one doesn't want the cool blue shadow side of the face looking like zombie flesh. Two tricks make all the difference: the use of core shadow and rim lighting. (Refer to examples below to recognize the Core/core of shadow area on objects).
The key to making the flesh look alive is core shadow color saturation. The core must contain the highest amount of color saturation! (in the area of flesh - make the core's color pinker/peachier/browner still).
Core Shadow, Core of Shadow, Core - all mean the same thing.
Understanding and recognizing these basic areas of light and shadow is
the foundation to creating believable works of art. Never take it for granted.
My favorite trick (and possible the most effective) to making paintings really pop is the addition of rim lighting. In the two examples below you see how I lined both the light and shadow sides of the girl with light. The highlighted rim on the light side is extra bright with a hint of yellow and I added a pailer form of rim lighting to the shadow side as well - this is especially visible on the arm.
For extra interest I also increased the brightness of the reflective light by creating the blue lights that appears next to the core shadow on both her flesh and her hair.
Rim lighting makes all the difference.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief lesson in digital painting. Feel free to post any questions - enjoy your day and dream on!