I recently had some interest into my painting process, and although I use a variety of methods I thought it might be helpful to other artists out there to give an example of my most recent piece “Misunderstood Monster”.
The method I used for this piece was “grayscale to color” which I have often used, but I have to give a lot of thanks to Will Terry in helping me refine it and avoid me wasting time on reworking or redoing parts that should have been resolved earlier.
(I really recommend subscribing to SVS Learn and watching Will’s video at https://courses.svslearn.com/courses/10-step-digital-painting)
Step 0 - 2
The sketch stage is probably one of the most important parts of creating your artwork. If your sketch doesn’t convey your idea well or has issues with it’s perspective, form etc then you will be spending hours later down the road redoing your mistakes.
Not included in the image is step 0 which is your thumbnail stage (note to self, remember to save more). Your thumbnails, should be quick sketches exploring your ideas and the ways in which you can get the best composition and concept without worrying about the details. Even if your first thumbnail may be the one to happen to take forward, always explore other variations as they may present new ideas.
Once I have decided on the best thumbnail to develop I use a large soft brush to put down my shapes in basic form. As you can see in 1 everything is mostly a mix of basic shapes such as boxes, spheres and cylinders. 2 builds on those basic shapes to refine your idea. You still may discover that your sketch needs to be adjusted slightly later on, but as long you have a good foundation it will be less work later on. For this piece it was important to create a monster that could be viewed as scary, but on closer inspection reveal that it is a caring monster that is trying to cheer up the little baby.
Step 3 + 4 - Values and Color Schemes
3. Working on a new very small document (around 600 pixels) I use a soft brush to painting a value study below my line work. Avoid zooming in and try to keep your brush fairly large as this stage is to explore your lighting and get the right values for your composition.
4. Using a multiply layer I paint over the value study (your colors need to be almost at 100 brightness to make it work). Each one should only take a few minutes, but it will give you a lot of options to choose the best one to take forward. You can also add on a normal, color dodge or overlay layer if you want to brighten certain areas up more, but again, avoid going into detail.
I decided to choose the upper right color scheme as I and others, felt that it helped tell the story in the best way. The key light (main light) is a warm color which makes the monster less scary and the blues would be used as my cool color to help draw more attention to the subject whilst also defining the objects that are in the dark.
Aesthetically, I also liked the blue and purple color scheme, but it made the creature rather scary and the opposite of the story I wanted to tell.
(Asking others for their impressions and critiques at this stage is a great way to learn and improve. I often seek the input of other forum members at https://forum.svslearn.com. Note: I’m not sponsored by SVS, it’s just that it has always been a great resource for myself)
Step 5 - 10 - Let’s Start Painting
5. Not everyone needs to do this, but I find that it helps to keep my painting organized in it’s early stages. Using the lasso tool I selected objects that were either on a different plane or needed to be separated for some reason. Each layer can be worked on top of using a clipping mask (create a new layer above the one you want to work on, right click on it and select “create clipping mask”.)
(I also adjusted the sketch slightly as I felt that the initial rattle design was lacking definition and readability.)
6. I loosely built up my value study again, so that I would have something to work on top of in the next stage. Avoid going too dark (I should have probably listened to that advice for this one) as your next layer will be a multiply one, which will further darken your image and you can’t color black.
7. Using a multiply layer I followed a similar pattern to how I painted it in step 4 however I was a bit neater and considered how the local colors would be altered or affected by the light. This stage shouldn’t take long as you should have a good guide to follow after doing step 4.
8 + 9. Using a normal layer I would paint on top of the image (In the early stages I use a clipping mask, but then add a layer on top of everything once I feel each object has been well defined. I like to build my light up slowly and think carefully about where it will hit. I knew that there should be darker shadows especially on the cast shadows on the monster’s eyes, but as it made the monsters appear more menacing I decided to take some artistic licensing. In step 9 I also added a color balance adjustment layer as I felt that everything was feeling a bit too yellow/green and wanted to add in some stronger blues without repainting everything.
10. In the final stage I continued to add detail and build up some of the secondary blue lighting to give the piece a nice warm/cool feel. If I had made the monster cool and the secondary light warm, the painting would have a very different atmosphere.
I then used a level adjustment layer to bump up the lights in the scene. Adjustment layers aren’t a “fix all” button, but if your values and early stages have been painted right they can definitely enhance a scene, although don’t be too reliant on them.
I also added in a color dodge layer and painted over certain areas, such as the lights on the mobile, some rim lighting and areas on the monsters face to make them pop a bit more.
After everything is done I like to add a soft border around my work, but that’s just a personal preference, however I also keep a version without a border as I may need it in the future.
I hope this tutorial has been helpful and can help advance your own work if you feel stuck. An important discovery in my own artistic journey, is to take it slow, have a step by step action plan and avoid being too attached to your works in progress. Often I see many artists struggling for hours to get a piece right as they have already spent so much time on them, when they should have took a step back, reanalysed the piece and perhaps even restarted it.
If you liked this tutorial, share it with others and feel free to send me a message if you have any questions.