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My Digital Paint Process...

Although I’ve been professionally trained, much of what I’ve learnt has come from studying how others produce their own unique artworks and discovering what works best for me. A lot of my inspiration comes from the Hudson River painters of the 19th Century, particulary Albert Bierstadt whose ability to capture the soul or spirit of a scene I find both haunting yet beautiful.

Another artist I admire is Ryan Church, a modern-day Concept Artist for the entertainment industry. I regard Ryan as one of the forerunners to the Digital Artwork revolution and I love his use of traditional painting techniques in tools like Corel Painter. I’ve learnt much from studying a widespread range of artists and feel I would like to give something back to the community; so here is my own digital painting process!

A few notes before proceeding to my tutorial...

The painting below is named ‘Rennuvand’ and is the first illustration for a book I’m writing called ‘Nathrumaa’. The illustration was painted completely in SAI Paint Tool but I will use Photoshop CS4 to modify colours and moods throughout the process. I’ve created a few of my own brushes but mostly I will use the default Canvas Acrylic brush to blend and render. I use SAI because I find it to be a perfect compromise between the traditional realism of Corel Painter and the technical functionality of Adobe Photoshop. I very rarely produce my work in the exact same way each time because it’s important to keep trying new things to improve as an artist but this tutorial best demonstrates my go-to formula when I what to achieve a solid result.

Click any image to reveal annotations...

process 1

Before I even turn on my computer I consider the subject at hand and try to imagine what this place might look like in my head. I do this BEFORE I look at any reference because I want the initial sketch I produce to be free from outside influence. Reference is very important in achieving a polished end-result but I've learnt that looking at reference images too soon will hinder your own unique/creative vision of how a scene should unfold.

I start with a sloppy line drawing on a sepearate layer. I'm thinking about shapes and composition. It doesn't matter if others don't fully understand what's going on in the drawing so long as it's relatively clear in your head. I find it important not to spend too much time getting caught up in details as there should be room for change as you paint the scene. This is why I love painting landscapes inparticular because you get to explore the world around you and consider the history of each part of your painting.

process 2

Once I'm happy with my line drawing I'll create a layer and paint beneath my lines. At this part of my process I'm thinking about my light source and ambient light. I know I want to have a warm/copper light source bleeding through from the distant left which will leave all other areas cold in shadow. I loosely wash on some cool/desaturated sky blues in the distance with a more cold/saturated purple in the foreground to create distance. Again, I'm keeping it nice and rough because we're still thinking about the big picture as a whole.

process 3

I merge my layers together and, using the colours I've created already, I start sculpting the landscape. Also while I'm doing this I'm adding plenty of texture through the use of various brushes I've created. Creating custom brushes in SAI is very easy to do and I can highly recommend looking into it if SAI is something you're considering. The texture should be applied randomly as this will help prevent the painting from becoming bland later on in the render.

process 4

For this next step I decided that the scene had become a little colder than I intended, so I corrected this by using the 'Hue/Saturation' filter in SAI. You can achieve a similar result in Photoshop using 'Colour Balance' (Crtl+B) which will allow you to modify shadows/mediums/highlights specifically. I will use this Photoshop feature later on in my painting as it's my personal preference to do so but at this point SAI's filters work just fine.

Now my colours have been nudged in the favoured direction, I begin to render the background first. This is the classic/methodical process used by traditional painters as it means things don't become fiddly later on. Some digital artists would argue that this problem is resolved by the use of layers but I like to keep everything on one layer as much as possible so I can utilisze SAI's incredibble ability to blend in a way that programs such as Photoshop can't compete with.

process 5

I continue rendering the scene from background to foreground being mindful not to get too lost in details as I know in the back of my head that I will be adding foreground elements that might hide much of the midground anyway, such as the trees I've added on the right for example. I've also done 3 other things. The first being a simple contrast correction in the filters menu. The second is a wash of copper light created using a soft airbrush on a separate layer set to overlay. This is a common technique in the Digital Painting Industry but it's something you have to use cautiously. If applied to a scene which does not yet have plenty of colours mixed across the canvas then it can come across as too overwhelming. The third thing is that I've used the Lasoo tool to select the background and I've then flipped it to create a reflection in the lake. It doesn't need to be perfect as I will be painting into the lake later on anyway. From here onwards I will be checking reference images to ensure my fictional scene has believability.

process 6

As the landscape has taken shape I've made a few critical decisions. I wanted to give the impression that no-one has been to this place before and so I added some wildlife to the foreground, deers imparticular as they are commonly known as being timid creatures. I also framed my image using natural elements such as the overhanging tree at the top of the painting. Finally, I added a warm filter in Photoshop which I will do again later on. This is because the story behind this scene is that the forests here appear to be trapped in a constant Autumn season.

process 7

Here we have the final painting! As mentioned previously, I needed to be bold and give the whole scene a wash of amber. I also continued to add details and rim lighting to help the scene tie together. The most important addition worth mentioning is that I used the ambient dark-desaturated green of the distant sky to scratch into the mountains where the primary lightsource does not have direct contact with. I used my shining copper colour to highlight the fur of the animals to further define their figure. I added some fog that settles among the mountains in the midground to add to the atmosphere surronding the lake. At the end of the painting I also like to add a subtle sharpen in Photoshop which will add crisp to the textures I applied earlier on.

I hope this tutorial might have been of some use to someone! There's mountains of information I just couldn't realistically fit onto one page of a website but these steps give a very basic explanation of how I prefer to work. So until next time, happy painting!