Digital Painting Walkthrough- Finishing up

 

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It’s time for me to finish this mermaid painting off. I let it sit for a while, pondering where it was at and how to proceed, and got back to work on it this week. I finished it off over two full days (including lots of breaks for baby play and maintenance!).

See the starting stages of this painting at my previous post https://selinafenech.com/2012/developing-a-concept-with-digital-painting/

You can click on most of these images to see much larger versions!

The first on the left in this set is where I finished off last time. Not a bad beginning, but I’m not loving it. I start playing around, see if I can improve on the composition now I’ve looking at it fresh again. In the middle image I’ve darkened the background, and then in the third from left I’ve repositioned the man’s arm. I mostly did this to save myself from what I like to call the Nipple Dilemma. I have nothing against nipples in art myself, but as this is is for mass publication in the oracle deck I’m avoiding any body parts that might cause an issue. 🙂 Sure she could have been wearing something, but I didn’t feel a bikini (of whatever sort) suited this mermaid.

Next it’s time to start getting rid of those bulky black sketch lines. Using my favourite all-purpose painting brush, I start painting over the sketch lines, or erasing them if they go outside the figures. I use the same brush shape for my eraser when painting as well. The brush I use the most looks like this, and if memory serves my correctly I got it from a pack shared by Melanie Delon on her website.

My favourite brush shape for all purpose painting and blending.

After I’ve painted out the sketch lines with the standard paint brush, I use Photoshop’s new Mixer Brush tool (new in version CS5, or possibly CS4? I can’t remember…) to blend the brush strokes a bit. I use the same brush shape again, set on Moist, Light Mix, and work as if I were blending wet oils or acrylics on paper. I try not to blend too much, I still want a bit of a painterly feel to the image.

Here’s the zoomed out view of the image at this stage, sketch lines painted out and some blending done. I haven’t blended all areas (mermaids tail for example), because some areas will require a different treatment later.

Time to zoom in there again and fix those faces up a bit! The mermaid’s face is a bit wonky. It’s a tough angle and I don’t have a model reference photo for this one, so I’m just muddling through as I go. I do the mirror image flip a few times while painting the features in to get a bit closer to what I want. I decide that I also want the man’s eyes showing, even if they are closed, so I paint over his hair and add a visible eye.

That’s where I finished that day…

So I open up the file the next day, and like my usual indecisive self, I decide I’m not happy with it and start playing around with the composition and colours again. I decide I want a bit more of an angle to the poses rather than the mermaid being so vertical. Free Transform in Photoshop, which lets you rotate and transform an object in just about anyway, is one of my most indispensable tools! The mermaid and the man are on their own layer together, above the background, which makes it easy for me to keep moving them around. I also change the colour scheme, shifting towards more of a cobalt blue than the teal it was before. I use the Hue and Saturation adjuster for this, selecting just the Cyan range of colours and shifting them further into the blue/purple range.

Time to stop messing around and do the hard work of refining the painting. I’ll work on the background first, then move to the figures. I use a rough, painterly brush on the spines in the fourground so that they look jagged and nasty. In the image above, you can see the two zoom scales next to each other. This is how I normally work in photoshop, with two windows of the same file open side by side, one zoomed out so I can get a sense of the overal image while I work zoomed in on the window beside it. You can open extra windows for an artwork in Window>Arrange>New Window For (filename)

I fix up the little background cages, but decide not to touch the rest of the background too much. I like the painterly splotches it has going. All I do is add some sparkles to the waters surface, and brush in some light rays. To get the light ray look, it’s a process of switching to and from brush and eraser- painting lines down, erasing back into it, painting streaks, erasing streaks, until you get a nice soft but streaky look.

More refining work. I add some rim-lighting to the figures to make them pop a bit more. Again, I’m working with no reference so it’s all a bit like trial and error. Light sources are hard to get right, and I’m imagining that, realistically, the man’s body would be casting that shadow on the mermaid’s face. But that’s a bit unfortunate because it makes her face dark and bleh. So adding a little rim lighting helps bring it back into focus. I’ve worked on the man’s hair in this one as well, adding some wavy strands.

Lots of painting, painting, painting. I finally get to work on the mermaid’s tale, and do use the Mixer brush a little, then the normal brush over the top again to bring up a few highlighted scales. Because the figures are relatively small compared to the overall scene, I don’t refine them quite as much as I might if they were larger. I paint in details of the mermaids hair and fins, and stop to ponder again.

Final touches and I call it finished. I decide there needs to be a little more texture in the background, so add a texture layer to simulate bubbles/debris in the water to give a bit more depth. I also paint in some bubbles streaming down from the man- yes bubbles will float up, but I want to give the impression that the mermaid is pushing him upwards, leaving the bubbles behind as they go (which will float up after them later). I also shift the colours one last time, taking it back slightly towards the teal range again. What can I say? I’m fickle.

I’m not in love with this artwork, but I’m pretty happy with it for one where I had no models to work from. Models make so much of a difference! While I can try and use my 20+ years of drawing experience to figure out how a nose might look if tilted to that angle, while underwater, with light hitting it from this angle and reflections from that angle… there’s no way I’m going to be able to get it as true as real life.

Did you enjoy seeing my painting process? Or learn something new? If you did, please consider buying a copy of my ebook “Memory’s Wake, a fantasy novel for young adults. It also has a bunch of my artwork in it! I’m trying to break into an Amazon top 100 list, and every sale counts. Consider it a donation 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/Memorys-Wake-ebook/dp/B005502KA8/

Developing a Concept with Digital Painting

I’m working up a new mermaid concept for one of the cards in my upcoming Mermaids Oracle deck with Lucy Cavendish. I’m attempting to save work in progress shots as I go to show how I paint digitally. I don’t work exactly the same every time I paint, but here is an example of one way I work. I’ll describe what I’m doing at each stage under the image. Click the images for a larger version.

First I lay in some colour and rough background, just to get myself grounded. I love this aqua and light peach combination of colours, hinting at a sunset or sunrise above the water surface. I use a really large brush size and scribble the colour on.

For this artwork, I want to paint a mermaid lifting a man up to the water’s surface, away from ominous claw-like shapes in the bottom of the image. The concept provided by the deck author is for “Soul Cages” from which mermaids sometimes rescue men.

Once I have that rough background in place, I start roughing in the figures. And I do mean rough! I’m not working with any reference photos for this artwork, because I had a specific pose in mind and couldn’t find anything close enough. Reference photos make things so much faster and easier, especially for complex poses like this but we’ll see how I go… You can see the man has legs sketched in more than one position, still testing pose details.

More sketching, mostly on the man’s leg positions. Again, he’s got a “double” foot sketched in, me playing with positions.

Time to start cleaning up my mess. I solidify the lines I’m happy with and erase out the one’s that I’m not. The mermaid’s hand on the man gets the chop, it was wrong. The man’s face (bottom half only) comes into focus. I’m not sure about the idea of not showing the man’s eyes, but I like how his hair is falling. Eyes are important in artworks, one of the main things a viewer connects with, and this artwork (with the angle of the mermaids head as well) hasn’t got much in the way of visible eyes. It might change. I’ve also used the free transform tool to rotate and reduce the overall size of the figures. Free transform is to one tool I miss most between digital painting and traditional painting!

Time for a change up! I need a new perspective to get these figures right, so it’s Mirror Image trick time. Switching to the mirror image of your sketch can give you a new view on things and help get a better drawing.  I sketch in a hand for the mermaid I’m much happier with, and a little shading on the man, who’s shoulder gets cut down to a better size. I decide I’m not happy with the mermaid’s body at all, it’s got to get redone from scratch (but keeping that hand I like!).

Lots of construction and mess around the mermaid while I’m trying to get her body sorted out. Getting a bit better, but still not right.

I’ve been looking at the figures for too long again, time for another switch to refresh my eyes. Mermaid’s body is coming up better now, so I start cleaning things up again.

I add in some more shading to the mermaid to get a better idea of her 3D presence, and give her some rough hair.

Fins! I wanted to do some really soft, wavy, feather fins for this mermaid. I also darken the bottom of the image a bit more with a simple gradient layer set to Multiply in the blending options.

About time for some colour, right? The card description talks about red-haired irish mermaids, so we’ll go with that. Red is a great colour for mermaids anyway, lovely contrasting colours for water settings! I add a little of the rusty red to the mermaids tail as well, and do some subtle skin colouring for skin that looks like it’s underwater. Dark grey/purples and greeny browns make up the skin palette, with a touch of the same peachy colour as the water surface for highlights. While adding colour to the hair, I’ve given it some more shape- digital painting for me is just slowly working each piece of the image from rough to refined. I’ve also done another free transform, reducing the size of the figures in the image again.

I go back to the background to finish up this concept. I add a couple of murky “cages” in the background, occupants included. A few hints of fish and bubbles, and add some more detail to the water surface. The man also finally gets some pants.

There’s still a lot more to do on this artwork, but this is the stage where I’ll normally stop and leave an image alone for a while, so I’m looking at it fresh when I go back again. I also want to contact the author and see if this artwork is working for the card description, and this is a good time to do so. While most of the image elements are now in place, I haven’t spent any of the hard hours of detailed refinement work still to go. It probably took me an hour and a half to get to this stage (between getting up every few minutes to drag my exploro-baby back to her approved play area).

This sketch actually went fairly smoothly for me, considering the lack of reference. Only a few complete limb rearrangements. I try to keep different elements on individual layers in photoshop to make painting easier as I go (background, figures, hair normally gets it’s own layer, foreground details like the bubbles).

I’ll try and remember when I get back to this artwork to keep saving stages and continue this walkthrough, or at least post the completed artwork so that you can see how much it changes in some ways, and doesn’t in others, from this stage. 

Video- Digital speed painting animation

I took a few snapshots of this digital sketch as I was painting to show the way I paint digitally by roughing in shapes then refining. This sketch was done for Sketch Fest in about 45 mins.

(If the animation doesn’t play for you, open the direct image here- https://selinafenech.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/moonlitpathanim.gif )