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Narrative Tutorial: Refuse To Forget

Victoriya Anda Shamykina guides you through the step-by-step process of creating a deeply emotional piece from a flash fiction narrative...

Victoriya Anda Shamykina guides you through the step-by-step process of creating a deeply emotional piece from a flash fiction narrative...

As a big fan of abandones and ruins of any kind I got attuned with the narrative at once. Since I already had a nice library of references on the topic (such libraries are inevitably gathered and built over years of artistic research), I decided to put more emotion, feeling and thought into the piece. So in the following steps Ill reveal some technical tips as well as personal insights into my way of thinking.

Step 1: Sketching in black and white

I hold sketching and research essential and thought-provoking. As a concept artist I want to bring the best design possible. With this piece, not some special forms and shapes, but atmosphere and mood I picked as a focal points of the whole effort. The feeling of irreversibility, heavy, static and tense memory was my first and strongest impressions. So I picked some photos and older works and sketched over them in a fast and decisive manner to try out some compositions. It was particularly important and not easy to make a decision here. I made two compositions which seemed equally good to me strong and captivating (those to the right of the snapshot). The landscape-oriented one looked too spacious and dynamic to me, lacking the feeling of height (which I saw as an important part of the narrative). So I took the vertical one, tenser and also more challenging.

The research step normally takes about 3-5 small thumbnails to attain a better understanding of future composition and basic space

The research step normally takes about 3-5 small thumbnails to attain a better understanding of future composition and basic space

Step 2: Its all about palette, materials and texture

Not only is photo-texturing fast and relatively easy, but it also grants a good background. While thinking about the story I got the impression of a really old place and thus of a more warm palette. Its all about stereotypes helping with the first-glance understanding of the piece: warmer for the past (like medieval dirt and materials like wood and clay) and cooler for the future (like smooth futuristic metal and synthetic materials). I also picked one of my older works with a warm palette and used it as an over-texture (Ill demonstrate such a trick in further steps).

Rust, bricks and a cooler background were established at the very beginning

Rust, bricks and a cooler background were established at the very beginning

Step 3: Adding depth and details gradually

I didnt pick the easiest composition at the very beginning so at this stage I experience some kind of a quagmire. How to make the scene look as good as I saw it on a small thumbnail as it got bigger and thus emptier? At this point I was still utilizing the bright background which was giving me additional trouble. So I reused some of the debris and stuff painted for earlier works (theyre like friends to me, always helping with the feeling of inhabited space) and searched my reference library for more ideas. And it is always refreshing to flip the canvas!

Do not hesitate to use  and reuse  references and older pieces of props and spaces. It can be a solution when you are stuck

Do not hesitate to use and reuse references and older pieces of props and spaces. It can be a solution when you are stuck

Step 4: Texturing trick with additional shapes

This technique saved my time and nerves more than once. Such texturing enriches the image and gives additional shapes which help with further development. The 100% non-transparent half which you can see on the right (and the photo itself in the upper corner) just shows how I transformed the layer. I used it then on 10% as a normal layer above all, erasing anything that seemed in the wrong place. The rusted object gave me another important boost: I blocked the window so the isolation and narrowness came back at last!

While over-texturing I suggest you to keep in mind both relevance and palette  otherwise you risk getting messy colors

While over-texturing I suggest you to keep in mind both relevance and palette otherwise you risk getting messy colors

Step 5: Stepping back is essential

I used some more over-texturing and gave myself some time then to relax. I do that at any point I can, switching to another task or just taking a break. I noted to myself some flaws in the palette (like too saturated blue on the window), of lighting (strange diffuse gloom all over). I also noted nice areas, like NO and good believable debris. I took a day off for some subconscious processing.

Before taking a break, try to list those things you already want to work on further, this helps to relax

Before taking a break, try to list those things you already want to work on further, this helps to relax

Step 6: All in its place

This step is my favorite in any project. I placed almost everything as I imagined at the beginning most of the impression captured. I really liked some of the noisy graffiti pieces, some props and things brought into this abandoned room and forgotten here forever. They helped to show that distant past which the narrative came from. All I needed at this stage details, refining, polishing and fixing were the most pleasing to work on.

While more work was still ahead, I felt already quite happy with the quest of exploring this environment

While more work was still ahead, I felt already quite happy with the quest of exploring this environment

Step 7: Troubleshooting: colors and space structure

There are two tools I use for keeping things in order: tight palette (two basic colors you see on the right, cool purple and oranges, with an addition of some gentle cyan), and perspective grid (I did this one by hand, but you can also find more intricate tools for Photoshop). Using a color layer with 10-15% Fill and some brushstrokes following the grid (even on debris and other smaller areas) helped me greatly with believability and general balance.

I often keep such grids above my layers, even with less structured spaces like forests and caves

I often keep such grids above my layers, even with less structured spaces like forests and caves

Step 8: An essential value check

I do strongly recommend checking if your values are good once in a while. You can do it by merging all of the layers into a new one with Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E, and then desaturating it with Ctrl+Alt+U, or by placing an Adjustment layer with Saturation turned to 0 (follow the Layer menu) and turning its visibility on and off. The closer the element, the stronger its contrast should be to make an impression of depth and convincing light.

As I started with a black-and-white composition, I continued to track it with all the details and tweaks added

As I started with a black-and-white composition, I continued to track it with all the details and tweaks added

Step 9: Lighting effects and blending options

To emphasize the light and correct its depth and effects on the environment, I choose to use a simple yet effective technique. To follow it you need to make an additional layer with a blend setting like Soft Light or Overlay, and paint on it light and dark grey areas with a soft brush. Try and experiment with it to catch the effect its quite rewarding with another blending settings as well, just dont forget to use different Opacity percentages.

The small image copy in the upper corner shows the 100% Normal layer of lighter patches, used then on 15% Opacity with Soft Light blending

The small image copy in the upper corner shows the 100% Normal layer of lighter patches, used then on 15% Opacity with Soft Light blending

Step 10: Final touches

As I wanted all parts of the environment to point out the central area with the NO painted on it with a spray, I tweaked different areas like the windmill blades making them stronger or weaker to balance out these directions. I added then some particles and dust in the air to make it thicker. I decided to use some feedback tips (asking for critique is always helpful) and to add a rat. It is always a pleasure to explore areas around the focal zone, thats why I placed the rat right there. Ive made it a bit aggressive and disturbing (and white for a change) so it may add a little bit to the whole impression of unease and gloom to this place of bad memories. And at this point with the character added I named the image finished!

While finishing things up I try not to overdo it. There should still be life in the piece, some brushstrokes and roughness. I believe they keep emotions fresh!

While finishing things up I try not to overdo it. There should still be life in the piece, some brushstrokes and roughness. I believe they keep emotions fresh!

Top tip 1: Photo usage tips

As you mightve noticed, I used photos actively here. For this piece I took them from my personal collection as well as from online libraries like pixabay.com and freetextures.3dtotal.com which I really like. My general rule here is this: use them to keep yourself fast but not lazy. I edited and changed most of the pieces and bits of photos, rescaled and transformed them, painted over with the colors I needed to keep the whole image looking whole and logical. So I mostly use photos to get some material to build on, to do work but not to skip it. This brings balance and growth to me as an artist.

Related links

Environment concept art practice in Photoshop by Viktorya Anda Shamykina
Viktoriya on Facebook
Adam J Smiths blog with flash fiction

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