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The making of 'Deity'

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Date Added: 1st December 2016
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Sebastian Kowoll shares his painting process, from thumbnails and 3D sketching, to painting and bringing it all together in Photoshop


This tutorial will encompass my whole process when creating a finished piece, starting with the thumbnail and 3D sketching, to painting and bringing it all together in Photoshop. It will give you an insight to my decision making process during the painting and how much it changes during the actual process.

Step 01: Thumbnails

This first step is fairly straightforward; I grab my sketchbook and just try to lay in some very basic ideas of compositions for the image. The only thing I have in my mind is the idea of having a lot of monks meditating and hopefully have them arranged in a cool pattern.

After I have a basic (very basic) idea of where to start the image, it's paramount to investigate the subject matter thoroughly, because it will only help further in the process. I look at all sorts of pictures depicting monks, temples, ceremonies, ornaments and the works. However, and I wish I was super organized with my reference as many of the artists I look up to, I have never found all my reference in one sitting, so there are going to be many times during the painting where I'll have to just stop and look for more. Still, this step does represent the longest time I invest in gathering reference.

It all starts with a sketch

Step 02: 3D Base

This step helps me work out many basic problems like anatomy, proportion, perspective, lighting and composition. Using DAZ 3D I pose two characters, the main female figure (by this point I decide it will be cool to have them worship some sort of goddess) and one male figure sitting down. Then I import them into MODO and set the whole scene.
I give myself room to try different lighting scenarios and shape compositions. Again, this is still part of the sketching phase. When I decide the final frame, I render it out with some passes (Ambient Occlusion, Z Depth, IDs, and DirectLight) to help me play with the light later on.

3D allows for a lot of freedom in the sketching phase

Step 03: Adjustments

I use photos to paint on top of or use more than one photo to generate texture, so that the original is completely changed. After a first pass I leave myself some notes of new ideas that occur during the process. The first one being, to give more arms to the goddess and take cues for her design from the 1000 armed bodhisattva representations.

New design ideas are generated in the first detailing stages

Step 04: Adding design ideas

In this step I work on the design of the goddess. I decided it would be cool if she took on a cyber feel. Next, I sketch (very loosely) more ideas on where to take the foreground and midground.

I recreate many arms to add to the design of the goddess

Step 05: Environment

By this point, the characters are in a good place to leave them for a while. In this step I focus on the environment they're in. I go back to my references and use images of mountains; you can find great images on free texture sites such as Then it's a matter of putting in the photos, painting, and making sure to match everything to the lighting I have set from my 3D base.

Adding in the environment

Step 06: Whims and choices

When I get to this step, the image is at a decent stage, so begins a long battle with myself to try and figure out what is it that bugs me and how can I make it all work. I try various possibilities; playing with the goddess' overall size in the picture, atmospheric fog and even the possibility of having a dog in the image (I usually like to have animals in my images, but sometimes they just don't belong, no matter how much you force them in).

Adding in effects and elements to produce different variations

Step 07: Keep It Simple

After a long time of not knowing what's wrong, I choose to go for a simple solution (usually the hardest to get to) and just add some floating cloth, with shapes that lead the eye towards the goddess and also to have something that feels looser than the rest of the elements in the image.

The simple answer is usually the right one

Step 08: Final Touches

For final touches, I basically go for a Sharpen filter on top, noise layers, a whole lot of color correction layers and some extra brushstrokes here and there to help sell the texture I want. It's important to add, that I usually show it to friends and colleagues before I publish it (this happens throughout the whole process) to get a fresh pair of eyes and a totally different point of view for the image. It always helps the painting.

A friend of mine pointed out that I had a tangent (pretty common mistake) with the goddess and the little boy's head. I fix that and also choose to have all the characters look at the deity, after all the image is all about her and I want to keep it that way.

Finally, some smudging and adjusting to further place the focus on her and I can call it done.

The final painting

Related links

Click here to see more from Sebastian
Take a look at Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters in the 3dtotal shop


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