Freelance concept artist Andy Walsh revisits his Halloween-themed painting "Pumpkin Tree" and applies his latest Photoshop knowledge to refine and upgrade...
Every Halloween I try to make a spooky painting. One year I made a piece called The Pumpkin Tree where I crossed an old tree with a Jack-o-lantern. It's a bit old now so it's no longer in my portfolio, but a year or two later I followed it up with this piece so I could push the theme a little more, make it more dynamic and apply what I'd learned about digital painting since the last one.
This might be the most vital step in the whole process. Sometimes you'll nail it sooner and sometimes you can be churning out lots of thumbnails trying to get what's in your head onto the canvas. In the top right image in the set of four I started to feel like I was getting warm. I liked the depth in the scene and the pumpkin tree's expression. Then in the top left thumbnail on the set of three I really warmed to his shocked expression and it made me think he could be scared of someone else in the scene, hence the final thumbnail where I added a little trick-or-treater. This composition is also very bold and graphic, I wanted it to be about the boy and the tree and everything else should support that and sit well back.
Trying to create a graphic, simple read while telling a story
First I up-res the file from about 2000px to 4000px. What's great about the workflow of this particular painting is that the thumbnail really nailed everything, so all the major decisions had already been made. This is not always the case as sometimes, when you go from small to big, certain things can fall apart as various problems are more noticeable.
So I take all the separate layers which I'd used in the thumbnail and start to apply some basic layers of paint just to lay down approximate colors. Nothing fancy and no layer modes or effects except maybe a dodge around the flames.
From black and white thumbnail to color rough
I'm now trying to make sure things read properly and that the ground plane has form and dimensionality and that the tree sits atop with it all looking like it sits in 3D space. So I created layers of grasses using a grass stamp brush. I used the implied lighting from the mouth to give me an excuse to show first some lit silhouettes against the darker form of the tree, then a space of illuminated grass which will give our dark headstones a read, then back into the foreground darker grass again for some more grassy silhouettes to read against the light grass. All this creates nice ground texture and also sells the lighting because it's landing on objects in the scene. I also decided to lift the tree off the ground, almost as though he has legs, which further personifies him.
Tightening up silhouettes
I think all artists know how important it is to set up some color contrast and so here I'm taking the necessary steps to play some cools against the warms. Even if there wasn't a big blue sky to provide a secondary light, I think I'd just put one in regardless as it not only helps to describe a three-dimensional form but also adds mood. We can appreciate the warms even more when they're set against the cools. I'm beginning to add texture and form in the light areas of the tree too. I wanted him to have old, gnarly bark.