Create landscapes with photo textures
Waqas Malik talks us through his process of using photo textures to help create his image Spiky Mountain.
In this illustration, Spiky Mountain, I wanted to give a cinematic and epic feel to it. I had this image in my mind, of a character on his way towards the mountain. I always start with an idea or a scene in my mind first, and if I am inspired then I go about creating a full illustration.
In this Tutorial I am going to take you through the process of creating an environment focused illustration. The process includes how to start off an illustration with a theme in mind and laying down the colors first, then going about creating a nice composition with the help of atmospheric and visual effects to create mood and give it a sense of depth.
"It's like cooking, you never add too much salt or spices. To me subtlety is the key for texturing!"
I am also going to briefly discuss how to use photo textures effectively in your paintings and how not over do it. The last thing you want is to make your painting a collage of photos - a very bad collage! It is very important to know when to stop using photos or brush textures. It's like cooking, you never add too much salt or spices. To me subtlety is the key for texturing!
The scary blank canvas
Like many other artists, the blank canvas scares me too. So to overcome that, I fill it up with a bluish grey underlay. I took a photo (from cgtextures) and just applied Motion Blur to it vertically. That gave me nice value structure and the subtle bluish tone, which I was going for. There are many different ways to start of course, like doing the line work or painting everything in value then coloring it. But for this project I went directly with color, mostly because I had pre-conceived the image in mind. If I was given a written description by a client, then I would have gone for a value sketch first. I think with time and experience you find out what suits you best.
Defining the shape structure
Moving ahead with the value underlay, it was now time to define shape structure. As I had this idea of it being pointy and spiky mountain in my mind, I just grabbed a picture of a mountain and with the layer blending set to Luminosity, and I started exploring shapes whilst keeping the spiky mountain as a focal point in mind.
I pretty much ended up defining the overall shapes and I divided the scene into three distinct levels? foreground, midground and back ground. Keeping the painting in the three mentioned levels is crucial to tell the depth of an environment.
Here we need to know that the atmosphere is dense and there is lot of haze, so the difference in values of the three mentioned levels will be more. Knowledge of how nature works really comes in handy. I recommend watching documentaries and learning more about scientific nature of light. The knowledge from these sources really is translated in paintings afterwards.
At this stage I added in a lot of atmosphere. The main reason is that, it looks cool and the painting looks livelier. It also creates more depth in the painting, and really sets in a mood. With the nearest haze I added a little bit of Motion Blur, to give the feel of movement in the painting. As movement plays a big part in defining the success of a design or painting, there are a few design principles that we need to keep in mind when painting? nothing is random, everything means something and has a purpose.
I also painted a thin layer of cloud on top. It unifies the dark side and the light side of the painting.
Next, I set about re-checking the composition and correcting it if it needed the correction. Even the composition shows a sense of movement and it takes the eye from the bottom to the top. Every shape and form in this painting is unified. The painting is filled with triangular shapes and a triangle is an active shape. The depiction of this place is very unfriendly, all the diagonal and pointy shapes give it a feel of danger and unease, which of course is the whole point from the start.
I made some improvements in the composition and cleared some very rough edges. I also added some visual directional lines with the help of environmental elements, which connect foreground to midground.
At this point, we have everything setup. Now is the time for texturing and how to really use texture without losing control.
There are several different methods and ways to extract textures from photos for different purposes, but this was the easiest. I took some snowy mountain photos and put them on top of the image in a layer set to Overlay mode. You can also check other modes too, especially Lighten mode.
Most of the time I use Lighten mode, as it takes away the darks and leaves the lighter areas of texture. But at this point Overlay worked perfectly for what I wanted, so I went with that. It's also important to paint over the photo textures, as photos are very detailed and to unify the whole painting we need to reduce the visual noise.
I also added a small mountain peak on the far right to maintain the focal point, which acts as a visual barrier and re-directs the eye to focal point.
I added more atmospheric haze in different places for two reasons, mainly to tell the eye that this is the focus, and to increase the distance in the midground. Because there is no perspective here, it simulates the Zoom lens effect, so I could only use atmospheric perspective to tell the depth. The easy way to paint atmosphere is to use a cloud brush, just increase the brush spacing and paint. Remember "less is more" so use it wisely and not over do it. At every stage, keeping an eye on the composition is must. A single brush stroke in the wrong area can ruin the composition.
At this point I added more textural details from photos and painted on top of them to reduce the visual noise. Most importantly in the foreground I added the texture and reduced the value, so that it does not catch too much attention.
The foreground also needed a bit more detailing, because this is where I was planning to paint the character in and it would act as a secondary focal point.
I added very subtle textures to the mountains in the background, still using the same procedure of texturing using photos, but changing the values as required in the area. Remember that as things recede in the environment the darks become less dark and the lights become less bright, generally.
I also added more light on the top just near the focal point to strengthen it and to show where the light source is, even though the overall lighting is diffuse lighting and creates a strong mood in the painting.
Even though the character is not the primary focus here, because it is in extreme foreground, it needed a little bit more detail. Remember, this is not a friendly place, not only the shapes of the mountains but also the weather says that this place is dangerous. Even though there are apparent dangers the character is still focused on reaching the peak, this narrative adds drama and a sense of determination.
First, I made the silhouette of the character with the clothes torn off and I decided to create a static pose, because the overall painting is dynamic and shows movement, the character needed to be in a static pose to balance out the composition and create a contrast.
I then painted in the details of the character, adding lights to his bag to create a sci-fi element.
When finalizing I added a subtle glow to the light on the bag of the character. For the glow I added a layer on top and set it to Color Dodge mode, and then I used a soft brush and low opacity to paint the glow.
I check that everything works well at this point. This part is important because many times I have saved and published my work to then find out that there were some things out of order. It's really a nightmare!
Top Tip: Value check
One of the most important factors is to keep the values in check. You need to keep an eye on the values the whole time from the start. If the values are correct then everything is correct. Colors can be changed, it doesn't matter that much. For keeping the values in check I add a black layer on top and turn it into Saturation mode. This eliminates the color and shows only values. Turning it on and off helps me maintain my values.
When everything is done, I merged every layer into one separate layer and then I applied the Sharpen edges filter. Again, don't use it too much, sometimes even very little becomes too much. This should be so subtle that you can't even notice it from a distance. This is the filter that I use almost every time as it makes my painting look nice,
clean and sharp.