Making Of 'Dawn'

Digital Painting: a in-depth walkthrough

Hello and welcome to my first little walkthrough! Recently, a lot of people asked me to write a tutorial - and why not as i have some spare time now and it`s a good opportunity to give something back to the community. I`ll try my best to give you some insight into my creation process of an environment/cityscape painting. Maybe a futuristic one? I don`t know yet, i just started the image. But i guess you and i know myself good enough to tell where this is going to result in ;P I`m planning to finish the painting in around 4-6 hours, dividing it into steps/milestones and try to explain why i did what. It is very imortant to me not to make a tutorial that you repeat step-by-step, ending in a exact copy of the image as the final tutorial image. That`s not the point and doesn`t make sense in my opinion. One should experiment and learn, not copy and paste. So i`m not too concerned about the `how ?` but i`ll try to explain as best as i can. Sorry in advance for any crucial grammar and typing mistakes, english ain`t my native language.

Just a few words more before we get started. The most techniques and knowledge are self-taught through books, practice, experimentation and other tutorials/articles of course. A big influence were the Workshop DVD`s from Yanick Dusseault and Dylan Cole - so credit goes out for sharing their knowledge. Some tips and techniques were mentioned by them or other artists before, and i surely adopted some of these. So please don`t tear me apart because you`ve seen some of the information here in other places before. Ok, enough of talking now. Seriously. I hope you didn`t run away or died of boredom already.

Basic & Brushes

- I entirely work in Photoshop CS2, but i think older versions or similar Programs should work as well. I assume that you have at least basic knowledge of Photshop or your preferred Software.

- I would highly recommend a Graphics Tablet. A mouse could work too, but that won`t be fun and you would be very limited speaking of functions like `Pressure sensibility`. I mostly have the `Size Jitter` and `Opacity Jitter` linked to `Pen Pressure`. It makes life so much easier.

- Understanding at least basic perspective is a must. I`m not mastering perspective at all and do a lot of mistakes.
Especially when it comes to landscape/cityscape painting you won`t get along without a perspective grid or some guarding lines. If one have no clue how pattern and color changes when vanishing into the distance, creating the sense of depth and 3D will be very hard not to say impossible. As i already said, i`m far away from mastering these things, but at least knowing the basics is essential. On a side note, i highly recommend the articles Perspective in the world along with Landscape Composition Rules

- I mostly use the standard Brushes which Photoshop offers:

- 70% during a painting i use different chalk Brushes. Mainly for blocking in things such as buildings and clouds, but i use these for detailing as well. In combination with different smudging Brushes you can paint pretty decent clouds. More later on

- Just the standard round (Air-)Brush with soft edges. I use this one for blending colors, painting gradients or color correcting and shading things like water where i don`t want to have hard edges. In addition i paint soft highlights and glowing stuff with that Brush.

I rarely work with a hard-edged round Brush, except for painting little details and artificial light sources with a 1-5 px brush. For things like windows and city lights, some modified Brushes can come in very handy and save you a lot of time. I`ll address this later as well.

Let's get started

Sitting in front of a white canvas on the monitor isn`t a situation i feel comfortable with. It is pretty hard for me to start painting on a blank page, i usually end up starring on it for ages just thinking and can`t get anything down. There are many ways to start a painting; you could start with a line drawing, blocking in colors and shapes in with a big Brush, start in greyscale to get the values down... Just to name a few methods, there are a lot more. I often start with a very quick linedrawing (max. 5 - 10 minutes) and continue blocking in colors. Recently, i found that starting with a color Background works best for me. I plan to paint a moody image at dawn or dusk, so i already know what kind of colors i`m going to use. I`m working on 2500x1200 300dpi here. Not too big because i`m not planning to detail it for 30 hours and the painting is more for Tutorial purposes only plus you could up-res later on as well. It`s a good choice to work in a higher resolution than you want the final image to be. So you don`t have to worry about printing it later on, you can easier create the impression of detail and you can get some nice textures with just scribbling in some brushstrokes. What looks like senseless scribbles at 100% can look like a forest texture at 20%. Just an example, you get the idea.

- Alright, i just filled the background layer with a simple linear two-color gradient to get rid of the white and get an idea of the color scheme i`d like to work with. It`s always good to have things like that in mind before starting an image. Works best for me

- Let`s set up a perspective grid before we start painting. The Line Tool is a good choice for this job. I just added a horizon line with a slightly thicker weight and chose my first vanishing point. With a weight of 1 or 2px i draw the other lines vanishing to the first VP. When i have one half covered with perspective lines, i just duplicate the layer, flip it vertically and merge it down. Voila, there you have a nice and clean perspective grid within a few minutes. (The chaotic and inaccurate look around the VP is a result from flipping the layer and scaling down so you can`t see the single lines good anymore).

- Nothing special in this step. I just duplicated the perspective layer again, free transformed it in order to get a second vanishing point and changed its color via Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U).

- I moved the two perspective layers into a layer set on top of everything else and reduced its opacity to something around 10-20%. Now i call up a new layer and start to get some basic shapes for the landscape down. I do this very roughly with a bigger chalk brush, then use a smaller eraser for the little shapes such as docks. The perspective grid is good for orientation.

- Using a soft round airbrush in different sizes at a very low opacity, i refine the gradient. Thinking about a natural lightsource is a good idea at this stage. I paint over and over from one side to the other, always varying color, size and
opacity. This step is very important as you lay down the foundation of the painting in this step (color, lightsource, value). I take my time until i`m satisfied and eventually color correct via Hue/Saturation, Color Balance or Curves when i`m done with this step. About 15 minutes for this so far. Some of you might call this pretty long, but i need my time. I add a new layer (water) below the land so i can paint with big Brushes (very low-opacity) without having to worry about affecting the shape of the landscape. To get the impression of water, i use a very dark and desaturated tone of blue along with some colors of the sky. The little things at the bottom left are supposed to be rivers. I just erased out little parts of the land layer and painted in the water layer below. Now adding some little ripples on the ocean - hard to see because of the downscaling but we`ll get back to the water later. Remember, we`re setting up our basics here. No need for detail yet; a very common mistake i do most of the time. Don`t run into detailing too early! We first need to focus on the overall composition, that`s the most important part.

- Playing around with different layer modes and adjustment layers can lead to pretty nice results. After a little bit of experimenting i came up with a duplicate of the gradient layer set to Soft Light to get more saturation. I call up another layer and roughly block in some soft clouds with a small Chalk Brush set to very low opacity. A little bit of smudging helps to blend in the colors and creates a smoother look. No big deal huh? Keeping your layers as simple as possible is a good advice. Looking for a single layer in 230 layers because you want to erase a single thing is NO fun, i can tell you. I always keep it clearly arranged without merging too much so that fixing little things in the end is
still an easy job. Digital Painting can be very flexible, so why not use its advantages.

That`s how my layers look like:

- Now the real fun begins ! On a new layer, i begin to block in the main shapes of the buildings with different Chalk Brushes. Of course you could use other brushes as well, but i like how they give you rougher, somewhat random looking edges. I work from the background to the foreground and already implement some vague lighting/shading to the bigger structures. It is very important to have a back-, middle- and foreground in that kind of painting to get the impression of a three-dimensional space. The further an object is away from the viewer, the more it takes the color of the atmosphere/sky. The `buildings` are pretty much just random lines yet as i try to figure out their arrangement and scale. Notice the structure at the horizon next to the first vanishing point? They look insane huge and are supposed to be some kind of an eye-catcher. The human eye usually enters an image from the left side- that`s what i want in this image, assured by the vanishing point to the right. It would be kinda boring when the image abruptly `ends` with nothing at the point where the viewer`s eye stops at. It`s not supposed to be the main focus, more a little `tweak`. Not well executed here by all means. Just to sell the idea.

- Yay! More buildings! I move on to the foreground with darker colors and add some detail. Color corrected the whole thing a little by going into each layer and use Color Balance (Ctrl+B). An important thing is to vary the different buildings in size, shape etc. Huge cities aren`t built by one architect- there have been a lot of influences over hundreds or even thousands of years. We`ve just defined the basic shapes and silhouettes of our city, but already got some variation in architecture, form and arrangement of the buildings. Of course this could be done a lot better with a lot more designs and so on, but i just started into that stuff a little time ago and i don`t want to paint more than a few hours on this one.Whops, the little rivers are completely covered by buildings now. Anyways, maybe little rivers next time? Sorry.

- Let the sun shine in! We`ve already cleared where the main light is coming from, so it`s not that hard to guess which sides of the buildings are lit by the sun. I don`t have much knowledge about lighting and shading (probably no good idea as an artist... but everyone needs to start somewhere. Picking up some books might be good to learn about such a complex subject, i do it myself). So what i do is brushing in some highlights and shadows, therewith developing the shapes further. A little `trick` is to use the layer where the buildings are blocked in, hit `Preserve Transparency` and paint in there so we don`t have to worry about being very accurate and paint outside the buildings. I use a hard round Brush along with the Chalk Brushes for the harder highlights and reflections on the windows, a soft round one to fade out the softer highlights and shadows. A very small (1-4px) Chalk Brush for all the tiny highlights such as roofs receiving some light.

- I`ve changed some things here and there like the giant structures in the backround and added a little bit of haze/atmosphere. Now we need to populate our `little` city! The best way is to add some windows, street lights and stuff like
that, maybe some boats or flying things later. If we don`t want to paint every window itself which would take ages, we take advantage of some Brush settings, especially `spacing` and `color dynamics`. I mainly use two different rectangle Brushes i created along with Round- & Chalk Brushes. Just play a little with the spacing and other dynamics, it`s pretty powerful if you experiment a bit. As i see the painting in its small size here, i realize that some of the lights are looking somewhat strange, so i`am going to fix that. Remember always to zoom out and check your composition.

- I continue with the same process and add more city lights using different Custom Brushes which are very easy to create. The street lights were all done with the standard Photo shop Brushes, only adjusting some settings. I know the Perspective isn't 100% accurate here; first painting in your windows/lights and than using `free transform-->perspective` can help you a lot if you watch at your Perspective Grid. What else have we been missing? Reflections, right?! I do it the easy and quick way here:

Duplicate the layers with the city lights and buildings, flip them vertically and adjust via free transform (perspective) until they fit in. A little motion blur, then i go in and smudge with a strong, hard round Brush mostly from left to right. Adjusting the opacity/color helps to get a decent reflection. At the very end, i go through my layers again and play a little with them: Duplicating, color correcting and so on to get the best result. This is more of a trial-and- error process. Additionally, i fixed some little things in the background and the sky.

I guess we`re done for now. At this point, the painting took me around 4-5 hours to complete. The Tutorial about 20 hours... can`t see my dictionary anymore. I think that illustration does the job where it is- but now you could go on, size the whole thing up and start the real detailing, adding more population like spaceships and so on. In my eyes, this one is almost shouting for a planet in the background =) Well, i thank you very much for your interest and reading so far. I hope this little Insight into my Painting Process was at least a tiny bit helpful! Please bare with me because of spelling errors, i hope it wasn`t that terrible.

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