Making Of 'Did Somebody Just Say Ow?'
This piece was done for a friendly challenge over at Pixelbrush.com. I wanted to use it as an exercise to take ArtRage for a spin; see what it was capable of. It's a very handy bit of kit, especially considering the very modest price tag. It has limitations like all software, but I actually like how it makes you rely more on old fashioned drawing skills rather than trying to solve all your problems for you. The donkey work for this piece was done in ArtRage, but a need for speed, particularly near the finish, had me opening up Painter and Photoshop, too.
Given longer I could have accomplished all this in the one software.
I'm on aPentium4 3GHZ processor with 2 Gig RAM, using a Wacom Intuos3 now - but I used to have much less powerful kit and got away with it.
Starting in ArtRage 2.5 (full licence), I accepted the default document size (32.5x24cm-100dpi approx) to start sketching and slapped in a blue background with the roller set to maximum size. This was for a Halloween-themed image and a night-time palette with blue/purple bias seemed appropriate. My idea was about a kind of mini version of "Super-Buffy" in the scene of her latest slaughter, with a tiny dog clamped to her leg. Yes - I used to watch a lot of cartoons. I blocked in a few shapes (paintbrush) and lines (precise pencil) on several layers. Save stages regularly, labelled in a way that suits you (Fig.01 and Fig.02).
A need for speed had me bypass making thumbnail sketches (not recommended - slap my legs for being naughty!). I had a loose idea but no solid composition at this stage. Adding elements on separate layers allowed me the flexibility to play with the composition throughout the process. I firmed up the forms in the girl a bit, remembering to name a few key layers and taking advantage of the software's ability to have layer groups. I grouped all the layers for her character together, which meant I would be able to move her about more easily, later on. Typically a group will contain a layer for the drawing on top of a shading layer and a base layer of opaque local colour (Fig.03).
If you're going to use a lot of layers you must keep organised. Name layers as markers and merge together whenever you feel you can.
Compositionally I decided the girl would be more impressive if she had a higher body-count at her feet, so I expanded the canvas vertically to make space for more victims. (Note: In Artrage - Edit/Resize the Canvas - remember to un-tick the keep original aspect box, if you're changing the canvas shape). A great reason for starting off in ArtRage is the ability to add scaleable reference images on screen. You can paste your original idea/s up to look at, or reference, of course (Fig.04, Fig.05 and Fig.06).
Because I felt my heroine would stand out more in red, I tried the colour out on a layer over her blue suit. I also added some blocky shadow to aid the form on this layer. You can shade more subtly later, painting on layers set to Multiply blending mode over the top. (The dog idea was abandoned at this point and the layer deleted.) Hitting the H key flipped the image horizontally and allowed me to check to see how off kilter the drawing was. It's a good habit to get into.
I roughed out some cemetery headstone shapes in the background, and introduced more victims to her pile. Each was on a separate layer as I played with their character and placement. The more character I could give them, the more believable they would be, and the more points of interest there would be to keep the viewer interested. I planned to give them a group of their own, like the girl's, later (Fig.07 and Fig.08).
Notice how I separated her hair on its own layer, so that I could work freely on it without worrying about having to keep retouching her face? I had to be careful that the two would work together without it resembling a crash helmet. I merged them as soon as you could and softened the edges in places to make it more natural. This kind of separation of parts is useful but can lead to way too many layers, even for me! Remember the need to keep control - apart from anything else, everything will slow down as the file size soars if you don't.
Something I particularly like in Artrage is the ability to make stencils out of images. Using texture images I have on disk already, I opened the stencil palette and navigated to a folder I'd already made called 'Textures' (you can put your new stencils in whatever stencil folder you prefer). Click on the 'Add New Stencil' button and you can browse your system to an image file of your choosing. Open the image and the stencil is created. They appear as red rectangles (see image). Right-clicking on a PC gives you the option of inverting the stencil (Mac users have to navigate through the tools/stencil). There are really handy stencil transform options using the space bar (move), Alt/Option (scale) and Ctrl/Command (rotate) keys (PC). You can also leave them hidden in place, making them temporarily inactive (Fig.09 and Fig.10) .
I upped the dpi to 200dpi by the way (image size is 32.5x40cm) - so keeping layers under control becomes more important for file size issues.
To help unify the lighting, I created a flat blue layer on top using the roller. Changing blending mode to Multiply (right-click and navigate to change from default), I reduced the opacity. By painting on it with white or rubbing away with the eraser, you can introduce 'light' back into the gloom. I used a single light source overhead to illuminate the scene and pick out details accordingly. I consolidated the forms of her victims somewhat in 'body colour' (sorry about the pun), and airbrushed some darker shadows on another 'Multiply' layer. This is something else I do a lot. Although again, I repeat: merge these layers when you can to keep the thing moving along and control the file size a bit (Fig.11 and Fig.12)!
Still keeping it loose, I worked some more form and detail into the critters, using stencils in places to add texture and interest. If you add the texture on a separate layer, it's a snip to fiddle with it using the painting tools to make it sit more naturally without affecting the forms you've already created. Merge when you have something you like. Repeat for more texture. Experiment with blending modes, too - combinations of several texture layers can produce some interesting results (Fig.13, Fig.14 and Fig.15).
You can use stencils when cutting back from the blue shadow layers as well, but make sure to switch the stencil off and on regularly to view what you're doing. The red stencil colour can be a little distracting.
I gave the background a bit of attention too, muting it down somewhat and adding more of a glow on the horizon to hint at a village nearby. I continued merging layers when I was happy with the effect and working on new ones to move on.
Working on the fly meant that I had lots of things to resolve, like the exact positioning and size of the fiddly bits, like hands and feet. In this case it included things like the rather uncomfortable placement of her right foot - somewhere I'd hate to have one put myself. Add little details like that as they occur to you. They don't have to be finished, just marked in so you don't forget them. (Fig.16 and Fig.17)
The DPI was now at 300 and image size 28.5x35cm so that details could be tackled at full resolution. I also reduced the print size slightly to tighten things up.
I kept working on points of interest all over the image, zooming in and out regularly so that I could see what was working and what wasn't. I added texture and then worked back into it some areas with the palette knife tool on its most effective setting. Since enlarging the file size, the lag in ArtRage was impeding my progress, so for bigger changes to lighting etc. I saved the image as .psd and opened it in Painter or Photoshop - Painter for painting and Photoshop for things like trying out gradient layers set to Multiply. You can open it again in ArtRage by 'importing image'. I introduced some reflected lighting into the dark shadows of the group to help explain the volume (Fig.18, Fig.19 and Fig.20).
One such trip to Painter had me flatten the image, duplicate it, and set it to Multiply blending mode at reduced transparency. I prefer Multiply to some other additive options simply because all three software open it fairly consistently. I added a gradient (Multiply blending again - I'm an addict) over the top and worked on the mask with painting tools to pick out highlights with dark paint. I'm constantly adjusting and tweaking things all over (Fig.21 and Fig.22).
I worked on zinging up the relative tonal values as a whole to draw the focus to her and her handi- and footi-work. To try and create a sort of night-time misty haze, I've added some pale blue airbrushing on a lowish opacity layer, set to Overlay blending mode, and erased some of the darker shadow areas so that it sits better. The foreground wasn't contributing at all to the composition, so I added the head of another victim, where our heroine's attitude suggests she is looking. It makes sense with the working title which was "Did Somebody Just Say Ow...?" It ties the foreground and background together (Fig.23, Fig.24 and Fig.25).
Time for the challenge was really tight at this point and I resorted to using a brush I created in Painter to add some foliage quickly. I'd have preferred to craft it by hand. See the Painter manual to understand how easy this can be. If I can do it, anyone can! Same applies to all the ArtRage workings. It is all fully explained in the .pdf manual that ships with the downloadable software.
And that's about where I had to call a halt and declare it finished enough for the challenge!
To see more by Nick Harris, check out Sketching from the Imagination: Fantasy