Making Of 'Fresh Meat'
One day, on my way to work I decided to make a small detour on my way to the subway and took a walk through one of Lisbon's most charismatic parks. It was a cold February morning, no one was in sight and the sound of morning traffic was subdued by the trees. I was immersed into a natural environment and it almost seemed magical. Suddenly, I passed by some trees that really caught my attention ( image 1 ). They somehow resembled groping hands and with their scale, they looked threatening. I believe it is my love for fantasy that made me see the tree like that and not as mere tree. Several days later I went back and took some photos of these trees and so started the painting "Fresh Meat".
At the time I still wasn't sure what I wanted to portray. I knew I wanted to have the tree in a "hand-groping pose". I asked myself: What could make the tree even more threatening? It had to be groping for something innocent, something delicate: a little girl (which later turned into a young woman) lured by the wickedness of the tree. Almost like Old Man Willow from Tolien. I also wanted to introduce the classic "Psycho"-type-on-top-of-the-hill-house to add mood. So now I had the main ingredients and I was ready to get my hands dirty, digitally, that is.
My initial sketches were done on plain A4 photocopy paper and they were quite small. The chosen sketch is actually 2 cm high ( Image 2 ). I scanned it and brought it into Painter where I applied my first layer of color. ( Image 3 ) I love Painter mainly for its ability to apply brushstrokes that mix with underlying colors. This initial painting was done quite quickly to maintain spontaneity and not to overwork it. I just wanted to find the right colors to go along with the mood of the painting, which in this case were autumn colors: yellow greens and orange browns. At this stage I wasn't concerned with details, avoiding working on a particular area of the image for too long. This was done keeping the tip of the brush quite big and working quickly.
While I paint, sometimes I flip the canvas to get a fresh look at what I am working on. ( Image 4 ) I've seen countless tutorials that speak of this technique, but I would like to underline it once more, because it really helps (although I forget to do it most of the time). In this case I ended up liking the flipped version better, and I kept it. At this stage I
also started to introduce some detail especially on the tree which was the main subject. I progressively painted
with smaller brushes, constantly changing opacities.
As I go through the painting process I keep going switiching to Photoshop, because of its outstanding adjustment tools and ease of use, especially with layers. Here, ( Image 5 ) I used Levels and Hue/Saturation adjustments to fine tune contrast and color. Sometimes I use adjustment layers so I can make localized fine-tuning.
During the process I don't have a clear idea of what the final image will be and so it is quite a sinuous walk until I get to the final painting. As you can see here ( Image 6 ) I tried to introduce a cathedral-like building and make the tree "fuller" with small branches. Even if you drop these new ideas, there is always something that is retained ( Image 7 ). That is one of the things I love about digital painting: its versatility to experiment various versions of the same image.
Between these two steps ( Image 8 and 9 ) the main difference is the texture. It can really make the image more detailed and finished. However, this step didn't take so long as it may look because I made use of a custom hose in Painter (I could similarly have done a custom brush in Photoshop) to do the vegetation. I believe that if you have the tools to make things easier (without making it look artificial) use them! It's not cheating in my book.
Something that really helps during the whole process is to seek criticism from the people around you, be it family, work colleagues or even your dog! Most of the time they do not relate to the image the way you do (especially the dog), and most of the time you are doing your paintings for other people to see and not for yourself. So consult the client often! Other ways to seek opinions are through online forums in the WIP sections. Although it's rare to get an in depth analysis of your work, sometimes you get some really cool tips, like the one to introduce some skulls in the bushes behind the trees to spice up the image.
While working the background elements, like the house and the sky I realized that the vegetation behind the tree wasn't really working because the silhouette of the tree was lost. The vegetation also created a strange diagonal that didn't help the composition. So, I decided to cut away some bushes and introduce a mountain ridge to balance the image and add more depth ( Image 10 ).
Back in Photoshop I introduced a warm haze to hint at a setting sun to the right ( Image 11 ). A new layer in Photoshop set to the Color Dodge blending mode can do wonders sometimes. For me it is the best and most interesting way to introduce light into a painting. This was the image I ended up posting in the forums in the finished paintings section.
Another big bonus of digital painting is that an image is never finished. You can paint over it as many times as you like because it will never deteriorate. So, several months later, I picked it up again and corrected aspects that were criticized in the previous finished image, mainly the building in the background and the girl ( Image 12 ). I reworked them and I think the image improved with these important modifications based on feed-back.
To see more by Andreas Rocha, check out Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection