Making Of 'Half Octopus Thief'
I painted this piece for a "Character of the Week" challenge at ConceptArt.org; the assignment was to create a half-animal, half-human thief. I had recently been watching a nature documentary and was blown away by the variety of textures and forms that cephalopods come in. The texture and eyes of the cuttlefish became my main inspiration.Â
The first step was a doodle in the sketchbook. It started as an unattractive drawing, running off of the page, and was later scanned and completed digitally. It's a wonder that I didn't abandon the project here, but I thought that the composition in the sketch was good right off of the bat, with a nice relationship between the character and the background - and the thief already had the right attitude, at least in the upper body. The legs would be adjusted later (Fig.01).
Setting up to Draw
One of the first things I do when drawing digitally is overlay my sketch with a quick perspective grid using the line tool (U) in Photoshop. Keeping the perspective guide on a separate layer at the top allows me to toggle it on and off as I'm working, to ensure that the objects I draw will sit in space properly. I fill a new layer with white and drop the opacity to around 80%. This serves as my primary drawing layer and allows me to see both the sketch and the perspective guide when positioned in between the two.Â
For most of my drawing I use the standard hard edged round brush with pressure sensitivity set to opacity. Sometimes I draw with the 6D ArtPen hardware, whose chisel tip has a thick side and thin side that Photoshop can track. Drawing with that pen has a great feel, but the lack of buttons usually sends me back to the standard pen before I get to blocking in any colours. (Fig.02)
Tightening up the Drawing
I have the "flip horizontal" command mapped to one of my keys so that I can flip my drawings back and forth, preventing my brain from getting used to seeing the image in any one particular direction. It makes errors of perspective and form jump out at me. Here you can see the image flipped, the perspective guide hidden and the drawing opacity turned up to 100% to block out the sketch. It's already come a long way from that little doodle (Fig.03).
In this image the greyscale toning has gotten a little further, creating a nice graphic distinction between background and foreground. I don't like to go too far in greyscale because too much black can kill the colours. Now it was time to start laying in some base textures and colour (Fig.04).
I dropped in some base textures from photos as early as possible, because I wanted to integrate them by building the painting up around them and layering brushstrokes over them. It didn't matter if they looked choppy or out of place at this point. Having the perspective grid available as a guide made it easy to transform (Ctrl + T) photos of brick and the rug to sit at the correct angle on the ground (Fig.05).
Building up Colour
Next I started to build up colour softly and transparently. I used the default soft airbrush and applied default watercolour textures to the tip. Using this tool, I washed on broad strokes of warm colours on a new layer set to Multiply. Any overspray that I didn't want was erased back out and the layer dropped back down, and then the process was repeated as needed. When I'm creating illustrations in this way, I try to keep the document as flat as possible. This simplifies my process, keeps the file light, and allows the foreground to bleed into the background more naturally. I create new layers only to apply a series of brush strokes, and when I'm happy with the result, I merge them back down (Fig.06).
Also in this image, additional octopus textures have been added by dragging in photos and experimenting with either the Multiply, Overlay, or Screen blending mode (Fig.07).
In the next image I've continued to integrate the different background layers by adding washes transparently or drawing in little details opaquely. By this point it was getting harder to tell that there were photos under the food piles because I'd drawn over them so much. The texture in the lighter, upper left of the background was applied by a custom brush made from tree branches, and using either the Multiply or Color dodge blending mode (Fig.08).
This was the fun part, where I allowed myself to go in and draw all of the details that I'm usually cautioning myself against. With the standard hard edged round brush, pressure set to opacity and now also size, I modelled out the head, drawing the eyes and chiselling hard edges along the contour of the body and at the front of the jaw. The bottom rocker button of my pen was set to the colour picker so that I could select any similar colour around the area that I was working on and start rendering it instantly. If I didn't like a stroke, that's what the top rocker button is for: undo! (Fig.09)
For the tentacles, I composited photos for a few starting points and then drew in the remaining length of arms by hand.
Deciding to Stop
At this point, everything the painting needs was basically there. The last remaining step was some final value-tuning to make certain items stand out more if they were important, or integrate better if they seemed too piecemeal. I used soft textured brushes and if an area needed to be lighter, I set the layer to Color dodge. If an area needed to be darker or have more colour saturation, I set the layer to Multiply. I hid the uppermost tentacle in shadow, sprayed some lighter atmosphere in the middle ground, darkened the edges around the starfish collar and finally, I drew some more detailed trim and embroidery on the clothing. My work was complete! (Fig.10)