Making of 'Lava Swimmer'
This Making Of has been created to show my work process and thoughts whilst I was working, and I hope this will be of some help to others. Here are the brushes and textures that I used for this piece (Fig.01 - Fig.03). I don't really use many custom brushes, when compared to other artists, but rather mainly use the first and second brush (Fig.01) to paint most of my images, whilst using third, fourth and fifth (Fig.01), or other brushes, to make more interesting.
Rough Sketch 1
(Fig.04) The topic for this piece was Lava Swimmer, and it's probably going to be quite hard to describe my thought process for this subject. It's basically a random doodle which I created in Photoshop (I recently got lazy scanning things in and tweaking, and so I've started directly sketching in Photoshop). I knew that lava was going to be thick and hot, and so the creature would most likely be slow moving and somewhat armoured.Â At the sketching stage, I tried to keep the silhouette in mind, and also made sure the position and angle of the creature could provide a sense of depth as I later coloured it.Â
Rough Sketch 2
(Fig.05) I was planning to leave the head as a simple, featureless head, but I love drawing heads too much and so I just had to change it. Some more details here and there were also added at this stage.
I made a new layer on top, and started drawing more details and cleaner lines. I sometimes skip this step depending on the drawing, as it can have either a positive or negative effect. Sometimes, if I don't draw in the details, I forget to paint them in during the colour phase, or sometimes it just looks too rough. Other times when I clean it up, the final image would lose the painterly feel which I tried to achieve. I left the rough grey line at the bottom. A lot of the time, leaving in rough lines and so on will give the final image some texture and random colour variation.
(Fig.07) Before I started colouring, I used the crop tool and re-sized the image to better fit the monster (for those that don't know, the crop tool can be used to enlarge the canvas size, too). You can also see that I lightly roughed in some background lines as well, here. I wasn't planning on a detailed background, and so I simply doodled in some rough ideas. I later set the line layer to Multiply and lowered the opacity, and created a layer underneath for underlying colours. No matter what method I intend to use for colouring, I fill it with some sort of colour first. My colour choices vary depending on the image and subject. Here I used a bright orange, for lava. Some tutorials recommend using a cool colour as a fill if you're painting a warm picture, and vice versa. Here I didn't think that I wanted any cool colours so I simply chose to work with orange. I then used a variety of custom brushes to randomly paint some colour variations to the background. I tried to give it some variation and not just use darker or lighter tones of the original background colour.
(Fig.08) Texturing is something that I'm still not very good at, and I don't really use them to their full potential. I went and found an interesting texture of a rocky pavement, threw it underneath the line layer, and then played around with the layer settings. Most of the time I used the Overlay layer setting at around 30%. I have a few textures that I tend to use more often than others, but it's really something that you have to experiment with yourself and see what fits with your picture and style, and so on. I continued using different textured brushes both over and underneath the texture layer to create more colour variation. You can see that I painted part of the shadow on the ground, from the monster. The brighter yellow on the right was used because I wanted to make it appear like hot lava coming out straight of some underground volcano.
(Fig.09) I decided to leave the background for now, and started on the monster. I made another new layer, under the line layer, and painted in the approximate shape of the monster using a darker colour for the head (which is closest), and a faded colour towards the tail to create a sense of depth. I often find that it's important to choose the correct colour at this stage because this base colour will show through a lot when you continue to paint the details. I didn't really use any colour rule for this piece - just what I thought would work.
Highlights & Shadows
(Fig.10) I firstly decided to make the ground darker. I really had no idea how the ground would look if it was seen under lava, but I felt it should be darker. I also played with the Brightness/Contrast and Curves to tweak the colour a little, giving the background a darker, saturated tone to represent the intense heat of lava. As for the creature, I started painting in shadows to form the basic shape of the creature. I then added colour variation to the highlights; some green to contrast with the orange. I played around with the colours without really having anything specific in mind.
Painting Over The Lines 1
(Fig.11) I can never wait for this step, but I always try to hold myself back from rushing into it until I feel that I have a decent idea of the right colours, and so on. I basically made a layer over the lines, and also started working in some details to the background. I think that many artists work differently with regards to how they paint over the lines, and it's a difficult to explain exactly how I do this myself. I used the Colour Picker a lot, with the Alt key, and tried to sculpt and refine the shapes and details.
Painting Over The Lines 2
(Fig.12) I continued refining and adding details, and so on. Because the tail is further back, it is less detailed and the contrast of it is lower. I tended to work backwards at times, and I got rid of details for the parts that were further away to bring focus to the head. I also got rid of the rough pencil lines that were sticking out, and repositioned one of the feet. I spent some time painting over the actual lines of the line art, mainly because I didn't want the creature to have a black outline around it, and because the tail part goes further into the distance the line shouldn't be the same colour as the head.
(Fig.13) Here I started adding smaller details, such as cracks, and tentacle bits on the spine. I decided that I wanted some glowing parts, which are always fun to add, and I thought it would work well fading off as it reached the tail. It's often the smallest details that really help to bring out the piece. I added highlights of red to the mouth, added some red/pink to the head, some jagged edges to the bottom rim of the jaw, and so on. I also got rid of the background lines at this stage as I didn't really need them anymore. Before making the final touches to the details, I saved the file, flattened the layer, and increased the contrast and saturation of the whole piece. It didn't quite feel hot enough before, for me. I sat there trying to think of more details to throw in, because I really wanted to push the character and make it better, and I finally decided to add flames coming out of the spine, and more rocky spikes on the jaw.
Background & Details
(Fig.14) I thought I was basically done with the creature at this point. However, the background didn't have enough mood, and so I added heat waves coming out of the cracks. I continued adding more details and cleaned up some of the brush strokes in the background. I also got rid of the one volcano on the side, because I thought it was a bit silly only having one.
(Fig.15) I still didn't think it felt hot enough for lava, even at this stage, and so I further increased the intensity of the colour by adding some flames coming from the mouth, and so on. I also cropped the piece slightly as there was too much empty space. The final step in a lot of my work recently is playing around with another round of textures, usually at a low opacity, to achieve a more painterly look. This is usually done by simply throwing in a layer, setting it to Overlay mode, erasing some parts, and painting over others. For this piece I also flattened the layer, duplicated it, and threw in a Photoshop canvas texture filter (yes, a Photoshop filter). I erased parts here and there using custom brushes. I tried to aim for a painterly look, and looked at many real paintings as research. Basically, in places where artists haven't used use a lot of paint, the canvas texture faintly shows through. This step is either a hit or miss. Sometimes Photoshop filters are dangerous and can look "cheesy".
Usually, when I save a small JPG for submission or for a website, I use the Photoshop Sharpen filter and fade it to around 40-50%, which brings out some of the brush strokes and detail.
That's all! I hope it has helped.