Making of Leshy in Painter

Simon Dominic demonstrates how to use a brief to create a creature concept in Painter.

The Leshy is a forest-dwelling creature from mythology who is able to change size from the smallest blade of grass to the tallest tree. He appears in the form of a pale-skinned man with green eyes and a beard made from grass and vines, and is sometimes rumored to have a tail, hooves and horns. The Leshy is the friend of other forest denizens and is often depicted in the company of bears or gray wolves. Because his official title is Lord of the Forest he carries a wooden club, presumably in case anyone disputes it.

For this tutorial I'll be using Painter 12 to illustrate the Leshy in his native habitat. I did wonder whether to show the Leshy in miniature form, but I think that would make him too ineffective-looking, so instead I'm opting for full-on giant mode.

Concept Sketch

I quickly sketch several representations of the Leshy, with his grassy beard, hooves and club. I browsed some horned animals on the web and considered what different types of horn would look like. Goat and oxen horns would make him appear too demonic and bull horns too mundane, so I went with moose antlers which fit in well with the woodland environment. To simulate a pencil I use a circular brush set to Grainy Soft Cover, with Pressure-dependent Opacity set to 100% and 95% Grain. The Grain setting allows me to give that characteristic charcoal roughness when I boost the contrast of the paper settings. I also sketch in some bright highlights to help give the concepts dimension and form (Fig.01).

<h5>Fig.01</h5>

Fig.01

Color Concept

I then paint another concept of my chosen character, this time in color. I paint it small and quickly, taking about 10 minutes. The idea with the color concept is that it gives me a feel of how the finished image might look in terms of color and composition. I decide that despite my initial sketch appearing OK, the Leshy strikes me as too human looking, more like an old bloke with a green beard than a mystical Lord of the Forest. For that reason I go back to my sketching and create another concept, this time depicting the Leshy as thinner and less human in appearance (Fig.02).

<h5>Fig.02</h5>

Fig.02

Outline sketch

I collect a few reference photos to help me with key areas such as the Leshy's pose and the forest floor. Next I create a 1448 x 2000 pixel canvas in a low value color. I don't like starting with a pure white canvas as I find it a bit dazzling and also it prevents you from adding highlights in the sketch stage.

On this new canvas I create a layer onto which I sketch my new, slim-line Leshy, referring to my character reference to get a general idea of the torso anatomy and the hand positions when gripping the wooden club (Fig.03).

<h5>Fig.03</h5>

Fig.03

Filling out the Sketch

Once I complete the outline sketch in black pencil I add areas of shadow. I don't press too hard as I want the texture of the paper to show through. The final sketch stage is to create another layer above the sketch layer. This is my highlight layer. I switch to white and sketch over the areas that are affected by my primary light source, the sun, which will be above the character and slightly to its right (the left as we see it here) (Fig.04).

<h5>Fig.04</h5>

Fig.04

Creating a Palette

After browsing my reference photos I now create a color palette. I display my Mixer palette, clear it and dab onto it a new selection of colors based on the most prevalent colors in my reference photos. I have decided my scene will be damp and misty so I keep most of my colors in the mid to low saturation range whilst ensuring they cover a full range of values (light to dark).

When I've got the basic colors down I use the New Color Set From Mixer Pad option in the Mixer panel menu. This gives me a number of swatches in my Color Set Library panel, some of which I delete to keep the size manageable. I won't be sticking strictly to these colors, but they do give me a good base on which to start (Fig.05).

<h5>Fig.05</h5>

Fig.05

Blocking in Colors

Still working at a relatively small level (2000 pixels high) I apply color directly to the canvas beneath my two sketch layers. So now I have the canvas, which is blank; layer 1, which contains the color; layer 2, which has the black pencil lines on it and layer 3, which has the white pencil highlights in it.

I make the decision to have my Leshy standing in a woodland clearing so that he doesn't get lost amongst the trees (or get his antlers caught; I guess that's why he finds it useful to change size). As he is very tall in his current incarnation I paint the horizon line close to the bottom of the canvas. This gives the impression that he is towering above us. As a general rule, characters who are the same height as the viewer will have their eyes in line with the horizon no matter how far in the distance they appear, assuming a flat surface.

In the foreground I slop some bright and dark colors to represent rocks. The middle distance is dominated by grass and bracken with the odd clump of weeds and a mass of brambles thrown in for good measure. The nature of the vegetation may well change further down the line, but right now my priority is covering the canvas with paint to give me a representative base from which to go forward.

The forest itself is represented by the looming shapes of trees, painted using desaturated greens and browns to suggest distant objects on a misty day. The trees are too far away to explicitly detail all but the largest boughs and branches, so I use blobs of a lighter value to represent the networks of smaller twigs. In order to avoid the forest looking like a solid mass I dapple the edges of the tree forms with dabs of sky color, which gives the effect of individual clumps of branches through which patches of sky can be seen (Fig.06).

<h5>Fig.06</h5>

Fig.06

Resize Up

Once the color is blocked in I resize the image upwards whilst retaining the aspect ratio. So 1448 x 2000 pixels becomes 3528 x 4500 pixels. This is larger than my final image will be because I like to work at this size in order to easily paint fine detail. Zooming in to 100% now reveals a mess of textures and paint blobs. This is good; if it wasn't a mess I'd start to worry.

The textured, random nature of these brush strokes and blobs is very useful when painting vegetation and other non-ordered subjects. The human brain is not particularly good at inventing believable organic shapes from scratch, but it is good at finding patterns in randomness or semi-randomness. The messy brush strokes provide good stimulus from which embryonic clumps of grass, rocks and branches can emerge (Fig.07).

<h5>Fig.07</h5>

Fig.07

Painting the Forest

Using an Artists Oil's brush with 50% Grain I add detail to the background forest. I use value as a method of communicating depth, with trees nearer the viewer being of lower value than those further away. I keep my strokes relatively loose so that they don't overwhelm my main character with detail. Also, I make sure my brush stokes aren't too sharp, for the same reason (Fig.08).

<h5>Fig.08</h5>

Fig.08

Suggesting Branches

Against the outer edges of the paint blobs representing the branches I etch lines of sky color. This gives the impression of branches being present without my having to laboriously paint every one of them. I allow some of the original texture to remain in the main body of the tree, smoothing it over very lightly with a blending brush so that no pixilation remains from the original upsizing (Fig.09).

<h5>Fig.09</h5>

Fig.09

Creature Detail

I now move on to the creature itself. I tend to add detail to a blocked-in color image using a three-stage process. First, I use the Artists' Oils brush to further define the forms. The grain in the brush gives a nice textured effect and the pressure-dependent opacity ensures that a soft touch will blend the strokes (I always advise that in the General panel you set your Opacity to Pressure). A good tip when using Grain with Artists Oils is to set the Grain at around 50% because, oddly enough, increasing it beyond this value starts to decrease the effect.

For the next stage, which is the very fine detail, I'll use my circular pencil brush with added Bleed and low Resaturation. I only use this in the areas that need extra detail so I don't go over the whole thing again. Lastly, I use a blending brush to subtly merge similarly colored areas of paints in areas that need it. I'm very careful not to blend too much and to leave sharp boundaries where necessary (Fig.10).

<h5>Fig.10</h5>

Fig.10

Leshy Limbs

The arms and legs of my Leshy are composed partially of mossy roots that merge into the flesh of the forearms and shins. I paint these vegetation areas with darker greens, browns and reds. In order to give the impression of dark coloration rather than shadow, I include some specular highlights – little dots of bright paint reflecting the main light source (Fig.11).

<h5>Fig.11</h5>

Fig.11

Painting Antlers

I loosely reference the shape of a pair of antlers from a photo of a moose, simplifying and modifying them a little. The lighting in the photo does not match that of my image so I need to understand the shape of the antlers. The lower portion curves towards us and back up to point at the sky. The central and rear portion curves more gradually upwards, passing through the vertical and, right at the tip, curving back just a little towards us. When we combine this with the position of our light source it gives a deep shadow underneath the lower points contrasting with the bright surface above. The shadow increases with height as the antler becomes more oblique to the light. Along the edges of the antlers I add thin lines of highlight and shadow to show thickness, otherwise they would look like they're made of paper (Fig.12).

<h5>Fig.12</h5>

Fig.12

Just Add Wolves

According to the myth, the Leshy was often in the company of bears or gray wolves. I go for wolves and after I find a couple of reference images I paint three of the animals into the background using the small circular brush. I avoid using dark colors because the wolves are in the middle distance and therefore affected by the misty atmosphere. Because they are so far away we can't make out the grain of their fur so I use a mottling, blended effect to portray their coats (Fig.13).

<h5>Fig.13</h5>

Fig.13

Mossy Rocks

In a damp environment like this rocks are likely to have moss on them. One useful tip for painting moss is to initially paint it using very dark colors then partially cover them with brighter greens. This helps give the impression that the moss has some thickness and is not just green paint smeared over the rock. For the rocks themselves I again use a combination of the Artists Oils brush and circular brush, the latter used primarily for detail. I set the color variability on the circular brush using the Color Variability panel. I set Hue, Value and Saturation to 18%, 1% and 1% respectively. This has the effect of a pronounced mottling of the hue (the color), and a slight variation of value (light and dark) and saturation on each brush dab (Fig.14).

<h5>Fig.14</h5>

Fig.14

Vegetation

The painting of vegetation can be approached in many different ways. This time I use the basic textures and colors already down on the canvas to sketch a dark, random mass of shapes representing grass, brambles and leaves. There are already a variety of shapes and patterns present from my initial coloring and these help with the impression of tangled foliage. With my blender brush I smooth this paint so that it appears out of focus. This is the background for my actual vegetation, which I paint on top using, mainly, brighter colors and sharper strokes. I use some reference for the different types of plant, e.g., mbrambles, but I take care not to add too much detail to any particular area (Fig.15).

<h5>Fig.15</h5>

Fig.15

Appropriate Detail

As the vegetation gets further away the detail decreases until it fades into ill-defined areas of color. When combined with the color fading this gives a good impression of depth and it ensures that our main character stands out against the background (Fig.16).

<h5>Fig.16</h5>

Fig.16

Finishing Off

As is customary I leave my image for a day or two then come back to it to see if anything else needs doing. I apply a bit more detail to the Leshy's face and blend some background areas that I had missed before (Fig.17). Last of all I save a copy of my image in TIF format at the specified size of 2480 x 3425 pixels. I ensure Resolution is set to 300ppi so that the image can be printed if required. That concludes the tutorial and I hope you've enjoyed it.

To see more by Simon Dominic, check out Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 5
and Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection