Making Of 'Making Lightning'
This work was produced for an art contest, so the image itself had to have a story behind it. The subject was the control of man over nature.
So here's a brief piece of text about the story:
In search for new energy sources, man gets bolder and bolder. Machines replicate mini-storms and control the power of the weather with the aim of harvesting the energy of lightning. Almost like a magician, the scientist gazes upon his achievement. The amount of energy used to jumpstart the storm is enormous, so this machine works on nuclear energy to generate the initial storm. Once it starts the storm, the storm is kept in motion by electro magnets, using a very small part of the energy harvested, making it almost self-sustaining.
Science is the new religion of our days, and we put ourselves in its hands. As science becomes more and more complicated sometimes it looks almost like magic, and what you can't explain becomes something unreal. Maybe that's one of the reasons why people trust so much in science, when sometimes they know so little about what is going on.
I tried to paint the scientist like some sort of fortune teller, looking at the future of mankind in his magic orb.
Creating a good composition is what can make an illustration work or not. It's very important to take into consideration some aspects that will define the final work and its success or not. The creative process can have a set method and process, but it also has to flexible and intuitive. Even before you start your sketch you must know what you're aiming for, the mood and the feeling you want to transmit (Fig.01). Each one of us has learned this with the passing of the years. Our artwork is the culmination of study and hard work. It is something we gain with the passing years, in each new piece we produce. So practicing is the best way to develop all our skills.
Like I said it's very important to know what you're aiming for before you start. For this piece the look and mood I was aiming for was a close-up of the character, but I also wanted to show a lot of detail in the machinery. That's the reason why I worked in landscape. When I was happy with what I had done I drew over my pencil lines in Photoshop (Fig.02 - 03).
Before you actually start painting it is good to have a notion where your light source is coming from. When you don't have an obvious light source in the sketch it is up to you to decide where you want the light to come from (Fig.04).
With the light sources defined it's time to start painting. I created a new layer under the sketch and start laying down some washed colors to give myself an idea of what color scheme to look for (Fig.05). I kept the light sources in mind as I moved around the image, painting in both the light and shadows.
Normally it's better to start with the background, especially if it has complex light sources and details, because the overall look of the image will depend on it. But in this image the character, besides occupying a large portion of the illustration, has the main light source beneath him so I started with the character and the machine in the first plane (Fig.06).
At this point I just used some basic colors for the highlights. I already had in my mind that the energy light coming from the machine would be a very light washed cyan. I put some in the character and also in the areas that were going to be lit with the energy. I also started working on the different pieces and colors of the machine.
I always paint directly into the same layer. I think it gives more of a feeling of a real painting and the colors also blend with each other much better. Starting with the shadows and using a custom brush (Fig.07) I started adding dark tones to the painting. The highlights from the skin gradually became a very light washed cyan as they're closer to the energy light coming from the machine. I don't know if it's noticeable, but as I went along I started cleaning up and fixing some more rough brush strokes.
As I said I always paint on the same layer, but to have some control I separate different elements into masks that can be accessed in the channels. As I move along I start adding some details here and there, and sometimes the creation process becomes a little chaotic. With this image I worked a lot in the foreground before even doing anything on the background. Normally I don't do things this way, but I was really looking to show good contrast so that when you look at it you don't get distracted by the background (Fig.08).
At this point I was already adding lots of detail to the machine and its surroundings (Fig.09). By adding more shadows and highlights the illustration was getting more definition, meanwhile the pencil traces were gradually disappearing.
With the light coming from the machine well defined, it was time to begin the background (Fig.10). I knew I wanted some reddish tones, so I added the tones on the character since the background would have its own light sources. Again, adding details as I went along, I went added more highlights to the foreground. The center of the machine (the main light source) was left until last, since I wasn't sure how I would represent my idea on the illustration.
This shouldn't really be done at this stage, but like I said before, I wanted to focus the eye on the foreground (Fig.11). I roughly painted the machinery in a very monochromatic way. The dark washed reds made a good contrast with the blues in front.
Now I went back and worked on the final details (Fig.12). At this point the illustration was almost complete.
With the illustration in a very advanced stage of production, I finally painted the actual process of the machine. As I said in the intro, the machine is supposedly capable of generating a mini storm, which it then harvests energy from (Fig.13). I painted some clouds and lightning. At this point I was pretty sure of what I had, but there were still some little details missing, like the light coming from the lightning through the mini-clouds. This effect would make all the difference in the final image.
At this point the piece was almost complete... but the colors weren't quite right yet (Fig.14). With selections I adjusted the colors, defined the tones and started adding color. You can make changes using Color Balance, Curves, Levels and Selections.
Finishing the Image
This is where you look at your work and do the final touches, add more color, finish some details - I could go on and on, but at some point you have to reach the finishing line (Fig.15). For the last touch I used the Un-Sharpen Mask filter on a new layer at 20% and it was done.