Making Of 'Pier Duty'
Hi everyone, my name is Graven Tung. This particular piece is a simple study that will hopefully explain some of the thoughts and techniques during my painting process. I'm usually not in the habit of questioning myself why I do things a certain way. In fact this is the first time I'm asked to paint for a tutorial, so bear with me here.
So lets start
I started off by Googling for some ideas. I try to avoid jumping into a painting without at least having a general direction. This is to prevent myself from falling into the "safe zone' and repeating similar subjects over and over. So I dug up few interesting shots after some random image search. (Ref.1, Ref.2) There's something cool about those waves crashing on the pier. I haven't done anything like that before, and it looks like fun.
Before we start, here're the 2 brushes I often use, especially for blocking in rough sketches. As you can see they're simply the 2 default chalk brushes that come with Photoshop CS, with a little change in settings. (Brush.1, Brush.2) Some people ask why I only have the "opacity" set on pen pressure and not the "size" as well. It's simply a personal preference. I tend to adjust the brush size with the "["and "]" keys anyway, so it all works out.
I open up a random canvas and loosely sketch in something that looks like a pier leading into a washed-out misty background. (Fig.01)
Continuing on with the block-in, (Fig.02) I extended some rock formation to the left to balance out the composition, also scattered some warm highlights across the background sky. I figured the cloud/wave/moisture in the air would likely catch the sun here and there. It also helps to emphasize the light source. At this point that shape jutting out to the right is starting to look like a tall wave going over the pier, which is good.
Next I planted a building on the left to give it some focus. (Fig.03) It also serves as something that leads us from foreground to the background. I'm not worried about its details yet. At this point it's better to focus on the right palette than trying to work out any specific designs. Right now the building is nothing more than a bulky shape with a touch of highlight, which is all we need.
The composition is starting to take shape, but we're still missing something in the foreground. Since it's already looking a bit military, I'll go along with that theme. Here you can see a couple of attempts to work in some figures and maybe a vehicle. (Fig.04, Fig.05) I eventually settled on the bike because I wanted to paint a biker chick carrying a big bazooka. J (Fig.06) I wish there were other deeper reasons but sometimes you just gotta go with your guts.
Now is a good time to clean up the background building on the far right. I put in another building on the left to give it more depth (Fig.07).
I spent some time working out a simple design of the main building. Again still looks rough but we'll get back to that later. (Fig.08)
Time for some weather effects. This place needs a good strong side wind. I opened up a new layer and quickly indicated some moisture being blown across in front of the main building, as well as added some puddles on the ground. (Fig.9) The good thing about doing this on a layer is that I can still use a big textured chalk brush to lay down a large shape, and come back with a small eraser and erase into that shape to carve out the details. I also threw in a little bit of highlight on the building in the back to make it look like that wave is casting a shadow over the structure. Perhaps the wave is getting a little off scale here. I mean that thing is like...250 feet tall. We'll have to fix that later.
The sketch is coming along nicely for the most part, but the sky still seems a little too flat. I was hoping to keep it simple and have everything blend into the misty atmosphere, however right now it's just not creating enough eye movement. To fix this I opened up a new layer, and put down a subtle gradient using a large airbrush, (Fig.10-a) then changed the layer option to "multiply". (Fig.10-b) This helped to tone down the background value and emphasize the light source.
Next I flipped the canvas to check the composition. ( Fig.11) I also decided to crop in on the 2 characters, sort of bring them closer to the center and make them the focus. (Fig.12) The standing figure can be a guard, the shape to the right can be his booth or something, and I sort of like the potential drama between him and the biker chick. Of course the composition would have to be adjusted since cropping in kind of killed some of the depth the piece had before, but at this point the basic "staging" is done. From now on it's just a matter of detailing it out till I can call it done.
Here's the image after some polishing. (Fig.13) The actual rendering process can seem quite dull even on a loose piece such as this one. I was pretty much moving all over the place, sampling colors and working on things in no particular order. But it's really nothing special, just the same old things I did during the block-in, only repeated on a finer scale. I'll do my best to sum up some key steps.
Simply raised the structure and added some minimum details. I indicated a path leading up to the building to add some interest. If you look closer at the waves at the bottom you can see I actually used the default maple leaf brush to mimic scattered waves, and went back in with a smudge tool to kill a few hard edges here and there. (Fig.13-a)
Toned down the killer wave. It still looks tall but at least not like some tsunami from hell. Other than that I simply laid down patches of textured shapes with a large brush on a layer and carved out the details with a small eraser. (as mentioned before) (Fig.13-b)
Further detailed out the main structure. Added windows and a flag, also threw in a soldier on the balcony to make it more interesting. Refined the building in the back, and popped that flying thing up there just for kicks. (Fig.13-c)
Made the booth larger so it looks like the guard can fit in there. The rest is pretty straight forward, just detail out the characters and the bike with a small brush. The chick's gotta have some insane strength to lift that cannon, but I actually like it that way. Who knows, maybe she's a cyborg. (Fig.13-d)
The painting was almost done. I gave it a once over just to clean up some minor areas that were still bugging me. Threw in a layer of smoke effect in front of the bike, adjusted the levels, sharpened it with filter, and the thing is finished. (Fig.14)
Of course there're always room for improvements and revisions, but for now the piece does what it needs to do. I hope some of you find this helpful. (assuming you can look pass my pitiful grammar) It was great to do something outside of work just for fun.