Making of 'Repair Shop'
In the following Making Of, I will describe the main tools and techniques employed to produce the painting "Repair Shop".
I am constantly trying to improve my workflow by experimenting with new techniques and approaches to a painting. Here, this was also the case. Usually, I start by painting with large textured brushes without having a clear idea of what I want to portray. During this process, forms start to emerge and from there I develop the image. However, in this case I tried to imagine in my head what I wanted to paint. I also wrote down several keywords to further assist this mental process. For this one some of the topics were: "future, mechanic, retro, under machine, crowded, dark, etc" (Fig.01).
The mental image I had was more or less what you can see in Fig.01: a black and white image mainly consisting of silhouettes. This concept was painted in Corel Painter and I started with a new 1500px high canvas. Using the Square Chalk brush and the Palette Knife I laid down large gestural brushstrokes on a white canvas. Two suggestions here:
Create your own Paper to interact with the Chalk brush; don't limit yourself to the default one because it's quite small and repetitive and instead create a large canvas with a lot of different textures (Fig.02 & Fig.03)
Change the default Angle behavior of the Palette Knife to Bearing as it will produce much more interesting brushstrokes
I added a new layer in Overlay mode and started introducing color. I used the chalk brush and a large airbrush. I tried to do this gradually in small amounts and at low opacities. This helped evaluate each step of the process. The idea to have a large soft glow in the back started to emerge. Instead of the character being in a small repair shop the setting shifted to a factory-like environment. I also introduced the focal point with the Glow brush. This could also have been achieved in Photoshop with a layer in Color Dodge mode. I used a dark saturated blue with a large soft tip. Gradually, I reduced the tip size until I focused on a small point. These glows can really make an image come to life (Fig.04).
I switched to Photoshop for color adjustments. I wasn't too happy about the color scheme so I introduced a red tint using the Color Balance filter. It's always a good idea to try to group areas together, be it through values, colors, detail, etc... Forms were gradually defined with smaller harder edged brushes. I would like to underline that during the whole painting process, I constantly changed between Painter and Photoshop. I love Painter for the vivid brushstrokes, full of texture and movement, but I also love Photoshop for its simplicity and control (Fig.05).
The scene now looked too red so I introduced a blue tinted gradient over the shadowed area in the foreground. I created a new layer in Overlay mode. With the Gradient Tool selected (bright blue color to transparent) I dragged it from the bottom to the middle of the canvas to keep the colors in the upper half intact. I then merged this new layer down. To give more depth to the image I used a simple technique: overlapping. It may sound ridiculous that I point this out, but this is a technique often overlooked. Sometimes we are more concerned with perspective and vanishing points, but overlapping elements is a great way to add depth. I also added some structures on top to better frame the subject and gave some hints as to what was happening in the back. I tried to keep these brushstrokes loose as this was not something that should draw too much attention (Fig.06).
I always test new solutions on new layers. This way I can easily turn them off, in order to evaluate if these additions improve the image or not. Sometimes, it's also a good idea to let the image rest for an hour or have a good night's sleep so you can look at it again with fresh eyes. If I approve of these new changes then I merge the layer down, otherwise I will delete it. You should try to explore new solutions and have fun with the process. The digital medium is the ideal tool for this as it is very forgiving. Don't get too attached to the painting or you will get stuck with mediocre solutions. Always try to improve. For example, I tested some rays of light coming from the back through the spaceship. I liked this at first but later on I understood that it drew too much attention and conflicted with the focal blue light (Fig.07).
Resize and Check
I resized the image to 5000px. On a new layer I drew some lines with the line tool to check for symmetry and perspective. I tend not to worry about perspective too early on as it may hamper the initial quick painting process. While it can be frustrating to find out that the perspective is quite off and have to correct it, this is usually quicker and easier than it looks and can be rewarding further on. Other changes to the painting at this point were the shift from magenta to orange and the introduction of a white protective piece of cloth to enclose the main character (Fig.08).
When detailing the mechanic I tried to imagine how the light would hit the character, which shadows it would cast, how indirect light would hit his back... I also tried to evaluate the level of reflection of the skin and cloth surfaces. A mechanical arm was added on top to add further depth. Finally, I changed the white cloth to a transparent plastic. Instead of white light coming from a hidden place, now there was the light in the background that was passing through the plastic resulting in a better integration of the elements (Fig.09).
Details and Contrast
In this phase I was focusing on adding small details like wires, tubes, tools, etc...things that would contrast with larger areas of low detail. I usually try to create contrasted areas in a painting so that the viewer has a dynamic perception of the image. Try to introduce contrasts and a subsequent balance between large soft areas and smaller defined details, dark/light, warm/cold, small/big, etc (Fig.10).
I hit the painting once more with the Color Balance filter. I picked colder hues for the shadows and warmer ones for the highlights. I love this filter as it harmonizes the color scheme and automatically adds contrast to the image. I also created a new layer in Color Dodge mode and with a large soft brush and a dark brown color I introduced glows from the lights in the back. Objects like the mechanical arms which form dark silhouettes against bright areas are excellent for these soft glows. I tried to keep them subtle, though (Fig.11).
Final Detail Pass
With a small brush I started zooming in on areas where I could add all kinds of details, like knobs, wires, highlights, batteries, wrinkles, lights, etc. Large shadowed areas are also a great place to introduce soft details. These details are not perceived right away, but they can be quite rewarding to the viewer upon closer inspection. I also introduced a separate layer for the down lights. Lighting effects like glows and volume lights always add interest, but try to keep them low profile as they shouldn't detract from the main subject and light sources (Fig.12).
Finally I added my signature and applied a Smart Sharpen filter. Sharpening should take into account what the final resolution of the image is going to be. Since this one was created mainly for web display, I resized it to the desired resolution and reapplied the Smart Sharpen filter to bring out the details and brushstrokes at this final resolution. Don't underestimate this pass as it can make a big difference (Fig.12).
To see more by Andreas Rocha, check out Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection