Making Of 'The Blue Dragon'

1. The Final Image

The final image, probably my first attempt in a long, long time to colour something in Photoshop, been too comfortable with Painter. I got too scared with Photoshop's brush setting and the way the colour mix in PS that I always stick with my Painter. Lately I see a lot of inspiration of awesome work done in Photoshop that still gave the stroke type feel that I try to achieve. So I thought to save this attempt step by step and maybe it could be some help to those that are struggling with Photoshop like me too because in the process of colouring this I learned a bunch of new things myself.

2. Line art

Here's the line art, I did some small brightness and contrast and other tweaks to make the line a bit darker and cleaner. One method I tend to use a lot instead of just purely brightness and contrast, is to duplicate the line art layer and set the top layer to multiply then merge the two layers (by linking it and Ctrl-E). The difference with this layer is that it'll darken all the lines (and the background) first before you tweak the brightness and contrast, which in a lot of cases will lose a lot of the little details that are drawn or scan lightly.

3. Basic Colours - Part 1

Now, usually in Painter, I start with a really dark colour and work towards light, a piece that's done dark to light usually looks different then a piece done light to dark, or a piece starting with mid tone. Working dark to light usually gives a darker mood while light to dark, or at least starting with mid tone, gives a cleaner brighter touch to it. Here I laid out the basic colours, keep in mind this is an experimental piece in PS so not meant to really tutorial, more like info sharing :) Usually I try to plan out some lighting before hand during the drawing stage (which the desire lighting NEVER comes out in my final ha ha but sometime it's closer) In this piece I wanted to break the piece with a blueish tone for the bottom part, and desert/yellow tone for the top, as well as a big dark contrast in the dragon vs the guy. I focused first one the dragon, and laid out a basic mid tone, highlights, shadows, and under light.

4. Basic Colours - Part 2

I added some more details into the water, as well as in the hobo, some tinge of red is to add more colours into the piece. At this point, I don't use much of the colour picker tool as of yet, and manually choose the colours so I lay out a bunch a clean colours. The colour picker used too early at this stage in a piece of work tends to make the piece dirty in my opinion, because you're working with too little colour and keep mixing and picking back and worth the same few colours + the grey in the line art. Added a darker shadow in the dragon, which comparing to previous start, it pops out the form of the dragon must more, and being in the foreground, the dragon would have more contrast. As the things get further away, the contrast's lower and I also used less saturated colours. At this point I had no idea how to do the water, etc and the colours for the hobo was strange, I was kind of frustrated, but I know, with all the pieces, if I keep pushing and trying, it usually turns out at least ok.

5. Tweaking - Dragon - Part 1

Here I noticed the wing didn't look right at the previous step, something didn't look natural with the anatomy or the wing's placed, so I changed the rendering of that. I also started cleaning up some of the unneeded colours on the highlight of the dragon. I tend to think of planes and blocks when I colour, breaking shapes down to distinct side and planes, not sure if it's the best way, but it works for me so far. This helps create distinct light and shadow separations. I find shadows often brings out a shape of an object better, and can makes a boring composition more interesting.

5. Tweaking - Dragon - Part 2

I was comfortable for now with the amount and intensity of the shadows of the dragon, so I start building up the highlights, you'll see I've added more details of brighter highlights to pop out the shape even more. I often brighten up the light area that are right next to shadows with small highlights, etc. Also added details to the head, in this piece for example, I added some red in the under light, just to make it a bit interesting, and I have no clue where the light comes from, oh well :) but under lighting helps me shape the shadow area of an object.

6. Tweaking - Dragon - Part 3

Continued to add highlights and details to the dragon, and slowly building on.

7. Tweaking - Hobo

Now this guy gave me a lot of trouble, maybe because I was working with blue for too long, I didn't know what to do with him, but I got rid of the bright red in his flesh, mainly because I didn't think it worked well in this situation. Usually I like to mix red and blue in flesh tone, but I felt the sun in this case was a bit intense to really let those funky colour show. Also tweaked up the colour and tree a little bit in this step and used the Dodge tool with a big soft edge brush for the water to give it a shinier touch, I feel in this step I got most of the colours set up correctly, at least best I could for now.

8. Colour Dodging

Used a big, big soft edged Dodge brush and highlighted some area of the background as well as little parts of Hobo's shoulder, etc and little part here and there. I Thought the colour of the sky was a bit muddy before, so brightened it with a lighter blue colour.

9. Background touch ups

The background before was big fat messy strokes, so I decided to clean it up a tiny bit and also play with a tiny particle type brush for some sand effects.

10. Painting over the lines - Part 1

Now this is probably the step that totally refines a piece for me, is painting over the lines and cleaning up colours. Depending how I work, I usually start painting over the lines once I got most of the colours I want approximately in the entire piece. Or sometimes I would do is bit by bit. In Photoshop, I learned to turn the line layer on and off to check if the colours I'm using is working, sometimes the line art and pencil marks on the line layer can distort colours making it dirty, etc but when in fact the colours are right. Painting over the lines doesn't really mean get rid of the lines and paint over them. But more like painting next to the lines and cleaning up the edges of colours, or removing unnecessarily lines, and for me usually that means line that are only draw for the sake of shape references, like muscle lines, etc, water, grass, or just rough sketches line, etc. I started working with the armpit area of the dragon (just random spot). For this stage, I would still choose new colours to make it more interesting. Usually it's really, really subtle changes in colours that I choose, if the shadow's purple, I'd choose a slightly lighter purple with a blue tinge to it..

11. Painting over the lines - Part 2

Basically same thing here, I just kept on refining areas, using the appropriate brush for different areas, in terms of size really, for big area, I try to not use too much tiny brushes, because I tend to be focus too much on small details and break the form of the piece. But being a perfectionist sometimes, I try to keep working on details, that I can't stand just leaving big brush strokes, but I'm slowly learning to make it work, even with bigger strokes.

12. Painting over the lines - Part 3

Cleaned up the grass and water, tried to do a experimental chunky style for the water. I added a rim of highlight to the front of the face cause I felt his head was getting a bit lost to the bushes. Also started refining the Hobo.

13. Painting over the lines - Part 4

Almost done, cleaned up most of the sketchy BG pencil lines and the colours looks clean in general

14. Small effects and touches

At the end of each pieces, I usually will do another small round of colour tweaks, usually I got to tweak a piece a LOT if I work with painter, and especially the dark to light method. This time in PS I actually got my colours more accurately. Here I added a slight screen layer for the sun at the top, and also a slight bluish screen layer (both with circular gradient) to the bottom, for some water glow. Also added a multiply layer with some small strokes to add some dirt stain on the Hobo's skin and clothing. Added some small particle spray to some area just for fun and personal touch. But basically, it's done woohoo. Hope it helps a bit!!

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