Making Of 'The Turning Point'

Step 1: Concept and Inspiration

Sometimes when I sit down to do a painting I'll have been thinking about it for some time in my head about what I want the subject of the painting to be, what type of setting and lighting etc. However for this particular painting all I knew was I wanted to do a picture of a Mermaid. I start in my sketchbook working out a few pose ideas, VERY loose. At this point I don't even know what type of setting I'm doing, I'm just concentrating on the figure. I wasn't liking where this was going, so I took it even more basic and did some quick compositional thumbnails, from which I was able to select a general "mood" for the subject.

Step 2: Refining the Concept

Once I understand the general flow of the painting, I start to really concentrate on composition and the figure. I knew I wanted her to be situated on the floor, raising herself up on her arms, so here I work out the general look I'm going for. I decided on the sketch on the right. From a composition standpoint I knew I wanted something to the figures right back to complete the flow of the painting and bring the viewers eye back to the main subject, but at this point I was still unsure of what that was going to be.

Step 3: Final Drawing

Now that I have the concept and the pose nailed down I sit down and work out the final drawing. I decided on a kneeling man in a suit as the missing compositional element. Using reference material at this point is crucial to the outcome of your painting. I spent a couple of hours(at least) searching online for adequate reference material. Sometimes I'll shoot reference myself if I can't find what I'm looking for easily enough. I tend to work with actual pencil and paper at a pretty large size. This sketch was done on 11"x14" paper, but it wasn't large enough as I had to tape other sheets to it toward the bottom. I find drawing in the computer really limits me. I can't get nearly as good a line flow with a tablet as I can on a nice large sheet of paper. Here I started off rough with red pencil, then tightened everything with an HB lead..

Step 4: Color Sketch

I scanned the linear into Photoshop and made a lores copy of my file to do a color sketch with. I'm placing the mermaid in a dark aquarium so I chose the upper portion of the painting to be nice and dark with lots of blues for the water. At this point I just want to get a general feel for the color of the entire piece. I don't focus on details, just a concentrate on filling the "canvas" and getting my light sources defined.

Step 5: Painting Begins

Once I'm satisfied with the color sketch the real painting can begin. I take the sketch and scale it up to final resolution. I then go in and start tightening up the background. Just as in Oil Painting I find working through the background first helps to immerse your character (foreground) into the scene. Here I've defined the area for the Aquarium, as well as put in initial coloring for the reflective floor.

Step 6: Background and Line

I complete the background, adding fish and other details to the aquarium and putting down a floor tile perspective grid. I concentrate on cast and reflected light for the floor and also outline my figures in a warm brown. Once I get to this point I found a compositional element still missing from the painting. I added the standing man to the left to keep the viewer's eye in the composition.

Step 7: Figure Block-In

Finally I get to the most exciting part of the picture, the main figure. At this point I'm just blocking in color based on the color sketch I did in step 4.

Step 8: Blending

Once I have general color blocked in for the character I go back in and refine the picture by blending the colors together. I do this by sampling areas with the eyedropper tool and then overpainting with a soft edged brush with an opacity around 15-20%. I dislike the blending and blur tools, and prefer to "paint" this step as I would with a real brush.

Step 9: Continue Block-In

Here I've finished the figures in the background and before going in and working heavily on the face and torso I wanted to get the other background/foreground elements in the works. I add in a dark swatch of color for the splashed water and start putting in reflected shapes. I also throw color into the fish and add some cast warm lights to add contrast to the heavy darks/blues at the top.

Step 10: Detailing

Finally I get into put details into the face and torso. As this is the main focus of the painting I put a lot of time into this, often going back over an area 2 or 3 times to get it down right.

Step 11: Final

Once the face and torso are finished I go back and add in her hair. At this point I look over the entire picture for things that need tweaking. I beef up cast shadows, pay more attention to reflections and in general concentrate on making sure all the elements of the picture work well together... refining color, warming up or cooling down areas, etc. Getting too obsessed with detail at the expense of the rest of the painting is an easy trap to fall into. That's why the final step of the painting is so important. Don't be afraid to go back and take detail away from an area if need be.
Whew! That's it! Once everything is up to snuff, sign that sucker.

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