Narrative tutorial: paint a fiery landscape


What are the important elements from the text to focus on?

In this case the elements are not many. I focused a lot on the appearance of the planet (Mars) especially the lava river, and the nucleonic clouds. The subject is the shuttle, which will complete the overall vision of the scene.

What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?

The goal was to make clear the idea of the planet is about to explode, transmitting the heat and tension, but also the bravado of the pilot, especially through the colors and atmosphere.

Step 1: Getting reference

This is always my first step for work like this. Improving your visual library is the key for a good illustration. Reference helps you understand what you need to illustrate and gives precious hints for how to set the work.

Matteo Ascente sci-fi reference

Step 2: Thumbnails

Once you have your reference, you can start with the creative process. In this step I’m going to do some thumbnails, to have a first idea of the composition. There are different ways to do thumbs, but I can suggest you use only 3 values. Also in this step don’t care about details, just work on big shapes, we will add some details later.

Matteo Ascente thumbnail sketches

Step 3: Learn what you paint

This step can also be performed after collecting the references. We will experiment and better understand how to paint what we will illustrate. I personally try to reproduce what I see from the references, a bit like if I was doing a still life study. There will be no need to be too precise, the ultimate goal is not to make a copy but simply to understand the material.

Matteo Ascente painting photoshop fire

Step 4: Black and white painting

Now resume thumbnails and choose your favorite one. If necessary, increase the size of the canvas; don’t worry if the miniature loses quality, we will paint and fix it later on. As you can see from the image below, I used many images as black and white textures, working a lot with tonal values. Once amalgamated with painting, you should have a solid foundation for your artwork.

Matteo Ascente black and white painting

Step 5: Colors

There are several methods in choosing colors. In this case the choice was very simple. The only thing that could make me a little distressed was the color of the clouds. To apply the colors, I created a new layer with blend mode set to "Color". In my case I could also avoid being too precise and I worked on one level. My advice is still to do more levels of color.

Having done this I went to further adjust the tonal colors through Image > Adjustment > Levels and I also applied a color balance.

Matteo Ascente fiery landscape photoshop maya

Step 6: Fix the composition

It often happens that despite our best intentions, at some point we feel the need to fix some aspects that make our composition weak. In my case I went to retouch the left side and the right side of the painting quite aggressively. This step is more a kind of suggestion than a step we all need to. Do not be afraid to intervene invasively in your illustration. If something does not convince you, do not ignore it, but fix it, or it will end up ruining what you have done in the painting.