Paint a mechanized military scout vehicle
This tutorial demonstrates how to paint an illustration using Photoshop, and how to manage details and progress step by step to reach a final result.
Brushes / First touches
Before I start the painting I would like to show the most used brushes for this one. They are Chalky, Spongy, and texture-enabled brushes which I created or found and modified to fulfil my needs. I use these as brushes, Mixer brush, and Eraser to create this piece.
The reason I mentioned the Eraser is because I use it a lot while I’m creating textures. For example, I paint some certain areas and then erase with the same brush in order to create grass, fog, or even rusty parts for my mech, adding texturing over the artwork to give it an interesting look – this all comes from the same technique. A quick example is explained in the image below, so whenever I mention I create a texture, I’m referring to this technique.
It starts with a white canvas
Now for the painting itself, unlike most of the time when I usually make some quick thumbnails or quick composition directions in my sketchbook, I will start the whole thing as an exploration. I’m not sure about what I’m going do; I just have this idea to paint a spider mech. I’m just trying to have fun here and do something in a short amount of time, so I start my artwork with rough brushwork to create a scene.
I work on a grayscale tone, and focus on the overall shape and composition first, and add the color to it later. So to start, I paint a nice horizon for my work, like it’s a beautiful sunset or sunrise. Softly, I paint the sky and ground, leaving the center clean-white in order to reach this point for my composition.
I continue to paint the ground with the Lasso tool (which lets you draw freehand selections and only paint those parts that are selected) and then I try to paint the overall shape of my spider mech. Now this is not so clean; remember that I’m not painting based on a previously designed mech or line drawing to remind me. This is a very speedy progress; it’s all happening together. As I make progress to the whole artwork I’ll try to shape up the mech and fix its design. I apply the same level of details to every part. The mech layer is separated so I can modify or change the position in the future.
Following the last step, I move forward with repositioning the mech, and adding some figures to the frame to add a little more to the overall composition. Just some quick touches to create the overall shape – again it’s still in progress, I don’t get into the details too quickly. I’ll try to build up the painting, step by step, managing my details and forms.
Adjusting the mech size
Now I do two things in this step. First, I rescale my mech because I thought it would be a better perspective for the whole composition and the story I’m about to tell. I make it bigger and add a few more figures like they are scouting. Still with the same level of details, only a few touches here and there.
It’s good to mention that while I’m painting the whole thing I consider the light and values too. It’s pretty simpler and quicker while you’re working with greyscale tone in order to manage contrasts and values. I will tell you how this will affect the result of being faster when you reach the coloring step.
Lastly, before I move forward to the next step, I do one more change to the whole frame by rescaling the size of my entire frame and make it a bit wider to improve my base composition. One thing that I’ve already shared a thousand times is how Navigator helps you to track you’re overall composition in terms of the elements placements, colors, details, and so on.
Now let me give you an example. If a traditional painter wants to check his/her painting’s composition, they usually back-up from the canvas so they can see the whole piece together. This act will help them be aware of all necessary changes required to fix their painting. We don’t need to get far away from our monitors; we simple keep looking at the Navigator on Photoshop instead. So keep an eye for it because it’s really helpful for checking things up. I then increase the size of my canvas and select the left side of my image with the Selection tool, and simply stretch it.
In this step I add more details to my painting overall. I make the sky a bit darker to increase the contrasts, done quickly with the Gradient tool (used within Overlay mode). I add more details to the figures, painting their armor and fixing their gesture. I add a large figure to the foreground simply by copy and pasting from an old work that I painted before. It’s a technique that sometimes can save time for speed paintings. The guy was a good fit here in terms of lighting and perspective.
One thing to have in mind is the edges and how you introduce the forms and volumes to your viewers; I add some highlights to the edges of these soldier’s armor and helmets to shape their volume. With these little improvements you’ll see how it offers so much information to the frame.
First color pass
Following were I left off in the last step, I copy paste the two figures on the left and put them in other places too. After doing this I repaint over them to change their gestures and the way they move. I’m really obsessed with figure gestures. If you see my paintings and illustrations, even though they are so small in my frames or sometimes very simple, they all have a style or a gesture. The way they are standing, looking, or searching for something. I think it’s really helpful to add a human element to these figures even if they are simply standing there.
As you can see in the image above, the figures are there but in different sizes to create distance, and also to give us more information about the scale and size. The ones far away almost fade into the background, while the one in the middle have more contrast.
Now that I’m pretty happy with my frame it’s time to add the first pass of colors. I open a new layer and set its mode to “Overlay” to paint the colors. In the image below, the middle frame is actually what I painted in my normal layer. I have shared the normal layer so you’ll see what actually happened here. Now if I change the mode to Overlay and put the opacity on 20% the result will be the lower frame! If you want to get more info about Blending and layer modes, make sure you check my last tutorial.
Color correction / Early refinements
I continue working on my colors, to make them fit better with the same technique using blending options to paint over. More yellow to the highlights. More olive green for shadows. But overall additional details to the mech legs and head. Well, actually I keep adding details from now until I finish the painting so this way I have my frame under control. Lastly, I add more details to the ground.
Contrasts & textures
In this step I will work a bit more on contrasts and textures. Using the Overlay mode and creating textures with the same technique that I shared earlier. I paint details for the mech leg and head, shaping it’s volume. One thing to note is that I paint each side in the direction that they are; for example, if you see the head parts that go under, the brush directions are in the same direction of its form and shape. This is something that I keep doing till the end of tutorial. I’m not trying to add too much as this is a speed painting, but keeping these things in mind will help to quickly add information about direction and perspective of its form. I also make it look a bit rusty, adding a few wires here and there. More textures to the ground too. Lastly, it’s good to mention that I decrease the size of the soldiers in the far distance to fix my scale.
This step is all about refining, whether it’s composition or details. I have to make the whole piece come together and make it ready for the finalization phase. In this case I start to finish the foreground leg, working on its plates and body armor across the whole mech too. If you compare it to previous steps you’ll see how this mech evolved and became what it is right now, step by step, with overall progression.
Another major change is the scale of the scouts in order to achieve a better composition and scale. The one in the fore ground got a bit bigger and is now almost finished with the details and lighting on his head. The other scouts are the ones on the left side. There’s a bit more texture work all over the image, plus I add a few birds in the sky to make it more dramatic.
After a short break I get back to the painting again. For the final step, it is time for rendering, and what I mostly do in this last step is to do some last touches, a final wave of refinements and rendering. I increase the image size slightly and make it a bit wider again to make the right leg a bit taller.
I continue with brush work on the ground level, adding last details such as grass and highlights. A bit more work on the leg edges that connects to the ground; I try to blend them into ground like it becomes a part of it, mixed with all that grass and ground colors. Then more texture work in other areas as well. In terms of adjustments, I increase the saturation a bit, plus more contrast to the overall frame and it’s ready!