Paint a pair of friendly Halloween pumpkins


Bringing colors and values together in a painting can be a challenge. It seems like you have two options: either start from black-and-white and create a painting with fantastic values and a dramatic lighting, or you start from a colored sketch and end up with vibrant colors, but less control over the values. A good Halloween illustration needs both vibrant colors and a spooky atmosphere, so this seems to be the perfect time to see if we can find a process that achieves both. In this tutorial, we will start with a black-and-white composition, and then use gradient maps in order to add our colors.

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Our final illustration capturing the spooky and yet colorful spirit of Halloween

Drawing a sketch

Last time we started from a 3D model, this time we are going to use the traditional approach and create a drawing. As you can see I took some time and refined my drawing, but I kept in some of the construction lines in order to let you in on my thought process. Although my pumpkin is simply round and I don‘t apply any strong stylizations, I take my time to understand its shape.

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The refined sketch, still showing a few of my construction lines

Planning the mood

If you know my tutorials, you know that I seldom rely on happy accidents. What fascinates me the most about creating art is to have an idea of what I want to create and then to create it. So before I continue at this point I take a moment and think about what I want to tell with my image: I want to create an overall atmosphere but I also want to create a sense of intimacy between the two pumpkins, almost as if there is something they share that‘s only for them. And so I want to place soft light sources around them, leaving a place of shadow in the center in which the only light sources are the pumpkins’ facial features.

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Before adding your shadows think about what story your illustration tries to tell

Adding the first light source

In order to be able to control each light source separately I paint each light on a separate layer. From looking at my previous sketch I know that one of my lights will have to come from behind. We will later use the moon as an excuse for it. For now I use bright white which I will set to a lower opacity once I‘m done. Once you are happy with the result, merge it down onto a layer that is filled with black and set it to Screen. We will later use the black-and-white information to control our gradient map.

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Creating our first light, later the moon will be an excuse for it

Adding the candle light

Repeat the same step but this time paint the light for the candles. Since there are also candles inside the pumpkins, I use the same layer for creating the light coming from their facial features.  Again you can use a strong white, merge it onto a black layer, and reduce the opacity until you are happy. We will still be able to adjust things later. And because every light is on a separate layer we will have an easy time to get our perfect light set-up.

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Ambient Occlusion

I don‘t think it is always necessary to create an Ambient Occlusion layer as you can always darken certain areas while you do your final painting, but it is just a very rewarding step and adds plasticity to your image already in the early process. Again use a separate layer so you are able to adjust its opacity, and keep in mind that the Ambient Occlusion layer goes underneath the light passes. At this point I turn off my sketch as the Ambient Occlusion takes the place of a line drawing.

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Painting the Ambient Occlusion is not always necessary but adds plasticity in the early process

Creating a background

Knowing that I want to create a night scene, I fill the whole background with a dark grey before adding the soft moon light in the center. I paint my spooky trees on separate layers so I can fill their shapes and move them around until I am satisfied. If you work in a production pipeline this is the perfect moment to send a preview to your art director and show your progress, as it already gives a good impression of what the illustration will look like.

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Painting my trees on separate layers lets me move them around until I am happy with my composition

Adding colors to the background

It‘s time for our first gradient map. I merge the background onto one layer, create a new gradient map and pick my colors in order to get a nice transition from the dark blue of the night to a bright green moonlight. Then I duplicate the gradient map and set it to color. This allows me to adjust values and colors separately and modify their opacity until I have a beautiful atmosphere. In this case I ended up with 30% opacity for the one set to Normal, and 100% for the one set to Color. Then I pick my brush and paint in some purple strokes and a few other details in order to create some color variance. I want to keep the viewer‘s attention to the foreground so I complete this step by applying a Gaussian Blur and then a Dry Brush Strokes effect from the filter Gallery.

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Our first gradient map helps us to create an interesting background.

What we do in the shadows

Before we continue, let‘s think about what we have so far. We defined our background, and we have our light layers we can use to shine light on our surfaces. What we are missing now is how our objects look before the direct light affects them. Fill the elements in their material color first and then use a multiply layer filled with a blue picked from the background. Then lighten up the top of the candles as they are translucent and going to be illuminated by their flames.

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Pick the colors for your materials and imagine how they will look without direct light affecting them

Adding color to our candlelight

Now this is going to be an exciting and important step. We create a new gradient map, give it a transition from red to orange, and add it as a clipping mask to our candlelight layer. While the candlelight itself is set to screen the gradient map is set to color. There will be some adjustment necessary depending on how bright you painted your light. Take your time and tweak it until you have nice orange glow.

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Our second gradient map will only affect the light that emitted from our candles

Adding color to our moonlight

We repeat the same step again but this time we use a gradient from blue to turquoise. I added my gradient as a reference so you can see what I used. Or feel free to inspect the accompanied PSD.

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This time set your gradient to match the moon‘s cool light

Paint details

We did the heavy work and laid down all the colors we need in order to paint our piece. Equip yourself with the color picker and your favorite brush and enjoy painting the details. As you probably notice I added an overlay layer in order to create some extra glow to the facial areas of the pumpkin. We will look at the candles in the next final step.

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Pick your favorite brush and paint the details

Render the candles

In order to create a candle that looks believable there are a few things to keep in mind. First, notice how the flame is very bright and only at the top and the bottom fades into a transparent yellow. Second, look at how the border of its shape is actually quite sharp in most places, and only on the outside there is a soft glow.  I added a reference image from one of my previous paintings in order to show you a close-up of how a flame looks. Third, pick a color that is comparably warm to the rest in order to create the subsurface scattering effect of the candle. Once you are happy with the candle, play with some extra effects or add some grass, as I did, to the foreground in order to add some final touch-ups. Happy Halloween!

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Look for references and paint the candles in a final step

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