Speed paint a rocky outcrop


This tutorial demonstrates how to kickstart painting an idea on a blank canvas in a quick way, which you will see here is not a rendered illustration, it's a speed paint, which I often do between and before my projects. These speed paintings help me to get warmed up and practice my composition and technique, as well as my speed. I'm not trying to overtell any story here, but I do want to make an interesting composition, which is not that rough to be called a doodle or exploration, and not that highly detailed to be called a rendered illustration.

Filling the blank canvas

Start off by applying a simple sketch on the canvas. What you see in this sketch is not exactly final; it's only a guide and something to start with. So, it will change and evolve through the whole process. It is noteworthy to mention that I usually use 100dpi 3000px on the maximum pixels, and that's enough for the purpose of this speed painting. So, set the sketch on the Multiply layer mode and keep it up on top, then get rid of the white canvas using the Gradient tool, and apply some shades of gray to start with.

Applying values

As I continue, I start to apply some values to each side of the rock, just to get some information about the light and shadows, plus creating some more rocks using the Lasso tool. I use the Lasso tool a lot to create some simple shapes and add the lights and shadows in order to create the rock formation, as you can see in the second image below, I have explained how it works. You can freely draw any selection of shapes with the Lasso tool. Then use the Bucket tool to apply the Dark Value color (which is now black) and simply by putting the layer on "LOCK" mode you can start to paint on it and create the form that you want. It's the lighting that matters now, the way you apply your lights on the edges are what's forming the rock and gives you some information about its form and shape.

Using the Lasso tool

As I mentioned in the last step, I keep using the Lasso tool for creating shapes in this piece, and now it's time for the ground area. The same technique that I explained will be applied here as well. It's an easy way to quickly create some elements in your scene and it's not only limited to rocks, as you can use the same technique for creating characters, structures and so on, which I will do in the future steps. It's also good to mention that I still keep things in different layers, especially when using the lasso technique. I'm creating each form and element in a different layer so that I can have access to each, and apply my details. I also remove the Sketch guide layer in this step. The image below shows this process of lasso selection and applying the lights.

First round of details/avoid overthinking

It's worthy to note that I work on the whole piece at the same time, keeping up with the navigator to check the composition while flipping my image from time to time for some refreshments. Now that I feel like I have a good base to start, it is time to add the first wave of details, and by that I don't mean to take it too far but just increase the level of details for better understanding. So, I continue to add clouds in the horizon just to add more information to the place, and also to increase the contrasts and make it a better composition. I add more details to the rock and the ground area, and some highlights and shadows on the river as it appears below. As you can see these details are not applied accurately, I'm doing all of it freely and without any precision. The key is to avoid any overthinking in this process, try different things, feel free to change or replace your elements, this is the benefit of doing speed paintings. It's not like you are putting hours into one part of the rendering and then removing it, it's just a couple of minutes.

Adding new elements/use accidents

In this step I'm going to add new element to the scene just to increase the scale and make a better composition, which is a giant rock formation in the background. This is also done also with a quick Lasso tool selection and Gradient tool to fill it. It is still a good idea to have all the layers separated in these situations, as I'm not 100-percent sure of what I'm about to paint in the warmup sessions. In these moments, having the ability to add or remove anything from the background or in between of your elements is an amazing thing which is possible, if you have all your layers or at least your background, mid ground and foreground separated.

At least this way is the fastest way so you don't have to overpaint any part to remove your elements, as easy as a click on a layer and bam! It's gone... Now that I'm happy with the overall composition it's time to move forward with adding some details such as clouds in the sky, more rock textures using custom shapes and brushes on the new giant rock, plus adding fog between two of the rocks to separate them a bit. Some quick tips for creating the rock textures or clouds with your brush: one thing I do most of the time is to paint and erase with my chalky brushes or any texture brushes; by erasing it I will leave behind some remaining touches and textures which accidentally happened, so I take advantage and use those remaining as part of my painting! Look at the clouds, rock textures and the ground; you'll see what I mean.

Rescaling for better composition

Now I feel happy about my giant rock formation and the overall image, but I kind of feel like I need more room for breath in my composition, in order to add a few more elements to tell a story.

I'm going to increase my frame or canvas just to make it wider to improve my composition for further elements to add.

It's time for me to flatten my image, no more layers from this part, (it's not a must, but I feel like I'm happy with the background, so I flatten my image and reserve a copy from it). It's faster to do it with the Crop tool so I'm using it to increase the size of the canvas. The blank, white area is now a part of my frame and as it appears in the image (6B) I use the Selection tool (Command+T on MacOS / Control+T on Windows) to select my image, and then take it to the end of the blank area. If you do it too much, it will deform your image on one side, but it fills the blank area and you can start to overpaint there in order to fix the deformation, but it didn't happen in this case.

Adding Figures

This step will be divided into two sections. At first I'm going to add some figures to my artwork for two reasons, first to add a little story to it, and second to add some sense of scale and perspective to the whole artwork. As you can see, I've painted the shape of the characters on a separated layer with the exact same technique that I did for the rocks (using only the dark value to create the form). I put a Lock on their layers and I start to add a few strokes with my light value to make it stand out. I'm not trying to add too much detail on the characters. I have to manage the amount of details so that they will fit in my artwork. The way I painted the figures and added the light is a similar technique as you can see in the image below. I just added a few strokes to draw their shape and just added the light to the same shape, which is not a clean shape, but you can still recognize the figures.

Now for the next part I did something else to check my composition. There are times in painting that you will find yourself testing and exploring different paths to reach the best final result. I do that a lot, and in this case, I've added another giant rock to the back of my figures to see how the composition will work. The second image below shows the result. Well, I kind of like it, but I end up removing it just because I thought it would kill too much of my image, and I would still want that breathing room, plus the way I manage to paint the clouds in the sky and my ground is like everything goes toward that rock which is on the focal point (located on the 1/3 of my image). It's like everything helps my eyes to reach there and it gives that rock a characteristic purpose, and that's what I like. Even the figures here are not the focus; everything goes back to the rock as I manage to create a composition analysis to show you how it works. We have red horizontal lines going towards the spot versus vertical lines that goes up and brings balance to it. Composition is everything!

Color adjustments

Now that I'm happy with my composition and placement of the elements, I'm going to add colors which starts with Quick Adjustments. I flatten my image and quickly bring in some colors using the Color Balance. You can easily pick this feature by going to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance. With this tool you can adjust the color of your shadows, highlights, and mid-tones, separately, it's good to use it to bring the first tone to the artwork. I also use the overlay layer modes and bring the colors as it suits me. Well, I can't tell which color to use or what percentage of green to apply for the shadows, mainly because each artwork requires its own colors, so in this step you have to think of what you would want your image to represent; what color, is it fantasy or realistic, day or night or dusk?

Whatever you feel like you can try, play with the tools, it only requires a basic knowledge about colors and how to apply each beside each other, and the rest is your taste. I want it to be a fantasy sunset, so I use orange and green on most of the areas. I use the overlay and linear light layer modes, and change their opacity to get different results. So, it's more like a playground and I do this for most of the artwork that I do. You don't have to perform it in a specific sequence, just try different modes and adjustments to bring in the color of your taste.

As I mentioned before, knowing the colors and being familiar with how the composition works for colors are the main requirement here, so don't blindly use anything you find, you have to match these colors so they will fit right in with a good composition. Colors are playing an important role, they will catch the viewers' eyes. It's the direct contact, but they can also make people not want to look at something, or even hurt their eyes for lack of knowledge.

More details

Now that I've applied colors, I can judge my illustration a bit better. I make the whole image a bit desaturated using the Hue/Saturation adjustment (also available in Adjustments menu) just a bit to kill the shiny colors, that's all. I also work a bit on the ground characters and the whole artwork such as those white birds coming towards the main rock.

Finally, I finish this step by adding another giant rock on the back of the figures, but this time making it look further than what I tested in the previous step. I kind of think I need more vertical lines and also want to match it with the scale of the artwork, so I decide to make it smaller and far from our figures.

Final touches

I'm reaching the final moments of this painting, as I said in the intro, I'm not trying to over-tell here, it's not a rendered work and it's not right to keep working on something that is meant to be a speed painting warm-up. You have to learn to make a balance between the amount of details and your time to create something valuable in a short amount of time.

I do expand the canvas size again exactly as I did in the previous step, but this time when I transform the selected artwork edges I use the Distort option just to fit it right in the perspective that I want. This option gives you the ability to control each side of your selection and by changing each point; you can still try to expand your artwork in the same perspective direction.

Lastly, I use Hue/Saturation adjustments to shift the orange color to more of a yellow, and a bit of Color Dodge tool on certain areas such as the clouds, rock edges, and figures. The final image has been rendered with a bit of sharpness and noise effect.

Related links

Check out Amir Zand's website
Grab a copy of Master the Art of Speed Painting
Speed paint a sci-fi forest scene
Speed paint an abandoned factory
Speed paint a sci-fi watchtower
Developing quick sci-fi compositions in Photoshop

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