Speed paint a sci-fi Rover on Mars


This tutorial demonstrates how to create your own brush set, testing it and finally creating a fast phase 35-minute speed-painting about Mars with some tips along the way. Image is created in Photoshop, plus I will talk about the benefits of speed painting in general, with a little surprise at the end of the tutorial.

Creating a brush

As an artist, I’ve always been asked “What type of brush do you use in Photoshop?” or “What’s your brush?” Well this is a very common question, and to be honest I must say that brushwork or one particular brush isn’t changing anything, but it is the combination of tools and ideas that makes the artwork happening. Yes some brushes in certain techniques would make it easier and faster to approach a certain point, but remember that it’s not everything. So just to make it clear, the brush itself doesn’t make miracles happen. However I'm going to take a deep dive in to show you how to create a brush for yourself and develop it in Photoshop, as I mainly used one certain brush for this speed-painting.

As you can see in the image above, I have created an abstract form on the canvas. Once selected, go to: Edit/Define as Brush preset, then after saving it, it’s going to save your selection as brush at the top of your brush list. Don’t worry about the white area as it only captures the dark points, ignoring the white areas. In (C) I have managed to paint with the brush and I must say that it's not yet ready, so let's tweak it a bit!

Select your brush and then select Brush preset, (Windows/Brush Preset). Now, I want to use different presets to get different results. If I go into "Brush Tip" and change the Spacing to 0% I will get a smother brush. Also, turning Transfer on will add sensitivity to the brush, which is something that I want. Compare the two images above and see how these two items help to change the direction of your brush. Once I save this brush, I will go a bit further to create more brushes out of this single abstract brush…

Now for the final edit. In the same Brush preset window, I will go to the second bar which is called “Shape Dynamics”. In this section you can control the Size, Angle and Roundness. Playing with any of these would give you a new taste for your brush. At this point I put the Size and Angle Control on “Pen Pressure” – it will make your brush flipp around while applying pressure to the pen, which is a cool thing. Moving forward to the next section which is “Texture”, mixes your brush with a texture to reach a new brush type, in this case I would also put its Texture mode to “Hard Mix” which makes my brush a bit more Noisy. I like this as painting with it will leave some leftovers that makes it spongy, and I can get benefits from that effect! Now you can compare all three images with the same brush!

Take that brush for a spin

The thing you should know is that you may come across so many cool brushes, download them or create them yourself, but it's not like you can actually jump into painting and use them in the best way right away, you have to train yourself with those. You have to learn to use them in the best possible way to find your confidence or their perfect use; these are tools that are meant to be used in their proper places, so keep that in mind.

For that matter, I have tried to create some simple quick doodles using the same brush, just to get used to it, testing the sizes, and different modes and getting used to it. As you can see I also managed to export a nice sketching brush from it as it appears in the last doodle. So I put this brush to use to get familiar with its possibilities and the way it works, as I will get back to these types of doodles and how they can be so helpful for understanding the light, forms and composition in future tutorials.

Fire your engines

So as this is a 35-minutes speed-painting tutorial, it’s difficult to break it down to so many steps, but I’m going to share some thoughts about the whole process and the reason why I do speed paintings a lot, and how it can affect your overall working process along the way.

I consider a single phase painting to take around 30 minutes to 3 (or even 4) hours to finish and develop an illustration, a speed-painting. It’s difficult in the beginning, but once you get used to it and to developing ideas in that way, it will help you to manage your time. Which means you do more work, and more work means more mistakes and that means you can learn faster! And having this ability to reach a certain point in your painting that you can develop a scene within a few hours is just so sweet, especially if you’re a lazy guy like me! Now don’t get me wrong I do have works that take hours, days and even weeks to complete but for me, this is the best way to stay on track of being creative in between client work and life events!

So as I mentioned in the Intro, this piece is going to be about Mars. I’ve been watching NASA’s new Mars Rover 2020, so I had this idea to do a painting of some explorers on Mars and possibly a vehicle or Rover.

Also I had this doodle which is available in step two, the last doodle before the sketch one that features a composition suitable for this idea. It is helpful when you know what you’re about to make in a speed-painting. It just boosts you up to get right in the point.

Starting off with filling the background with Bucket, and easily starting to paint the first lines and forms, you can see how messy it is in the beginning, nothing that clean, just a free hand putting a few stains as figures and a Rover shape in between.

Shaping it up with patience

As I continue the previous step, I will try to separate the ground and the sky to make a clear vision for future steps. I’m still doing it freely with caution, as it appears below. Now I must say that being too cautious while you’re in a speed-painting session may seem contradicting, but let me explain.

We want to paint something fast, so we must lower the risk of doing mistakes, so taking the time and painting it slowly but in the right direction will buy us more time! And this is the point, you don’t want to get in the canvas and do things too fast, you have to focus. And it’s not like you can’t do anything wrong, I do too, I change things while I’m working, I keep developing it and painting over it but I have a control over it. Take your time, paint patiently

Working on the figures and Rover

In this step, I continue working on the Rover’s shape and the figures. As you can see in the image, I have changed the figures and given them a gesture with a few touches and brushstrokes, only to give enough information about the explorers. Having the figures in the painting can help, mainly for two reasons. First is that you can have a sense of scale and the second is that you can easily tell a story by having them. Both of these will affect your composition.

The painting process is so simple (and I must say that I’m not using the 100% white in this one) so it’s basically separated between three dark values, nothing similar to doodles in step two, which were using high contrast values.

Also I’ve changed the shape of the Rover. I have references from Mars Rover 2020, but I’m not going to make it look exactly like that, it just helps me to learn about its shape and forms. I'm not trying to design a vehicle here, I’m just trying to paint an illustration featuring a rover, so I won’t put so much time on it in terms of design. I tried to bring out its form and shape with a dark gray color on the black, as you can see in the image.

Applying details

In this step, I tried to take it a step forward from being a sketch, by working on both the ground Rover and the sky. I worked a bit more on the Rover’s body armor, using a lighter value  and painting those circle rings on the tires helps it a lot to understand the perspective.

I worked on the ground; overpainting it with the same brush from the beginning, and moving my hand back and forth in the same direction as my ground perspective to create a nice texture on the ground. I added a zoom crop of what’s going on in the ground. I didn’t use any photo-texture in this painting; it’s all being painted with a single brush that includes texture as I have shared the process in step one. So my brush is noisy and has some leftovers – I take advantage of those leftovers, fast switching between my colors with the same brush. I was able to create this kind of feeling, taking advantage of the accidents that happens in between. Also, I changed the position of the Rover and figures in the frame to reach a better composition, mainly with moving to the left side a bit more to not be right in the center!


This step is all about the colors. But before I get to that, I worked on my ground and the Rover, also adding some clouds in the sky exactly like I said in the previous step. In the image, you can see how I managed to take advantage of the leftovers from my brush, painting and erasing until I achieve the best shape!

Once I'm happy with my overall composition, it’s time to add colors. As I said in my earlier tutorials, there are so many ways to do this step. Some people start with colors from the beginning, some focus on the values because it’s much easier in black and white, I do both but mostly when it’s a speed painting, I prefer to go with black and white.

I'm going to add colors and it starts with Quick Adjustments. I flatten my image and quickly bring in some colors using the Color Balance. You can easily use 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 a first tone to the artwork. I also use the overlay layer modes and bring in the colors as it suits my needs. In this case I apply some orange to the overall overlay and some red to the shadows.

I must say that I want this piece to have a retro feeling, and let's say a much more graphical approach than painting something colorful, so that’s why its monochromic. I’m going to change the hue to red to bring out the Mars colors.

Adding more figures & narratives

In this step, I tried to work a bit more on the overall image. I added a bit of dark blue to the shadows. I also worked on the foreground and separated my ground from the sky, mostly using lasso to create those rock shapes and then painted over them to create the textures using the same brush and same technique that I’ve been using since the beginning.

Lastly, I added two more figures, just to add a little story to the whole thing. I thought it would be better to fit in some more figures, as if they are coming out of the Rover and each of them are doing a thing, two guys on the left checking something on the tablet, the one on the right guarding the area, someone on the top of the Rover trying to fix something! The other one using a camera to check the distance! As you can see these gestures are recognizable and they were deployed with a few brush strokes in overall! This is what I'm aiming for, to be able to create such information in a short amount of time!

Expanding the composition

At this point I did a quick tweak for the composition; it's a fast and easy way to change your main frame. As you can see in the image I've flattened my layer, and then I increased my frame simply by using the crop tool (using white color for my blank areas) so I could quickly select the blank areas using the Magic tool. Then I press delete and it will pop the "Fill" window up. Adjust it as you can see in the image. Put the Contents on “Content aware” and press Okay. Photoshop will do the rest! It fills the blank areas in a smart way using your own artwork's tones and textures, but it does have some deformed areas as well. However, it's easy to overpaint those areas quickly. Sometimes there are some side-effects that you may find useful to keep. Exactly as it appears in the image. I have also added some light source to the Rover itself.

I’ve painted the clouds in the sky and my ground in a way that everything goes toward that Rover which is the focal point (located in the 1/3 of the image). It's like everything helps my eyes to reach there (check out my brush strokes and horizontal lines). I have added a black and white version including composition analysis in yellow lines which shows how this works.

Final touches

I’m reaching the final moments for my painting, almost 35 minutes and 5 more minutes to do some last crop and final composition adjustment, the image is ready. The final image been rendered with a bit of sharpness and Brightness control. Well as you can see, taking the time in between the daily work and the client work to study or create a quick illustration is the best possible thing. You can gain more experience along the way.

It’s all about time and how to manage it, the most important thing in our lives. Managing time nowadays is getting harder than it was, at least for me! Being creative and staying on track for learning and developing new art as well as managing my time with my life events, wife and family, friends, hobbies, social networking, and client work is just not that easy, as it requires time management, and I’m not considering myself a person who can accomplish that, but I am trying to get there and stay on track. Becoming a speed-painter has helped me a lot in order to create faster and experience faster which leads to faster learning.

As for the surprise, in the end I was thinking to share the same brush that I created in the early steps. I exported all sort of versions of it in a single pack. As you can see in the sample strokes below, I hope you enjoy this tutorial.

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