Speed paint a sci-fi watchtower

Learn to speed paint a sci-fi watchtower in Photoshop with Amir Zand, utilizing the Smudge tool and the Gradient tool for quick painting!

This time I will share a new tool that will help you to quickly kickstart your painting and creating thumbnails and complex objects, adding colors and textures and the whole painting process.

Quick thumbnails

Similar to my last tutorial, I will start doodling and create some quick thumbnails in my sketchbook. I'm not trying to define exactly what I want but these quick thumbnails will give me an overall idea of what I have to do. I'm not really trying to spend so much time on these sketches, and I don't really care if they are messy or not that clean, these are valuable because they contain information like composition, values and so on. And that's what I really want to achieve from them.


Now before I start this painting I'm going to share a new way to quickly start a painting using the "Smudge Tool." This technique is really handy in the speed painting process and it's extremely fast and practical.

All you need to do is make the Smudge tool strength 100% and start moving your image or your brush! As you can see in the first image below, I paint a sample shape and set it as my brush, then choose the same brush from my "Smudge tool" and use it to move it around. I also make some quick digital thumbnails with the same brush and technique - it's a very fast and effective technique.

Blank page

Now that I have some quick thoughts about my composition it's time to start my illustration, filling the blank page using the "Gradient Tool" and using my "Smudge Tool" to quickly paint my tower. I'm working on a grayscale tone, focusing on the whole composition first and adding the color to it later on.

Shaping up the composition

In a speed painting process, I will always use my in-painting assets. It's not like every element of my painting is actually being painted and doesn't mean that they are coming from an outsource too! I already painted my tower shape so it's a smart move to copy-paste it and scale it quickly to shape up my composition the way I want it. This is something that I always do during the speed painting process. I quickly paint the mountains using "Lasso Tool" and a quick "Gradient," and work a bit more on the front tower. Also, as you can see, I keep moving forward not focusing too much on a single part, but focus on the overall composition. It's something that I already said but it's always worth mentioning.

Details and color

In this step I will add some more details to the sky and ground, as well as adding a figure on the front tower just to check the scale, and lastly using the same smudge tool technique to fill my mountain in the background. It's good to mention that I kept all my layers separate until now, so I have the background, mid-ground and foreground separated, and it's easy for me to switch between them to add details.

It's time to add the very first colors and tones quickly using gradient to fill my page in a separate layer, before putting that layer on "Overlay Mode.' As you can see from the result in the image below, I've managed to bring some green tone to the overall painting.

Shifting the color mood

Now I would use the "Color Balance" feature from the Adjustments menu. With this adjustment you can quickly add a tone. You have control of your shadows/mid-tones and highlights. I'm going to make the shadows greener and add more yellow to the light. The result can be seen below. Meanwhile I will re-scale my figure and add some details to the front tower.

Now I still need to work on my tone to make it final and set my image mood to a high contrast sunset. You know maybe a time that the guard shift will change and they will call it a day! In order to do that I would create a layer on top of my image and put it on "Overlay" mode (like step 5) using the gradient tool or soft circle brushes. You can easily bring in your secondary tone to mix it up and reach a new composition with colors.

Adding textures & details

Now that I have some warmth and atmospheric lights over my painting and my base artwork,
it's time to add some texture, add some lights, and quickly fill the sky. What I'm going to do now is to use some photos to extract the city lights out of them. You can basically use your own photos or find some from cgtextures.com.

I took some wide city landscapes. I'm not going to use the photos directly in my painting. I only need the lights and its atmosphere. Also make sure that you use the photos with one-point perspective in front view. After adding the textures, I will put their layer mode to "Color Dodge" which is going to bring up all the light part of your textures which is the city lights.

You can also change the imported image contrast as well: the darker it becomes the better it looks. We only need those window lights! As you can see, I have separated the process into 3 images: (A) is my current painting, (B) shows how I fit my textures in the painting in Normal layer mode, and (C) is the final result when I put the layer on "Color Dodge" mode. I've managed to add a few more details to the towers, adding secondary figure and so on.

Expanding the composition

It often happens that I feel like I want to add more elements and for that purpose I have to expand my painting frame to achieve a better composition for the new elements. In this case I've managed to flatten my layer and then I increase my frame simply by using the crop tool (the red color shows the blank areas). Now I can quickly select the blank areas using the Magic tool, then press delete and it will pop the "Fill" window up!

Exactly as you can see in the image below, adjust the content aware scaling and press ok. Photoshop fills the blank areas in a smart way using your own artwork's surface tones and textures, but it does have some deformed areas as well. However, it's easy to overpaint those areas in a quick way. Sometimes there are some side-effects that you may find useful to keep.


In this step, I will quickly overpaint some areas that got deformed due to expanding the frame, and do some refinements on the mountain edges to make it a bit more natural rather than a simple shape. It's good to mention that I frequently use the Lasso tool for creating my shapes such as mountain and rocks. Lastly, I will add some shapes using my shape technique, to quickly add some custom shape environment in the foreground, and prepare it for the final set of elements. (Creating Shapes instruction is available in the "Abandoned Factory" Tutorial published November 17).

Final touches/rendering

Now for the final step. I add the last set of elements and finalize the foreground and the overall composition. Edit things like making the guards a bit smaller, adding the guard on the left tower and another in the foreground alongside more towers in the distance, just to get a better sense of depth in my composition.

Lastly, I want to mention that I keep my zoom at 100% and just keep track of my overall painting. And also I keep flipping my image horizontally during the painting process to refresh my eyes, to see it from a new perspective, and to fix the parts that need corrections. The final image been rendered with a bit of sharpness and noise effect, and the artwork took 2-and-a-half hours to finish, with almost an hour on the step 9 and 10.



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