Speed paint an abandoned factory

Freelance illustrator and concept artist Amir Zand gives us an in-depth look into his speed painting process for a sci-fi abandoned factory...

In this speed painting tutorial I will show you how I create an art piece quickly using custom brushes, shapes and managing the workspace to create my image with a fast process. This painting took an hour to be created and an extra 30 minutes to extract a better composition and to add some final touches.

Before I get into the tutorial, there are unlimited ways to do so but you have to find your solution during the work and adapt to them so you become quicker and more confident with your tool - it just requires more work and more practice. I generally do my paintings in two ways. Most of the time I start painting in color and develop the idea throughout the painting process, and the other way is to work in a grayscale tone focusing on the values and the whole composition, and then adding the color which is what I'm going to do in this painting.


Before getting into Canvas, let's talk about the workspace and your Toolkit. It's important to have all your tools handy ready when you're about to do a speed painting, Working with Brushes, shapes, Layers and adjustments in the right place, it is time now for brushes. I mainly use 4-5 brushes within a painting process. Brushes and the way you use them are playing a big part in this process, so I'm going to show you what brushes I mostly use and how to create one. But 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 find those brushes and learn to use them in the best possible way.

So as you can see I have created an abstract form on the canvas and after selecting the whole canvas, I turned it into a Brush. It goes like this Edit/Define as Brush preset, then after saving it, it is going to be on the top in your brush section. It's not yet ready so let's tweak it a bit! So select your brush and then select Brush preset, (Windows/Brush Preset). Now, I want to use different presets to get a different result. If I get into "Brush Tip" and use a 4% Spacing I will get a solid brush. Adding transfer and shape dynamic will add sensitivity to the brush and lastly applying "Color Dynamics" will give it a nice texture, mixing your first and secondary color which is black and white here.

Creating Custom Shapes

Same as brushes, it's really important to have some useful shapes around you so you can quickly shape up your artwork during a speed painting. In order to create shapes, you have to gather references first, you can use your photographs or already painted scenes to extract a new shape for your workflow. Now I'm using a picture from CGtextures.com and trying to create a shape based on it, as you can see in the image, from left to right, I've used my photo and applied a black and white effect, and on the third part I used Level adjustments to create a high contrast between dark and light. Now I can easily separate the black area using the selection tool, or simply using Color Range from the "Select" Menu. After that, cut the black area and paste it, and apply a Cutout Filter from the "Filter" Menu to make it a bit smoother. Now from the Edit menu use "Define as shape" and your shape is ready! You can also define it as a brush and use it as brush too - it's really your choice, but use them wisely!

Starting off!

Now I already know the story of my image. It's going to be night time, maybe post-apocalypse, with bandits or survivors coming back to the camp from a long day. It's going to be in landscape, with the character looking at an abandoned factory.

Now when I hit the canvas I basically do a very fast sketch just to know my overall composition. Take it easy here, these are the guidelines for me, so we are not really trying to sketch something out of it or make a nice drawing! It's more of a doodle if I can tell. Just a few quick lines here and there show the character position, which is in the foreground, and the mid-ground which is a river and lastly the background.

Adding value

Now that I have my guidelines, I put it on top with a "Multiply" layer mode so I have those lines while I'm working. I start adding the values very loosely with my brush, just separating each part from others using the grayscale tone, which is basically a mid-gray and a dark-gray! It usually works like this; the foreground is the darkest, then you have this mid-gray on the mid-ground, and then it gets lighter in the background. But I'm planning for a different type of value composition here, my landscape is not that large. I'm planning to create a high-contrast, dark night, separating the grounds with fog, and as you can see the character is actually near the camp - there's only the river which separates them.

Keeping up

As I move forward with my artwork I want to start developing the value scale. So as you can see in the (image Step5) I've manage to add more value to my whole composition by separating the ground with a light gray tone which is where I will add the lights later on, now we have a dark tone, mid tone and a light tone within my illustration, its better to mention that I keep working on my image as whole, so I'm not really focus on one area, I keep working on the whole artwork at the same time and I'm also using a 80% zoom mode, I won't zoom into the image, This helps me to see the whole process and keep controlling the amount of details I'm adding here and there. Also I'm using the selection tool to create some shapes quickly and apply the color on the river,

Shaping up

I'm using shapes at this stage, to add some nice textures to the river. I'm using my shapes and brushes on alpha mode so I can use the gradient tool to apply quick tone to my shapes. As you can see I applied more details too, the factory base and trees on its right side start to give some nice details to the whole artwork, but it's messy. When I'm doing the painting's fast phase, it is always the same process from start to finish - there won't be much rendering and detailing such as other paintings, it's speed painting for a reason. You don't need a lot of details, you just need to explain things in your image to have your story come out. I keep adding details, strokes, and touches to create a nice overall texture.

Adding reflection

Now its a tricky step to add reflection on the river side, now it really depends on your layers, its always better to keep your foreground, mid ground and back ground in a separate layers. Its easy to tweak and add things in between. Now what I do in image (step7) is to create a copy of top area of my artwork. Its easy with a (Command+shift+C) and quick paste to have it all there. Now I flip my image vertically on the bottom side, then I try to lower the opacity a bit and erase some part of it with custom shapes and brushes to make it perfectly fit the river as reflection.


Having good composition is important, in fact it's the most important thing in creating artwork. Composition can affect your artwork in so many ways, it's how your image communicates with viewer, how it tells its story. Being able to control values and contrasts in your painting is one of the fundamentals that helps you improve your composition!

Navigator plays a big part in understanding the overall composition and to see how my values and details are working out. It helps a lot to know if my elements are applied correctly, or if I have to add anything to improve it.

Now on this step I knew that I have too much dark areas, and I need to start separating my foreground from the mid-ground and background, so started adding fog. I applied a motion blur effect onto them. I also did the same thing with the reflection to make it more reflective. You can see how effective these changes are to create a better composition for me.

Bring the colors in

I've almost reached one hour now, and I'm happy with my values, so it's time to bring in some colors and shape up the atmosphere. In this case I use several Layer modes and adjustment levels. To begin, I create a new layer on Overlay mode, which helps to bring in color tone in a fast and easy way. The only important thing is that I keep my tone at mid-gray since in this layer mode you can easily ruin the values by adding too much light or darkness. I also keep the layer's opacity low.

When it comes to Adjustments, go to Image > Adjustments > Color balance: now you have control of your shadows, mid-tones and highlights. It's a useful way to balance the colors in a black-and-white speed painting, as you see in the image above you can make the shadows bluer, make the mid-tone greener and the highlights more yellow/red.

I've added a progress image which shows how this black-and-white image is transformed into color. I've also added a screenshot of all my color layers at this point: you can see that used Overlay/Color Dodge/Color Balance, and Hue/Saturation (which is good to change the overall color tone). The whole process at this stage takes almost 5-10 minutes at the most, and it's better to know already what color tone you want to add.


At this point I did a quick tweak over the composition; it's a fast and easy way to change your main frame. As you can see in the image I've managed to flatten 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. Adjust the content and be aware of scaling 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. I've added another character to improve the story, adding some final details and color corrections and lastly my signature. Now the image is ready!

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