Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cascade step 10

Step 10: Finished!

Sorry for the long absence.  Life has been crazy with waves of work and preparations for IlluXCon.  I had my first real booth at any convention there this year and it was an absolute blast!  After a year's worth of work I was finally able to unveil the finished painting :)

I did mean to post more WiPs as I progressed with oils... but... well...

Doing the acrylic underpainting as detailed as I had was probably unnecessary, as I ended up covering up most of what was there pretty entirely by the end.  Especially in the sky, which, as you can imagine, did not turn the color I needed through simple glazings.  Lessons for next time... leave the sky alone until oils if the color difference is so stark or use ultramarine instead of umber for those portions.

Glazing was much more successful in the lower, warmer areas of the background although the only parts where the acrylic really shows through now is in the rocks, island masses, and highlighted portions of the waterfalls.

Between scumbling, glazing, and varying amounts of opaque paint there are dozens and dozens of layers over the whole thing.  I'm a big fan of Winsor Newton's fast-drying oils, generally using just linseed oil to thin them out when needed.  They're dry (or at least enough to work over) within a few hours.  For me that's more valuable than painting wet into wet, but it does mean repainting anything that doesn't come out right.  This made doing the clouds especially difficult, but considering they are my favorite subject matter to paint I was okay doing it again and again.

In all this was a HUGE learning experience.  It gave me the opportunity to try a lot of new things and I feel a lot more confident in approaching future paintings.  It's become a pretty personal piece as a result and I'm quite pleased with the finish.  Enough so that it's hanging over my TV :)

Thanks to everyone who helped along the way offering criticisms, suggestions, compliments, and encouragements.  There are too many to name, but I truly appreciate your continued support!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cascade step 09

Step 09: Acrylics complete

It's been awhile...  After a fairly lazy summer work came back in full-swing with September.  Anyways, here's an update!

Above is the finished underpainting.  It's not perfect, but it's close enough that I feel confident moving into oils (and color) at this point.  In general I tend to get dark really fast when painting, so a big challenge with this was keep everything light enough for glazing over the top later.  That bottom-right corner came out darker than I would have liked though.  Also, please forgive the distorted photo, it's pretty wonky in places.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cascade step 08

Step 08:  Acrylics WIP

Not a whole lot to say here...  The plan is to lay out the values in raw umber and white acrylics and finish primarily through oil glazes.  The benefit to acrylics here (for me anyways) is that they dry so fast.  I can keep repainting areas until they look the way I want and since there are only two colors at this point all I need to worry about is value.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cascade step 07

Step 07:  Drawing

It's finally time to take it to the canvas!  Or in this case... gessoed masonite.

Being the extraordinarily inefficient mess that I am, I decided to grid off my board (36x24 inches) and redraw the entire thing by sight rather than finding a way of just tracing/transferring my digital rough.

In truth, there were some areas of the dragon and rocks that I had been planning to redraw the whole time, so for the moment that approach seemed to make sense.  Was it worth it in the end..?  Eh, probably not; but after redrawing the head and feet 80 times each I did manage to end up with a drawing I was pleased with.

Please forgive the crappy photo:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cascade step 06

Step 06: Lighting a model

If my dragon was instead a dude with a sword, or a woman on a bench, then this would be the time to hire a model and take some pictures, right?  That's a little harder with mythical creatures, so the next best thing is building a model.  I don't usually work this way, but was inspired by some of many great artists who do (James Gurney for instance).

In the images below, the model is about 15 inches long from nose to tail stub.  It's made out of plasticine, and mounted on a wire armature attached to some pipe plumbing.  I modeled him out only from the view required, so from any other angle it's just a deformed lump of clay.  And that's good enough.  On to the lighting!

This guy is out in the open air (in my illustration), with means there's ambient light from a dozen different angles, plus the intense sunlight coming in from the left.  To get all the shadows, highlights, and rim-lights in the right position, I set up a tripod and took about 8 different shots, each with lighting from a different angle that I needed.  (I only posted 3, but you get the idea.)  I don't have 8 lights, nor the patience to get them all working right simultaneously, so I shot them individually and would stitch them together later in Photoshop.

This was the end result.  It's not perfect, but the process gave me a much better understanding of the dragon's form and a great reference for painting later that will hopefully lead to fewer mistakes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cascade step 05

Step 5: Color studies

In general, if your image works in grayscale, it should have no problem working in color.  I was pretty happy with the black and white version, but getting a palette I'm happy with usually takes a few tries, so I wanted to do a few quick tests first.

These were basically done with 'Overlay' and 'Color' layers on top on the image, with some Adjustment Layers here and there.  I wanted the Sun to be low, not quite sunset, but getting there, and the colors needed to reflect that.  There were things I liked about each of them, and in the end I came up with a concoction of all 3.

As I got into it, the image became darker overall and I reworked part of the sky into something that felt more appropriate.  Now I had a much better idea of the lighting which would help for building a model in the next step.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cascade step 04

Step 4: Anatomy

And now we're back to that first image I posted, the final roughed out grayscale.

Between this and step 3 I had actually gone to plain old pencil and paper for awhile and laid out the basic anatomy for the head, body, and wings.  I'm not sure where that drawing is right now or I'd put it up...

Now that I knew I wanted my dragon to have a cetacean-like appearance it was time to nail down the anatomy.  Getting there took a long time and a lot of reference.  One great book for looking at animals is:

I was picking through cats, dogs, bats, birds, bears, whales, dolphins, sharks and all kinds of things trying to figure out a musculature that made sense and looked plausible.  I was also looking at artists who do great dragons...  Lars Grant-West had recently finished a beautiful painting called Autumn Dragon, and I studied closely how he fit the legs, wing and tail into the body.  The anatomy looks so real to me and is definitely the direction that I want to be going with my own painting.

Todd Lockwood also has a wonderful diagram specifically on dragon musculature that looks like something straight out of a anatomy book.  It can be found here, and I would highly recommend buying a print from him:

Th big difference between their's and mine however is probably the 4 limbs.  Traditionally (at least in western culture) it seems that most dragons have 2 front legs, 2 hind legs, and 2 wings, and that's fine.  But it's something that's never sat well with me personally.  Mammals, reptiles, and amphibians all have 4 limbs and I don't see why a dragon should be any different.

Some common things that I do try to imitate are a thick, powerful neck and strong jaws to power a big head and bite, and large chest muscles to provide enough strength to the wings for actually lifting off the ground.

As for the cetacean elements, the head is still reptilian, but it's shaped something like a humpback and has the false eyepatch of an orca.  The dorsal fin and big long back muscles are reminiscent of dolphins, and finally many of the skin details (bumps along the wings, barnacle-like chin tendrils) are similar to whales.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Leaf Brush

I got a few questions about this, and it seemed like something worth writing about... so here it is.  My newest (usable) leaf brush:

I did most of the foliage in the image from the previous post using this.  It's fairly simple in terms of dynamics with just a flip X and some slight size change.  A little Angle and Color jitter might not be a bad thing here, but I let those be for now.  I would attach the brush itself, but I believe very strongly in designing your own brushes, even if it means copying one you like as closely as possible.  It's a good learning experience and helps in remembering what brushes are at your disposal without having to take the time and go look through a list (at least for me it).

Should someone choose to make a brush like this, I would note that there are no 'leaf' shapes here, only hard-edged blobs.  This makes it look more realistic in your image, and more versatile for painting things that aren't leaves.  Maybe a rock texture.  For this type of thing I would also argue that it's important to keep the brush image dark, and to leave opacity at maximum to avoid any weird, and very digital looking transparent leaves.

Let me know if you guys have any more brush questions and I'll do my best to answer them.  :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Forest 01

Taking a break from the step-by-step today to post a forest study I've been working on.

Anyone that takes a look through my portfolio can tell I prefer to be designing environments.  But truth be told, foliage is something that's always given me some trouble, especially when it's something like an interior forest scene.  Which is why I wanted to do this (and hopefully some more) as practice.

To me, texture is key for getting a forest to look right, but compositionally it's a lot different than say, a mountain scene, too.  You don't get the same negative space to play with, because there are trees everywhere.  Color also presents some interesting challenges because there's so much green, making it more difficult for individual elements to pop.

For this I used a lot of hard-edged, opaque brushes and made quite a few new leaf brushes.  Usually it takes a few tries to get a brush I'm happy with, and it takes much longer to build a collection of them.  All the more reason to do some more of these!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cascade step 03

Step 3:  A new approach

Remember all that stuff in the previous post about how despite looking so different from the thumbnail, the dragon fit with my composition in essentially the same way?  Well...  that was all true, but I decided to go in a different direction.

Obviously a lot of big changes, but I was excited about them because some of the concepts were starting to come full circle in my head.  Each iteration is always going to be informed by all the work done beforehand, so don't be afraid to sacrifice something you've worked on if your goal is to make the final product the best it can be.  In many cases it's at least worth trying something different to see things a another way and confirm that you are in fact on the right track.

Basically I decided that I wanted this painting to be more about the dragon and not just a mouth attacking the viewer.  To accomplish that he needed to be at a different angle to see his body in a more descriptive way and get a good view of how he's put together.  At the same time, I was thinking about how he actually fit into the landscape.  Why does he live here?  Why is this place suited to his anatomy?

What if his design was based off whales and dolphins, and he had the ability to dive underwater..?  That immediately gave me some ideas for a better direction to go in (and a unique style of dragon) so I started reforming his body to feel like it could function in water.  I still liked the wing cutting across the page, and the long tail so I kept those elements and pivoted him around to a nearly profile view.

You may also notice I flipped the background again, and zoomed it out even further.  This is a common tendency with me and one of the reasons I was happy to be doing these steps in photoshop...  I also began making one of the rock towers more architectural, backed by the idea that my dragon here was the guardian of something hidden inside.  ( Adding simple narrative elements are always a good idea and get me thinking about a piece on a much deeper level.)

As for color, adding it was out of curiosity more than anything.  I'll be getting rid of it in the next step, but I had wanted to start thinking about it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cascade step 02

Step 2:  Sketching it out

With a thumbnail I was happy with, it was time to start putting a little more effort into the look of each element and how they worked as a whole.  

The dragon might seem very different, but a few key things stayed the same.  The wing still stretches way out to the edge of the page, he's still spiraling towards the viewer, and he's still roughly the same size.  He may have flipped over a few axes, but those are the critical elements of how he fits into my composition.

As for the background, I zoomed out slightly and put more emphasis on the edge of the waterfall, as well as the rock pinnacles rising out of it.  I also started laying out basic cloud shapes, positioning them to direct the eye through the otherwise empty areas of the composition.  This is very important.  Clouds offer an unlimited number of shapes to work with and should always be used to strengthen a layout whenever their appearance is appropriate.

Finally, I've also added a curve to the horizon.  This is an entirely personal decision, but for me it adds dynamism to the landscape and enhances the action of the dragon.  It also makes the background seem that much wider (and therefore epic) by imitating the curve of the Earth because we're viewing at that far of a distance.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Welcome! (Cascade step 01)

Hello and thanks for stopping by!  I'm new to this so please bear with me while I try to get a handle on things.

I posted this image a few months ago up on DeviantArt with the intent of adding color and painting it out traditionally.  The physical piece is quite a bit further along now and has been a great learning experience so far, but there's still a long way to go on it!  I'll hold off on showing that for now though :)

I've had some people ask about my process, and usually the answer is something like "it's always different" or "it varies by piece," with a few common threads here and there.  So I figured I'd throw everyone for a big loop by christening this blog with a step by step method that's a work in progress in and of itself.  I've dabbled with oils and acrylics in the past, but my comfort lies with photoshop, and I really have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to truly painting.  I'll be doing my best to hide that in the finished piece (and luckily have some great help and inspiration to aid me), but hopefully this can offer some sort of insight into how my messed-up brain works.

Step 1:  Getting it on paper

This guy started at IlluXCon, and as messy at it looks, he was the first legitimate thumb that came out of the concept I was trying to convey.

For those who don't know, IlluXCon is an amazing convention dedicated to showcasing the work of several dozen of the world's best traditional Fantasy and Sci-Fi artists every November in Altoona, PA.  A combination of lectures from Donato Giancola and Todd Lockwood, staring at Michael Whelan's wall for hours, and riffling through my mentor Lars Grant-West's paintings all weekend got me thinking that it was time I did an awesome dragon painting.  A real painting that might get me on track for having something to compare with those guys some day.

For me, composition makes or breaks a piece, so even while I was at the convention I began thinking about how I wanted to showcase his body, and how the shape of it would direct the viewer's eye into the background; even more than what kind of dragon he'd be.  Donato's talk on abstract realism was still fresh in my mind so I knew I wanted to keep it bold and minimalist, and that hatched the idea for this sort of circular waterfall out in the middle of the ocean.  

Since Photoshop is still what I'm most comfortable with I decided it would make the best vessel for getting ideas down and arranging a composition.  By the end of this I will have bounced back and forth a ridiculous number of times.