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!