One of my favorite parts of meeting a new artist/studying a master is figuring out their process. Everyone has their own little way of doing things, and you figure out what works best for you over time. I’ve always wanted to put together a process piece like that! I finally decided to go ahead and put together a something along those lines and saved it while I went. Now, I could have gone with what I normally do, which is leaning on some line-art and adding color to it, but this time I went fully digital. This is the first time I’ve done this, so I figured I’d share my thoughts on it. I want to get better at it, so this was a big first step for me! Anyhow, it all began with a few sketches a couple of weeks ago. This piece was done in photoshop from beginning to end, so photoshop terminology will be applied! You’ve been warned. (Also, this was written deep in the night, so there WILL be grammatical errors and the like.)
I did this piece when I was working on Mantic Games big “Deadzone” campaign on Kickstarter. They asked me to design a few new alien races, and this was one that came to me in the middle of the night. I liked the idea of these shark-esque aliens, so I did a few studies and really loved the way it looked. This eventually turned into the Sphyr, one of the many new alien races Mantic is introducing in Deadzone, that we will eventually see again! Anyhow, I got the itch to do a personal piece tonight, so I decided to use this design. This being my first real foray into digital painting, I wanted to start with a simple shot with simple lighting. Then I decided to put her underwater…the “simple” theme was then dropped immediately.
I started the piece off with a rough sketch. This was just to set up the general idea, a few foreground/background elements, so I wasn’t just jumping into the piece with no idea of where it was going.
I did want it to be interesting, instead of just a study, so I decided to have her petting a giant fish and playing with her necklace. Its not much, but its enough to make people think. From there, it was time to figure out the basic color scheme.
This is called a color study. Its just a quick way to figure out how you want the piece to look in the long run. This was my guide the whole way through. From here, I moved onto actually rendering the piece properly, which proved challenging. I’ve colored plenty of character pieces professionally, but I’ve always had the line-work to guide me, so this was unfamiliar territory. I laid out very basic flat colors for most of the piece, and jumped into rendering.
Using the Color Study as a guide, I dove into rendering. First, I laid out flats, then moved onto rendering the face first and foremost. It’s going to be the major focus of the piece, so I wanted to make sure it looked good. To get the highlights and shadows I wanted, first I laid out all the flat colors in a line. I then applied a strip of a generalized shadow color (a grey/blue or grey/purple, typically) set on multiply and a highlight color (light blue in this case) set on screen over them. From there I just picked out colors I needed and tweaked them from there. I then applied more of an electric/aqua blue to her as an overall highlight, to give it more of an underwater feel. With the character rendered for the most part, I moved onto the other foreground elements: the fish.
As with the last stage, I referred back to my handy Color Study. As with the main figure, I just laid out some flat colors like before, but the fish scales had to be treated differently. I basically added a metallic yellow highlight and used the same shadow/highlight trick as before to render them, then added in the scale details. I also tweaked the main character a bit, just to give her more accurate lighting and to fix a few rendering issues. At this stage I was really happy with the colors overall, but they needed to pop a bit. To fix that, I adjusted the contrast and it did the trick. From here, it was all about finishing details and adding in a background.
Here’s the finished piece. I’ve added in the background, which is more or less vague blue shapes. I also added in a couple schools of fish/a few whales to give more of a sense of depth. There were a few final tweaks to the main character, including some aquatic lighting added to a few select areas, and a couple of “freckles” to break up the skins overly smooth appearance. I’ve also added in some bubbles, which were surprisingly easy once I figured out how to handle them. Anyhow, for my first foray into digital painting I’m very proud of myself! Hopefully there will be more of these in the future 😀 Here’s all of the stages lined up: