advanced photoshop

Tips Feature Preview: 22 Fantasy Tips & Tricks

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Magazine previews, by Adam Smith

We guide you from conception to completion with 22 top tips from fantasy art experts

Create realistic-looking textures

Billy Christian /

I believe that every fantasy artist has their own style of dragons, so I painted a personal piece about an aquatic dragon chasing dragon-riders.

The first thing I did was make a few paper sketches to work out the strongest composition. Once I had established the design, I painted my illustration in Photoshop using a graphics tablet.

Even though I use tools like layers and blend modes, the process is the same as in most traditional paintings; I paint from darker to lighter colours using round and chalk brushes, which help to make it look more realistic.

The hardest part of any digital artwork is the texture, and here I found the textures of the waves and the dragons’ scales particularly tough to make. My advice for those in a similar position is this: don’t be afraid of using references.

Referencing is a good way for you to achieve a realistic-looking and believable painting. You can study and mimic how waves react and what scales look like, and then apply this to your artwork.

Try not to over-texture your piece, as it will make your painting look flat and you’ll lose points of interest. You can also create texture by using colour and light to separate your focal points from the background; in my painting, the waves are less saturated and I have painted rim lights around the dragons’ and riders’ bodies to create depth.

Lesson in lighting

Edli Akolli /

An old image but still one of my favourites, Lady in the Forest is a great example of one of the ways in which you can create the illusion of natural light.

While it’s easier, in some respects, to nail down forms in a forest, I feel that the chaotic nature of light can be harder to pull off in this setting. As the light passes through countless leaves, dispersing or bouncing from surface to surface, it creates all kinds of nuances in colour.

In this case, I created the leaves using a square brush with the scattering set to maximum, then played around with the brush settings to re-create the effect of sunlight bursting through a canopy.

The rays are reflected gradients with some light colours set to Overlay or Colour Dodge. The figure was brought in at the  very end to add scale and contrasting colours to the composition.

Read more in Advanced Photoshop 109, now on sale at and

Tips Feature Preview: 22 Fantasy Tips & Tricks