Thanks go out to Ashley Walters
for this great tutorial!
Step 1 – Visualise your image
Before starting, visualise what you want to accomplish. What will be the subject matter of the piece? What mood do you want to convey? In this case, the goal is to paint a Steampunk piece, which seamlessly integrates portraiture with mechanical elements. It’s meant to be a dark, atmospheric image with lush colours to invoke mystery and interest. Remember to download the resources before you start.
Step 2 – Gather reference
Paintings should be unrecognisable from reference unless the material belongs to you, so take liberties in deviating from online sources. The easiest way to obtain reference is to take photos yourself, but be sure that all of your images have the same light source or be prepared to paint them differently than they appear.
Step 3 – Start a new document
Begin by creating a new document (Cmd/Ctrl+N). Set the image dimensions to 4800px by 6400px at 300ppi. Decide between RGB or CMYK for your colour mode (RGB can achieve richer colours while CMYK is useful for printing). Fill it with a warm green tone in the middle-range of value (not too light and not too dark).
Step 4 – Sketch
Create a new layer named ‘Sketch’ (Layer>New>Layer). When sketching, think about focal point to keep the eye moving within the image. Use your reference as a rough guide as you freehand the sketch in a dark burgundy colour. Keep in mind perspective as you draw objects without reference, like the dragon and goggles. It helps to sometimes draw boxes in perspective with the rest of the piece and then chisel away at the objects inside into angular shapes before finally rounding off the details.
Step 5 – Pick colours
Colour defines the mood of a piece. The key to having lush colours is finding a happy balance between rich and dull. Too bright and your image looks contrived and over-the-top. Too dull and your image looks washed out. Lighter colours should be less saturated and darker colours more saturated. On a new layer, pick a basic flesh colour, scribble and repeat, increasing the saturation as you go darker. To help the image pop, add subtle oranges and warm pinks for the eyes and cheeks. Pale cyan works as the highlight colour to contrast against the warm shadows.
Step 6 – Understanding light
Before you start painting, it’s important to know the difference between form shadow and cast shadow. Form shadow (or core shadow) creates the illusion of form and gives objects depth. It occurs when light fails to completely wrap around the form of something and is a gradual transition from light to shadow, with softer edges (like the cheekbone, which at first catches the light and then curves downward into shadow). Cast shadow occurs when something (like the nose, for example), blocks the light, throwing areas below into darkness. It tends to have sharper edges.
Step 7 – Visualise where light falls
When creating an object without reference, it is vital to be able to picture in your mind where the shadow would fall if you could see it. Sometimes it helps to picture the subject matter as if it were made up of several small geometric polygons. Look at each surface plane and ask yourself if the angle would catch the light or not. Then translate that into your painting. Don’t forget to add in cast shadows of made-up elements to ground the work and give it a cohesive feel.