I’m having trouble depicting smoke. Got any tips?
To answer this question I’ve decided to paint a gun that’s just been fired. I think that showing the moment just after the trigger’s been pulled adds to the drama of the scene.
I need to consider the shape of the smoke as it flows out of the gun barrel. When it’s close to the barrel, the smoke resembles a piece of paper or fabric that you can twist. It has a ‘side A’ and a ‘side B’, and as it twists we can see either one side or the other. The more distant the smoke is from its source (the barrel), the more similar it becomes to everyday smoke. Bear in mind that smoke is immaterial, so depending on how much smoke is between our eyes and the background, it will be more or less visible.
The easiest approach to take is to paint the whole image, and once it’s finished, block in a basic scheme of where the smoke is going to be on a new layer. Next, create another layer under the smoke layer and fill it with black. Then, back on the ‘smoke’ layer, continue to paint the smoke, just as if you were painting it on a black background. Try to use elegant and long brushstrokes when painting the smoke close to the barrel, and short, thick ones on the far end of the smoke trail.
Once done, turn the smoke layer mode to Screen. The black part will become transparent, and you’ll have created a translucent, white smoke effect.
Introducing smoke to a gun that’s just been discharged can help you solve an unbalanced composition, or fill an image that has too much empty space. Try to understand the shape of the smoke. I do this by imagining it as a piece of paper that you can twist.