I want to por­tray a ru­ined castle… help!

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Char­lotte replies

Dig­i­tal art is full of short­cuts and tricks that can make the paint­ing process a whole lot quicker. How­ever, these same tricks can quickly erode the ‘tra­di­tional’ look of a paint­ing, even if you start with a hand-drawn sketch.

You can over­come this by treat­ing your dig­i­tal art like a real-life can­vas; work­ing on as few lay­ers as pos­si­ble (a sin­gle layer is ideal), and us­ing large, tex­tured brushes at 100 per cent Opac­ity.

To achieve the look of an oil paint­ing, I start with a dark raw-um­ber un­der­paint­ing (I rec­om­mend paint­ing by hand and avoid us­ing the Fill tool) just to cover the can­vas and re­move the un­nat­u­ral 100 per cent white back­ground. Over this, block out your paint­ing us­ing wide, opaque strokes and tex­tured brushes with a hard edge. You can find plenty of these online, along with replica oil brushes.

Min­imise your use of the Erase and Lasso tools, and keep your brush and layer set­tings to Nor­mal where pos­si­ble. The Smudge tool can be use­ful here in mod­er­a­tion. Again, switch to a tex­tured brush type and blend small ar­eas at a time.

James Yip, US

Paul replies

Cas­tles are tricky to paint. Their sur­faces are an­gu­lar and un­even, pock­marked with age and dis­coloured by the weather. Such prob­lems are only ex­ac­er­bated when they be­gin to fall apart! The key to paint­ing a scene in­volv­ing a crum­bling castle is man­ag­ing tex­ture de­tail. While it’s tempt­ing to metic­u­lously draw ev­ery sin­gle stone or to ap­ply a pho­to­graph tex­ture on an Over­lay layer over your work, these ap­proaches of­ten lead to a muddy fi­nal im­age. I want to sim­plify the over­all shapes us­ing chunky brushes and by pay­ing at­ten­tion to how the light hits the sur­faces.

Af­ter sketch­ing a rough idea of my com­po­si­tion in Pho­to­shop I start look­ing for some photo ref­er­ences. Google is your friend here, and a quick search for “crum­bling castle” brings up a wealth of help­ful im­ages. The rea­son I want to use ref­er­ence rather than just jump­ing in to paint­ing from imag­i­na­tion is that although I have an idea of what a ru­ined castle might look like, it isn’t some­thing I’ve drawn of­ten. Hav­ing ref­er­ence im­ages will help you to fill in the gaps of your knowl­edge and in this case it shows me how the light plays over the stone. Squint your eyes and pay at­ten­tion to the big shapes and ar­eas of con­trast on the stone; these are the things you should fo­cus on when you paint the castle. I hint at smaller de­tails to break up the sur­faces, but am care­ful not to push the de­tail too far.

Oc­to­ber 2015

Don’t be afraid to paint loosely! Work over the top of your mis­takes rather than just un­do­ing them, and try to em­u­late the or­ganic tra­di­tional paint­ing process. I study my ref­er­ence photos to un­der­stand the per­spec­tive of this castle, in par­tic­u­lar where ar­eas of the stone have crum­bled away.

I start by block­ing out the large shapes in a shadow tone, then be­gin paint­ing the light ar­eas on top to bring out the forms in 3D.

Use hard, tex­tured brushes at a high Opac­ity to com­plete your paint­ing. Try to avoid un­nat­u­rally shaped brushes like the de­fault Hard and Soft Round.

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