Mélanie Delon

Mélanie Delon ex­plains how to work a mys­te­ri­ous light, from two sources, into a scene while paint­ing an in­tense male char­ac­ter

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Front Page - Mélanie Delon

Light is a cru­cial el­e­ment in a por­trait paint­ing, be­cause it brings life, shape and vol­ume to a char­ac­ter. Light and colours are con­nected, of course, and I need to work with them to achieve the right re­sult. The light can also tell dif­fer­ent sto­ries about the same char­ac­ter.

If I need to paint a com­plex light­ing scheme I al­ways take ref­er­ence shots. I con­sider what light­ing I’m af­ter dur­ing the very first stage of the con­cept. It helps me to de­velop the im­age, gives it a strong foun­da­tion, and saves time later on. For this im­age I want the light to look mag­i­cal but also mys­te­ri­ous and very con­trasted, giv­ing the scene a Chiaroscuro feel. Be­cause it’s a por­trait, I de­cide to make the char­ac­ter’s face the fo­cal point and play with his eye colour. I want to give him a dan­ger­ous, un­healthy coun­te­nance. To strengthen this ef­fect I’ll have two light sources. The pri­mary source will be cold and bright, and is go­ing to af­fect his face, while the sec­ondary one will be warmer, more dif­fuse and will come from be­hind. I al­ways try to work the light with com­ple­men­tary colours: this brings bal­ance to the fi­nal illustration.

I start paint­ing by work­ing with big colours and light blocks, and keep the file size as small as pos­si­ble. This helps me to de­velop a quick com­po­si­tion that’s easy to cor­rect or change if nec­es­sary. Okay, let’s see how my por­trait takes shape!

1 Find the con­cept

The first thing I do is to quickly find the con­cept and com­po­si­tion. I want to cre­ate a male fan­tasy char­ac­ter, with a touch of punk, sur­rounded by birds. So I start with a rough pen­cil line art and a messy colour test for the char­ac­ter’s de­sign. I like to be sure of the colour scheme be­fore I start the paint­ing proper. I also de­cide that the main light will come from the top.

2 Ap­ply the first colours

Af­ter scan­ning in my sketch, I choose my colour scheme. I want it to be very de­sat­u­rated at first with few hints of colours; just enough to see the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments. I like to keep ev­ery­thing sim­ple at the be­gin­ning. The light here isn’t de­fined be­cause I’m still look­ing for the char­ac­ter. I use a soft Round brush be­cause there’s no need for de­tails yet.

3 Re­work­ing the com­po­si­tion

It may be a por­trait, but I think I need to add some space around him. So I de­cide to crop the illustration and ex­pand his en­vi­ron­ment. Empty space is im­por­tant in a com­po­si­tion – my char­ac­ter needs to breathe! I in­crease the main light on his face slightly and then place the warm light be­hind him as a di­ag­o­nal shape, just to add more dy­namism to the com­po­si­tion.

4 De­fine fa­cial fea­tures

With the same soft brush, but with Shape Dy­namic sets to 0 per cent, I start to de­fine his fa­cial fea­tures. I’m adding some reds around his eye­lids and a very light mauve to cre­ate some dark rings un­der his eyes. I like to use th­ese two colours as a skin base be­cause they add a re­al­is­tic touch to any com­plex­ion.

5 Defin­ing the sil­hou­ette

I want my fig­ure to be mas­sive with the fo­cus on his face. So I choose to wrap him into a huge, dark green cape. To in­crease the dy­namism of the com­po­si­tion, I en­sure the cape fol­lows the same di­ag­o­nal as the sec­ond light. This add a sub­tle sense of move­ment. I light his arm slightly by adding a pale green with my soft brush. I want con­trast while avoid­ing strong shad­ows.

6 Tell a story with the eyes

Now I work on his eyes. I choose a pale blue that will con­trast with the red skin base. I want him to look ill, with al­most translu­cent eyes. I use both my cus­tom Tex­ture and De­tail brushes for the eye­lids, and paint small dots of light on the eye­balls. His skin must also re­flect his story, and adding some scars around his mouth is a cool, mys­te­ri­ous de­tail!

7 De­velop the dark cape

I grad­u­ally bring more vol­ume and shape to the fab­ric us­ing my soft brush. I gen­tly in­crease the light in­ten­sity and colour sat­u­ra­tion. The light here is very dif­fuse and soft, and I want to sug­gest fold­ing fab­ric folds with an Old Mas­ters look. I keep my brush strokes vis­i­ble: this adds tex­ture to the fab­ric.

8 A hand with a dag­ger

At this point I think the com­po­si­tion looks a bit empty, and so I de­cide to in­tro­duce a hand hold­ing a dag­ger. I choose not to add too much de­tail to this new el­e­ment and keep it in the shad­ows for now. The lower part of the char­ac­ter is too dark, and the dag­ger will help me to break up this dark­ness, as well as give the com­po­si­tion ex­tra dy­namism.

9 Colour­ing the skin

Now that the face is start­ing to come to­gether, I de­cide to push the colours and choose a more vi­brant colour scheme. I add some or­ange to the in­ner part of the eyes and in­crease the light and shad­ows to in­crease their in­ten­sity. I choose a pale vi­o­let and paint some veins on his fore­head. Lit­tle de­tails like th­ese help to achieve a re­al­is­tic look.

10 We need more con­trast!

I bear in mind that the main light comes from above. As such, the fore­head, nose and cheek­bones all catch the light, so I have to ap­ply more con­trast on th­ese spe­cific fa­cial fea­tures. To do this I sim­ply use the Bright­ness/Con­trast ad­just­ment tool and play around with it un­til I’m happy with the out­come.

11 Com­plet­ing the com­po­si­tion

I fin­ish off the last few el­e­ments such as the golden halo and the hand. The dag­ger needs to stand out a bit more, oth­er­wise it’ll be lost in the shad­ows. I add a huge bright glow of light and re­fine the shape of the blade with the De­tail brush. I also add some mag­i­cal dots of light all around the char­ac­ter. This helps to em­pha­sise the dark­est parts of the com­po­si­tion.

12 Ad­just the colours

Pho­to­shop’s Color Bal­ance tool is ideal for giv­ing an illustration those fin­ish­ing touches. It’s good for quickly uni­fy­ing the whole paint­ing, es­pe­cially when the light is really strong. I choose to ap­ply a more sub­tle blue to my com­po­si­tion, be­cause my back­ground light is mainly or­ange.

13 Boost­ing the in­ten­sity

It’s now time to add the last touches of light to his face. I work it as a whole with a big Soft brush, like a glow. I pick a very light pale blue and ap­ply it all over his face. Then I set the layer mode to Screen mode with a very low Opac­ity set­ting. I keep in mind that this light comes from the top and so I ex­tend this glow all over his hair, too.

14 Adding the fi­nal de­tails

The paint­ing is al­most fin­ished. All I have to do is to add some ex­tra glow on the halo, to make it a bit more mag­i­cal. Then I slightly blur some parts of the sil­hou­ette to blend ev­ery­thing to­gether. I use the Blur tool on a very low Opac­ity for this, be­cause it gives me more con­trol than the Blur fil­ter.

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