Can you give me some ad­vice for paint­ing re­al­is­tic smoke?

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Imagine Nation | Artist Q&A - Jolanta Ma­ciejew­ska, US

An­swer Lee­sha replies

Smoke is a preva­lent vis­ual ef­fect in fan­tasy art. It can help to po­ten­tially re­in­force both your com­po­si­tion, and your nar­ra­tive. It’s im­por­tant for any fan­tasy artist to not only learn how to paint smoke, but also to un­der­stand how it works, and how to in­te­grate it within your set­ting.

Smoke will vary visu­ally de­pend­ing on the cause. Bil­low­ing clouds of smoke from a roar­ing for­est fire will look very dif­fer­ent to ten­drils of smoke ris­ing from a slowly burn­ing piece of parch­ment. Us­ing ref­er­ence and real-life ex­am­ples will help you to iden­tify what kind of smoke you should be aim­ing to repli­cate in your paint­ings. The ap­pear­ance of smoke is also af­fected by its sur­round­ings. Is it a still day, or is it windy? Will there be any float­ing de­bris or em­bers ris­ing with the smoke? These are all good things to con­sider.

While learn­ing how to paint smoke, it’s best to avoid the overuse of photo tex­tures or cus­tom brushes for a cou­ple of key rea­sons. First, they can be po­ten­tially lim­it­ing when it comes to ap­pear­ance; and se­cond, this will en­able you to prop­erly un­der­stand the shapes and forms in­volved with­out tak­ing any tempt­ing short­cuts.

In this ex­am­ple I’ll be talk­ing about how to paint coloured smoke in Pho­to­shop, with the help of some ad­just­ment lay­ers.

This an­i­mal spirit has es­caped its bot­tled prison, and doesn’t seem too happy to see the keeper! I’ve fea­tured some mag­i­cal-look­ing smoke to help tell the story. Paint­ing smoke on its own layer en­ables you to freely use Warp (Edit> Trans­form>Warp) or Liquify (Fil­ter>Liquify) to ma­nip­u­late the shapes how­ever you like.

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