Sharpen your painting process
Carmen Sinek illustrates Sylvanas Windrunner from World of Warcraft, while explaining how to stay organised to minimise painting mistakes
Carmen Sinek illustrates a World of Warcraft figure.
When illustration is your job, having a streamlined process can save time and reduce the amount of obstacles and frustrations you’ll run into. It can also help you to achieve a more consistent level of quality and help you better predict your own work times.
I’m going to show you how I break down the many parts of painting into smaller steps so I can focus on one at a time. It’s almost impossible for me to avoid all unforeseen complications, but the number has been significantly reduced ever since I began trying to establish a consistent process for my daily work.
My process consistently evolves as new skills become more comfortable or I find better ways to approach my professional assignments. It takes time to find a process that works for you, and a great deal of patience to stick with it over the weeks and months. However, the more you work with it, the more that many of the steps become second nature, and the faster you’ll become at your day-today art tasks. This opens up more time for experimenting with other styles, mediums and processes, as well as for personal work.
When following another artist’s process, remember that it’s only one of many ways to make good work. Give it a try, and adopt the things that work for you, but don’t be afraid to leave behind the ones that don’t.
1 Have a clear goal
Knowing what I’m trying to accomplish is important, so I start out with a fairly advanced digital sketch to guide me. Sometimes the goal is to experiment with new techniques, while other times it’s to illustrate a specific scene or moment in a narrative. This is a storytelling portrait, with the goal of showcasing Sylvanas’ personality while also hinting at the turbulent history of the character.
2 Get the drawing right
I can’t always properly execute this step, but I’ve at least learned the importance of trying. Get as much accurate information as possible in your initial drawing. Rushing ahead has been the downfall of many an artist, so think of it as an exercise in patience and self-control. While you might change things later, aiming for an accurate drawing makes it much easier to keep things under control.
3 Establish local values
The local value is the value of the material itself, independent of light and shadow. This relationship between local values must be maintained throughout the process. If her armour’s base value is 20 per cent darker than her skin tone, then it’ll remain 20 per cent darker in either light or shadow. This is a general rule; adjustments will be made later, based on the materials.
4 Block in large shapes
I tend to keep things flat and blocky in the early stages. This helps me focus on my value structure and defining the initial read of the image. I’m thinking mostly in planes at this moment, trying to suggest the form under the line drawing.
5 Adding base colours
Sometimes I need to be able to see the bigger picture to know if I’m heading in the right direction. I use a Soft Light layer to add my first colours, focusing first on local colour the same way I did with the values. I keep this on a separate layer for now, so I can turn it on and off when I’m rendering in greyscale.
6 Adjust for focus
To help maintain the focus on Sylvanas’ expression and character, I use a Multiply layer and the good old fuzzy Round brush to push back everything around her face, and to soften the edges where her body meets the background.
7 Greyscale rendering
This is the most time-consuming part of the process. Using the structure I’ve put into place, I start painting it out in greyscale, defining the large forms first. This is a crucial stage, so don’t let yourself get sucked into details before you’ve established the larger forms correctly. Down that path lies much pain and suffering, as Yoda might say.
8 Lighting the colours
Usually when I feel my rendering is about 75 per cent of the way there, I’ll stop to work in my colours using Soft Light, Color and Overlay layers. I showed in a previous workshop (issue 118) how I use Adjustment layers to start my colouring process, and a shorter video demo is included as part of this workshop.
9 Making anatomy adjustments
This is where things start getting messy. Because there are inaccuracies in my drawing, I need to adjust some things that look off to me. Her head is slightly too big and the position of her chest and arms are a little low. I lasso these areas, copy them to a new layer and adjust appropriately.
10 Tackle the background
I want a simple but meaningful background, so I’ve roughed in some shapes that resemble her bow and parts of the Forsaken faction symbol. As tempting as it is to paint out all of those bone pieces, I try to keep them simple to avoid pulling too much focus away from Sylvanas herself. I chose the bright green colour and glow to be reminiscent of Undercity.
11 Add texture – but carefully
In recent years, I’ve tried to rely less on photo textures. Nowadays, I mostly use it when time is short, or when I feel it would better achieve the look I’m going for. While photo texture can be helpful, it must be used carefully or you run the risk of losing style consistency. Here, I’ve used it mostly in the shadows of her skin to suggest decay.
12 Behold, Rendersaurus Rex!
Start with the focal point and render out from there, loosening up as you move out. If you want a painterly look, take a painterly approach. Don’t scrub the brush back and forth, but treat it as you would treat a paintbrush. I highly recommend testing out traditional mediums if you want to achieve a more traditional look to your digital work.
13 Making colour adjustments
When I’m far enough into my rendering that I’m ready to push for the finish line, I flatten the image and use the Color Balance tool to help bring it all together. I also use Color layers for more specific or subtle colour changes. This is also a good time to adjust any areas that may need more or less saturation.
14 Final touches
Now I paint with an opaque textured brush for a more traditional feel. This is where I begin to add the little things that bring it all together. I make a final pass over the image to adjust anything that stands out. You can get a closer look at the final rendering part of the process my the layered PSD files.
Putting your base value in the layer title will help you keep things organised.
I create a palette of colours with the Brightness set to 50 per cent, then pick from them using a Soft Light layer.