Stop telling yourself there’s “noth­ing to paint” and see how James Za­p­ata tack­les a paint­ing with no plan of at­tack

ImagineFX - - Workshops -

Ever opened a can­vas in Pho­to­shop and been overwhelmed by the sheer empti­ness of the big white rec­tan­gle? You might even have heard yourself say­ing, “I should have planned this out be­fore start­ing.”

Ap­proach­ing a paint­ing doesn’t al­ways have to be such a pre­cise and cal­cu­lated ex­er­cise. You’ll find that ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent tech­niques along the way can help add a whole new fac­tor of fun and in­trigue to the process that you may have not con­sid­ered be­fore.

Of course, we shouldn’t for­get the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals. I don’t want you to in­ter­pret “ex­per­i­men­ta­tion” to mean “reck­less aban­don.” For you to take new ap­proaches to your work you can’t for­get core art el­e­ments: value, com­po­si­tion, per­spec­tive, colour and even nar­ra­tive should al­ways be kept in mind. These ba­sics will be your an­chor while you ex­plore new ter­ri­to­ries in cre­ation.

I hope to in­tro­duce you to a few new ways of ap­proach­ing de­sign, in­clud­ing tak­ing a freestyle at­ti­tude to the process. You’ll see how my ini­tial in­tent and fo­cus shift in the mid­dle.

Paint­ing is, in many ways, a jour­ney of the mind. When I started out as an il­lus­tra­tor I of­ten com­plained about hav­ing artist’s block. It would of­ten be the case that I just didn’t know what I wanted to paint. Hope­fully this work­shop will help you get over that wall.

1 Tak­ing the plunge

I jump right into the paint­ing by cre­at­ing a cir­cu­lar se­lec­tion and fill­ing it with a gra­di­ent. From here, I like to use the Smudge tool with a Hard Round brush selected at 100 per cent Opac­ity to push and pull the val­ues in the ob­ject. I make sure to have Sam­ple All Lay­ers unchecked so that I only af­fect the ob­ject and no other lay­ers. I’m not con­cerned with the end re­sult at this point. Right now it’s just play­time.

2 See­ing shapes

Af­ter a few min­utes of play­ing with the shape I can form an opin­ion of what my ob­ject has be­come. I now look for shapes and lines. I like to com­pare this to see­ing things in clouds. You start to put the pieces to­gether and de­cide what di­rec­tion your paint­ing will take from here. I’ve de­cided this messy shape will be­come the head of a gi­ant ro­bot. From here, all my ef­forts will be geared to­wards that idea.

3 Re­peat­ing shapes

Once I’m com­fort­able enough with the shape to call it a ro­bot, I set course to fill the can­vas in an in­ter­est­ing way, and start think­ing about some of the ma­jor el­e­ments that will make up my com­po­si­tion. I du­pli­cate the ro­bot head shapes and start tin­ker­ing with their gen­eral shapes to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them. I do this by us­ing my Smudge tool tech­nique from be­fore, as well as Clone Stamp­ing.

4 Start­ing the com­po­si­tion

I cre­ate a sense of depth by sit­u­at­ing one of my ob­jects in the fore­ground/midground and the other in the back­ground. I also fade the bot­tom por­tion of the back­ground shape to give a sense of at­mos­phere. I carry on with de­sign­ing my fore­ground shape. Be­cause it’ll be tak­ing a big­ger place in my com­po­si­tion than the back­ground ro­bot, I need it to be more read­able. It’s the cen­tral fig­ure and will there­fore es­tab­lish the over­all de­sign lan­guage.

5 Set­ting the mood

Af­ter some ex­ten­sive de­sign work done over the ini­tial shapes, I’m ready to dive into fi­nal­is­ing the com­po­si­tion. I do this by cre­at­ing a space in the fore­ground that I’ve de­cided to use as a ‘stage’ for a few char­ac­ters I plan on adding to the mix. Next, I start to think about what colours will help de­scribe the gen­eral mood of the im­age.

6 Pick­ing your el­e­ments

I’ve de­cided, at this point, that the en­vi­ron­ment will be a vol­canic area, so there will be lots of or­ange and dark browns. The sky will be dark for this piece, to help push the bright­ness of the un­der­light­ing on the ma­chines. Up to now I’ve kept all the el­e­ments of the paint­ing on their own re­spec­tive lay­ers, so man­ag­ing the colours and val­ues for each as­pect in­di­vid­u­ally is a straight­for­ward task.

7 Light­ing con­sid­er­a­tions

Now that I’ve ac­quired the stage, I need to light it. I hint at the vol­canic lava be­low by light­ing the ro­bots from un­der­neath. Un­der­light­ing is a great way to ex­press a sense of sus­pense­ful drama. In this case, I want there to be a sense of mys­tery as to the pur­pose of these gi­ant ma­chines. When es­tab­lish­ing your light­ing, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this step will in­flu­ence the com­po­si­tion. So think care­fully about where you have value shifts.

8 Cast your char­ac­ters

It’s a good idea to add a hu­man char­ac­ter or two when paint­ing a fan­tasy or sci-fi scene. It grounds the im­age and en­ables us to plug our­selves into that world. In this case, it’s also a good in­di­ca­tor for scale. Now we see the true enor­mity of these ro­bots. I want to give the pi­lot some in­trigue be­yond her just be­ing just a mech pi­lot, so I de­cide to give her a cool hair­cut. Now she’s got char­ac­ter!

9 In­te­grat­ing your fig­ures

Be­cause my char­ac­ters pi­lot these gi­ant ro­bots it makes sense for their suits to fol­low a sim­i­lar de­sign lan­guage. I don’t worry too much about func­tion­al­ity, but I do want there to be a vis­ual con­nec­tion be­tween the char­ac­ters and their mechs. Some more clone-stamp­ing here does the job of “sprin­kling de­sign” through­out the suits.

10 Ad­just­ing the com­po­si­tion

I’m un­happy with the way the com­po­si­tion feels like it’s “fall­ing” to the right, re­gard­less of there be­ing a Dutch tilt, so I de­cide to push the right fig­ure up in the can­vas. I also in­crease the size of the mechs in the back­ground, fur­ther adding to their size and fill­ing more space in the can­vas. In ad­di­tion, I bump the val­ues to give the im­age more con­trast be­tween each ob­ject. This gen­er­ates a more de­fined com­po­si­tion.

11 Spe­cial ef­fects

Now comes the fun part. I be­gin by adding lava splashes be­hind the fore­ground layer with a Splat­ter brush set to a bright or­ange/yel­low. I set this layer to the Lin­ear Dodge (Add) blend­ing mode and du­pli­cate it once or twice, then merge those lay­ers. You’ll find blend­ing modes in the drop-down menu of your Lay­ers pal­ette. These ef­fects help breathe life into your paint­ing by adding a pal­pa­ble sense of move­ment.

12 Make it juicy

I in­ten­sify the bright­ness of the lava us­ing the Color Dodge tool. I sam­ple a mid­value from the im­age and with a Soft Round brush with its Trans­fer set to Pen Pres­sure, build up my high­lights and hot-spots. I think about where my lights will be the bright­est and start from there. I also de­cide to give my char­ac­ters more of a spot­light. The added con­trast helps make them stand out from the back­ground and sur­round­ing el­e­ments.

13 Colour tweaks

I’m near­ing the end of my paint­ing, so I de­cide to unify ev­ery­thing with some colour ad­just­ments. For this step, I like to cre­ate a new layer with all the el­e­ments merged, so I se­lect Edit> Copy Merged and then Paste. Now I have the en­tire paint­ing on one layer. I can use this layer to ad­just the colour bal­ance (Im­age>Ad­just­ments> Color Bal­ance) and play with the slid­ers un­til I’m sat­is­fied.

14 Neu­tral­is­ing your dark val­ues

I du­pli­cate the merged layer and use a Gra­di­ent Map from here. To ac­cess Gra­di­ent Maps, nav­i­gate to Im­age>Ad­just­ments> Gra­di­ent Map. Gra­di­ent Maps as­sign a colour to any num­ber of val­ues in your im­age. I se­lect one of the de­fault pre­sets, then bring the Opac­ity of the Gra­di­ent Map layer down to about 12 per cent and set it to Lighten. This will push the colour con­trast as well as lighten the darks with colour.

15 Fin­ish­ing touches

It’s time to wrap up the paint­ing. At this late stage I like to tighten any loose ends. I ad­just anatomy if I feel it’s a bit in­cor­rect, clean edges where it’s needed, and so on. I feel that the bot­tom-left of the im­age is a bit bare, so I de­cide to add some dust clouds to give more depth in that area. I also light up some more of the main pi­lot’s torso, giv­ing her more of a com­plete ap­pear­ance.

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