Get in­spired to cre­ate Pre-Raphaelite art, with Cor­rado Vanelli

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When the edi­tor of Imag­ineFX asked me to cre­ate a new piece in­spired by PreRaphaelite art it was John Wil­liam Water­house’s fa­mous paint­ing, The Lady of Shalott, that came im­me­di­ately to mind. Turns out that this was ex­actly the im­age the Imag­ineFX team wanted to see on the cover!

I like this paint­ing and I’m a fan of Water­house’s style. I think this is the per­fect piece for a mod­ern rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal sub­ject. My in­ten­tion is to avoid a slav­ish re­pro­duc­tion of the paint­ing; I want to imag­ine a new girl, with a new face, in a new pose. Be­cause it’s also go­ing to be the cover im­age I’ll have to de­fine and mod­ify as­pects of the il­lus­tra­tion to take into ac­count the var­i­ous text and vis­ual el­e­ments of the cover. I’ll high­light these changes through­out the work­shop.

I’d just like to say a few words about my dig­i­tal paint­ing tech­nique. The fi­nal paint­ing ef­fect is very tra­di­tional. I’ll be us­ing a clas­sic can­vas tex­ture, and Char­coal, Conte and oil brushes. My colour pal­ette is rem­i­nis­cent of Water­house’s orig­i­nal work, but I’ll be cre­at­ing a lighter-look­ing scene. As a nod to the usual fan­tasy fare of Imag­ineFX, I want the lady’s face to be sim­i­lar to that of the elf girl’s, which I painted in is­sue 91.

One fi­nal note. I’ll be cre­at­ing my paint­ing in Pain­ter 12, us­ing only stan­dard tools and brushes. How­ever, if you’re us­ing the more re­cent X3 re­lease you’ll be still able to fol­low my work­shop process. Okay, let’s get go­ing!

1 Ini­tial con­sid­er­a­tions

I choose to paint on the stan­dard paper with a Coarse Cot­ton Can­vas tex­ture. This will help avoid the typ­i­cally clean, sleek look of dig­i­tal art – some­thing that’s not suit­able for the sub­ject mat­ter. I’ll be us­ing the Char­coal, Smudge and oil brushes. Char­coal and Smudge are ideal for de­pict­ing the main shapes be­cause they’ll en­able me to com­bine colours and de­velop tex­tures on the var­i­ous sur­faces in the il­lus­tra­tion. Oil brushes help me to de­fine pre­cise de­tails and add in­ter­est­ing brush strokes on ar­eas that risk look­ing flat.

2 Char­coal, Conte and Smudge tools

These tools are in­ter­est­ing be­cause they use the tex­ture and grain of the can­vas. They’re ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing in­ter­est­ing and nat­u­ral ef­fects. My tech­nique is sim­ple: I start with fast brush strokes of the Square Conte brush, which de­fines the main shape. Then I use the Smudge tool to spread out and merge the colours. There’s no need for de­tails at this early stage.

3 Use oils to de­fine de­tails

The Bris­tle Oil and Real Round Bris­tle brushes are per­fect for this stage. My tech­nique is sim­ple. I trace some strokes on my ini­tial shapes us­ing the colours that I want to add. It’s im­por­tant to use a range of colours un­der dif­fer­ent light­ing ef­fects – this will add vis­ual in­ter­est. I then use the Smudge and Soft Blen­der Stump brushes to re­fine the re­sult.

4 Defin­ing the link with the orig­i­nal

Be­fore start­ing my paint­ing I an­a­lysed the orig­i­nal paint­ing. I was keen to iden­tify Water­house’s el­e­ments that I wanted to keep, and those that I’m happy to mod­ify. I de­cide to recre­ate the orig­i­nal dress of the lady, the drap­ery on the boat, the lamp and some el­e­ments of the boat. Now that these ideas are clear in my mind, I can start to de­fine the first sketch.

5 Coloured paper

The orig­i­nal im­age fea­tures a lot of red, so I start with a de­sat­u­rated brown/red paper (red, 105; green, 84; blue: 73). I de­cide to work at the fi­nal res­o­lu­tion (3,800x5,076 pix­els), and set the paper tex­ture to Coarse Cot­ton Can­vas. I in­tend to use only two lay­ers: one for the back­ground and one for the fore­ground el­e­ments.

6 Work­ing on the shad­ows

My typ­i­cal work­ing process starts with a sketch with the light and shadow nu­ances. The paper is the mid-tone level. I choose two colours for shad­ows: black and a clear red/brown. With these two colours I can de­fine the dark­est shad­ows with black and lighter shad­ows with brown. I use only the Square Conte and Smudge tools, work­ing on the fore­ground layer.

7 Paint in the light­ing

I now turn my at­ten­tion to the light­ing. I use the Square Conte and Smudge tools, but this time with white. This stage quickly gives the ini­tial im­age more depth. When I’m sat­is­fied with the re­sult I can move on to defin­ing the back­ground. I work on the Can­vas layer us­ing the Square Conte and Smudge tools, and just three colours: white, black and brown.

8 Add colours to the scene

I cre­ate two lay­ers: a back­ground colour layer that’s placed over the can­vas layer, and a fore­ground colour that sits on top of my fore­ground layer. I set both lay­ers to Colorize and us­ing the Cover Pen­cil tool I start to add colour. The pen­cil picks up less of the paper’s grain than the char­coal tool. I then merge each layer with its colour layer, so that I still have my two lay­ers.

9 In­tro­duc­ing more el­e­ments

I no­tice that the back­ground is too sim­ple, and the fore­ground also needs some additional el­e­ments. So I cre­ate new lay­ers on the back­ground and fore­ground, and loosely paint in some trees and river weeds us­ing the Char­coal and Oil brushes. My de­tail­ing is saved for the fo­cal points of the im­age.

10 Flip and de­fine the shapes

I use a com­bi­na­tion of Smudge, Soft Blen­der Stump and oil brushes to smooth the strokes cre­ated in the pre­vi­ous step. By re­duc­ing the pres­sure of my hand on the tablet dur­ing the paint­ing process, I can cre­ate very soft ef­fects us­ing the Real Round Bris­tle brush. I then flip the im­age, just to check that I’ve not made any mis­takes.

11 The face is too big!

I no­tice that the lady’s face is too big in re­la­tion to her body. So us­ing the Lasso Se­lec­tion tool I se­lect the face area and copy and paste it on a new layer, then ad­just the face with the Free Trans­form tool. I use the Eraser tool to re­move the bor­der­line ar­eas of the new face, merge the new layer with the Fore­ground layer and paint un­til the new face matches the ex­ist­ing art.

12 Act­ing on feed­back

Af­ter send­ing the WIP to the Imag­ineFX team, we de­cide to mod­ify the lady’s pose to gen­er­ate a more dy­namic ef­fect and to bet­ter in­te­grate the im­age with the cover shape and el­e­ments. I have to change the po­si­tion of the right arm, add a chain, re­duce the drap­ery on the boat and al­ter the shape of the boat’s hull.

13 Fore­ground and back­ground de­tails

I re­fine the dress, the drap­ery and the boat’s wooden hull by re­fin­ing and smooth­ing the paint­ing. In con­trast, the back­ground mustn’t be too de­fined be­cause it risks di­vert­ing the viewer’s at­ten­tion away from the fo­cal point. I’m happy leav­ing the back­ground as a se­ries of rough tree shapes. This also gives more depth to the paint­ing, en­sur­ing that it doesn’t look too flat.

14 Fin­ish­ing up

Here’s the fi­nal ver­sion of the paint­ing af­ter a few more mi­nor cor­rec­tions. I hope you’ve found my work­shop and paint­ing process in­ter­est­ing. It’s a re­minder that a suc­cess­ful im­age can’t be rushed; ba­sic shapes have to evolve into the fi­nal ver­sion, step by step, through a process of steady re­fine­ment.

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