HOW TO PAINT THE CLASSICS
Get inspired to create Pre-Raphaelite art, with Corrado Vanelli
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.