My tree bark art looks like nothing of the sort – can you help please?
Anja Konig, Germany
First of all, use both photos of bark and artistic references. If you’re only referencing other art, then you’ll just be making a copy of a copy. It’s great to use someone else’s textures to understand how to create in a specific style, but the most unique work is inspired by reality. You’ll get more accurate art this way, and it’s a great exercise for general painting practice.
Next, work big to small. Don’t go into details too early. The first trick to follow this rule is to stay zoomed out from the canvas as long as you can. You also want to make sure that you are always using the biggest brush you can for the task. This is a big time-saver, but also helps to keep your flat colours clean.
Make sure that you focus on form – the shapes created by the raised bark elements. Even though this will be 2D art, thinking about the form of your material is essential. Consider the direction of light, make sure to paint in ambient occlusion, and add cast shadows when it’s needed. Use light, warm colours to pull the convex forms towards you, and use dark, cool colours to push concave forms into the background. Think of it like you’re sculpting. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with Saturation turned down completely above all of your other layers to make sure forms read well.
The final bark texture is easy to read and not overwhelmed with intense values. By using inspiration from both real life and other artists, it’s believable and interesting. You can see in these progression images that I work from large detail to small detail. This is a great way to avoid muddiness.