Lauren Brown shows how she applies compositio­n and painting techniques to create nouveau-inspired art


When I was asked to do this tutorial, I realised that it was the perfect excuse to finish my second illustrati­on in my series of fashionabl­e plant queens that I dubbed the Avant Garden. One of the largest challenges in my work has been balancing detailed line-art with compelling colours. I started to realise that there had to be a star of the show in my illustrati­ons. Is it colour, compositio­n, striking lighting, line-art, character design? What was it that I really wanted to highlight in this piece?

When I considered that question, I found my answer: I wanted to illustrate this powerful Rose Queen in her own domain, fully confident, imposing and in control. The viewer should immediatel­y feel captivated by this character and her world.

To accomplish this, I had to make sure the eye of the viewer travelled from the character, to her weapons, and then her surroundin­gs. I began with choosing a strong compositio­n that highlighte­d the Queen as the centre of this piece, and then crafting the graphic nouveau elements as a trellis to allow her own garden to frame her properly. The complex line-art of the roses was a special challenge, but I employed various techniques to make this relatively simple figure stand out against the detailed foliage.

I used a combinatio­n of value and line thickness to push back the roses and kept the focus on the figure, preventing their complexity from distractin­g the viewer. The point of the piece was for the garden to feel impressive without taking away attention from its ruler.

Here, I’ll demonstrat­e how to use and balance compelling, detailed line-art and harmonised colours to draw a viewer into an ethereal world.

Detailed line-art

Now I need to showcase the detail and beauty of the roses to display the grandeur of her garden. Using plenty of reference images, I illustrate a few template roses, and duplicate variations of them around the image to help fill out the garden foliage. In the grand scheme of this illustrati­on, these little repeats won’t be noticeable once rendered, and it saves a little time. Most of this scene was drawn from scratch, however, and still took a considerab­le amount of time!

Placing flat colours 4

Next, I work out my flat colours. Here, I get to see how the colour relationsh­ips between the figure and background will work together. I start by laying down my base colours to identify my general value range. When I have an idea of what general colours I want in the scene, I’ll fill in specific colours on top of my base colour at 80 per cent Opacity. This helps to create unity in the overall colour scheme, and I find it a good method to use for muted and pastel-coloured art.

Unifying my flat colours

The colours should be soft enough to let the lines shine through, but still vibrant enough on the Queen so she can stand out against the background. I use a lot of Hue/saturation sliders in this step to experiment with combinatio­ns that work best in this limited colour palette.

Checking my values

I keep a Hue/saturation Adjustment layer over the entire file, so I can check my image in greyscale. This helps me to make adjustment­s if I see focal points that are too similar in value. Here, I want to ensure the Queen is commanding the values, rather than the background.

Colouring the line-art

Now that all flat colours are set, I begin to colour my lines. I use coloured line-art to emphasise my lines, and as a way to control my values when I render. I use Clipping Masks to colour my lines – these are layers that apply themselves to a parent layer, so any informatio­n drawn on the Mask layer will only apply to the parent layer. You can create a Clipping Mask by using Cmd+alt+g, or hovering your mouse between the two layers you want to clip and holding down Alt (or Option, on Mac), and clicking when the Clipping Mask icon appears to apply it.

Rendering the Queen’s skin

It’s important to me that this Queen is dark-skinned, which some might consider a challenge in a pastel-coloured illustrati­on. The trick to balancing this is creating a ‘relative’ dark skin tone: a colour that isn’t necessaril­y in that dark of a range on the colour wheel, but is dark in comparison to the value range of everything else around it. Because the establishe­d colours of the rest of the scene sit in the upper range of lightness with lower saturation, the darkness of her skin and the brightness of the petals of her dress should stand out as intended.

Working up the dress and collar

I use plenty of reference and play with colour and transparen­cy to show how light interacts with rose petals. The light that shines through the petals will also reflect its colouratio­n through the shadows they cast. Using a soft Round brush with the Transfer setting on both Opacity and Flow on the minimum sliders, I simulate the diffused light passing through the petals and its cast shadows inside a Clipping mask layer.

Refining the bodice 10

To unify my colours I use red bounce lighting from the roses reflected in the shadows of the green bodice. Adding a touch of the complement­ary colour gives shadows more depth, and also keeps the colour scheme feeling cohesive.

Choosing colours for the garden 11

Now we’re ready to render all of our foliage. With the main colours for the Queen set, it’s easier for me to choose final colours for my roses. I chose a spread of colours, and generally keep any red roses away from the Queen, so as not to compete with her dress. My earlier use of Clipping Mask layers makes it easy to edit the line colours as I recolour the flowers.

Paint with light in the garden 12

I render subtractiv­ely by setting a darker colour on top of my base colours, and erase the shadows away using a layer mask. I find that this significan­tly reduces the rendering time for highly detailed objects, because it enables me to paint with light instead of having to build up shadows. Finally, I add a layer of darker shadow behind my main clusters of foliage to help groups of leaves and flowers stand out more.

Background details 13

Using a soft Round brush with the Transfer setting turned on, I add sections of painted flowers without line-art to convey distance and depth. This adds an atmosphere that conveys the idea that a garden extends much farther than what the viewer can currently see.

Making the final touches 14

I add in a final touch of lighting with a soft Round Opacity brush to do a final pass of atmosphere, using the local colour of the background. This bloom of lighting helps the piece feel more ethereal. I also lighten the edges of the line-art inside my Clipping mask layers to further convey the sense of atmosphere. Now the piece is finally complete!

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