This is where my creative process gets a little strange. Everything up to this point has been fairly straightforward with conceptualizing, sketching, writing and researching. But once we leap onto the computer armed with our materials another element rears it’s head, the unanticipated happy mistake which causes a delightful outcome that you wouldn’t have previously thought of. You’ll see what I mean.
My recent run of artwork deals with loosely rendered silhouettes of men and women with skulls and a few other upper body bones put into place within the outline. This required me to get a few reference shots for the body shape (see photo) and a lot of skull shots for different angles, which brings me to an important point. Never ever ever be ashamed of looking for reference material to help you get the proper form and shape of whatever you are creating. I read a book by famous comic artist Joe Kubert who pushed this point to the very end, and sited the internet as an endless dump of reference material. If you want to draw or paint a motorcycle or polar bear, find a picture of one. Michelangelo or DaVinci never just pulled their great images out of their head, they had teams of people posing and sketching far before their brush hit the canvas. Reference is not a bad word, and don’t believe anyone who says it.
After I have my references, I arrange them in Photoshop as a very loose collage on my canvas. It might look really silly for a while (see image) but this stage is important to nail your composition and to size things correctly so you don’t start painting blind. For mine, I snapped a few shots of my pal Jerko because he had a good head to stick a skull on. When they are arranged on the canvas in a way that appeals to me, I start painting in the shapes using simply black for stuff in the background and white for things in the foreground. This gives me a rough idea of how things are working together spatially and allows me to draw attention to items that are brighter or more important.
When things are loosely painted in, this is where I start the process in selecting color. I always have a rough idea of what I want to use as a palette but that can quickly change when I see how colors are working together, or not working together. I normally start putting darker colors in the background, lighter in the foreground and work from there. To get a better idea of how color is reacting with the whole piece, I always overlay a texture on top of them to see how lighter or darker they become. The happy mistake is very prevalent at this stage because you can never predict how colors are going to shift when you start adding layers of dirt on top of them.
If you are not good at selecting a color palette as a starting point, check out Colourlovers.com for some killer categorized palettes.
Speaking of texture overlays, this brings me to four of the most important Photoshop tools I use. On the layers palette there is a dropdown menu at the top (see image), and in that menu you will find Multiply, Screen, Overlay, and Soft Light. I use those four things more then any other setting in Photoshop because of how vastly different they can make an image by setting a top layer of texture to any of them. Try different layer effects on everything to see how differently it molds your image, it might give you a few more ideas on how the finished product might look. Also try overlaying grayscale images on top of colored layers to give interest to your highlights and shadows.
This might be a lot to process so I will cut this post here and continue soon with how to finish a piece using similar techniques. The main point of this post is to play with your image, and don’t be restricted by what is in your head.
Also, you can see the full example image I am using in this post right here.