BASIC CG PAINTING TUTORIAL
By: Mattias Snygg
Last edited May 19, 2004


Here is a quick introduction to painting. It's not specific to any particular software, but I used Corel Painter for this one. There should be things in here for traditional painters too, but my main aim was for people using the computer and some sort of drawing tablet.

This is my fourth or fifth shot at making a tutorial. I failed miserably all the other times, probably because tried too hard... So this time I tried to make it as simple as possible.

1) Sketch
For this one I make a sketch. I usually don't, my painting is erratic and unpredictable at best. But if this document was supposed to make any kind of sense I had to have a plan. I might make another tutorial without one...

Oh well. I scribbled something quick and it looked like this:

I used the Pencils' 2B Pencil variant in Painter, looks a lot like a real pencil. You might be able to tell that I don't sketch much. It doesn't matter what the sketch looks like, there's plenty of time to change your mind as you go along. Keeping it loose is the key in this. And yeah, the front of the body is roughly at the golden mean. That's the relationship between points, as displayed in this example:

That means that, in this case, the distance between the head and the left edge (A) is 1.62 compared to the head and the right edge (B). You can read up on that if you like, but I don't see the point in constructing your images from it. I didn't think about that when I did this one, it just happened. This relationship between forms and shapes will probably appear in your work wether you like it or not, it's one of the mysteries of art.

2) Adding color
I created a new layer, and set the composite method to "Gel" (but "Multiply" will do just fine for you Photoshop users). Then I used a round brush and added some color, very simple areas of light and dark. This is the most critical point in a painting. The choices you make here will pretty much dictate the outcome of the rest of the piece. Play around until you get it right. Make damn sure you don't start adding detail in this stage - that means you're stuck and that it's best to chuck it out. Keep it light and general, use big brushes that make it easy for you to quickly change everything.

3) Tightening shapes
When I was more or less satisfied with the general look of the piece I started to get more specific, experimenting with different values - still painting on a separate layer. This was all done very fast. The big risk is always to get stuck at something that prevents you from seeing the big picture. The piece must read well as a whole, nothing can get in the way of that.

I used several brush variants for this, mainly the Brushes' Variable Flat and some Dry Media variants.

4) Bringing it together
I dropped the Layers to the Canvas, and went to work on it with lots of different brush variants. The Brushes' Palette Knife is great for modeling shapes, I can strongly recommend it. The plan was to slowly tighten the shapes, adding more variation to the piece with different values.

I mirror the image constantly now ("flip horizontal" under Effects/Orientation). It's a life-saver, really! Maybe the biggest advantage of working on the computer as opposed to painting on a canvas, sure beats the hell out of looking at the piece through a mirror. It helps you to spot your own mistakes, and to get a fresh look at what you're doing.

The sketch was everywhere in there when I did this. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be quite annoying. The option is of course to erase some of the drawing before flattening the image, but you didn't expect me to think of that did you?

There are lots of brush variants in play here, crayons, brushes etc. I use as many as I can, because they all bring a certain personality to what you're doing. A rough material is best painted with a rough brush, or that's the general idea. It's also good to beat the piece up a bit, to show who's in charge. You can't let it run you, you must run it. Kill your darlings.

5) Getting close
The body of this animal-thing was coming along nicely when I saw another way of doing the background. Instead of the simple dark-light-dark layout I used in the picture above I could make things a lot more interesting by simply adding a slightly brighter value to the background (4). Now it reads a lot better, with added focus to the head and better variation. The very contrasty meeting between 1 and 2 is repeated with 3 and 4, but with different values. It's a rhythm.

I also added a lot of detail, as well as removing other things. The trick is to keep your eye relaxed and allowing it to move freely over the piece. If you find you're being drawn somewhere you're not supposed to be drawn, you need to fix it. Working on the whole piece is the only solution to this, if you're focusing too much on one part you're gonna have a hard time making the picture work. Always move your focus and work on the thing that looks the worst at the moment. The selections you make will bring definition to some areas and keep others rough and alive. This way you direct and control the attention of the viewers eye.

Speaking of eyes, I removed the left eye of the creature. Bad drawing, it should be obscured by the muzzle.

6) The result
I kept defining some areas for a while, to make them stand out and grab my attention. Others were left, because they didn't interfere with the composition. As always there are lots of happy accidents in there, things that didn't look like much when I did it, but made sense when I looked at the whole piece.

I also upped the contrast on it. A bit like cheating, I know, but the button is there so why not use it?

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