Spring Brood: Tutorial

It's funny how you discover new ways of working when you look back. A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across an old folder in my apartment building's storage room. We used to use the room as a small studio space in college and were in the process of going through it. When I opened the folder I was immediately surprised to find original pencil drawings from The Morae River! That project was my jumping off point for my entire career and I actually thought that those drawings were lost or misplaced at some point. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to look through all of them again. I spent a good while on the floor sifting through a good 60 or more drawings. 

Recently I've been revisiting this way of working in pencil. I really like the look of the pencil texture in finished work and I've been working to add value and volume back into my pencil work. I get asked a lot about how I know when a pencil drawing is done or finished enough to move to color. My honest answer is that I'm always figuring that out. I usually stop when I begin to revisit things too much in the piece or can't come up with anything else to do. I've been getting more and more emails about how I work digital paint into my pencils so I thought I'd put together a step by step of my latest piece, "Spring Brood". I had been thinking about this piece for a while. I originally sketched the idea last year but soon ran out of time to work on personal work. While putting together Endeavor Vol. 1, I stumbled across the sketch and thought I'd revisit the idea. Here is the original sketch from 2013: 

I liked the concept but not the composition or wyvern design. So taking the concept of small, juvenile wyverns huddling for warmth in a cherry blossom tree, I sketched out a new composition: 

I felt this sketch worked better than before. It was more dynamic and felt more naturalistic and "bat-like". When I had originally started this piece, I began with this initial design. I later redrew the wyverns when I began looking to African Bush Vipers for reference. I tend to start all of my work in this way. I find that figuring out color, value and composition in the computer is helpful for when I begin the pencil drawing. The more I can figure out in the early stage, the better. From here I turn down the opacity on the color sketch and will draw in the rough drawing:

Once I have my basic drawing in, I print the image out on plain paper and tape it down to a light table. I then trace it onto bristol:

I use Strathmore Vellum Surface Bristol Paper and I tend to work at about 9x12 for most things. I find the paper holds the pencil in place pretty well and doesn't deteriorate when you erase a lot. I use Caran d'Ache Grafwood Pencils to draw. I like their consistency - they spread nicely but don't get super smudgy. I hate smudges. I tend to use H2, HB and B pencils exculsivly. Once I get the drawing to where I think it's finished, I'll scan it in at 600 dpi usually as a jpg or tiff. This is the raw, unaltered scanned pencil: 

Scanners a messy creatures. There's always odd bits of color and weird lighting all over the drawing. To clean up the pencil for painting, I first start with "hue/saturation". I take the saturation all the way to -100. This makes the pencil completely grey and gets rid of any odd colors the scanner decided to add in. 

Then I pull the image into "levels". I push and pull the greys and whites here and there just to enhance the pencil and get rid of any weird ligihting on the paper

So now that the drawing is looking more even, I'll usually do a once over with the stamp tool or eraser and get rid of any specks or messy lines I don't like. From here I'll select my subjects using the magic wand tool. I tend to have this tool's tolerance set at about 30. I'll select the negative space and then go in with my lasso tool to roughly clean it up a bit. I find that levels takes care of most of the weirdness that comes along with scanning images so my selection is usually pretty clean from the get go. For this particular piece, I ended up warming up the pencil to be sort of a rosy, brown color.

From here I'll enter the quick mask tool. I like this tool because I can paint my selection in with the brush tool. This makes for a more precise selection and I am able to use textured brushes which can affect the shape of the selection. When you toggle in and out of quick mask mode, you'll notice the dotted selection line from before will show up so you can treat it as any other selection tool. For this piece I was mostly concerned with making the selection so I could fill it in with paint to paint the dragons and flowers separately from the background. With stand alone characters for RPG manuals and such, where there isn't supposed to be a background, you can use this tool to delete the white space around your pencil drawing. After I've got my selection all squared away and pretty, I'll go into "refine edge" and toggle the edge of the selection a bit. Since pencils can't always fill in every fiber on the surface of the paper, there's going to be a bit of a rough edge. I usually pull the smooth and feather bars around until I feel it's right: 

Once I've done that, I'll inverse the selection, double click my pencil "background" layer so it becomes "Layer 1" and create a new layer under my pencil layer. I switch my pencil layer to multiply so everything I paint under it will be seen. Then I fill the BASE layer in with a color using the paint bucket

This layer will serve as the main layer that I will attach all of my clipping mask layers to. I tend to lock my layers as I paint. This enables me to paint the current layer without bleeding into other parts of the image. So the BASE layer here was where I rendered my cherry blossoms. 

After I've gotten my cherry blossoms in, I'll move on to other elements. As I paint, I tend to go back and forth between layers so some things will be finished or in progress as a move forward in my painting. Here you can see my BRANCHES layer. This layer has been made into a clipping mask so anything I paint on my BRANCHES layer will follow the shape of the BASE layer. This is the bulk of my process. I try to keep my layers to a minimum but I will add them for major elements. You can see a few of the layers below:

I don't use too many filters or effects in my work. The GLOW layer here is set to "soft light". This is the pink glow you see under the flowers on the wyverns, making it look like the light is shining through the petals. This effect gives the layer more of a tint ability, making the color more saturated and over-exposed looking. I've turned down that layer's opacity so the color is subtle. The SHADOW layer is set to mutiply with it's opacity turned down a bit. I like to keep my shadows translucent looking. I tend to think of the SHADOW layer as a glaze. With our shadows looking translucent, our highlights can be blocked in on a normal or opaque layer - just as analog paint works.

So now that my underpainting is mostly there, I'll begin to work above the pencil. I create layers above the pencil layer to paint in highlights, atmosphere and water droplets. I'll also add in markings to the wyverns on the SPOTS layer which is set to multiply. This acts, as mentioned before, a translucent glaze. I've also got my background layer painted in. Since I figured out color in the preliminary sketch, I knew what color the background would be as I was working in reflective light and such. So this is where I call this stage finished. I like to keep my process as I work. You'll notice the GROUP folder above all of my layers. You can collapse the group to make space. I duplicate the group and then merge it so I get my entire painting in one layer with the process (separated layers and such) underneath. 

Now I can adjust the "color Balance" on this layer a bit to warm everything up. I can also make new layers and paint of those to edit the paiting further. Either way, I can still open up my original group and edit the seperate layers from earlier in the painting. I've put together a gif so you can see how this painting builds up:

Anyway, that's about it! I hope you find this post useful and that it answers a few questions. If you have any questions you can shoot me an email or talk to me on facebook, twitter, etc. If you're curious about the brushes I use, I used Kyle T. Webster's gouache brushes for the majority of this. You can purchase his brush sets here: https://gumroad.com/kyletwebster I highly recommend them.