Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Animal's Garden - Evolution of a Digital Painting

I haven't had time lately to work on this blog because I've been spending all of my time preparing for the upcoming SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in New York.  It has long been a dream of mine to illustrate a children's book. I realized that if I ever want this dream to come true, I need to start putting myself and my work out where it can be seen.  So, even though it's rather expensive, I decided it might be a worthwhile investment to go to this conference.  One of the deciding factors was that there is going to be an Illustrator's intensive day, where illustrators can participate in workshops and have their portfolios looked at by people in the publishing industry.

One of the pieces I've been working on for my portfolio is a scene from a children's story I wrote back in the mid 1980s.  It was a story about an abandoned, overgrown garden inhabited by various animals.   I'm planning on going back and revising the story, but in the meantime, I dug out from my flat files, a couple of watercolor/pastel illustrations that I did back when I first wrote the story.  The paper on which these paintings were done has darkened over the years, and the pastels on the paintings have gotten smudged.  In other words they look dingy and out of focus.  These days I do almost all of my artwork digitally using Corel Painter XI, so I decided to redo one of these paintings on my computer.

Before I go any further, I want to let you know that you can see enlargements of these images by clicking on them.  I started off by taking a digital photograph of the original painting (see the above image). I used a camera instead of the scanner because I didn't want to smudge the painting anymore than it already has been by placing it on the scanner bed.  I wanted to widen the scope of the image, so I also incorporated background elements from another painting.  You can see these in the digital pencil sketch that I did based on this painting.

This might be a good time to show you what my palette of digital tools looks like.  Painter allows you to make customized palettes made up of any tools that you like.  This is great because then you don't have to scroll through their long list every time you want to switch tools.  In this palette I have a hard and soft colored pencil, a #2 pencil, a piece of soft chalk, pens of various sizes, erasers of various sizes and strengths, an oily blender brush, several different sized gouache brushes, a number of different blending stumps, a charcoal stick, two varieties of soft pastels and a couple of sponges that can be used for glazing and adding texture.  There is also a customized brush that I made for another painting to add leaf texture to a tree (I didn't use it in this painting).

Once I had the layout to my satisfaction, I searched the internet for reference photos for some of the animals.  When I found what I was looking for, I roughly cut them out and then pasted them on a layer beneath my drawing.  I used these mainly to give me help in defining the animal's form for shading and fur.  Once I began to paint, I turned this layer off so that it was no longer visible

I began by painting in colors for the night time sky (In this shot, I have the layer with the drawing turned off).

I then began filling in other background elements. To do this painting, I created lots of different layers, so that I could work on separate elements without worrying about painting over something in the background.  Each layer could be turned on or off as needed.  Here you see the layers with the sky, the wall, the moon, the ground, the trees, the cat and rabbit, and finally, the pencil sketch, a total of seven layers.

Here is a shot of the ground layer where I've begun to add some texture and shadows.  I added another layer above this one where I painted in some weeds.  You can see that some of the other layers have been turned off.

Here I've begun to add in some other shrubs and more background detail, including a pond and a sundial.

Here is a detail of a layer where I began to block in the color of the foreground animals.  I mostly used a gouache brush to get in a base layer of color. Then on top of that I added other colors with an oily blender brush.

And here you can see I've begun to blend in some of the lights and darks to create the shading and fur.

To create the animal fur, I discovered that using a grainy blender stump, and moving it back and forth in a direction following the contours of the body was a good way of getting the look of fur.  Here is a rabbit with its color shading blocked in and roughly blended.

Here is where I began to create some fur texture.  Before using the grainy blender stump, I added some highlights and shadows with a soft pastel brush.  This also added texture.

Here I'm beginning to use the grainy blender, moving it back in forth in the direction I want the fur to follow.  If you drag the grainy blender back and forth in the same direction, the blender drags out pixels in a linear fashion, that gives you a feeling of fur.  It helps to go through this process a number of times - blending, adding more lights and darks with the soft pastel, blending again, adding more pastel highlights, blending, etc.  This builds up layers of color helping to give the illusion of dense fur.

Here I've begun to add some texture and shading to the stone walkway.  Once again, I painted the base color with a gouache brush then added dabs of color with an oily blender.  I later added texture with pastels and sponges and painted in some edge detail with colored pencils.

Here the scene is pretty much finished.  Now it's time to add some effects to the lighting.

It may not show in this screen shot, but in this image I've added some glows and darkened areas of the background to put the emphasis on the circle of animals.

Here is the finished piece.


  1. Thanks for posting this Vince because I didn't get to pick up a copy of the Corel Painter mag you were in so now I can get a view of how your work here.

  2. Thanks Drew. This piece is quite a bit different than what I created for the magazine. The piece in the magazine was similar in style to the work in my Art Nouveau Constellation series. But I did use some of the same techniques.

  3. Very nice artwork, Vince. I like it a lot. :)

    This is also a very interesting read. I've never had a change to work with any kind of painter applications. I'm just wondering if it's easier to illustrate with the use a computer rather than painting on a canvas with a brush.

  4. Thanks Jim, I'm glad that you like the piece. I find it much easier to paint on the computer than on a real canvas. For one thing, you have the ability to hit the "undo" button, You have an almost infinite variety of brushes within the click of your mouse (you can also create your own specialty brushes), you can work on separate layers which gives you much greater control over the various parts of the image, you can save multiple versions with different variations in color, lighting, exposure, etc. And best of all there are no fumes, no mess and no cleanup!