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Create a Fantasy Landscape Using Digital Painting Techniques

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In this tutorial we will explain how to create a fantasy landscape using digital painting techniques. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Editor's note: The brush sets linked below are not necessarily the brushes that were used in this tutorial. The brushes below were recommended by the author. Please feel free to use brushes from your own collections.


Step 1 - Sketching

Usually I'm not much of a sketcher, so coloring is usually my first step, but when I'm painting something more detailed, I like to think about what I am doing. It is important not to get attached to the sketch, most of the times the final piece is different from the initial sketch, use the sketch to help you with the overall composition. If you feel more comfortable using a pencil and paper, draw it by hand and scan it into your computer.


Step 2 - Coloring

Ok, so after you have an idea of what you want to paint it's time to select you color palette, this is not an easy task. What I do is select the base color depending on what I am painting, and start mixing colors you think would fit your purpose. Since I'm painting a lot of rocks and grass, my base colors are grey and green. In this step it's important if you start thinking about the light. As you can see in the picture below, the light is coming from the right side, so I just started to paint with lighter colors on the spots facing that direction. One thing that could help you with the light and color selection is the sky, when you have the base color for the sky that can make you work much easier, so I just added a sky to help me to create more realistic colors, lightning and mood.


Step 3 - Defining the background

So as you can see, now I have a rough painting and I can now start to add details. The next thing to do is quite simple, take your lasso tool and start defining the mountains so you can have more accurate results when painting them.

After that just cover all the selected area with a base color, in my case I just used grey. When I want a more detailed piece, I use clipping masks, because I can easily control my painting area. It's quite simple to do it, just create a new layer above the one that you want to detail, and then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (or just press Alt + Command/Ctrl + G) now, everything you paint on this layer will only be visible on the area of the layer from below. On this new layer, start by defining the light and shadows; try to make it simple so you have a better overview on your light.

When working on the mountains, keep in mind that the veining on the mountains is actually quite easy to achieve. Use a small round brush, set to color dodge with blood red, and then start to paint, as you experienced before using color dodge, every time you repeat a brush stroke on the makes the color brighter.


Step 4 - Detailing

So, now it's time to start the detailing process. To help me with that task I have some nice brushes that I have collected over the years. I have included some brush sets in the Tutorial Assets section of this tutorial. Feel free to give those brushes a try. The biggest piece of advice that I can offer is to get to know the brushes that you use. Then you will know which brushes are best for your situation. Once you know the capabilities of the brushes you are using for the project, you can start to add in some details. Occasionally, I will use a texture brush when I paint but for the most part, I use simple brushes like the one below to paint in details.


Step 5 - Clouds

The clouds can be a bit tricky, and again, depends on the level of detail you want, in this case I used a simple cloud brush to get the main shape.

To detail the clouds I used the smudge tool, it gives you good control over the details on that kind of material. Select the smudge tool, with a the same brush used before around 5-6px large, and check the finger painting box, this mean that if you use the smudge tool on the canvas you can paint a small stroke before you actually start to smudge. However there is a nice shortcut for this feature that I prefer, if you use the smudge tool when pressing "Alt" it will do the same thing, but now you don't need to check or uncheck that option when you need it.

So, on your selected color select a lighter and a darker tone of your base cloud color, and then switch between them to paint highlights and shadows on your clouds. This is how I do it when I want a more detailed painting, there are plenty of ways to do it, just try it and develop your own way.


Step 6 - the theme of your painting

In this particular painting, at this point I started to paint objects that could bring a purpose or a theme to my piece. By this I mean a story, something you can tell the viewer, which makes the painting more exiting. I had an idea in my sketch, but sometimes the initial idea isn't my final result. I already had a theme before I started the painting and that can make your job a lot easier. You can see 3 points of interest in my painting, the wolf head shaped mountain, the statue, and the most important one the temple on the top of the mountain, and that is my focal point.


Step 7 - Textures

This process is quite simple you just need to find a stock photo that suits your purpose. I used 3 textures in this piece, one on the center mountain, one on the grass on the ground, and the last one on the dirt path.

The first step is to understand your environment, what you want to detail, this is not meant to do all the work for you but instead give a more detailed and realistic look for your piece.

So all three photos need to be different, and there are websites dedicated to texture photos, most of the time I use cgtextures.com but there are many more out there on the web.

So I used a stock texture of rock, grass and dirt to make the mountain middle ground and path, respectively. Now I'm going to explain how I applied the textures, so take them and place them over the layer you want to "texturize," you can use the same process I used before and create a clipping mask and make your job easier. Select your texture layer and change the blending mode to overlay, after that you just need to adjust the opacity and finally paint over or erase some areas that could be bothering you.


Step 8 - the foreground

Now that most of your back and middle ground are done, you need to focus on your foreground. You just need to apply what you have learned before, paint some rocks, and give them the correct light and texture. What I want to tell you about this art is how to do your vegetation.

There are amazing vegetation brushes on the web that you can use. I used the one shown below to paint the grass, but there are a lot of brushes that can help you.

I use this brush a lot because it feels great and genuine, but having a good brush won’t do your work, you need to make it look real. Again, try it, learn how it works and it will be much easier to work with.

Now that you feel comfortable using your brush, create a new layer and start painting with it, with a dark color, I used dark green. Create another layer and above the current one and make it a clipping mask layer, just like you did on the mountains, so you can have a perfect control of the grass edges. So it's time to give some highlights to the grass, pick a small round brush 4-5px and make it color dodge. I use color dodge a lot when I'm adding highlights, what it does is that every stroke you give make the color brighter. So paint the edges of the grass until you are happy with the result.


Final Image

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