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Digital painting has been called the last frontier of graphic design. This is because digital painting requires advanced knowledge Photoshop, drawing, and traditional painting techniques. Today’s tutorial will demonstrate how to paint an epic planetary typhoon using only a default set of Photoshop brushes. Once learned, this technique is quite easy but it requires a lot of time and patience to create to complete the process.
Only one asset was used for this image and that is a standard soft brush included in all copies of Photoshop, you will NEED a tablet to correctly follow this tutorial.
Step 1 - Document Setup
First of all and most important is the planning which for this project comes in a form of a sketch. It doesn't matter if you are no good at pencil drawing, that is a very good starting point, or if you are comfortable with Photoshop you can sketch there, which its what I will do in this case, so let's start by creating a new document 3700 by 1700 a good size for hi res painting and fill it with black.
Create a new layer where we will start painting our sketch with a fairly small soft brush and with white color. We will be using the same brush all through the tutorial, we will just vary size and tool.
Step 2 - Brush Selection
This is the brush I have selected; any of your soft brushes will do the same; the settings in the brush palette you have to check are, transfer, smoothing and airbrush; and confirm that transfer has "pen pressure" selected so it varies while we paint.
Note: the "Transfer" setting on CS5 was called "other settings" in CS4, CS3 etc.
Step 3 - Start Sketching and Vanishing Point
We will sketch the overall position of our Typhoon deciding on the composition and perspective with the help of a grid that we will setup with Photoshop using the vanishing point filter. Just draw as best as you can the general shape of the big storm eye following the perspective you have chosen following the grid.
After starting the sketch we will setup the grid with the vanishing point filter located in the filter menu like shown in the next image, to help us keep everything in a correct perspective.
Step 4 - Blocking Canvas With the Shape of Our Typhoon
After this and making sure we have the basic shape in good position, correct perspective and a composition that we like we go on to the next step which is filling up with big brush strokes and blocking what our cloudscape will cover.
Step 5 - Shaping the Sea of Clouds
let's make sure we cover all of what we are going to paint and moving onto a smaller brush (same brush just smaller) we start introducing some shape onto our crude sketch, take a look at the screen capture, its the best way to get an idea of what is happening here.
Step 6 - Gray and Light Gray
When we have everything covered and some structure defined, we reduce the size of our brush varying from light gray to darker gray let’s start giving this strokes some shape and intention. We will be selecting the grays either by color palette, or by directly selecting of our existing shades of the canvas, here I included both in this case, but it doesn't have to be exactly this shade, we will be working off the shades that we have on canvas for light and dark building up our shades, and its very simple because we will be working only on shades of gray we wont introduce any color until the final part of our process.
Step 7 - Smudge Tool
Now we will change our tool to the other most important tool we will use extensively on our painting, the smudge tool. And let's apply some settings to it. Let’s change the hardness first all the way to 100% plus we will enable shape dynamics on the brush settings palette with the pen pressure option enabled, this will enable our pen to vary the shape of our brush while we work.
Step 8 - Smudge Smudge Smudge
We will start using this tool, you can see the video bellow how it starts shaping things and getting Us the look and feel of a surface instead of some random brushing; but I encourage you to go ahead and let yourself go without fear that this is still our only layer, seriously there is nothing to loose smudge away! You need to love and know this tool because it will make up 80 % of our image.
Step 9 - Fixing Our Composition
Hope by now you have watched the screen capture and mostly experimented heavily yourself. Now I want to include this change instead of editing it out so you can see how flexible and easily changed our piece its. You must take a hard look at what we have so far and make any correction or change without fear of messing what we have so far; the most important thing its the end result, not what we have done so far.
So I realized a slight shift in my composition would look much better and dynamic, so I rotated our paint layer just a bit to make this change and painted/smudged the missing pieces.
Step 10 - Smudge Tool Part 2
Now we continue smudging increasingly and constantly to give more structure and start defining some flow to our sections of clouds. The wall of the storm eye, the surrounding cloud flows, the distant cloud sea, all have different behaviors and "looks".
In this case the lighter the shades the more volume and surface characteristics the clouds have and darker grays give us the appearance of depth; so where we need more volume we paint a bit more white and over the top and put darker shades where we want it to look deep. Of course you can see this process much more clearly in the next video.
This is where we start introducing a bit of cumulus cloud formations and how are those done with the simple wiggle of our pen, it’s all on the wrist. Check out the screen capture to really see what we are talking about.
Step 11 -Downwards Flow
Now let’s start painting that downwards flow appearance that makes the eye of the storm feel like its sucking in all around it. We start by modifying the border closer to our POV and give it some crests, some wave like shapes that plunge over the side.
And on the lower end of the other side of the wall we start tucking in our flow characteristics, and we are starting to establish that our light source its coming from the top right hand side of our piece; which will dictate everything we paint for now on.
Step 12 - First Cumulonimbus
Now let's proceed to making our first detail on the cumulous structure detail, again don't be afraid to experiment here we are just painting the basic shapes and location for these clouds we will refine and re-shape several times during our painting. To start we will apply a levels adjustment to our painting, just to bring down the highlights a bit I used the settings bellow just to bring everything down since our highlights where to close to white already. Again these are the settings I used but you don't have to apply the same exact thing.
Now we start painting slightly shaking wiggling our pen to get those puffs into place. Notice that we go about painting these on the crests of our cloud structure right now.
Now we continue in the same fashion adding more to some crests and on top the cloud bed.
And now we will change our shade to a darker gray, more or less what you see bellow so we can start giving some shade side to our cloud formations.
The shading gives depth and volume feel to these small clouds; just apply it in the same manner we created the clouds taking into account that our light its coming from the top right hand side.
We go all around our image adding the same kind of cloud structures keeping in mind aesthetic appeal and composition.
Step 13 -Introducing a Big Change
At this point I decided to break up the surface a bit with a couple of big features to our cloud bed to aid in the composition and make it more dramatic. So let’s grab a medium size brush with a dark gray and just paint some holes flowing our cloud flow.
And as you can see bellow we follow up again with our smudge tool until its up to the level of the rest of our piece.
I also applied some of this breakup on the top left third of our image with a less strong gray; in this part you don't want to skip the video capture.
Step 14 -Refining the Eye of the Storm
This is where we take our next big step in the refinement of our painting; now we are getting somewhere! With the same technique but a smaller brush let’s get onto our storm eye and define the shape of our wall by adding detail. First off let's define those crests in the lower edge defining the wave going down effect smudging in and then up and down.
Now let's go for the detail in our further wall where we go brushing some highlights and then smudging part of them to integrate onto the wall, repeating several times brushing some highlight or dark tone and then smudging to integrate it.
We repeat all over the wall adding detail ad features to it going a bit darker as we go further down the height of the wall.
So this is what we want our wall to look like at this stage. Don't forget to view the screen capture for this stage.
Step 15 - Adding Highlights and Painting Some Big Cloud Structures.
In this next section of our piece we will paint highlights in our cloud structures, plus we will paint some bigger clouds that will be a main feature of our image. So let's grab our brush and go down to a 6 px size.
Now let's pick a lighter gray for our highlights.
Start painting highlights on all our cumulus clouds always considering and maintaining sense of where our light source its coming.
Continuing all over our image where any significant structure stands out to receive the highlights from the sun.
let's pull back and make sure we have covered all the sections where we must apply these highlights, the result its subtle yet adds greatly to our work.
Now in a couple of places where there is volume enough in the base of our cloud bed we will introduce some much larger clouds that will be a strong part of our composition and final piece. let's grab a bigger brush around 40px and start blocking in some significantly big clouds.
You can see here how I paint where there is structure bellow that supports the placement of higher structures of clouds.
A second area of our image also merits the placement of another such cloud formation.
And as we have done several times so far, we then smudge a bit, apply some highlights and apply some shadows that give volume and depth.
Step 16 - Adding Streams of Clouds Over the Cloud Bed
Here we have another big very important step in our process, her as you can see in the first image I started covering all of the cloud bed with streams of less smooth brighter clouds. This is because while studying images of similar storms, this is the kind of appearance I found so I decided to go ahead and modify it accordingly.
So let's grab a 60 something px brush and start blocking in these cover of clouds.
As you can see we just cover in a random fashion over where we had channels of smoother surfaces.
Now we reduce our brush by half more or less and paint some more detail in these streams.
Wiggling up and down with the smaller brush gives us that stream random look
After this we reduce the brush size even more around 12 px and paint in some more detail.
Then we grab the smudge tool and go back to a 30px brush with the same settings found on step 7. And then smudge s bit of our surface to give it the fluffy soft stream appearance.
Step 17 - Covering a Big Gap
Now I decided to cover a couple of big gaps that draw to much attention to the lower right third of our image before continuing on further detail of the piece.
Selecting a 100px brush we go on to painting whit our already familiar process and a light gray color sampled from our canvas.
We brush in to cover this big gap in our cloud bed left and right of the big cumulus cloud but not all of it.
Then we reduce the size down to 48 px more or less and paint and wiggle a bit more.
We do exactly the same for the lower right corner gap.
Now at several stages of this process I de-saturate the image because some color can appear during the smudging process, and we don't want any color in here yet.
Next we grab a much smaller brush around 7 px and start brushing some highlight detail.
Simply wiggling again over where the crests of the clouds would be located; just some hints.
Step 18 - The 2 px Brush
So we are down to the 2 px brush; don't get very exited though we have come a long way and the 1 px brush its just around the corner there still much work to be done with other tools. OK so here we go we will use this tiny brush to again add some highlights to our clouds and also some shadows that ...yeah you guessed it will ad volume and depth.
We add the highlights as we did already before but our 2 px brush its more suited to detail the upper left corner of our image which is the section further away from the viewer.
Adding highlights all around on al l the tops of our cumulus clouds structures.
Now let's paint in the shadows in this same manner.
And as we already discovered before the shadows work their magic giving us volume and depth.
Step 19 -Finger Painting Smudge Tool
Now its time to start using the Finger Paint tool, we will be using it extensively from here on till the end of our painting. This tool its actually a setting of the smudge tool, but this setting gives the tool much different qualities and also gives us the ability to paint in some color while we smudge. So let's select the smudge tool and click on the finger painting check box on the top bar tool settings.
Now let's grab a small brush 3 or 4 px
This tool has three main uses we will be using, first of if you quickly tap with your pen you will get some paint on whatever color you have selected; if you slide your pen then you will get smudging.
In this section you can see we tapped dome fluffy daubs, and then slide over them to integrate them to our painting.
let's repeat several times and this is what we get, a very subtle cloud formation.
Now we repeat several times the same process over this area to get the same results. Tap and slide, experiment extensively so you know what to expect from this tool.
If we change the selected foreground color to a darker gray and use the same technique then we can do shadow sections with the same characteristics.
As shown bellow we start painting some defined shadows with our tool.
Now this tool will provide us with the ability to eliminate all undesired strokes, either Soo soft or too apparent and make them integrate onto our painting.
In the image bellow you can clearly see some strokes and too much softness in these clouds so with our smudge/finger paint tool we will fix this all over our painting, with slight circular motion we define the shape and integrate shadow and highlights for a sweet cool looking cloud.
You can see the result for this technique bellow. We will be using what we applied in this step all over the painting eliminating any trace of crude brush strokes and integrate everything together. Be very patient and cover all your image be sure to eliminate anything that its out of place. I spent over 6 hours in this step, so be sure to watch the screen capture and familiarize yourself with this tool.
Step 20 - The 1px Brush
So after going all over our image in detail and getting rid of anything that looks bad, artificial or otherwise misplaced we will start painting and smudging with our 1px brush; a step that will also take quite a bit of time and patience. Of course from now on we are not limited to the 1 px brush, if we find something that requires some step back we go back.
Now let's start with this section bellow; we apply the same process as earlier painting highlights on the crests and main features of our clouds.
As you can see bellow we define the shape and give presence to our painting with these details.
let's take a look at this other section bellow, and how we repeat the process all around painting our highlights.
We start painting the highlights where we established the light source would hit and define the shape in this way.
We go all over our image doing the same where highlights and detailed refinement are needed.
This next step its to refine and blend what we have already done and it will be to finalize our painting job. After applying all these latest highlights we must go around blending everything with our smudge/finger paint tool and make our details look good. As you can see below obvious brush strokes are visible in our highlighted sections so we go in and smudge and blend them to look integrated and good.
Below you can see the green arrows point to where we blended our strokes already and the red arrow shows where work its needed; we can see the difference clearly and what we need to keep doing all around.
Here is our finalized cloud with all the blending completed.
Here we can see another clear example where our blending final touch its needed.
And the final cloud bed all blended.
Step 21 - Final Color and Adjustment Layers
Now we will start to introduce color to our image with the help of some adjustment layers and some painted masking that will enable us to apply the layers just where we want or need them. There is a lot of images bellow but actually just a few layers that we are creating images just depict the steps to create such layers. So let's create the first one, a levels layer.
Now let's distinguish this one from the rest by calling it light shadows or something similar, which will make our shadows lighter.
After we name it just adjust the shadow arrow bellow.
There we go the shadows are now lighter; but we don't want this on the highlights, so let's select the mask for this layer and with black paint of where we don't need this layer to affect.
You can see how the layer mask gets painted with black and that effectively and selectively masks off the effect of this layer.
Now let's go ahead and create a second LEVELS layer.
We can name this one highlights if we want.
We adjust the levels like depicted bellow to increase the strength and contrast of our highlights.
Now let's adjust the brush size if needed to paint the mask again and eliminate this highlight effect where we don't need it.
Of course we don't need the highlights enhancement in the shadow area so we paint it of there.
Next let's create a new layer with a cooling filter .
But let's change the color to something more atmospheric blue.
Plus also we adjust the Density around 66%.
We can call this layer blue atmo.
OK let's go ahead and create another photo filter layer.
This one with a warming filter of 85 and a density of 91
We can call this one warm sun or something to ID it
Now our warm sunset tone will come from our light source and fade gradually to the left so we select our mask, a big brush and eliminate the effect where we don't want it.
You can clearly see in the mask thumbnail where we eliminated the influence of this filter.
Now let's go on and create a simple layer where we will paint a bit more of our sun influence over the clouds
With a big soft brush and a yellow/orange color let's softly paint some of it where the sunset colors are getting in like the image bellow.
Now let's select a very light gray.
and accentuate the intensity of our sun glare.
An finally apply some motion blur to it with the settings bellow in a correct angle to fade our layer even further.
Then apply the motion blur again.
Set the layer to screen and move it where it looks best and more natural.
From here on its just a matter of preference if we want the scene lighter, darker or with higher contrast depending on our taste and the scene we are aiming for, I applied for example the levels layer bellow...
And just adjust the highlights to make it darker.
Then I applied another hue saturation layer with the colorize option selected
Set the layer to overlay plus an opacity of 32%
A very dramatic layer I apply some times its this one; create a new simple layer and fill it with the color bellow.
let's set this one to overlay mode too.
This is the effect we get.
Dramatic but quite too much so let's reduce the opacity to around 19%
There much softer sweet effect
Next, another very interesting layer we can create. let's select a light orange color like this one.
A small size soft brush....
And let's paint some careless daubs in the upper border of our image.
Now we apply a directional motion blur with the settings bellow.
This makes our strokes into light streaks easily....
let's repeat some more strokes and apply motion blur again with the same settings.
So you can see the effect we are getting with all these layers, but as mentioned it depends on what we want and that is the ability that painting with gray shades without color provides us.
Step 21 - Paint Some Lightning.
To finalize I will show you how to add some cool lightning to our scene; we will do it pretty much in the same manner we have been doing everything on our image.
let's grab our 1px brush with some intense blue and paint some streaks as shown bellow .
Then we grab our smudge tool and soften it away, we are just creating the glow intensity of a lightning that is taking place inside the cloud system.
Then back to the brush we add some highlights.
Go back to the smudge tool and soften the border again.
Back to the brush let's intensify the detail again.
The result here its some very dramatic detail that we can choose to add on our image.
So here it is the result of a very satisfying day at painting with Photoshop. Click on the image to enlarge.