Concept art works are usually more about a product than art. They don't need to be perfectly refined, they just should sell the idea. However, they can't be messy, either. How to find this balance? How to paint something quickly, but without making it look like a doodle? In this tutorial I'm going to show you a method to paint a fantastic creature quickly, but with a refined look that happens almost magically. Ready to try it?
1. Prepare the Workspace
Before starting the actual work, we need to prepare the tools.
Create a New File with dimensions that aren't too forceful for your computer. For the start we don't need anything big, and a smaller workspace may even be better for you, keeping you from zooming in on details.
Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill the background with black.
If you want, you can make the background more alive by adding a grunge texture or using texture brushes. It's not obligatory, but sometimes it works to inspire you, giving your subconscious mind ideas you'd never have had otherwise.
Our basic brush will be a typical round brush you should already have in your set:
2. Tame the Idea
The beginning is always the hardest. A good concept will defend itself even when it's poorly rendered, but a great rendering of a poor concept won't impress anyone. Make sure you pay close attention to this part!
You may not be aware of this, but the idea in your head is never complete until you try to put it on paper/screen (unless you spend a lot of time rendering it in detail in your mind, but it takes experience). What you've got in mind is an essence that you need to transfer as quickly and mindlessly as possible to a real medium—this way you give your subconscious a way to manifest. The more experienced you are at drawing, the easier it is to go through this step. No matter how good your idea is, it'll need your skills to get presented properly.
When the main lines are established, you can try to sketch more details. Try to guess what your subconscious wanted to achieve and follow it. Work on a New layer, with the previous sketch more transparent (lower its Opacity).
Now, this step may be a little bit controversial. Drawing concepts is based mostly on fast work, because the more you think over something, the less creative your ideas. However, if you're not really experienced and you don't fully control your forms yet, it's good to stop here and check the perspective. I'm not talking about vanishing points, but simply about proper establishing of the sides, as described in this tutorial. Basically, find the front, back, top, bottom, and sides of your creature, and check if they're aligned properly.
Before we go into details, we should resize the canvas to something bigger. Change the dimensions (Control-Alt-I) to at least three times bigger than the final picture is intended to be.
Once your base is done, you can finally sketch the details. Don't plan them! Draw them quickly on a New Layer, twitching your hand to move the lines in unintended directions. This way your idea will get enriched.
It's better to use a slightly less predictable brush in this phase. You can choose your favorite one or download something; here I'm going to use a hexagon brush as described in the first part of this tutorial.
3. Light and Shadow
The human eye recognizes a form the fastest when it's defined by light and shadow. Let's use them!
Change the Opacity of the sketch to 10%. Use white to paint illuminated areas on a New Layer. Draw them boldly, don't try to be subtle.
Lower the Opacity of the layer to 20%. This way we'll get more space for brighter lighting.
There's too much space between the light and darkest of shadows in our picture. To eliminate it, create a New Layer and use dark gray to fill the black areas, leaving darkness only in the crevices.
A lesson to take from here: black, just like white, is an extremely powerful color. It doesn't occur in nature too often, except at night. Look around and try to find truly black shadows. Are there any? The conclusion is that they're rare, and hence they don't look natural when you use too many of them. My advice for realistic painting is to avoid black at all costs, leaving it only for crevices.
Paste the texture and change its Blending Mode to Overlay, and Opacity to around
40%. Then use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) in Warp mode to adjust the shape to the perspective.
Don't limit yourself to only one texture! You can put them everywhere, changing their size and shape.
It's important to understand why we use textures. In my case it's not about adding elements I don't feel like drawing myself, but to add a suggestion of sketch. How does it work? Recall when you were looking at a chaotic pattern on the floor or a wall and saw an amazing creature there. You could never draw something that awesome, and lo, it was created by itself out of chaos! That's how we can use textures. They add chaos compatible with our sketch, giving us more ideas and a base for future lighting.
Let's add stronger light, but only in places that are heavily illuminated (New Layer once again!).
Change the Blending Mode to Overlay to make it shine!
4. Refine the Details
Time to zoom in and define everything you can see. Pick the color (shade) from every element with the Eyedropper Tool (I) and draw clearer edges for it. The tricky part is that you shouldn't just pick one color and use it everywhere—this way you'd make it all flatter. The way is to pick-draw-pick-draw, not pick-draw-draw-draw. If it sounds tiring, remember that you can quickly pick a color by holding Alt when painting.
In my opinion, the curse of beginners is not a lack of skill, but the urge for fast effects. Hence the big strokes and love for tools like Blur, Smudge, Dodge, and Burn. If you want to be better, don't expect fast and easy results. Take your time—with practice it'll get faster!
Let's work on the crystals now, since they will be our focal point. Sketch them lightly on a New Layer, creating transparent blocks.
To make the crystals look thick inside, fill them with whitish fog.
Add flaws to the crystals—without them they would look more like glass.
This is a good time to use black! Shade the sides with very light or very dark shades.
You can make the sides more solid by "carving" them with horizontal lines.
Add shadow to the base of the crystals to blend them into the body.
You can use white now to add pretty spots and define some of the edges.
To make the blending more complete, I added simple spikes of crystal between them.
We can convert all the spikes, teeth and claws to crystal, too, in a similar way. First paint them in black...
...then cover them slightly with gray...
...and add the shine. A hard brush (100% Hardness) can be very useful here! Also, notice how a simple white dot at the tip of a spike makes it look sharp.
Since our beast is partially made of crystal, let's add small rocks here and there. It will make the surface more rich without drawing details manually.
Create a New Layer, take your round brush and change the Settings (F5) as shown below:
To make the scattered brush more 3D in look, let's add Bevel & Emboss in Blending Options (double-click the layer to open it).
Now simply draw the texture in darker places to your liking.
What if we wanted to cover all the back of the creature with crystal spikes? A custom brush is the easiest option, but they make black transparent, and that's not what we want. Let's use a cool feature called the Mixer Brush Tool!
On a New Layer, prepare a base for the tool, a cluster of spikes.
Modify a round brush and change its settings as below:
Take the Mixer Brush Tool (it's in the Brush menu, just where you can find the Pencil) and change its combinations in the upper bar to Dry, Heavy Load. Make sure that Sample All Layers isn't checked. Then resize your brush to fit the spikes inside, hold Alt and click firmly.
Now, paint a test stroke and see the magic happen!
Use the brush to paint a few clusters here and there.
Alas, the Mixer Brush doesn't have an option to rotate its content, so you'll need to create a new sample to change the direction of spikes.
Use the same technique to add any other cool features.
5. Add the Final Touches
At the moment our monster is a bit too dark. Let's illuminate it some more. The tricky part is that the random spikes need to be shaded according to the local lighting, otherwise they'll look out of place. To save some time you can paint in Screen Painting Mode—this way your strokes will get brighter every time you repeat them.
For balance, add reflected light on the other side. Don't forget it can't be brighter than the main light!
Before we add any color, we need to sort out luminosity (relative brightness). Different colors have different brightness—for example yellow is very bright, and blue is dark, even when they have the same brightness level. That's why we need to plan the colors and make some of the areas darker, and some brighter.
Use a New Layer in Overlay mode to brighten some areas. For me these are the spikes and scales that will be bright cyan.
To darken some parts (the body will be blue/purple) use a New Layer in Multiply mode.
Now we can safely paint the colors on a New Layer in Color mode. If need be, you can always come back to previous layers to adjust the luminosity to the colors.
Hint: first fill the layer with dark blue (color of the shadow), and then paint the light. Don't use big strokes for it, paint scale by scale without coming into shadow. Otherwise you'll make it flat.
On a New Layer in Overlay mode you can add more light by choosing a warmer version of color (more reddish/yellowish) and painting over only a part of the illuminated area.
One more way to add light is to create a New Layer in Screen mode and paint with a warm color like bright orange. Don't go overboard with this—it's good to keep the Opacity low.
You are finally done. You can add some fancy details, but they're just decoration.
Wasn't it fast? It may look quite refined at first, but if you take a closer look, it turns out it's nothing but a bunch of messy dots and blobs. And that's just what we wanted—something quick that doesn't look quick. Mission achieved!