Process for my Terra
— I begin with a small sketch to place what's in my head on canvas. Don't zoom in or worry about details. It's good to do several of these, to explore different ideas and allow your creativity to shine through. If you get too stiff here, the painting's liveliness and spirit may be lost. I wanted this painting to be all about light, so I focused on developing clear values and ignored color. Depending on the approach, though, you may also need to figure out colors in the thumbnail stage.lines
— After I've settled on the idea, I figure out how I'm going to approach the painting from a practical standpoint through a series of line drawings. For me, the most important part of this step is not about what's on the canvas, or making clean lines, but about understanding the scene in my head — spatial relationships, overlapping, perspective, flow. In a way, it's like reverse-engineering the thumbnail and troubleshooting the problem parts. Do as many drafts as it takes — I did Terra's lines in about seven passes.ambient occlusion
— For this piece, I used a painting approach similar to how a 3D program renders in multiple passes. A key part of this process is ambient occlusion (AO) — placing shadows in those niches and crevasses between objects, where light can't easily get to. The steps for Terra are based on a painting process
(Sam Nielson).flat colors
— Colors were handled in a separate pass from lighting. However, the solid color of an object will still shift in hue and value depending on the lighting conditions, so that has to be taken into account. In the end, even the flat color stage will appear to have some shading to it.light sources
— Once the flat color and AO layers are combined, it will sort of look like a 3D model, and adding a few light sources will basically bring the painting near completion. The lighting will look correct if the sources are consistent — where objects cast shadows on themselves or other parts of the scene is crucial. I positioned a strong, warm light behind Terra and a cooler fill light in front.
— My last step is to flatten the image into one layer and render out the remaining details. Color adjustments are made at this point, as well as subsurface scattering for the skin and light bloom/lens flare effects. Since my usual painting style is so opaque and rigid, I lost a bit of the softness present in the earlier stages of the painting, which I regret. Next time, I want more of the AO to show through at the end.