Sunday, January 23, 2011

Digital landscape animated

I thought I'd have a go at animating the step-by-step digital painting process from my last post.

Here you go. Click to see it larger.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to: Digital Landscape

Here's a  step-by-step breakdown of how I approach a digital landscape painting like the one I did this morning.

For this painting, I used a cartoony cross-hatch brush from Chris Wahl.

For this brush to work to full advantage, you need a pressure-sensitive stylus and Photoshop (other software might also do do this). The default settings for the brush work beautifully as the cross-hatch pattern randomly rotates as you paint. All I change is the brush size and sometimes I turn Other Dynamics - Opacity on or off. I do most of the painting with the Opacity setting on so that a light touch produces a translucent wash. This makes it easier to build blends and allows for a little variety within major tones.

Step 1: Rough outline to locate main shapes. Since this painting was right out of my head, with no visual reference whatsoever, some things will change as I progress.

Step 2: Rough in undertones. Lighter and cooler in the distance, darker and warmer in the foreground. I adjusted the mountain shape so it would fully contain the main tree. I use a fairly large brush here to get the surface covered.

Step 3: Add weight to all tonal areas. I use some of the sky colour in the mountain colour. I do this by painting a transparent patch of the sky blue over the purple from Step 2. Then I select this colour with the eye dropper and apply it across the area. This helps to "absorb" the mountains into the atmosphere, especially the more-distant peaks.

I introduce highlights in the background and mid-tones in the foreground. I re-establish the main tree and distant trees and some minor detail is added to indicate a fence and track. I've also introduced a foreground shadow being cast from a tree off to the left somewhere. This small detail instantly adds depth - plus I like shadows falling across white sand tracks!

Step 4: Highlights are added to the foreground and middle distance. I've strengthened the track and foreground fence posts. By this stage, I'm adjusting the brush size up and down as I work on different areas.

Step 5: I decided to change the shape of the main tree as the earlier shape looked a little "weak". I've also marginally brightened the sky and added my digital signature.

(Imaginary landscape 2. 1500x1000px digital. © Andy Dolphin)

Step 6: Finally, I flattened the whole image, boosted the saturation a little and tweaked some minor details here and there across the whole painting. I could have adjusted the saturation with an adjustment layer instead of flattening - but I didn't.

There is a about 30-40 minutes work in this. Note that at 1500 pixels wide, this image would only produce a high quality (300dpi) print about 12cm wide! If I wanted to do anything serious with it, I could work at this size up to around Step 4 then increase the resolution before continuing with detailing.

Half-awake digital landscape

I had a bit of a sleep yesterday afternoon, after having a tooth pulled. In those moments before I woke up, properly, I saw another landscape image. I tried to focus on it to see if I could commit it to memory.

I should have got up there and then and captured the image as soon as possible, but I was still feeling a bit sorry for myself and went back to sleep. Anyway, I decided to drag it back out from the depths of my memory and here's what I ended up with...

(Imaginary landscape 2. 1500x1000px digital. © Andy Dolphin)

This is nowhere in particular but I think if I headed out around the Stirling Range, I'd find something pretty close to it. Don't forget to click the image to see it at full size.

I painted this in Photoshop using a tablet and stylus. I only used one brush which I downloaded from Chris Wahl's blog. I used the same brush in my previous imaginary landscape digital painting.

I painted this one in layers so I can upload the various stages as a mini digital painting tutorial. The basic approach is the same as I use for oil painting - under-paint in shadow tones followed by mid-tones then highlights.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Sometimes, despite best efforts, some paintings just don't work. With plein air paintings, the chances of "failure" are much higher as paintings are executed quickly in changing light conditions.

I have quite a collection of paintings that I don't let out in public. Every once in a while, I review them and see if I can recover the feeling that made me want to paint them in the first place.

Here are two such paintings, although you only get to see "the after shots".

(Wansborough Karri. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

This small painting was done in the studio but executed quickly, like a plein air painting. It is based on a piece I did a few years ago. The original lacked a significant warm-cool contrast and therefore failed to portray much depth or the warmth of the sunlight. This little painting was done with a view to doing a larger piece.

mt pleasant inn arthur river
(Kitchen, Arthur River. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

This was a little plein air painting I did back in March of the historic Mount Pleasant Inn kitchen at Arthur River.

When I first painted it, the sun disappeared for quite a while and I lost the light that had initially attracted me. As a result, all my tones drifted toward the centre and the painting lacked punch.

Last week I took another look at it and increased the contrast on the building, darkening the shadow side and boosting some of the intense light on the red brick wall. This instantly lifted it so I continued on, making the front row of trees darker to bring them forward from the distant trees. A bit of warm colour was added to the dry foreground grasses and it was saved.

In this case, I painted right over the original because the foundations were okay. It's a risk, because it could all go wrong then you've lost the lot, but it is a huge time saver. This one too might be used as the basis for a larger painting. There are a few exhibitions coming up and I need some paintings bigger than 20x24cm.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Plein air summer

I was invited to this year's first Porongurup art picnic yesterday and decided, this time, I'd do a painting rather than sketches.

We met at the old Woogenellup bridge and I wandered around for half an hour or more looking for something to catch my eye. It's a very interesting place with the abandoned timber bridge sitting alongside a concrete river crossing and culvert. The bridge itself is slowly returning to nature as the timbers rot and grasses and saplings take hold. Much of the area immediately surrounding the bridge is overgrown with grass and scrub.

I chose a spot at one end of the bridge where the post-and-rail fencing ends atop a grassy ridge. The evening sun was shining through at a sharp angle offering interesting contrasts of warm and cool tones.

The colour of the light changed dramatically during the forty minutes or so of painting time and I battled to decide which colours to follow and which to ignore. I ened up with this...

Original, on-site painting

I didn't mind it as an on-site exercise but it lacked punch, largely due to my colours drifting too much toward greys. There was no sunlight shining on the fence or grass by the time I was finishing.

I reviewed the painting this morning and decided to try and give it a lift. Step one was to scrape it back with a palette knife...

On-site painting scraped back ready for retouching

Scraping back an oil painting leaves a clear image in thin, smooth paint.

I reworked almost every part of the under-painting as I wanted to soften the background tones, pushing them back in the process, and strengthen the foreground. Here's where I ended up...

(Post-n-rail. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It's still a fairly loose study but the finished painting has much-improved tonal contrast, helping the fence stand forward from the distant trees. There is also a more distinct warm-cool contrast between foreground and background.

I also added in a post on the far side of the track. I'd noticed this as I was finishing the original but I was too busy to add it in. It's barely noticeable but adds some dimension to the timber structure.

This was an unusual subject for me as I most-often seek out wide vistas, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Summer daze!

Summer finally hit the Lower Great Southern this week. On Monday the thermometer settled somewhere around 35ยบ C by midday and the wind was full of attitude. So naturally I decided this would be a good time to go outside and paint.

I plastered myself with sunscreen, donned my hat and headed about 1km down the road from home to a spot I'd noticed the day before. Something about this scene, a place I've driven by almost every day for over seven years, caught my eye.

I set up my easel in the ditch on the side of the road and if the gusty wind and searing sun weren't enough of a challenge, I soon discovered that I'd left my palette knife and one of my brushes at home.

I use a palette knife for scraping excess paint from the brush during painting so not having it with me meant wasting more paint and time than usual as I struggled to keep my one main brush clean. Still, I persisted and here's the result after about half an hour, during which my easel almost collapsed after a particularly strong gust of wind...

summer landscape in oil paint
(Hot & windy. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Later on, I headed back to the Porongurups to have another go at a spot I painted the day before. I had much more time to work on this one and as a result, I've added a little more detail than usually appears in my plein air works. The downside is that the light changes considerably over an hour so it's possible to end up with two or more paintings in one as the light on the foreground doesn't necessarily match the light on the background which is usually finished first.

In this case, the shift in light wasn't too dramatic and I used the extra time to capture some of the detail in the mountain range. I wouldn't usually do this with distant objects but I couldn't pass up the opportunity while the range was lit and not shadowed by clouds.

mountain landscape oil painting
(Summer track, Porongurup. 30x20cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Monday, January 3, 2011

The real thing...

Following on from yesterday morning's imaginary digital landscape painting, I present you with "the real thing".

I headed out yesterday evening and after driving around for and hour or more, I headed to a spot that catches my eye every time I drive past it. Yesterday it reminded me of my morning's efforts so I decided to capture it in oils.

plein air mountain painting
(Porongurup track. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

I was rushed due to fast-changing light (the sun had as good as set by the time I stopped) and clouds rolling in but I caught some of the feeling. I might head back there again today, a bit earlier this time, and see if I can do better.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I woke up this morning with a landscape image in my head. This almost never happens to me so I got up and had a go at reproducing it in Photoshop.

I quite like it...

digital landscape painting australian farm
(Imaginary landscape. 1000x717px digital. © Andy Dolphin)

I've spent quite a bit of time recently driving around the Porongurups and this image is heavily influenced by the region although it is nowhere in particular. I've resisted the temptation to saturate the colours as the paddocks are quite bleached at this time of year.

I created this in Photoshop using one custom, cartoon-style cross-hatch brush I downloaded from Chris Wahl's blog. Click on the image to see its effect in more detail.

Thanks for making the brushes available Chris.