How do you get ideas? Or how to get ideas that are interesting and new? What do you do with your ideas?
It is said that the idea part is only 1% of the total work, I'd suggest it's even lower than that because the idea might hit you in a split of a second, and if you're quick to record it, all you have to do is work on it and make it real. Writing in this manner makes it sound easy but it's not quite so. Don't be dismayed but don't be deluded either!Idea-> Write it down-> Work Hard-> Finished product.
It's a little harder than what that flow-chart above shows and the simplification may outline the general steps but provide no evidence to the difficulty of the task in latter stages.
So the actual work is the hard part that requires more innovation, but the idea is the soul, it's the little spark that ignites life and becomes a huge pyre.
The idea will set you to work and you'll refine it as you go along, don't be afraid of changing the initial vision early on. It's fine, it should be like this. The raw idea is sometimes not the best of ideas, but it is there to evolve or to be completely changed with the help of association and imagination. Play with it, change it, see how it can tell a story.
Examples so that I won't stay abstract and thus render your memories of this journal to exactly null.
* What do I mean by playing with the idea?
Let's say that your idea is to draw an aquatic environment. Let your excitement about the idea in. What kind of animals would live there? Are there any dead animals that could perhaps have been converted to houses? Is this a BAD aquatic environment? Do they do some kind of sacrifices down there? Is there evidence for that? Some kind of a temple? An obelisk? This is how I can play with the idea by using association and imagination. This is really fun and best done with somebody else or written down.
* What do I mean by changing the whole idea?
Let's stick to the aquatic environment. Imagine a quick under the sea landscape on the bottom of the ocean, now change the idea from an aquatic environment to something that's on land. That is, make it an ex-aquatic desert environment. You changed the idea to something even more fresh. What would something like this look like? How about more changes? It's a desert ex-aquatic environment that was invaded by Romans 2000 years ago, or perhaps settled by them. What it would look like? This gets me excited by writing it down since it introduces so many elements to play with. What would ocean bottom vegetation look like when it's dried up? Is it possible to use some of it for resources? Is it possible that some of the vegetation adapted? What would an underwater reef look like when covered in desert sand or surrounded by cacti? On and on those questions arise.
* What do I mean by seeing how it can tell a story?
What is going on in your environment? It's easy for me to paint rocks because I love em, but maybe this time I want to create something that will tell a story instead of people just looking at beautifully rendered rocks. Something that will emanate deeply with them, because all stories that are told are there for the reader or the viewer to empathize with what's going on. So perhaps our aquatic environment shows a sunken ship, with this we can perhaps tell a story of bravery by placing certain objects around the sunken ship to tell the viewer of how it got itself sunk. Perhaps the life boats are gone and only one skeleton remains, this of a lone captain who supervised the leaving of his sailors to safety while forgoing his own life. This tells a story and creates more interest and helps you develop an idea. It's almost a cheat pack since when you have a story like this it's easier for you to know what to draw in your environment, things just pop into your mind like they've always been there (hint: they were). It's not abstract anymore.
Don't get into the habit of changing ideas later on, decide on what you want to do and stick to it. When you do it later on, it's like reconstructing a whole building instead of reworking the foundations only. It's also useful for long term projects, to stick to the initial idea after it was developed.
When you change your ideas at later stages it also makes you volatile, unable to finish the task at hand because you always search for the better thing to do which isn't a good thing in my opinion. It'll frustrate you, the search for ideas is fun and creative but in a way can be exhausting if you don't balance it with the steady approach of working the idea into completion. Putting in the not so creative hours.
It kinda reminds me of people at parties that will chat with you with their eyes always darting and looking for somebody better and more interesting to chat with, I hate it. These people can't create new true connections but instead behave as though they're watching TV where people are the channels and some channels may perhaps be more interesting than this current one they are on, so you gotta flip em channels until you find the next interesting one and then you find the next one and so on.
I wrote a lot about what to do when you already get an idea, but how do you actually get the first raw idea? This one is hard, since everybody is different. You can get ideas for painting environments from the things you love, perhaps it's a certain genre of paintings that inspire you and you want to contribute, or perhaps it's a fan art environment for a movie that omitted a certain scene from a book that you love, maybe you love cats and want to paint cute environments for them to play in or perhaps you are writing a story and have it all written down for your characters but now they need a background of some sort.
Explore what you love to do, what are your passions. Isolate yourself temporary to let yourself connect with your true self and to think. Spin off older ideas, or take older ideas to new places. Look out of the window and observe the people or nature or the urban landscape and see what triggers your imagination.
This is your completely unique moment, however, I do find that the best ideas come to me in two situations. First, when I'm with creative people and our talks just spawn those ideas naturally. Second, when I'm meditating or doing no-brain things like washing dishes.
Experiment with this, find your own niche that contributes to ideas. This is hard for me to help you find, however, I do hope this section was even a bit helpful.
So far, the idea was a bit abstract although some imagination was included. Next part is about putting the idea on the page in a visual form.
(2) Vanilla choice and thumbnails
When you go to buy ice cream, are you curious to know what are those other flavors that you never tried taste like or do you go straight for the old and the familiar? To what's called the vanilla choice, because it's the default for most people. So it is with ideas, do you go for the first idea the pops into your mind? Or are you curious and want to explore some more?
If you do go for the vanilla choice, it can work well sometimes. But in most cases (speaking from my own experience) you'll end up painting something that's less creative than you would have painted if you had spent some time pushing that idea forward and had not settled in for its first version.
This is the important part, the part where you explore. I'd suggest doing that with thumbnails if you're keen on creating environments.
What are thumbnails? Many of you may know what are thumbnails, but I'll explain the concept for the benefit of those who don't and have never approached a painting with a designer's attitude in mind. A thumbnail is the vision of the whole, it has no small details and it is the foundation of the whole painting that will come later on. So it's obvious to all why it is important to work with thumbnails in order to get a good design, because if you nail this stage of your painting well all that will follow will have something to lean on that is strong and interesting.
Yes, we are trying to create something that's interesting and yet is resilient. Something that will not change almost at all in the later stages of your painting process, because changing it is plunging into the chaos of moving foundations. It's very possible to do it but hard to pull right in the latter stages of the painting.
So what do the thumbnails look like? They're small version of the final painting. In fact, they'll likely to look very similar to the final product when the final product is zoomed out sufficiently. It's an interesting thought, when a thumbnail is done in a correct and attractive way it'll draw people to it and you yourself will be satisfied with the result because it will look good no matter what. However, you can still screw it in latter stages so it's not exactly bullet proof.
Remember that the thumbnail is the part where you create the composition of your painting. If you hear composition, it's usually referred to this early planning and the thumbnails are just a tool to create a good composition.
The idea I'm going to follow through with is that of the aquatic, sea bottom environment that I talked about in the previous section. I'll show you what my thumbnails might look like in preparation for a painting, although I'd personally keep developing more and more thumbnails than just the four I did for this journal.
As you can tell, I don't put a lot of details in. Some people do, I don't, at least for now I don't. I also limit the palette of colors I work with to greyscale and to only about 3-4 values and stick to them (something very light, grayish light, medium grey and a dark tone).
The background of my work station is always dark in the beginning as I try to discover the painting by creating those thumbnails. As Bobby Chiu said, it's easier for the imagination to work when you observe darkness. The absence of clarity and light puts your brain into motion to discover the things hidden by the cover of darkness!
Three more things that are related and very important to your thumbnail design:
1) Determine where the horizon is in the beginning
. I do this consciously, but at first when I only started doing environments I'd place it subconsciously and my subconscious is always seeking comfort so it always placed it in the same level and at the same angle. Thus creating no much diversity and no room for play.
The placement of the horizon can tell a lot about your work and the situation that goes on within the landscape. It is worth exploring and it's a big part of what your composition is going to say. When the horizon is placed really low, we create a lot of space to observe above us and it might speak of a frightening or an awe inspiring building or more emphasis on the vastness of the skies. A mid painting horizon is calmer, but still an artist can manipulate it to show anything they want. A high horizon can be a bird's eye view or a look down at some abyss or a person looking down from a building at the street, and thus many choices of emotions can be created. A soaring bird looking down at an inspiring scene, a look at the depths of some ungodly abyss from above may be frightening to us and yet it might pose a challenge, a person viewing the street from above can perhaps appear to the viewer of the painting as a distant observer and show an uncaring society. It's a complicated subject but it has its guidelines.
There is also the tilted horizon that can be placed at any height in the painting. It's there to show some motion perhaps or that something's not all right (a camera that fell down during a fight and took a picture will probably show a tilted horizon). Play with those and see how well they communicate your message.
2) The resolution of your painting
. I mostly go for very wide paintings (about 1:3 in ratio, but it varies). You can chose yourself what kind of a resolution will suit your needs. Up to you. Observe what other painters do and what scenes they show in which resolution. Also observe where they put the horizon and what it communicates in their scene.
3) The three distinct plains
. Although there can be more, paintings are usually divided to background
. The background tells the story of the location, the midground is usually the subject of interest and thus the flesh of the story but it varies and the foreground connects the viewer to the whole story. Those vary and sometimes not all plains are present in every painting, as those are guidelines to help you, not rules to abide by. Also, notice how I separated the plains in my thumbnail by using different tones. The lighter the tone the farther away in the background the element is, this is due to whatever is in the space between me, the viewer, and the object I'm observing. Be it air particles that discolor and make the far away object lighter or perhaps a body of water that make everything murky.
So with the four thumbnails done (in a real painting I'd do even more until I'm satisfied), I'm going to pick thumbnail 4 since I like it the most and develop it further with some variation to it. I'll do only two variations to it but you can produce more at your leisure. What this does is help me develop the idea even further.
I really like thumbnail variation #2, so I'll proceed with it to the next section.
(3) Perspective, Research & using linework to simplify ideas Perspective
isn't easy to apply although it's quite easy to understand. I suggest you learn the concept of perspective with different vanishing points and practice it a bit, it's not entirely necessary when painting landscapes even with cities in the distance but it's very important when it comes to drawing urban environments because perspective is the name of the game there. I will not go deep into perspective here, but I'll recommend this book to you that can be found following this LINK
. I'll also supply some basic perspective guides I found earlier on in the links section for those who don't have the time to go through a book (like myself).
I don't think you need more than this to begin with, but later on you might want to explore the subject in depth. Although I do suggest to strengthen your perspective skills, also there are perspective tools that can be imported to Photoshop other than the built in perspective tool that Photoshop offers. I've heard of those but never used any myself but I added a link at the end of the journal.
I will include a few quick tips on perspective and composition though to keep in mind:
. That is, objects that recede farther into the distance will be overlapped by objects that are closer to the viewer and thus create a sense of perspective and depth.
. Due to atmosphere or other particles in the space between the viewer and the elements in the painting, the farther the elements are the more they'll mingle with the background and appear less attractive to the eye. These are also composition considerations that must be made when working with different tones, here is an excellent LINK
for you to check.
. Things that recede from the viewer become smaller. This will require a consideration of how big the objects are and how smaller they'll get when they recede compared to those objects close by. A mountain close by might not fit into the whole frame, but if it's farther away it can be very tiny and be seen through a window perhaps as part of the background. This gives a sense of depth too.
. These pesky buggers are things that touch each other and create a sense of unease in a painting. For example the red arrows points at tangents in the next thumbnail:
It's a thing of composition that makes your painting look unnatural at best, there are many guides on the subject and those will be added in the links section. Many good artists will point those out immediately, and it can be sometimes tedious to actually see the difference in the painting without the tangent.
. It's a tip but I use it as a rule myself. Don't point at a corner of your painting with any element in the painting itself or don't make any element go straight towards a corner. This helps the eye of the viewer escape the painting very easily and thus make them wonder if whatever is outside your painting more interesting.
. Optional but can be powerful to blur whatever isn't the center of your focus in your painting to create a sense of depth that is captivating.
. This one is simple but can help a lot. Less details on objects far in the back, more details on objects that are close to you. Simple.
Also some would suggest using the Golden Rule
, and divide your painting in a clever manner and put your subject in one of the side thirds and never put it in the center. It's good advice but it's possible to not follow it and still create a good painting if you know what you are doing.
All right, a few words on Research
Whatever you're drawing, you can use your imagination to conjure the visions and render them beautifully. However, with proper research using google images, pinterest or whatever suits you you can come up with ideas that are far more creative and realistic than you would have conjured up by yourself. Researching is an art in and of itself and should be limited in time, because you can get paralyzed by researching too much. It may include images and it may include knowledge about how something works that you want to paint (wikipedia). Up to you to determine how much of that you need. The images you find during your research can be used for references, determining the mood of the painting, drawing objects you are not familiar with and what not. It's a powerful tool that I personally undermined plenty of times before, but when I used it and worked hard on my painting I actually was rewarded with a Daily Deviation
. Odd, isn't it?Linework and simplification
are usually my next stage in my work flow, as I strive to create the line version of my thumbnail.
I make my thumbnail much bigger by using the Photoshop tool 'Image Size' (ctrl+alt+I), lower the opacity of the original thumbnail and pick a good brush to do linework with on top of the thumbnail. This helps me imagine what's going on in the scene with more detail and I can add some basic sense of 3D to the different objects and plainly sketch without worry. I keep my thumbnail if I need reference for the plains separation but I never really need it because I'm already familiar with my simple thumbnail and what the painting should look like without the reference to go back to.
Since I think in line it helps me visualize the different objects in the scene better, you might not need this but I'll suggest that you at least try it.
(a rough line work of one of the thumbnails above)
Now that I have the linework, I'll move to the next stage.
(4) Blocking and Values
I'll start off by blocking off different huge elements in the painting with greyscale color. The values we'll add to each element will get brighter as farther the element is away from us. Each element will be value-blocked on its own layer, with the farthest element being the layer below all the the others and in my painting it's the part above the background mountains, which is just water. However, since I imagine this scene to be underwater and a little deep, the waters will get a little darker and murky and this will affect our whole scene.
There will be another four different elements that will get their own values, so with the background ocean we'll have five different values comprising our painting for the most part. The ocean will be the brightest perhaps, the mountains in the background will have a close value to the ocean above it, because these mountains are far away and the murky ocean waters surrounding it hide it substantially from our vision. The gate will have a medium-dark kind of value and the floor on which it stands will have a similar value and the foreground will of course be the darkest.
In the image below this is how a blocked in painting looks like.
I also added a screenshot of how my layers look at this point.
Yes, I give names to my layers now, it helps me a lot when I need to locate a specific layer. You can keep your line-sketch layer on top of the others and paint underneath it. Here I actually painted on top of the sketch layer because I didn't save it separately. That's all right, it just teaches me to use layers in a more organized way and save the Photoshop file with all the layer information.
(blocking done - kinda rough I know. Since I painted over my lines by mistake, I'll refer to the sketch to guide me)(layers!)
Blocking in values is a tedious part but it can also be fun, try to nail the original shapes as precisely as you can and keep each shape on separate layer, you'll benefit from it later on.
(5) Color and Unity with the previous steps
Here I'll take my flat value block-ins that are separated to different layers and start adding greyscale details to them. Remember, the farther away the elements are the less details they get.
I'll add a clipping mask to each layer I'm working on, sometimes a few clipping masks per layer.
How to do this?
Create a new layer on top of the layer you desire to clip the mask to, hold ALT (this is for PC, no idea what do you do if you have something else like an Apple) and you click in the space between the layer you just created and the layer you want to attach it to, the icon will change when you hold ALT and when you click it it will attach itself and you'll be able to draw on that clipping mask that is now connected to the layer beneath it. This lets you draw within the boundaries of what's on the layer the clipping mask is clipped to. This is mighty useful as it removes completely the fear of stepping out of the lines.
My current brush work flow painting and then erasing to give what I draw harder edges where I want them to be. It's more powerful than simply painting without erasing and depending on good brushstrokes only, much harder to achieve good results with.
You can combine your brushstrokes with thoughtful erasing and give yourself more variety in the painting itself.
When painting with the brush and erase way, I'll look for places where I can put shadows and then places where I can put light on and I'm always using the color picker to grab subtle variations of color from my previous brushstrokes to paint with. I'll paint boldly and erase with care. This helps me create a more believable look. Don't settle in for the first value you chose, let the variations of this value a chance too and see how they work within your painting.
(This is the detailed version in greyscale, I didn't go into intricate details because it's not the time to do it and it'd take me too much time. Also, I added a layer in between the Foreground and the other layers with a 20% opacity light grey on it to create a bigger contrast between the Foreground and the other layers and push those other layers farther away)
When the details in greyscale are done, I'll add a unifying layer with the overlay blending mode on top of the other layers. I don't always do this, but in this case since it's all under water it'll have a tint of greenish-blueish color to everything. So I want to start there. I'll do this by creating a layer on top and then with the Hue and Saturation tool (CTRL+U) I'll color it (don't forget to flick the colorize button on the bottom right). I'll play with the different sliders until I get a good unifying color. I might completely skip this and instead use a Photoshop filter when I'm done painting, but this time I wanted to try something different.
I'll add more clipping masks to each of the different elements in my paintings on top of the existing clipping masks (ALT+click in between the layers again) and paint on top of them with a basic color, this shall work really well with the unifying layer on top.
Use layer blending modes and experiment with them when you're putting paint with clipping masks, I usually chose overlay as a blending mode but sometimes I get surprising effects with others blending modes as well. For example, for the ocean layer I added a clipping mask with the Linear Burn blending mode. I rarely use this blending mode and the effect surprised me. To that Linear Burn layer I added a mask (learn about masks ASAP if you don't know how to use them) and by deleting and adding back parts of this clipping mask I hide and reveal parts of the Linear Burn layer that I want. On top of the other clipping masks I'll add one last clipping mask per element that will have a normal blending mode and will let me paint directly onto it and blend more efficiently.
(I played a lot with the different blending modes for each element, also added a copy of the unifying layer with the multiply blending mode on top and lowered its opacity. It's become more dark, the way I like it)
Try removing the unifying layer(s) or playing with their blending modes, also try to change them with the Hue and Saturation (CTRL+U) tool, see what kind of different results you can get.
Now we have a dark looking layer, good, it's time to add some more details. I really like adding details in the form of shining light upon darkness.
(6) Rendering and experimenting
This will be a short part and we're nearing the end of the journal! I love to render with the idea of light bringing in the details, so I'll draw on top of the other layers by color picking different colors and changing them slightly to make them brighter and of a slightly different hue. Since I have the elements on separate layers, I can CTRL+click on a certain layer to select it and draw only in the boundaries of that layer. It's very useful indeed. The rendering part will help me experiment even more with the different kinds of details I can achieve, I'll change their colors a few times before I settle in with something.
Always painting and erasing.
I'm also experimenting with edges of different elements by painting on top of them, to create a more realistic environment.
This is also a good time to experiment with different photo textures for the different elements, specifically in this painting, I won't use any but generally photo textures are a great tool if you know how to use them.
Something I'll not cover in this journal.
(I was a bit in a hurry and the scene is now rendered more or less, it's a bit TOO busy for my taste but it should convey the general spirit of my workflow)
(7) Final touches and a few quirky tips from Sir Towel
Now that we are satisfied with the painting, assuming you did it in a slower manner than mine and with a greater bough of patience. If so, you should get a really nice result (depending on your skill of course).
The final touches of the painting will be mostly Photoshop tricks that are really handy to remember.
First, save your work in a separate location, flatten the image and save it again but this time somewhere else so as not to confuse the layered version and the flattened one (to flatten layers, go to the layers window and right click one of the layers, the menu should have a "Flatten image" option).
Now we can manipulate the image as a whole using various tools such as Curves (CTRL+M) which is great and can help us convey better contrast and a richer variety in color and saturation. Use it and manipulate your painting accordingly, use the different color channels too. Experiment with the curve of each color, it can bend beautifully to create unique variations!
Also, you can use the Levels tool (CTRL+L) which is a lot like Curves but is more linear in its approach and can be perhaps easier to use. Don't forget the Hue and Saturation tool either (CTRL+U), it can still manipulate the painting as a whole to a beautiful perfection. It also is quite fun to manipulate the Hue slider and change your whole image into something funky and then change it back. The Hue and Saturation tool has the ability to manipulate specific colors too, so check it out and experiment!
For specific color manipulation you can use the "Replace Color" that comes with Photoshop CS6 I believe, you can find it at Image->Adjustments->Replace Color (it's near the bottom). It's a pretty straightforward tool.
After manipulating your painting with all of those cool tools to your satisfaction, we can Sharpen the details of your painting to bring it a bit more together. A trick I discovered in a digital painting book suggests doing this with the Lab Color Mode on.
You can change the color mode at Image-> Mode -> Lab Color. Now, open the channels window by going to Window->Channels or just click the channels tab in the layers window. Click on the Lightness channel, which should bring the black and white part of your painting. We'll sharpen only this part without sharpening the color which will give it a much smoother effect then sharpening all the image. With the Lightness channel selected you can go to Filter->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask. Play with the options in the Unsharp Mask filter until you're satisfied. When done, bring the color mode back to RGB by going to Image->Mode->RGB color. When in Lab Color mode you can only save your painting to limited image formats, so it's better to do your business with Lab Color, be done with it and switch back to RGB color.
I read somewhere that Lab Color mode is better for painting because it mixes colors in a more natural way, I haven't checked it out thoroughly though.
Explore using the Add Noise filter too, don't overdo it. This filter can add an another layer to the sense of unity in your painting.
Sign the image with your name and it's done. It's been a long journey and hopefully a helpful one too.
Save the file, I usually save it as a PNG before I publish it online.Thanks for reading, cheers!
Sir Towel the Salty.
p.s - Thanks to for the request that inspired me to make this journal.
(It's not the best, I hurried and I know it. Take your time working on your painting, speedpaints are perhaps fun but they deprive you of developing your deeper understanding)(8) Links