The biggest change to my process compared to what I was doing last year is that it is about 2-3 times more involved. I have added several steps to ensure I get and maintain the level of quality I want out of my current work. Granted, not every assignment allows me to do all this but I try to do my best and stick to it as much as possible.
I begin each piece with some really loose 'just for me' thumbnails. They are often small and sloppy. I seem to have misplaced the one I did for this assignment so you will have to use your imagination. After I get my head around what I want to do for thumbnails I shoot figure reference for all my ideas. This makes sure that I am not getting off on the wrong foot and it is also building me up a really nice reference library. Once all my reference is complied I will do my rough drawings that will ultimately lead to the thumbnails I submit to the client.
I will create the figures and main elements separately on the computer so that I can edit and move them around as I build up the thumbnail. You never know what new directions you will discover once you begin combining the elements on the page. These are still fairly rough but they should be clear enough to give the client an idea so that I can move forward on the final drawing.
Once a thumbnail is selected, in this case the pose and composition of the first with the idol of the third, I move forward on the final drawing. I will now gather up more reference so that everything in the drawing appears the way I need it to. This might be rock reference, skin textures, and of course the vital style guide for the depicted monster. You can't have a Sahuagin looking like a Troglodyte!
Once the drawing is approved it is time to get the last round of reference. This reference is to get lighting ideas, color palettes and anything else I might have forgotten about. For this piece I gathered up a lot of images of cave interiors with interesting lighting and color and lots and lots of images of water. It is now time to get to painting in photoshop.
All of my paintings begin with the duplication of the drawing layer. The top drawing layer is set to 49% opacity and the bottom drawing layer is set to 21% opacity. I Gaussian Blur the lower level at 4.0 and then merge both drawing layers together. Once merged I apply a median noise filter set to a level of 4. All of these steps really knocks the drawing down and begins to make it a series of tones rather then lines (see above). I then do a full under painting on a new multiply layer. I usually lay down a color or gradient of two colors over the whole image before I start so that there is some commonality throughout the image. I try to hit all the colors I need but really try to stay loose and sloppy. Once I am happy with the under painting I create a new layer and start with the main painting. Always trying to work big and loose slowing getting more and more tight I build up forms, add details and work to create depth in the piece. I will usually work until I can't see anything else that needs my attention, it is more of a gut reaction then something cognitive. When I hit that point I close the file and leave it alone for a while.
After a break I will come back to the piece with fresh eyes and begin to address elements that aren't working or need additional attention. I will also often flip the image horizontally to get a better view of any problems. This process of leaving the file alone, coming back to 'fix it' and leaving it alone will go on as long as the deadlines allow. But I usually do 2-3 passes of tweaking it. Once I am finally happy with it I will make a copy of all the layers and correct the levels of the image. I usually work darker then I should and I can correct it at the end. I add my signature and it is all done and ready for approval.
Once approved the file heads off to the client and I start the process all over again, if not for a client for myself. I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions about any of this just let me know and I will try to answer them in a timely manor.
I will be back on Friday with some from the drawing table! Until then...
For more samples of my work or to contact me regarding my availability head over to my website: www.christopherburdett.com