Making “The Little Tree House” took me back to my childhood where everything was possible, toys with life of their own, with stories to tell, and world filled with magic. Children have this ability to turn every imagination into reality in their own minds, something we stop doing when we grow up, we just forget how…
The process I describe below is not the only one I’m using for painting digitally, my choice of technique depends on the subject matter and mostly on the effect I want to accomplish with the final image, but still, when it comes to more complicated compositions I tend to preffer it, because it helps me keep the colours and light consistent, and gives me a clear view of how my image works as a whole at each moment of the process.
For creating this piece I’ve used two standard Photoshop brushes: Hard Round and Spatter 24
To start with I’m scanning in my sketch and creating a new layer I begin to line in. I use Hard Round brush with 100% opacity and flow.
This is still a creative part of the process, don’t start repeating the lines mechanically, you don’t have to follow the lines of the sketch precisely. You should still look at how your image works as a whole and if you see something out of place or not looking quite the way you want it, don’t be afraid to change it. Through the process I keep turning on and off the sketch layer, I have already made a white background layer underneath it.
When I finish with the lining in and I’m happy with the result I’m locking the layer transparency ( the icon located just below the Blending options of the Layer menu). This will prevent me from accidentally painting over it.
Next I set the canvas size and start with defining the basic colours. Here I ask myself what is the feeling I want my piece to project? What I want the first impression to be? and so on. I use Magic Wand and Paint Bucket for colouring, I don’t think about values at this point, I just concentrate to get the palette right, as I also make sure to separate the different parts on different layers,which I keep under the line layer. I try not to create too many of them so I group the elements, as I keep in mind that I’m going to use them to create masks later on, so I put them together in a way that will help me with my work afterwards.
I don’t get into much detail at this point, I keep it simple and I don’t use too many colours. I separate the sky and land with just a straight line, I don’t have to worry about the exact form of the land right now, neither about the clouds or grass, I create just simple blocks of colours.
I’m starting to work with the values. From now on I’m working with the Spatter 24 brush, with turned on Shape Dynamics and Transfer(pen pressure for opacity jitter and flow jitter) and I also change the opacity throughout the process with using the shortkeys (numbers 1 to 0, where 1 is 10% and 0 is 100%). To keep my light consistent I create an arrow, which is at the top of all my layers and it stays there till the end, again I lock the transparency. I move this arrow freely around my picture, depending on which part I’m working on at the moment.
At this stage I’m using only the colours I already have, this helps me keep the image unified.
I work quickly without too much attention on detail and texture, I define the land line and work on the sky and ground. Then I start working on the tree, for this and every other object in this piece I’ve used masks. This way I don’t have to worry about going over the small details and the rest of the objects, it saves a lot of time and helps me to speed up the process. And this is why I kept my colours on different layers, instead of using the Magic Wand again to select the different objects, I simply hold Ctrl.(for Windows and Cmd. for Mac) and click on the icon of the layer to select it, then make a new layer and click create mask (at the bottom of the Layer menu). This saves a lot of time, that I would have needlessly lost otherwise.
I keep working on the main objects of the image and try not to zoom in very much at this stage it’s all about light and dark.
Having done the basic volumes, I’m merging the mask layers I’ve been working on (keeping the ground and sky layers aside).
Now it’s time to add a bit of texture. I use reference images for the tree which I don’t follow very closely, I look at them now and again just to keep the feeling of a tree. Again I work quickly with the brush without being afraid to make an accidental stroke out of place, because with these “accidents “many forms could emerge, and see things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Again I’m using masks. I’m defining the different fabrics, the little girl’s clothes, the wooden surfaces, the books and so on.
It’s never late to make changes if you think something doesn’t work very well, and that’s what I did with the girl’s hair.
Now I start paying attention to the smaller details – the toys, holes in the tree, the lamp and so on, making some things pop out while others I’m drawing back.
I want to keep the line, but being black I notice that on some parts it somehow dominates the object, which is not something I want, so having already locked the transparency of the line layer (this not only keeps you from painting accidentally over it, but also lets you colour the line) I simply choose a colour, as I still keep it darker than the object the line surrounds, and with brush opacity 100% I paint over it.
I’m doing this at some parts of the image and preserving the black line at others. I’ve decided to keep the initial quick modeling of the clouds, but want to make a frame-like enviroment for my tree house, so I use the burn tool for the edges of the picture and this created the effect I was after.
The final touches of the image. Here it’s all about guiding the viewer’s eye, what do you want them to see first and what do you want them to “work for” to see it.
Giving more contrast to certain area will imediately draw the viewer’s eye to it, so which part do you want to grab their attention first and then how are you going to guide them from there? This is something you have to think about from the start of the composition, guiding them with the flow of the line, till the end, drawing their attention with different colours, values and contrast.
I give more weight to the tree and decide which elements I want to pop out, and which I want to leave more ‘clear’ with more of a sketchy feeling to them.
I also work on small things like bits of grass here and there, small details on the suitcases, the clothes popping out of the draws and so on.
I don’t want to overwork it, instead I want to preserve the “light” feeling of the image.