View Full Version : Enviro-Tutorial

04-23-2009, 11:21 PM

Wigz has graciously provided a few images to help keep peoples' attention spans in check in the event she gets slightly long-winded!

This tutorial is not going to be in the structure of a work in progress or a 'how to' step by step process, namely, because I don't believe in static formula when it comes to rendering an image. There is no one way to really paint. There is no one way I really do it. It's all kind of an evolutionary thing based off experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn't.

There would be no point in teaching someone x=3 in the equation 5x=15 if that person really wanted to know how to do math. If you want to learn parlor tricks, read how to's; if you want to really know how to draw environments, then learn principles be willing to put a little time into your own experimentation. This means mental effort, observation, being brave enough to make mistakes.


What I'm offering here are a series of parameters or little things to keep in mind while you're painting environments. They are based off my own observation and little gems of wisdom I've gleaned from practice. Remember that these rules, while generally true, can always be bent. Practice pushing the limits and you'll see just how far the limits go.

And also remember, this is art according to Wigz, so don't live or die by my advice. I have a lot to learn, myself, after all. Use whatever you need to help your artistic progress. I would hope that at least something in this tutorial would spur you act on it the advice given. Any amount of inspiration is meaningless unless you seal the deal by acting on it. You can be inspired all day long, but unless you apply what you learn, the feelings will fade and you will just go in circles.



04-23-2009, 11:22 PM
[ v i s i o n + w o r k ]

"Great [artists] accomplish great things because they have vision. Vision without work is dreaming. Work without vision is drudgery. Work coupled with vision is destiny.” I've remembered that and have realized that a synergy of vision and work are required to produce quality paintings. Vision comes first, and then good old fashioned work makes that vision happen. I obtain a better sense of vision when I initially work off an emotion. I try to capture as much emotion as I can from the drawing assignment description, the person I'm drawing for, or in the event I'm just drawing on the fly, my own emotion I happen to feel like expressing.

Only after I've established the mood do I really nail down the nitty gritty 'whats' that will construct the nuts and bolts of the picture. In a sense, I create the picture spiritually then physically. If you don't establish a sort of vision for what you will create, it will be rendered as something comparatively hollow and static. It will have no life to it.


As soon as I have accomplished a tangible mood, I grab cheap paper and a pen and start to sketch little ideas. I try and draw a few different versions, all of them small and quick. It's important to sketch while your creative sponge is full of mood and concept. Often, the idea will evolve and clarify right in front of you, so make sure you at least do several different ones. It's crazy how much information you can get on paper in a few little scribbly sketches (not to mention it helps work out general composition).

I have sketches from over a year ago that may seem like semi-coherent scribbles to other people but are invaluable to me because the moment I see them again, I remember an echo of all the things I pumped into the sketch when I first made it. You will make sketches that you don't like or some that don't apply to the assignment at hand. Do not throw them away. They may seem useless now, but you can always make something different out of them later. Yes, even the ones that 'suck.' Give yourself a bit of time and distance then revisit them later; you're only limited by your perception. There is potential in absolutely everything.

If this image confuses you, read the top of the first page...

By the time you've accomplished this much, your vision of what you want to do is not just developed in your brain, but has transformed into primordial concept that you expand on. Your vision is now, to some extent, realized. You have combined vision and a little bit of work.

[ Stay Tuned For Updates... ]

04-24-2009, 02:50 PM
*Muzz is staying tuned*

04-24-2009, 10:06 PM
Ditto :D

<random trivia>It's interesting - I was just about to post a poll asking who wanted to see this from you. And then I saw this post! w00t! :D</trivia>

04-25-2009, 12:20 PM
*adds to watchlist*


*removes from watchlist, repeatedly taps F5* :D

04-25-2009, 02:06 PM
Don't trust a word your saying since you belive in Mormon Jeebus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTlz3FA-Rjg).

04-25-2009, 08:44 PM
Updates are coming, but my weekend has me swamped until sunday night or possibly monday

kras: lol, pretty much most of the stuff in the original video is complete bull crap. I found it funny and have watched it several times and showed it to my family (which resulted in a bunch of 'wtf' remarks). That remix is hilarious. You have just given me something else to rofl over with my sibs. :D

04-25-2009, 11:33 PM
was i the only one caught in an endless cycle of reading that? darned booby cheerleader..

04-30-2009, 09:42 PM
Disclaimer: If there are typos or incomplete sentences, or even notes I made to myself that make no sense to you, then deal with it. It's been a long day, lol...

Okay, sorry this is a little later than I expected. Gotta lotta crap going on, if you know what I mean. I'll be in vegas for the next week, so here's a big non-exhaustive list of...

[ E n v i r o -- P r o v e r b s ]

Now for the environment specific stuff. These are things I've learned and practiced one by one over the years. I recommend trying them out one at a time so you really get a sense of how each one works for you.


General>Specific : Things always work out better when you work this way. That's why it's so excellent to start with small thumbnails. It forces you to sacrifice detail for general shapes and shades.

BG--FG : When rendering your final image, remember it is much easier to paint the background first and work your way forward to the foreground (at least in the initial steps). It's much easier to draw over something than to draw under something.

Brush Hardness and Shape : The hardness and shape of the brush you use should reflect qualities of the thing you are trying to draw (ex: an open sky is as soft as it gets with tone/color changes; clouds, while soft, are not as soft as the color changes in an open sky; skin, while soft, is much more tangible than a cloud; a rock is very hard and should be painted with a hard brush). If the brush has a jagged look to it, use it to draw jagged things. Don't spend eternity pumping detail in with a soft round brush. I wasted too much time on that. If you don't know what other brushes there are, right click and hit the little triangle button in the upper right (and yes, there are more you can download).

Test : If it doesn’t look good in black and white, it probably won't look good in color (generally true, but not absolute).

Test : The integrity of a picture can be tested by slowly adjusting the brightness/contrast to extreme dark and light; You will see errors a lot more easily around the extremes (plus it's kinda cool to pretend "oh look, the sun is rising! when you turn the brightness up"). Solid pictures will look good even toward the extremes. Don't save it, of course, it's just for your observation. Try it with some higher res pictures than my little example. Use Image>Adjustments> Levels or Curves

Test : Flip canvas horizontal. This is a digital take on the old test of putting a picture up to a mirror. Errors will pop out and you can fix them. I use this enough I have it hot keyed.

Brushes : Be familiar with this palette (Window>Brushes). A brush is essentially one 2D shape, and this box controls what that 2D shape does when you paint with it. Just open up a new document, grab 3 or 4 brushes that are different from one another and go through testing the effects of the options one by one. There is a menu on the left side of the brush palette box that accesses the different brush edits, which appear on the right.

Reference : Always remember your best reference is reality, and your best library within your own head. The trick is learning how to get those images to stick inside that brain of yours so you can use them later. This usually is achieved with a combination of sketching and observing.

DO NOT : Shade using Multiply / Color Burn / Color Dodge / Screen. This slightly contradicts Pat's old tutorials, but I feel that this style of shading yields poor color results and essentially serves as a crutch for beginning artists. You need to be figuring out for yourself what colors work with other colors and which ones do not. Using those settings robs you of that experience and has a tendency to make your work look amateur. Do not mistake me, they can be used for good purposes, but never use them to replace shading.

DO NOT : Zoom In! at least until you are about 2/3 through the picture's execution. Seriously, if you zoom in early on, it's easy to forget the rest of the piece and it ends up looking awkward. Remember, if it doesn't look good zoomed out, it won't look good zoomed in. Just imagine looking at a picture on the other end of a long hallway, or in a big museum. If it doesn’t appeal to you at 50 feet away, you might never notice it, let alone take the time to walk up for a better look. The same is true for digital art. Stay zoomed out in the beginning stages of your work.

DO NOT : Guild a turd. If it looks bad, start over. You save time that way. But you love it?! Tough. Even I sometimes have issues with this one; it's hard as hell sometimes! It shows more confidence to start over and you might be surprised by what results when you do.

04-30-2009, 09:55 PM

Height : Use a vertical composition if you are really wishing to stress height.

Breadth : Use a horizontal composition to show the breadth of the landscape (probably the most common for normal landscape paintings).

Scale : Always scale an environment with a common object (ie a person, telephone pole, flying birds, etc). For instance, in this picture (which is not mine), we get a real sense of how utterly enormous the distant ship is by the foreground ship.

Depth : Layering elements of your picture adds depth from background to foreground. (layered mountains/hills, clouds, columns; pretty much anything that overlaps.)

Depth With Distant Mountains/other big things : A very easy and quick way of layering very distant objects is by using a semi opaque brush. Turn your brush opacity down to about 30-80 percent, and draw the most distant object without picking your pen up at all. Then draw a different shape on top of that without picking your pen up. You can do this as much as you want. This trick falls apart as you get closer to the foreground, but with distant background objects, it's a quick and simple way to BS some mountains.

Variety : Variety breaks redundancy. Just because you know how to draw one kind of cloud doesn’t mean you know how to draw clouds. Same thing with rocks, and types of mountains, and rivers, etc. Take a moment of nerdy glory and read a little on the variety of rock types there are, structures of rocks in a mountainside, cloud types (as well as their elevations), and whatever else tickles your fancy.

Distant Objects : The farther away an object is, the duller it's color is.

Distant Objects : The farther away an object is, the fuzzier it appears.

Distant Objects : The farther away an object is, the simpler it appears.

Distant Objects : The farther away it is, the cooler the colors get (soft blues and purples). This is a general rule, but especially true of mountains because their enormous size. They are able to be seen from distances that swallow up smaller objects like buildings, hills, and vegetation. The degree of atmospheric perspective is also effected by humidity. If you're drawing an environment that is particularly humid, trees only 30 feet away might have this bluing out effect that increases with distance.

Mountains : In sunny conditions, distant mountaintops are clear and sharp, whereas the mountain's base is obscured by haze and/or appears blurred. These things intensify the sense of height. This works on mountains in a wide variety of distances and the degree also varies. If you're fortunate to have mountains near you, try and note what I'm talking about.

Mountains : When constructing a mountain, imagine a cluster of medium sized rocks in a sandbox. Take a bucket and dump sand over them. That's essentially what makes a mountain what it is. It's a bunch of big hard cool looking rock that slowly erodes and those tiny pieces that fall are what make foothills look more soft. This mental approach helps me design them.

Sky Horizon : Color of sky is always warmer and lighter near the horizon (the degree of this difference is depends on the lighting conditions)

Sunsets : Because of the fact the sky's color is warmer near the horizon than straight up, at sunset, this effect can be particularly more noticeable. The yellow light of a setting sun often turns the blue sky into a shade of green that slowly turns to a true blue the higher you look up. This doesn't always happen, but it happens frequently enough to make a note about it.

Cloud Trick #01 : A trick to drawing clouds is using a round mostly fuzzy, but somewhat hard brush and laying in some flowy cloudlike shapes. Then, go in and erase the top or exposed edges with a fairly hard brush (it could be textured, or just your old brush at a harder setting).

Stars / Particles : If you have a star brush (which is basically a bunch of scattered dots), and it has no settings applied to it, it will look just like a stamp when you try to use it. Try messing with the brush's angle jitter in Shape Dynamics (i set mine to pen pressure). You can also mess with the opacity jitter (in other dynamics) to make some stars look farther away than others.

Reflected Light : Reflected light bounces around like a bullet bouncing around a room. It goes absolutely everywhere. Whenever there is a strong light source, use a slight reflected light on the dark side of the object to bring it out. There is no direct source of light in this picture; the little light that you see is from light being spread in the clouds and bouncing on absolutely everything, it seems. Ever wonder why shadows are so soft on an overcast day in winter? This is why. Light bounces around, and you can see that especially well during these lighting conditions.

Color Dodge : I use this setting sometimes as a last step to a picture, if regular optimizing doesn’t totally achieve what I want. I use a soft brush and a low opacity setting to gently punch additional contrast into highlights that already exist. This usually takes only a couple seconds to do and can make a big difference.

[Still More to Come...]

04-30-2009, 10:06 PM
o hai, fantastic, Now I'm just worried about the thread getting baleeted one day so I'm just gonna....download...the whole thing. *takes*

05-17-2009, 08:47 PM
nice work. i find a lot of people forget about atmospheric perspective (the blue/grey tones of distance)

me loves you wiggle

05-18-2009, 05:54 AM
This thread == atmo-sexiness. I'm fairly certain we are alternating the emotions of awe, jealousy, gratitude, and some are just distracted by the boobage :unibrow:

I vote this thread wins. (Which is why I voted 5 stars :D)

05-18-2009, 09:41 AM
There is more coming, too, but my life has been nutsy-crazy and I am going to be gone for the next week driving across the country helping a friend move. :B I'll take pictures as I go. :D

In the mean time if you guys have environmental questions/hangups, throw them in this thread and I'll try to answer/address them when I come back. :3

05-18-2009, 06:17 PM
I know somewhere in the guide you mention that if it doesn't look good in black and white then it won't work at all. So, my question is how would you go and add in the base colors? Because i tried adding some colors to my b&w art and it didn't turn well at all.

05-18-2009, 08:56 PM
(hah! I'm not on my trip yet...)

A: Usually, trying to shade something with black or highlight something with white, won't work out well. There are ways to do it and get away with it, but it really is better to try and work initially with color.

I went through a big phase where I started everything with black and white and then added color. I found ways that it could work fairly well, but unfortunately, painting something from that approach can be as much a hindrance as a blessing. It all depends on how you use the tools available.

See, I would always start in black in white because I was afraid of working with color directly, so instead of directly addressing my inadequacies, I avoided them. Consequently, my art began to look fairly predictable because I was executing it all the same way. I eventually broke out of my shell and just started messing with color. Experimentation can take you a long way. But for those who want to know the black and white method with color overlay, I'll tell you how to do it. Just be sure that you use it wisely and aren't a coward with color.

1. Draw a black and white picture in your bottom layer
2. Create a new layer on top and fill it with a vibrant color. Make sure it is bright; you can always dull it down later in the settings.
3. Change that layer's settings to either "overlay" or "color." (these are settings found in the upper left side of the layers pallete. You should see your original picture, only with color slapped over the top. Chances are, it's a little too intense, though.
4. Adjust the color intensity by adjusting the overlay layer's opacity.
5. Merge layers into one.
6. Keep working on the picture after this point; After all, monochrome can get a little boring after awhile, right?

Now, that is just a trick. That is not a sure method for creating anything, just a gimmick. To really know color, you have to slop around in it for hours, no getting around it. I usually like to just dive in and start a picture with 2, maybe 3 colors at first and just play around with things. When i'm about halfway through the piece, I change the color mode to Black and White instead of RGB just so I can see what it looks like black and white. If it looks good I undo the color mode shift and just keep painting like normal. If it looks dull and flat in black and white, I look at it awhile and figure out what I could do to make those colors come out more--maybe pick darker shades or lighter shades or whathaveyou. Then after staring at it awhile, I undo the color shift and go to work. Sometimes, actually, I even create a black and white copy of the picture and put it in a new layer just so I can refer back to it while I go about editing things.

This is a trick so you can see how sure your progress with the picture is. I would much rather have you do this trick than the first, because it involves you actually experimenting and learning something, not to mention fixing errors that you find. The other trick is pretty much good for taking an old black and white picture and slapping a base color on top in preparation for a total color rehashing of the piece. So really...you have a red pill and a blue pill here. Choose the one that will make you grow the most.

Hope that answers your question.