Hello everyone, I have been inspired by mythology — this time by the history of Pandora. (If you are unfamiliar with it, you can check it here)
My goal was to depict Pandora opening the box, but not yet seeing what truly is hidden inside. I wanted the moment to be mystic, full of magic and mystery.
In this image I have tried extremely hard to improve my technique, especially when it comes to painting skin (colour and texture wise), hair and experimenting with lightsources. Many, many hours spent on this one. Everything painted from scratch, no references used, made in Painter and Photoshop.
I have saved some screenshots throughout painting to compile some sort of a “walkthrough-sharing thoughts on painting characters” hybrid, concentrating on the skin, from colour picking to blending to texturing and hair. It’s not really meant as an educational tool - I just wanted to explain my workflow and share some thoughts on painting several elements of this artwork, but I would be very happy if some of you found it useful.
Choosing the Right Colors
First thing I always do after carefully planning the image’s content is deciding on the colour palette. Even though it’s usually easy to decide what colour themes I want throughout the image, it is quite often tricky to choose interesting, rich shades for the skin tones. I do, however, have a few tricks to help me out in the process should I have any problems. (I do not go through this process every time I paint, but it’s sometimes extremely helpful.)
Okay so: I always pick one main colour – the midtone of the skin (1). Then I make a few strokes with a low opacity brush and pick up some colours which are the mix of the background and my midtone. Now what is extremely important to remember is that skin should be shaded with different hues, not just various brightness variations of one shade. To get some colour variations for the skin, I duplicate the previously made blob a few times and play with the Color Balance tool in Photoshop (I love it to bits <3).
I usually keep enriching the skintone palette further (2a, 2b).
I take the basic colours I got from Step 1 and mix them all together. I sometimes use the “burn tool” on this as well (2a). Now, to get the colours for the skin’s highlights I do something like this (2b): I choose the colour of my desired light (in this case bright yellows and oranges) and using different brush modes (here: colour dodge, overlay, hard light) I combine those colours with my basic skin tones.
Blocking the Colors
Instead of usual line sketching, I blocked out the colours. It doesn’t always look too attractive at first, but it allows me to control the scene from the very beginning. Beside being roughly colour-blocked, image 1 looked extremely boring at this point – there was nothing original about it. My goal was to make the piece interesting through lighting, so I decided to make the box both the focus point and the main light source of the entire piece. I sketched out the box to get a better context for my light and continued with blocking the colours: adding highlights and enriching the skin with further colours from my palette. After I got the rough idea of how the image would look like, I moved on to shading particular elements of the painting.
Painting the Face
What I did first, was taking care of the blending, while enriching the colour palette constantly with new shades: I deepened the shadows by adding some darker violets and gave more life to the cheeks by adding more oranges and pinks to them. As for the brushes, I always apply colours with the Hard round brush with it’s opacity set to pressure (and with a low flow).
For blending and palette enriching I usually use roundish custom brushes with uneven, torn edges. Now, when the image was all smoothened, I started adding texture. On the skin I painted in some delicate never-to-be-visible veins and skin pores (by painting many many many lighter and darker blobs with my custom speckled brush and some tiny single dots on top of it, one by one, with a plain round brush). I love adding little moles and such, so I couldn’t resist to put in a few, too.
The mouth I shaded by highlighting the puffy areas of each lip and then by painting small dots of different sizes and shapes on the highlighted areas. I used some airbrush on top of the dots, to make them stand out less.
Painting the Hair
The hair was done with the simplest hard and soft brushes with the opacity set to pressure. I find it very efficient to first paint the main curves of the hair (with a darker colour), marking the curls and the general shape of the strands. From there on, I gradually switched onto smaller lighter brushes, adding more and more strands. During this process I also kept on changing the brush modes to e.g. colour dodge or soft light while painting separate strands in order to further enrich the colour palette.
What I found is very efficient to do, is to paint some thin strands, then use the blur tool on them and then paint other strands on top of the blurred pile. Too much detail in the hair will kill the realism of it – it’s much more efficient to hint the details instead. And that’s exactly what the blur tool does - it grants the hair a realistic, soft effect, without making it seem overdone.
Also, it was important to ensure that the falls didn’t look too artificial (image 3). I decided to add much more hair strands, some even opposing the direction of the strand’s fall, to make it look a bit messy and natural.
Well, that was the final stage of painting. I wanted to paint moths coming out of the box, along with the “fairy dust”, but I was afraid they would look too much like butterflies.
I wanted to have a strong sense of danger whilst keeping the mystical and so I decided snakes would be perfect for this occasion.
Achieving the right mood was the main goal of this piece, and so I have to admit I spent a tremendous amount of time just playing with the lighting. Layer modes were extremely helpful in this step; the glows were done using the Overlay, Colour Dodge and Soft Light modes.
Ok, well, that’s about it for now. I hope that, if not a bit helpful, this read wasn’t at least too boring. Thank you all for your time. I really hope you like it, any feedback is truly appreciated!
Marta's Website: www.marta-dahlig.com