Digital concept demo of Rider (Girl with Dragon)

Philip Howe Fine Art
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This digital sketch shows how a range of digital effects can enhance a decent line drawing and a basic idea. For concept sketches like this one, rendering out a visual can help clients, and myself, to see how their game or movie can look before spending a lot of time and money on full development. I use these more for helping me to see how a large painting or illustration might look and as a guide in color and lighting effects.This piece was entirely made up with no models, taking around 6 hours or so, much faster than with traditional mediums. 

1 Rough concept scribbles using Wacom tablet
2- a few minutes later, transparent coloring via digital layering

The color here is on a new layer beneath the line layer. I just airbrush it on as loose and quickly as I can until the color starts to show me something I can work with, then the light begins to take effect and within a few minutes the idea is beginning to take shape. Like the drawing, above, I just start scribbling, sometimes, and something always comes out of the mess. If you follow the same rules as with pencil or charcoal drawing- that is use a light line first, then heavy it up as you refine it- then sketching on a tablet becomes very similar. The advantages of the digital work, besides speed, are in the layering, being able to distort and separate areas, and especially in saving stages or creating experimental layers. After a while, it becomes as easy as picking up a pencil or markers. In fact, the coloring from a digital wash looks identical to a felt marker, which was the method used for decades to work out comps and concept sketches.

Cleaner drawing ready for transparent color layers

Above, I refined the original rough sketch by flattening the file, then starting a new drawing on a layer above a white layer at 40%, creating, in effect, a tracing paper or faint mask under which I could more easily see my new line work. Notice I did each section in a different color line, which helps me visualize the overall idea more clearly. This stage is fun for me as a draftsman, because I still don't know what I am quite after, but as the drawing comes forward, through quick, thin lines sketched over the early rough, then I start to see where I can refine the costume, the dragon, and the girl's face. I even tried a few heads on the girl, finally settling for a profile and some strange headpiece. With the fantasy work, it's easy to get carried away, so I curb myself and try to make something that is at least believable, or plausible. 

Below, you can see the drawing with some quick transparent coloring over each area, all separated by layers. Once I am satisfied that it's starting to come together, at least as a rough sketch, then I can move on by flattening the file (always saving the layered file first) and then working over this flat file in the same layered way as I did here, simply refining as I go.  

3- revised sketch over layered base for lighting effects
Close-up of girl. The drawing layer is using Multiply (Photoshop)

Here is a detail of the girl where you can clearly see how loose the color layers float translucently below the line layer, using Multiply, which allows the line art to come through. At the next stage, I want to merge the layers and then start a new file of layered final details, but will need to blur or remove most of the line so that when I sketch over this flattened stage, I don't have to compete with the line work. 


Slight blur effect to remove line via layer mask

I first duped the flat layer, then I used a blur filter, in this case dust and scratches at level 6, to remove the line work (sharp edges). Using a layer mask, I regained the line, here and there, where I wanted it to help guide me or show up again, coming up through the underlying layer, which was not blurred.

Now I am ready to do a more detailed, finished look. I can do this easily by simply zooming in on sections to render out areas to a more realistic degree. Since I have my color sketch already worked out, and the shadows and highlights working for the sun and moon, I feel confident I can make up the rest to a more finished degree. I don't want to over do it, it's not an oil painting, but want to keep a fresh, digital look, if I can, and will enhance the atmosphere and lighting effects as I move along.

So far, I'm just a few hours into this one, so I am still intrigued enough to want to go ahead and work more on it. I get impatient if I am not working quickly on this sort of image, but the digital side helps keep things creative and experimental as I progress.


Above, I am refining areas, just using smaller brushes, textured and smooth, that allow me to get into detail areas and simply work like pastel or color pencil. In some areas, like the dragons skin base, I add a new layer and enhance this with big, sweeping strokes of texture brush effects, as below.


I finally cut a clean mask here, for the sky and background, so that I could work into that area cleanly without having to worry about loosing the edges in the foreground areas. I rendered out a more defined sky and earth, then began to try lighting layers, like sun-rays, for some interesting atmospheric effects.


You can see how effective just adding some atmospheric lighting can enhance the illusion of dimensional space. If you set the layers up in such a way as to highlight the surfaces, you can achieve a look of glistening light, sparkling highlights, glows, neon, even golden flares. You can do this easily in 2 ways- by creating a dodge layer and then painting those areas with light color that becomes a hot area- or you can use the dodge tool, via highlight, directly over the base layer. I prefer to always make a new layer until I am confident I am close to what I want, then just work tighter as I refined edges, etc. Either way, the effects of light, texture, transparent shadows, and blending edges- are all easy and effective using digital methods.


Here is the pre-final woman, above, and the pre-final dragon's head, below.

Prefinal stage
Brushwork stage ready to be placed over prefinal
Brushwork layer over prefinal, layer mask used to soften the brushwork
Final chair. You can see the painterly strokes in the background here
Note how the painted strokes and loose edges set her in place
Final sword and front claw. Again, the painted strokes suggest atmosphere

Here is the final, a mixture of loose strokes with tight areas and a days worth of detailing and playing with the focus. For this genre of work, I like the idea of images being a little ghostly and surreal, it's fantasy after all. I did this file at 300 ppi, around 9x12 inches for possible reproduction. It's a good idea to work fairly large if you can, you never know what will come of the the rough sketches and you can work a lot more detail into a higher res piece. 

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