View Full Version : TUTORIAL - "Colours of the Wind" Step by Step - by Zephyri

02 February 2006, 05:42 PM
Hello and welcome to Sam's step by step of Colours of the Wind. This isn't a tutorial as such, more of a rambling of my thoughts and processes whilst creating this painting:

My tools are:
An intuos 3 A4 size tablet
Photoshop CS
Painter 8

Step 1:

This is the reference I used, as part of OFDW11, in the anatomy forums:

When I first saw the image, I immediately thought of a picture involving my screen namesake, Zephyri, a female spirit of storms and winds. So I grabbed my wacom and started doodling. The above is the result, just something very loose, to give me an idea of composition and colours. I already have the notion that parts of her will be insubstantial, or faded into the cloud, but that's only hinted at here. This was all done in photoshop, mostly with the hard-edged brush, with opacity and flow set to 100. I only ever use the wacom's pressure to fade off strokes, and use the dropper a lot!

I started with a solid colour silhouette of the figure, which helps me to place the figure and makes me pay more attention to proportions rather than getting bogged down in detail. The background is just a photoshop gradient with a few suggestive clouds scribbled on, to give me some idea of where my main light source will be. Note how I've used the background colour quite heavily in the shadows of the figure, as the colour would be reflected onto the body. I've also changed the colour of the highlights on her body, and to some degree the shadows, as it moves further up the body, away from the light source, grading from a yellow to a softer pinky-yellow. I picked this technique up from Vallejo, who has some wonderful colour transitions in his skintones, and gives them a more life-like feel. The exception to this is her face, which I've left more highlighted, to draw attention to it.

Step 2:
A development of the previous step, I've worked in more tight detail around the breast area, simply because I prefer to get some idea of how the whole thing would look. Until recently, I did whole paintings like this, detail by detail, but this can lead to errors that are costly to fix at later stages (and impossible to fix if you're working traditonally). It's a better workflow, in my opinion to block out things first and get into tighter details later on, but I inevitably work into detail in one small area, be it the face, or body, or even a background element. This gives me the motivation to keep on with the piece.
I've added some lightning in the background to put the storm idea across more bluntly and faded her hair off more. At this point, the only reference I'm using is the Hong Ly picture.

Step 3:
Woah, sudden change! This is what looking up references can do for an image!
I decided to look up some storm clouds references, and came to the conclusion that my colour scheme was not going to be very convincing, and was too purpley-pink. So I found a great image that had these colours in it, but was of a close crop of clouds, so not much good for reference.

I should explain that first I tried to 'composite' the clouds by copying quite closely from about three different cloud images, one for each plane - foreground, middle and background. This not only turned out to be very difficult, but was not giving the image a sense of wholeness, and they looked disjointed. So a scrapped the whole file, looked through loads of cloud pictures of all kinds, then closed every reference I had and painted from my minds eye, based on what I'd absorbed. I also switched to Painter for the clouds, as it's blending is far better and less taxing on memory and graphics cards that using PS's blender. This isn't necessarily right for everyone, but above is how it came out, and it was a better beginning to what I'd had previously! I take things like the eye level and perspective of the woman into account, using her as a focal point for everything else I put in. I'm constantly zooming in and out, or I have another window open which updates the picture as I'm working on it, so I can see how the details are fitting into the whole piece.

I work on the figure a little more, as all I've done is fiddle with the hue and saturation to get her to fit with the new colour scheme, which has left me with some funky shadow colours, which I work over very quickly. I put a little more detail into the face, as at this point, it's going to be the focus of the picture, and I give her a reason to have her arm outstretched, namely some forks of lightning, using a contrasting blue to all the warm oranges. Notice too how there are hints of the blue up her arm - I'd intended to have the lightning as her veins, hidden under the skin. I like a challenge, if nothing else!

02 February 2006, 05:43 PM
Step 4:
In this step, I've worked very heavily on the clouds, laying down solid blocks of colour and pushing them about with an oils brush setting to 0% resaturation, and about 68% opacity in Painter. Clouds are something that fascinate me, and they're not something I see painted all that well, as people tend to see them as flat things stuck to the sky, but they are gorgeous 3D expanding formations, that come forwards and expand backwards and cast shadows on themselves and can seem to be lit from within. So I tried to hint at that. Clouds also lose definition the closer you get to them, if you've ever been up in a plane, you'll know that when you pass through cloud, it just looks like fog or mist, and yet far away clouds can be pin sharp with bumps. Wind also affects them, which is why the tops of mine are smudged into the sky. I also discovered in the process of this painting that you can't make them too contrasty or they start looking less like clouds. I try to reflect all this, but I like the more splodgy painterly look that Painter is giving them, so I don't work too sharply. I think it will also be a good contrast to the sharper, smoother figure. I've also disregarded the notion of them being storm clouds now, and am working with more of a sunset feel. There is no particular reason for this, it just happens, and felt right, so I stuck with it. I'm always open to the painting developing away from what I originally had in mind, especially in digital works.

You can also see my indecision as to what to do with the woman's head at this point, I've tried fiddling with the planes of her face, but nothing is working, as I wanted to have her head tilted up further, the wind whipping her hair up, but I can't get it to work!! I soften some of the roughly placed lines round her thigh and right hand side,

As a last minute thought, I add some bird to give the background some scale and depth, making the clouds look more mountainous as I'd first envisioned. A simple touch like that made a big difference to the piece as the way i saw it.

Step 5:
In this step, I think you can tell I've really found my enthusiasm for the piece. It makes a big difference to me how I feel towards a painting, If I'm not enthused, or too much has gone wrong, I can get artistically moody and just chuck it in the trash and delete it forever. Fortunately not in this case though!

I've done a little more work on the clouds, then moved back to Photoshop to work on the figure a bit more. I tweak her hue to make her more goldy, and randomly splodge some oranges about, trying to decide on how saturated things should get. I originally think her hair could be made of light, which is where the purple swoosh came in, but it ends up looking more solid as I intensify the saturation near the nape of her neck.

I work in more sharpness to her body, deepening shadows and working on the right breast more. A random smudge on her navel gives rise to the idea that instead of the usual look down there, she could have feathery-ness, adding to her unearthly origins. I'm trying out a few different methods with brushes and blending here, and find that using a speckled brush similar to the ones Linda Bergkvist likes using, gives nice texture, which can them be partially smoothed off with a bigger, round brush used with light pressure.

I also decide that the birds are now there for a reason, being called by this woman, and add a primary dove, not only for visual interest, but as a reason for her arm to be outstretched too, now I've dropped the lightning. The dove here is just rough, no references used, I give the woman wings in order to visually tie her to the birds, and make it crystal clear that she's a spirit.

I'm trying really hard with the woman's face, and I like the cute, slightly oriental look she has, but I am aware at this stage that something's not quite right, through my own instinct and a couple of comments I've had on the piece.

Step 6:
A good few hours of messing around with her face has produced a complete catastrophe.. she looks like some deformed alien! So I get peeved again and decide to hell with it, she can have a mask!! So I trash the layer with the face on. (A note on my layers - I tend to work with one layer for background, one for the main figure and one for the birds. If I want to try something I add a new layer, and if it works, I flatten down. )
And I go back to the original positioning of the reference picture, but paint a mask where the top half would be. I like it muchly and keep it, as it's a good place for the hair to originate from.

There's a lot more work done on the body, smoothing shadows and highlights together. Note how the less dark shadows get more saturated the further to the left of the image they are. I'm still not happy with the right breast, and posting the piece on line brings quite a few comments to that effect.

I like the idea of insubstantial wings, and make them appear to be made of light, thought they are still very rough, I already know I don't want them to be too solid, or too detailed. The dove seems to be way too white, so I add more yellow to the highlights, I don't want him stealing focus from the woman. It's also suggested that the wing tip leading the eye out of the image, so I add some bright, smaller cloud to cut through that diagonal and lead the eye back to the stream of birds and back to the woman. Comments are also made as to the direction of her hair, saying it goes against the flow of the rest of the image, which I understand, but I really want it to look like she has her face in the wind, and changing the direction of the hair at this point would add some major composition troubles, so I persevere.

02 February 2006, 05:45 PM
Step 7:

Big tweaks on the saturation of the whole image. In hindsight, it's a bit over powering.

I look up some references for the dove and alter him a bit more, and work some more on the clouds, just little tweaks in the background, and adding more shadows to those at the front, trying not to lose the mist-like qualities. I fade off the bottom of her thigh to make it look like she not just floating on top of the misty clouds. I also make a few changes to the right breast to try and make it look more natural, including making the nipple bigger and try to add more of a crease underneath it.

I rub out a lot of her hair and decide that works, as it looks a bit like a cockateel crest. I pull some of the strong oranges down into the wing structure near her body, and get rid of some of the pinkness. Most of the work in this stage is done on the mask. In order to not be compared too much to Linda's M&S piece, I change parts of the mask to be made of glass, and fade some of the upper antler bits into nothing, adding smoother shading and sparklies as I go, making sure it fits to the face logically, so you can see I've altered the eye holes a bit, and erased some of the left hand side of it. I'm also working on the face too, which is coming out much more realistically and pleasing. Which makes me a happy artist!

I stop and look over everything, flipping the image (which I've been doing every now and again during the process of painting - a VERY useful tip, and will instantly make you see weak points). Her hand, which is copied pretty much from the reference picture, looks a bit limp for my liking, it's devoid of any expression in my eyes, so I get out my little halogen table lamp as best I can and paint over it again.

Step 8:
Reduced the saturation again. Major changes here include the change of shape in the bird. I was searching for reference for the dove and came across this pose and thought it was so lovely and graceful, so I've blocked in the shape and lighting roughly. I'm also toying with the idea of having a few more doves flapping about her, which is why there is now a secondary dove in the bottom left corner, and another behind the primary dove. At the time I thought it might help lead the eye back up into the picture too, but shortly after, I changed my mind and took it out. Smoothing odds and end on the body out, and effecting tiny changes that at this resolution, you'd be hard pushed to see! Still haven't decided whether to have any of her eye appearing through the eye hole on the mask either.

I'd been worried that the clouds looked like they were folding inwards with those dark shadows, so I'd been building some puffing-outness to them with the lighter yellow.

Step 9:
The final image! The last few hours have been spent detailing and adjusting, smoothing things off. I've filled the dove in properly, and still not sure whether he steals the woman's thunder, I decide to add a sharp colour contrast in the form of some turquoise feathers strung round her neck. Perhaps they are still a bit too contrasting, but I'm happy with them as eye-catchers. I'd originally done her nails in the same turquoise, but they made her look ill, so changed them to bright cerise to bring in some focus to the hand too. I add in her eye as a last minute decision, and put the purpley shadows back in, as they created a nice diagonal with the darker background clouds and it was easier to fade the woman into them. I also outline the odd edge with a 1 or 2 pixel hard brush to make it really sharp.

I erase the wings completely and start from scratch, using some inspiration from the old masters like caravaggio, who painted the loveliest wings, but trying the keep the same fluffiness to them and not go overboard with the details.

Overall, I've put the most detail into the woman's mask and face and hand, and the dove, in order to draw attention to them most. Other elements are there for composition reasons, My brush work, up close is far from perfect, I believe leaving some brush strokes lends a nice texture to skin in particular. Here are a few close ups:

And as a finishing thought, la Jerry Springer, this isn't meant to be a tutorial as such, I'm just giving an insight into my thoughts and working processes. I'm still very much learning with digital, having been at it for no more than about a year, seriously, but if anyone can take any tips away from this, then I'll be happy!

Any questions on how I work, or anything you feel I've missed, please ask away and I'll answer to the best of my ability.

02 February 2006, 05:47 PM
hey Zep great pic, forgot to tell u on that other thread , maybe becca can move
this post there :P

long time no talky, hope u been well n stuff, gots to go now, laters girl :wavey:


02 February 2006, 05:51 PM
AWESOME!!! :bounce:

Zeph, do you mind if I change the title of your great tutorial to TUTORIAL - "Colours of the Wind" - by Zephyri?

Many thanks for putting this together! :applause:

EDIT: And...pimped! :D

Cheers, :)


02 February 2006, 06:09 PM
woohoo! Thanks for this Zepyhri wonderful!! I just adore this painting so much. The colours are gorgeous and the clouds are beautiful!!.

There's just some much I love about this piece, thankyou for the step by step! :love:

02 February 2006, 06:30 PM
Hello Zeph, absolutely AWESOME pic and tut/walkthru. I have a question. Well a couple actually. First, do you do your blocking in at a lower res and then upres when you want to start adding detail. Also, what is the res of the finished piece.


02 February 2006, 07:22 PM
Stunning work and tutorial, Sam! Thank you for taking the time to do this, I absolutely adore this piece ^^.

02 February 2006, 07:37 PM
HI ....Zephri....:wavey:
Just finished reading your thoughts, and thought I would tell you just how much I enjoyed

You've taken my mind on a GREAT JOURNY OF CREATION......THANK YOU !! SPIRIT WIND :)

TAKE CARE :thumbsup:

02 February 2006, 08:52 PM
Wow! Thank you SOO Much for your step by step demonstration. Its an amazing piece thanks for sharing.

02 February 2006, 01:24 PM
Don't have much time to stop right now, will get back to you guys soon, but yes, rebecca, thats no problem!

02 February 2006, 03:06 PM
I enjoyed reading your thought processes as you created this image.

02 February 2006, 03:13 PM
thanks for doing this zephyri! beautiful work!

02 February 2006, 04:40 AM
I click on the link and when the thread came up, I think my eyes popped out. What a fresh and vibrant color pallette!! Beautiful work, and thanks for the tutorial!! :love:

03 March 2006, 10:03 PM


03 March 2006, 06:38 PM
This painting is so beautiful. I just love the colors and the light airy feel of it all. It's just gorgeous. You know, I'm working on an oil painting right now that has those ethereal wings in it. You really pinned the look of them. You don't mind if I use this as a bit of reference do you?

03 March 2006, 07:02 PM
That's awesome work Zephyri!!! I'm flabbergasted, makes me want to learn colours yesterday. You're extremely good at figures as well!!

wow. :thumbsup:

05 May 2006, 09:52 PM
Awesome painting... You can definitely see the Valejo/Bell influence. Thank you for putting in so much time on the explanation and steps. Its always great to see how other artists work.


06 June 2006, 04:26 PM
Fantastic painting and good tutorial! I have seen it some time ago, now came back to take a look again for I struggle with clouds. And a surprise - wings built of light! This is another problem I fight with - an armor built of light. Wings of your goddess give me some ideas how I could work with my god's armor. Thank you for sharing all these steps and ideas :)

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