The Making of "Advice From a Caterpillar"

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  10 October 2005
The Making of "Advice From a Caterpillar"

1. Sketch
For this picture I drew a slightly more detailed sketch than I customarily create, although I still felt the need to alter the composition after "painting." The sketch was begun with (real) pencil and paper, then finished in Painter using a custom brush that pretty closely mimics my pencil work.

2. Tone and Rough Values
To begin the underpainting I tone the "canvas" with a large brush that using the Buildup method, on a Gel layer. This gives a unique value / saturation curve, essentially making the middle values the most saturated, and moving out to white and black (no saturation) on either end of the value scale. This is very much like how watercolors or translucent oil paints operate.
I use a layer mask to erase pigment, because painting over with white would spoil the aforementioned saturation curve. The goal here is to establish some kind of key color for the image, and begin to set up the basic value relationships. I don't overtly think in terms of just three values, though in practice that seems to be what happens.

3. Final Values
This is as far as I take the value study - just enough to indicate all the basic relationships, and more importantly to break up the canvas into texture and shapes so I feel like I'm looking into a space vs. staring at a flat surface. It's always remarkable to me how much you can read from the image even at this crude stage.
Notice how I'm flip flopping the value relationship between the underside of the mushroom and the foliage behind it. In step 2 the underside of mushroom is darker than the foliage... in step 3 this is reversed, and later in step 5 it goes back again! As with all picture making issues, this is not about imitating nature, nor trying to gauge what the scene might look like in real life, but about consciously setting up the relationships that are going to make your picture read the way you want.

3a. Completed Underpainting
This stage shows the value study from step 3 with the sketch overlaid and colorized slightly. To do this I make a new layer that is completely filled with my colorization color (in this case a dark green), add a layer mask to this layer, then invert the sketch (so the lines are white and the "paper" is black), then copy it into the layer mask. I then tweak the main color using Hue/Saturation, and I also play with the opacity of the layer and the levels of the mask (to apparently sharpen or dull the line work).

4. Laying in Local Colors
Now I begin to place some local colors into the framework created by my underpainting. I'm still working zoomed out at 25% or 30% (as big as I can and still fit the entire image on my monitor). Because the underpainting is so green, you'll see that my local colors are all "greenish." Even the reds are... greenish. This is not the result of transparency or any other inherent factor, but because I am consciously trying to fit my local colors into a green environment. As I gradually begin to represent more of the full spectrum in the picture, I will widen out the color range bit by bit and approach the final color scheme.

5. Refining Local Colors
Here I've begun to pull out a lot of the green, while still keeping enough to tie the picture together. At this stage you get a pretty good idea what the final picture, including color scheme, will look like.
For this picture I wanted to create kind of a confusing panoply of colors, shapes and patterns, and also (as usual) to include unrelated objects that have similar forms and patterns (such as the caterpillar vs. the large leaf, the hookah bowl and tray vs. the flowers, etc.).

6. Modeling the Forms
For this entire image I used a single custom bristle brush, with a fair amount of bleed, varying only the size. Also uncharacteristically for me, brush size was not tied to stylus pressure, so each mark is of a uniform width. At 50% zoom I work over all the forms in the picture at this stage.

7. Developing Details
I continue to work the whole picture, advancing the level of detail pretty evenly across the board. However, as usual I do save the important details (such as Alice's face) for later in the picture, so I have things in the picture to relate it to. I'm now working at 50% zoom, which is as far in as I go for a picture like this.
I modified the carpet in step 6 to introduce still more color and pattern into the picture. Here I bring it up to the same level of detail as everything else.

8. Compositional Adjustments
Now that I'm in the home stretch I make last minute changes to Alice's head direction, sleeves and leggings, and also replace some of the larger flowers with daffodils because their forms more closely resemble the hookah bowl and tray.

9. Final Details
Here I bring the newly introduced daffodils up to snuff, and give the focal points some special attention as well.

10. Final Adjustments
I finish up Alice's face and hair, leaving it pretty loose and rough. One final change to the position of the caterpillar's eyes and, voila!!
To see other tutorials like this one, visit my Tutorials Page.

(Note: images for steps 9 and 10 had to be combined into a single image (below), due to forum post limitations)


  10 October 2005
Hey this is a great walkthrough, inventive workflow. Very informative.
modelling practice #1
  10 October 2005
Thanks for sharing!
  10 October 2005
Wow! Thanks Chris. I always learn something new with your walkthroughs.

My Website
  10 October 2005

Thanks Chris...I love your walkthroughs. They are probably amongst the best here at CGTalk and I really think they should be plugged.

One questions- when you are widening the range of colors, how much do you widen them by?

Also-- is there an equivalent to a 'gel' layer in PS? Would it be something along the lines of linear dodge? Or..?

Once again, thanks man.
  10 October 2005
Thanks all - I'm glad you like the walk through.

It does seem like a lot of good tutorials get lost in this forum, because the focus of the forum is so wide open (lots of small questions, etc.). That's fine, but I'll bet if there were a "finished works step by step" type of forum (where artists only post walk throughs, tutorials, or step by steps for really finished works), it would get a TON of visits. I think probably a majority of visitors is interested in learning how other artists work, and would check there every day (as many people do with the galleries). It seems you have to work really hard to locate good walk throughs on the different art forums, artists' sites, etc. Oh well, I guess that's what the user projects on CGTalk are for, but those take a lot longer to put together. It only takes a couple of hours to slap together a walk through like this.

To answer your question: there is no Photoshop composite method akin to Painter's gel layer (at least not that I am aware of). If you load a .psd file with a gel layer (saved from Painter) in Photoshop, it defaults to a "Darken" composite method (which isn't the same thing at all). I am still using Photoshop 5, because I do very little with it, but even with CS there is no layer like Painter's gel layer. I bounce back and forth between the two programs, and this doesn't cause any problems because the changing composite method does not alter the actual layer.

  10 October 2005
Of course, now that I've said that I just noticed that there is a list of links to tutorials in the "art techniques" forum in a sticky thread...
  10 October 2005
Just another reason to spread the word about Painter, eh? I know you Painter types... You still didn't answer my question about the color ranges! Sorry, but I like to leach knowledge from the masters, hope you don't mind!
  10 October 2005
Good stuff. I added this to the sticky thread.
  10 October 2005
Wonderful tutorial :] Very well executed and perfectly informative.
colour on top of a blank canvas, the texture background really adds something special.
I can resist everything but temptation.


Painting eyes
Painting hair
  10 October 2005
Beautiful breakdown. Thanks a lot for sharing!
"There Really is No Secret"
Martin Brennand - mocha Product Manager - Imagineer Systems
  10 October 2005
Sorry paperclip, I forgot you asked that. BTW I don't know what a "Painter type" is...

Anyway, as far as widening the range of colors, believe it or not that is a very complicated topic, and I'm not really sure how to quantify it. Also it varies a lot from picture to picture. Moreover, because of how the chemicals in our eyes work, the various color systems (HSV, RGB, Lab, etc.) don't map the total color space in a way that parallels our perception. Put specifically, there is a lot more going on in the red, orange, yellow area of the spectrum than elsewhere. In this range, shifts of value and saturation create apparent shifts in hue. That means you can do pictures that according to measurable hue are very narrow, but seem to the eye to have a full range of color and hue. For example, keeping around the yellow area of the wheel (hue = 60), you can make an apparent "green" just by reducing saturation, and "blue" by reducing it more. This is why (whether they know it or not) a lot of artists work fairly monochromatically, using mostly "warm" colors, and low saturation. This is almost a guarantee of "color harmony", and also makes it much easier to see value relationships, which is really the most important thing in a picture (compared to hue and saturation I mean). This is what's happening in my Girl in the Iron Shoes, for example. If you open that in Photoshop and then open the color picker, and use the eye dropper to sample colors while watching the hue slider (hold the mouse button down and slide it around the picture), you'll see that the hue range stays between approximately 30 and 60, but mostly hovers around 50 or so. But the picture lacks nothing for color. You don't need the full spectrum to make a "color complete" picture. However, this does not work the same way on the other side of the wheel. If you adjust the hue for the entire Iron Shoes picture 180 degrees, it looks really monochromatic (blue). It looks like it only spans a small slice of the spectrum (which, in fact, is true). Basically our eyes are so much more capable of distinguishing subtle differences in the yellow-red (warm) area that we see other colors in there. We even have different names for them. Dull yellow is olive, light red is pink, dull dark orange is brown, etc. The cones in our eyes do NOT parallel the RGB phosphors in a monitor, and the way yellow is made in the eye is unique. Yellow only occurs when both red and green cones are stimulated, AND they are in approximately equal amounts AND the amounts are high. Originally mammals only had blue and yellow cones, so our ability to perceive hue was two dimensional. The yellow cone split (evolved) into red and green, but unlike, say, the phosphors in your monitor, the red and green cones are sensitive to the entire range of the spectrum (blue cones are essentially only sensitive to blue light). This is what accounts for the concept of so-called "warm" (vs. cool) colors. Warm colors simply have more light in them, that is, your eye is more sensitive to them and more chemicals are released when the eye perceives them, because for any colors other than blue, both the red and green cones are highly active. Very subtle differences between their levels produce the sensation of yellow, orange, red, yellow green, etc. Ok, enough about color perception.

For something like the Alice picture I wanted to represent more of the full spectrum directly. I wanted a mostly green picture, with a red (pink) Alice and a bluish caterpillar. So I gradually pull out the green sometimes by just making new colors and painting, and other times adjusting the whole picture, or separate parts, in Photoshop. Typically I use the "levels" control, selecting individual channels (R, G, B). But I also often switch the image to Lab mode, and then use the levels (in this case there are only A and B levels: red vs. green and blue vs. yellow). You can see the progression for this picture in the step by step images.

  10 October 2005
Hmm i cant see the pictures... if there are any(i hope.)
  10 October 2005
That is an absolutely wonderful and informative walkthrough. And the painting itself is fantastic. Thank you so much.
  10 October 2005
Great explanation Chris & very interesting to read!!

Thanks for explaining- much appreciated.

Still no plug..come on, someone! This deserves a front page!
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