And Now For Something Completely Different

As many of you already know I started my art career as an illustrator working in science fiction and fantasy. This was back in the mid eighties and before computers were tools for artists. Computer games looked like pong and pacman not like a blockbuster movie.

I still work in games and in Science Fiction and Fantasy and recently had the opportunity to contribute to a book called SciFi Art Now. John Freeman is the editor and has a blog where he is interviewing some of the artists for the book. My interview is here with a link to a download of this step by step demo in .pdf format.

My piece in the book was made digitally using my own photo reference and 3d models and combined and painted in photoshop. For this piece I painted right on the plate (photo) although this isn’t always how I work digitally it is an effective tool to quickly sketch ideas and bring them to completion. The following is the step by step process I used to make Marooned.


I started with a photo I took on a painting trip to the Sierras in Eastern California. The sandstone looked melted and gave me the idea for a crashed spaceship. I got down on the ground to shoot the small sandstone rocks from a worms eye view.


1. I  separated the foreground from the sky into two layers. Using a hard brush, selecting local colors and the eraser tool I began to make the framework of the spaceship.


2. I created a third layer for my figures around a fire and established some color to get the general feel of how it will fit in the scene.

3. Next I painted some walls with portholes to make the ship seem familiar, again using the local colors in the photo to keep the sense of light.


4. I continue to add more hard edges and machine like shapes and establish a horizon line with mountains in the distance.
5. I rough in the figures around the fire on another layer. I paint them all in warm hues so they will stand out against the rest of the scene. I make one figure female and the two sitting figures male to create a subliminal tension for the scene. Next I created a sky gradient on another layer. This will be my basis for the stars and planetoids that come next.
6. I create stars by using the noise filter then selecting a limited color range and copying and flipping the selection. I do this a couple of times adding a layer each time and make a color pass over each version to vary the look of the star field. The last thing I do is go in and hand paint selected stars with the airbrush tool before collapsing the layers back down.


7. I build and light the planetoids in 3ds Max and then import the images on to their own layer in Photoshop. At this point I collapse all of the layers except the figures and fire and then manipulate the colors and values to harmonize the scene. I want everything to be covered in dust to give the sense of the passage of time, unifying the color does this and I choose a color that will compliment the tones in the fire.

8. To finish the painting, I collapse the whole image and adjust the color for the figures and add more detail around them. I work all over the image fixing and adjusting where I think things need it.

13 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different

  1. rahinaq.h.
    This is only one way of painting digitally and probably the easiest. Since the plate is in the image. I learned this technique from a matte painter who worked in television and the movies. He was an accomplished artist in traditional media too.

  2. Hi there.
    My son knows how to do this process, to me, it's magic! Someday I will know how to do this…in a real simple sense, tho, I'm sure. Your work is amazing.

  3. I have over the years tried traditional and digital. I love creating on anything. Practice, practice, practice. I guess there's millions of folk who love to create out there who don't have the time to buy paints in readiness for 'that day' when they do have time to paint. That's what always caught me out; I was always running out of a certain colour or needed a canvas. By the time i'd sourced everything, the moment had gone 🙂
    For me, digital is a handy way of practising. I was always scared of messing up an expensive canvas and often found myself unable to chose a suitable image that would warrant me putting it onto that expensive canvas. If i use photoshop, i can practice and practice with no worries about cost, or ruining anything. I think it matters not what you use to create, as long as it encourages you to keep at it. I guess many people, like myself, are kind of average at painting or drawing; and selling our work isn't really what we're aiming for. For me it's about learning, practising and the enjoyment of creating. If ipads and photoshop encourage more people to take up painting or drawing I think that's a good thing. The more the merrier; and when i feel good enough, i too may transfer what I have learnt on to a canvas, but i could never part with my efforts for money 🙂 I am sure that there are lots of folk out there creating smashing digital art and their ability I am sure would be evident should they choose to put it instead onto a tangible surface. I think i'll write to Banksy now and tell him to stop putting his art on to walls and buildings, it will never sell 🙂

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