Painting Value Study – A Fantasy Jet Plane

value studydetailI did these imaginary jet planes as value studies.

There are 3 questions I  try to ask and answer when painting a value (shade of light or dark)

1) Where is this plane/surface I am now painting in relation to the light source/s and reflected light?

Is it directly facing the light source? Directly facing away from the light source? Or somewhere in between.

2) What generally happens to the shade/value of a surface in that position relative to the light source/s? How does light generally act on a surface in that position relative to the source? Is it in shadow, half-light, no light..

To help  answer this question there are  general rules to how light acts on a surface as it turns away from the light source including:

Highlight, Center Light, Midtone, Terminator, Core of Shadow, Reflected light (in shadow) Occlusion shadow, and Cast shadow – see this great tutorial

3) How much?- Or now that we have clarified where this surface is relative to the light source and we know the general rule for a surface in this position – now we can ask – how much?

To what extent does it get darker or lighter relative to the planes or surfaces in the rest of this painting?

I have found this last question to be the  most difficult part for me to answer.

For example in the above  Jet Plane picture let’s analyze the back vertical fin facing us:

Where: The back vertical fin of the jet plane is facing away from the light source – which is above and behind the plane.

What happens to a surface in that position?  It is in the form shadow with a little cast shadow on top from the fin overhang – it will be darker than surfaces facing direct light.

On the other hand it is vertical, exposed to reflected light from the upper part of the jets body and surrounding clouds and mist/atmosphere maybe even earth, ocean, or mountains below- so it will be lighter than the dark cast shadows that have little reflected light and certainly much lighter than the occlusion shadows (cracks or squishy spots) that have no light penetrating.

How Much? – The fin must be darker than the direct light surfaces, and lighter than the cast shadows, but how much in the middle is it? Where on a scale of values from the darkest value in the picture to the lightest value would it go?

I have a hard time answering that question.

One helpful general rule I have heard is that “nothing in shadow (out of the direct light) is ever as light as even the darkest part of  anything in direct light” or “The whole shadow family is darker than the light family” – even when reflected light is taken into account.

So now we know that every part of the fin must be darker than any part of the plane facing direct light- no matter what value scale we use.  If you squint at the picture you can see that.

Other than that helpful hint I just wing it – pun intended

The only other thing I can think of is whatever value you pick for that angled surface – somewhere between direct light and cast shadow-  be consistent in the rest of the picture for planes/surfaces in similar positions.


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Basic Digital Painting Process

Step 1– Line art on it’s own layer. (I used Denis Zilbers pencil brush see my post here on all types of great brushes.*see the end of post for screenshot of my layers)

1 line drawing

Step 2 – Add a flat mid tone beneath the line art ( Use magic wand to select negative space with contiguous checked, than select inverse, than go to select/modify/contract by 2 pixels- than fill with desired color – this prevents space between fill and line)

2 mid value lean dark

Step 3 – Add a new monotone values layer above the mid tone layer defining the light source/s and forms ( I used 4 values for this picture the mid grey plus 2 darker and 1 light. Be sure to alt + click between the flat layer and the value layer above it to auto mask to the flat layer – now you don’t have to worry about going out of the lines)

3 two darker plus one lightStep 4 – Add a color gradient layer over the value layer to define the key color/s (Use the same alt + click trick as before. I used a complimentary color combo here. For a great Corel Painter like color wheel to add to photoshop see me post here)

4 complementary color overlay gradientStep 5 – Add some paint strokes for reflected lighting/rim lighting on another layer above ( Look beneath the nose and chin – I used a saturation layer – you can use a different color/source to make it more interesting)

5 sat layer for reflected light

Step 6 – Add a background beneath all the layers ( I used a gradient plus some interesting texture brushes see the links above for brushes and texture resources)6 backStep 7 – Final step -Add an adjustment “levels” layer above all the layers to bring out the dark and lights of the picture and make it richer.

7 levels adjustmentHere is a screen shot of my layers :layers

This method separates value painting from color painting. It is a classic approach and is used by many pro artist.

A popular alternative method is to paint the local colors first and than the values in color on top of them.

A middle ground might be to fill the canvas with the key color/s and than paint the middle/dark values and darks in a more or less “monotone” of the key colors and finally add more diverse colors and color accents toward the end along with the light/middle and highlights. I think this final method might be the fastest for many pictures while still making it easier to separate value from color.

One step that many digital artists add to this process is adding textures in the form of photos or brushes on an adjustment layer like overlay or soft light set to a mid or low level transparency.

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man banging spoon on headWhen I was a little boy in summer camp my brother would bang on the table with his spoon. The head counselor would yell “Bang on your head Judowitz!”

It is only with age that I realize the full genius of his advice. Just another example of how adults do know best. Indeed most of life’s problems could easily be solved this way.

Spread the word and help save the world – one spoon banged head at a time.

spoonbang color

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Yated Interview

This is a recent interview in the Yated – An orthodox Jewish newspaper with a circulation of approx 100,000:

yated interview


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