While sketching, I think about the basic elements that create a good composition: a point of interest, a unique perspective, the character's pose, accurate anatomy and lighting.
Starting on a grey canvas, I mark the big volumes in generous dark outlines, then add lighter areas with large brush strokes to describe the volumes and to set the overall mood.
I work with these light and dark areas until I gain a good sense of volumes and perspective.
02. Setting the colour scheme
I'm looking for a colour combination that's harmonious, describes the underwater theme and is somehow original.
I try different methods, such as applying an overall colour and passing this layer through several modes. I make use of the Image Adjustments options: Color Balance, Hue/Saturation, Levels and Selective Color.
Eventually I come up with a colour combination of violet in the dark areas, green in the areas that reflect the colour of the water, and yellow/orange for highlights.
03. Adding atmospherics
During my painting process I want to develop a good relationship between the background and the character, while gradually adding more details to each part of the image as I go along. It's now time to do the first pass on the painting's mood.
I'm adding a gradient on the right corner and painting the sun rays on its mask. However, I keep it subtle for this stage. With large brush strokes, focusing on how light affects the volumes, I find that I'm painting more on the face and the body.
04. Image adjustments
I think the painting is looking a little too dark, so I apply a new set of Levels and Selective Color layers. This provides me with solutions on how to develop the image.
All these adjustments transform the image as a whole, so it really helps when getting everything together. Now is a good time to start shaping up the rocks on the bottom of the sea as well as the surrounding cliffs.
05. Integrating photos
I want to add more colours and diversity to the hair, dress and environment by using photo references. I bring in some photos and pass the layers through different modes.
I also adjust their colours and contrast until they match the painting. I keep this to a minimum because I don't want to lose the painted look – I'm really after a base/inspiration to paint on top.
06. Fishy companion
Now I have the basic idea in place and I can continue polishing the image, but it would be more interesting to create some sort of story around the girl.
Because it's a personal project and I like to try out things, I think it'll be fun to add an aquatic companion. I'm changing the girl's pose because I want her to look like she's guided by the fish into the depths of the ocean. I make the fish dark so that he's not the focal point of the scene. The texture on the dress isn't helping either, so I'll hide it for a while.
07. Adding subtle background elements
I paint more of the fish's face and fins until it's to the same level of detail as the girl. I'm quite happy with its look. Now I bring the small fishes I painted earlier back in.
I want to keep their shapes pretty loose and transparent, more like glimpses of light, so they won't attract attention. From a composition viewpoint it's good to introduce diversity in the sizes: a combination of big and small.
Next page: Connecting elements, using modules and more...