07. Make use of highlights
I create a new top layer and call it Highlights. It's time to shift back to the lit areas. (I jump from shadow to light and back again to keep everything balanced.)
I select the Color Picker, grab some direct light colour and brighten the colour up significantly. Then I paint areas that require a bright highlight. I also start adding rim lighting and some deeper shadows.
08. An autumnal background
Next, I create a layer underneath all layers and name it Background. Using a natural brush I very quickly start laying in some autumnal colours to complement the greens of the creature.
I treat it loose and abstract, and use darker values to ensure that the creature pops from the background. I then click Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, and set the blur at 25 pixels.
09. Introduce photo textures
Elephant textures make great creature skin. I select a section with the Lasso tool, drag it over to the illustration and reduce the Opacity to 30 per cent. Then I click Image> Adjustments>Exposure, increase the Gamma setting and adjust the Exposure to increase the contrast. I tweak these adjustments and the Opacity until the texture looks right.
10. Fit the texture to the creature
Next, I click Edit>Free Transform, resize the texture to fit and then select Edit> Transform>Warp. Now I can start to shape the texture to fit the creature's form.
I then repeat steps eight and nine to create a mosaic of textures on the creature. I experiment with a variety of textures – here I've used both elephant and leaf textures.
11. Add highlights to textures
By the end of this stage the textures should feel like a part of the creature. I start by creating a layer on top and calling it Texture Highlights. Then I select a fine brush and start to highlight over the textures where the light falls. This should be done tastefully. A little goes a long way here.
12. Apply markings
Now I create a layer under the Texture Highlights layer and call it Markings. I set the layer's Blend mode to Multiply.
Now using mid-tone greens and reds I go in and delicately add markings to the creature's skin. This stage adds interest and believability, and helps to describe the form of the creature.
13. Depict foreground elements
I create a new layer on top and begin to loosely lay in foreground leaves and branches. Because this will be blurred there's no need to get detailed. However, I do build it up, using several layers.
Once everything is laid in, I combine the layers and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Then I set the blur to about 35 pixels. This will give the piece a nice feeling of depth.
14. Depth of field and finishing up
I copy all of the creature layers and combine them into one layer. Then I turn off all of the original individual layers. I select the Blur tool and pick the Airbrush setting. I set this to about 300 pixels and a strength of 50 per cent.
Now I go in and begin to blur out areas of the creature layer that I want out of focus. I do this to divert the viewer's attention to areas of interest, such as the face. This also gives the image a bit of a photographic look. Finally, I flatten the image and adjust the exposure and saturation to get the composition nice and bright.