Paint realistic smoke: 3 top tips

Smoke is a prevalent visual effect in fantasy art. It can help to potentially reinforce both your composition, and your narrative. It’s important for any fantasy artist to not only learn how to paint smoke, but also to understand how it works, and how to integrate it within your setting.

Smoke will vary visually depending on the cause. Billowing clouds of smoke from a roaring forest fire will look very different to tendrils of smoke rising from a slowly burning piece of parchment. Using reference and real-life examples will help you to identify what kind of smoke you should be aiming to replicate in your paintings. The appearance of smoke is also affected by its surroundings. Is it a still day, or is it windy? Will there be any floating debris or embers rising with the smoke? These are all good things to consider.

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Leesha Hannigan is an Australian illustrator and concept artist. Her interests lie in fantasy illustration, with a personal focus on creature and environment art.