Why you don't always need a plan when you paint

This work started as a simple practice portrait and ended up being a detailed painting of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. I had no major plans for the artwork and no clear vision of how to paint the end result. Indeed, apart from the fun I knew I’d have painting, I had no reason to create it.

What I really like about digital painting is that the canvas isn’t strictly defined and you can take a painting in whatever direction feels right, wasting nothing but time. In the steps below, I'll show you how a simple line sketch evolved into a fully realised fantasy portrait without putting any planning into the picture at all.

01. Remember the basics

I can’t stress enough that to do this improvisational, 'relaxing jazz' thing (as I call it) on the canvas, one has to be familiar with the rules of composition, lightning and colours, and always keep them in mind. After all, a musician follows a harmonic progression and knows the limits of their instrument, even when improvising. Otherwise they’ll produce an unpleasant cacophony.

02. Sketch out the figure

A colourful portrait forms the centrepiece of the image

A colourful portrait forms the centrepiece of the image

I start with a simple line sketch. It’s supposed to be a portrait, so I don’t bother with trivialities such as the rest of the scene. I fill it with colours; I often prefer to start using colours early. I can check my values using a quick temporary filter.

03. Overpainting and research

The secret artistic ingredient? Beer

The secret artistic ingredient? Beer

I decide that the portrait is boring and the rest of the scene isn’t working. I have a beer and do some aggressive overpainting – as if the painting has been done by someone I despise – then go to sleep. I start the new day by researching materials and themes, so I can add some specific items that support the emerging mythological theme more accurately.

04. Add paint on a single layer

The whole image is created without specialist brushes

The whole image is created without specialist brushes

I render everything using a simple square brush on a single layer. I don’t like using fancy tricks and specialised brushes. I like to do it the old-fashioned way, applying paint where it’s needed. I often use the Liquify filter or cut and paste to move things around.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX magazine issue 143. Buy it here.

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Peter Polach, aka Apterus, is a concept artist and illustrator who says that he has “a reasonable obsession with ugly dead things and fancy fabrics.”