Painting technique: roughed in thumbnail

Here’s a thumbnail of a painting I spent about 30 minutes on this morning:


Looks kind of done, doesn’t it? Nah, it’s nowhere near done. 😀 Here it is closer up:



It’s pretty rough. But everything is there. The light source, the dark parts, the light parts, an understanding of the colors, and the general “feel” of the piece. It looks almost finished when viewed as a thumbnail.

Even better, with less than an hour invested into this painting it’s much easier to decide whether it has any potential. Should I scrap it or refine it? Well, if I squint, I can see a good approximation of how it might turn out if I spent another few hours on it. This method takes out quite a bit of the guesswork.

Working this way has revolutionized my work, which is why I’m sharing this technique with you, aspiring artist! I used to paint a picture in segments: character 1, then character 2, then the background, etc, with little regard for the cohesive whole. I wouldn’t know what something was actually going to look like until hours into the work. Oftentimes trying to “tie it all together” at the end was tough.

Everything in this fish painting is on the same layer, which gets rid of the often counterproductive separation of “background” and “foreground”. Background blurs with foreground, and that’s okay – the murkiness is lifelike, and areas of contrast can added later as the painting is built up.

Next time you start a new painting, rough it all in first. Just work on one layer and hit everything – all the characters, all the background elements. Then zoom out to a tiny thumbnail and decide – is this going somewhere I like? And if not, at least you know after 30 minutes, instead of after 6 hours.

Photoshop speed painting tutorial

Earlier in my artistic development I would do several speed paintings a week: quick (usually 20 to 180 minutes, tops) paintings from photo reference. My goal was to improve my ability to work from photo reference (which all of my work does, to some extent) and just get a ton of practice. It’s better to do lots of paintings than it is to sink 40 hours into one big bundle of mistakes, and doing lots of speed paintings is an easy way to paint subject matter you otherwise wouldn’t want to dedicate a few weekends to.

This process was so effective that I felt compelled to document and share it with other aspiring artists. (Click to enlarge)


My speed painting tutorial has been my second most popular DeviantArt entry for nearly seven years – I hope you find it useful, too!