Use a combination of basic shapes and tools to create a rich and detailed stylised artwork
The first step to creating is setting up your work space. Even though final artwork will be a flatter style, it is essential to work on a large canvas for better quality if planning to scale the image down. This was created at 460x310mm at 300ppi.
The next step is to flesh out the image concept. Starting rough with a basic brush can help to keep future ideas open. Another option is to make a few thumbnail sketches of each scene, making each one a little bit different, and deciding which composition to go with.
Once the rough idea is sorted, use a simple brush to loosely sketch out the idea on a fresh layer. In this case, it is a hero adventuring with his dragon. Keeping it open and simple will make creating shapes and adding detail less difficult.
On a new layer and using a thin brush, such as the Hard Round, create a final line art of your sketch. Try to keep it clean, as it will be coloured over and the end goal is to not have any lines showing. This line art is mainly for reference.
On a layer underneath the lines, start filling in your line art. This artwork in particular needs to have a happy, vibrant colour scheme to give the feel of a rich adventure. The characters are started on first since they will be the main focus.
Work on colouring the rest of your scene, keeping atmosphere and tone in mind. Try using various and unnatural shades to enhance the believability, but liveliness of the artwork. Using Color Balance (Cmd/Ctrl+B) can also help in achieving the overall colour tone.
Once the artwork is coloured in with base colours, it is time to start creating 2D shapes over the line art. It is generally simpler to work from background to foreground. In this case, the mountains and clouds. Each mountain and cloud is on its own layer for later ease.
Continue filling in the background, keeping the shapes simple and each shape on its own layer. Depending on your preference, these basic shapes can be made with the Brush, Lasso or Pen tool. The background was filled in using a combination of all three.
Using different ‘edging’ is key to making your shapes look believable. For example, the overall shapes for trees are rounded and blobby, and slightly random, yet grass transitions between smooth and jagged for individual blades.
After the background is completely shaped, keep the layers together in a group (Cmd/Ctrl+G) for easier organisation. Start on your foreground subjects, which are the hero and dragon in this case. Since they are more detailed than the background, extra attention is taken to creating shapes.
Since the hero has a low count colour scheme but multiple parts, his shapes and layers are separated by colour instead of object. So, all of his red areas have one layer, all dark blues are on another layer together, and so on. This can be done in other areas.
Continue filling in your subjects. If a shape needs shading to show that it has multiple sections, keep in mind where the shading will go. For instance, the dragon is mostly blue so one big shape is made for the blue, but this will be further defined by highlights and shadows.
Once the artwork is full of flat colour, it is time to start thinking about adding depth. Where is the light source? In this artwork it will be between the mountains to resemble a sunset. A quick light reference was sketched in to keep it in mind.
To give more depth, add gradient colours to your shapes. One clean way is to lock the layer’s transparent pixels, located in the Layers palette. Use a linear or circular gradient with a variegated colour while keeping in mind the lighter and darker areas.
Shading will be done in reverse, working foreground to background. Create a new layer named Shading over your intended layer and link it to the layer underneath (Cmd/ Ctrl+Alt+G). Using the Pen, Brush or Lasso tool, start shading your shapes, matching them to the lighting source/direction.
Try picking shade colours that are harmonious with your current colour scheme. In this artwork, the darker colours tend to be blue so a slightly bluish shade colour was chosen for each section. Another solution is to use one shade colour and set the blend mode to Multiply.
For particularly difficult shapes that need to be shaded, it is best to section them off and fill in one section at a time. In this case, the dragon’s legs and wings had to be separated. Using the line art as a reference can help with shading placement.
With the foreground shading done, move to shading the background. Try matching the shading style with the shape. For example, the grass shading is random and jagged, while the tree shading is smooth and blobby, corresponding to the tree shape.
Continue shading in the background. The closer the object is spatially to the light source, the harsher its shading and colouring needs to be. The mountains have a dark and large area of shading since they are closest to the source, which is the setting sun in this case.
If the need for more definition arises, add another layer of shading to certain objects. Create a new layer over your first shading layer, and link it to the layer underneath (Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+G). Shade in less of an area. The dragon and hero’s cape needed one extra shade for more definition.
Repeating the same process as step 14, add gradient colouring to your shading layers. Lock the layer’s transparent pixels, and begin adding darker and lighter tones to each of your shading areas, using your own discretion.
In a brand new layer, try adding in simple shaped highlights according to the light source. White was mostly used to keep the number of highlight colours low. Though the style is playful, be careful not to add too many highlights, as doing so can give a plastic-toy feel.
If you have not already done so, now would be a good time to start adding in tinier details, such as the hero’s face and patterns on his clothing. Try using a small, Hard Round brush and keep the amount of brush strokes to a minimum.
If some parts of your original line art were covered up, try adding them back in at this stage. The patch of grass in the foreground was looking a little barren, so some basic foliage was added back in from the original sketch.
If some sections of your original sketch did not come out as intended, which in this artwork were the houses, try covering them up and starting these sections over. Instead of re-sketching the houses, they were drawn freehand due to their size.
Give your artwork a good look over. Are there any empty areas or objects that need to be taken out? Now would be a good time to tweak anything before doing a final colour balancing.
Add some dynamism by playing around with Color Balance or Levels over the entire image by creating a new adjustment layer. You can also enhance the darkness or light source by playing around with gradients on a new layer set to Overlay.