Fig.01 was the initial sketch for the image Our Grasp of Heaven. The inspiration for the piece came from my own fascination of the night sky. I've always loved looking up at the stars and wanted to do a piece that reflected those feelings. The sketch is done directly in Photoshop in full color. I don't do any line work, preferring to rely on large brushes and shapes of color.
I liked the general composition of the piece, but there was something about the colors that were bothering me. They just didn't feel right. As unscientific as that may be, it's often how I approach my work. I continue to fiddle with things until they feel right. Thankfully, digital is an easy medium to change things in. I tried out several different color schemes to arrive at this one. I also extended the canvas for a more dramatic ratio. I wanted a more sweeping view of the sky (Fig.02).
From there, I increased the resolution of the file and started rendering what I had there.
The nebulae was a mixture of the Dodge tool, Smudge tool, and good old fashioned brush work. This was an extremely time-consuming piece, but I was having a blast and didn't mind all of the extra effort. In general, I try to work as zoomed out as I possibly can. Don't get tempted to zoom in too early. You can always zoom all the way in to make small changes later, but you'll be better off if you stay zoomed out for most of the process. It will help you keep the whole picture in mind (Fig.03).
I had been exclusively working on the background this entire time. I have a bad habit of putting off the figures till the end. So at this point I set up a camera and shot a pile of reference images of myself to use for the group of figures. After selecting the best of the reference images I actually composite them into the piece itself. This gives me a rough idea of how the final grouping of figures will look (Fig.04).
In Fig.05 is the first block in for the figures. After I get the silhouettes and some of the general forms established I usually do away with the reference images, so I don't get too attached to it. I want to be sure and stylize things where it seems appropriate.
The figures are getting more rendered. It takes a long, long time to paint this many figures. But there aren't any shortcuts. As in most things in art, you just have to put the time in. It was often tedious, but I just kept plugging away. Always remember that a good portfolio piece will stick around for a long time, so don't be afraid to put in some extra hours on it. It will pay off in the end (Fig.06).
After finishing the rendering of the figures I added all of their tattoos by painting into the layer mask on an Adjustment layer. Small details like these will be overlooked by a lot of viewers, but they'll take your piece to the next level. Putting time and care into properly finishing your work will be noticed by art directors and your fellow artists. Then, give it a good title and show it off for the world to see (Fig.07)!