Denis Loebner shares his techniques for painting 30-minute concepts for the Facebook group Daily Spitpaint. He guides us through the step-by-step process he used to paint his image, The Eel
I created the image The Eel for the Facebook group Daily Spitpaint. The rules for creating these specific drawings are:
• You have to illustrate one of the 3-5 topics that are given each day
• You must not exceed 30 minutes of time working on it
• You must not use any photos in a direct way
So writing this quick tutorial already took me way longer then actually drawing the image. Splitting it into logical helpful steps was also not easy given they rarely exceed four minutes of time each. In this tutorial, I will briefly outline a few of the techniques I often use for creating these spitpaints; for example some use of the mixer brush, custom shapes or a Color Dodge layer.
I came about the idea for this image by Googling images for underwater caves. I stumbled across one in which the camera was shooting a diver from the inside of an underwater cave, and first seeing the thumbnail I thought, these cave walls could easily be a winding body of a giant eel. Of course I had to draw a moray eel because they look so cool.
In order to work comfortably and spend as little time as possible on layer settings and such, I created this Photoshop file. It contains a range of layers I will eventually use, as well as a grid, a specific canvas area in the middle to paint on, a range of grungy color spots that I picked from older spitpaints of mine and an area of free space to place reference images on.
My typical default Photoshop file for spitpainting
Starting the spitpainting
Before I start the timer I usually have a solid image in my head. I like experimental drawing, but if I want to achieve something solid in 30 minutes I don't really have time to experiment, make mistakes or do time-consuming groundwork like line drawings or grayscale images. For this first step I merely blocked out the eel's body on three different layers using the Mixer brush set to dry/thick and a custom brush that was made to resemble rough paintstrokes. I also added a marker for the diver at the point of attention according to the golden ratio.
Blocking out the prominent shapes
This was a rather quick step. I added in some fish with just a few dots, picking color from my grungy color palette. I also sketched the placement of soft lights and light shafts I planned for this image.
Adding some details and lighting
Detailing it out
At this moment I had a good overview of what I wanted to do in the given time. I knew I needed two points of interest: the eel's head and the diver – the rest of the image could be very loose and I could just draw until the time ran out. First I drew the fins to define the eel's silhouette a bit better, and get a nice range of contrast from which I could color pick comfortably to paint the head of the eel.
Adding the first major details
I found a nice reference image for a moray eel that had a strong highlight on his head due to some overexposure. First, I blocked out the raw shape, and then picked some darker and lighter blues from the contrast area I just created, and from the shadowy parts of the eel's body to shade the head. Then I picked some brown and orange from the color reference and some cyan from the fins to give the head some coloring. At last I added the highlighted area with a dots brush, and also some teeth.
Second point of interest
As the diver is comparably small I did not have to invest too much time in detailing him. I only knew that he had to have the highest contrast, so I blocked out his silhouette and only filled in some details like his tanks and the stripes that define his pose. I originally planned to give him a flashlight blinding the eel, but instead I gave him a harpoon as I was quite happy with how the lighting for the eel worked. I then added some light shafts to reduce the contrast around the two main subjects.
Adding the diver to where he belongs
Adding some textures
Here I used a custom shape which I once made from the image of a toad. I often use this specific vector shape for vegetation, mushrooms or murky fluids like swamps. I set the layer on which I placed it to Overlay and then simply copied the layer, while using the Transform tool to fit it to the eels shape.
Using custom shapes for texturing
Highlights and shadows
The time was nearly over so I stopped the painting and went to work on the lighting. I used a layer set to Overlay to darken certain parts and lighten a few others. Overlay is usually great to get some quick translucence or subsurface scattering. After that I used a Color Dodge layer, initially filled with black, to create some specular highlights and some overexposure where the lights hit.
Using a Color Dodge and an Overlay layer for better lighting
A little time left
Usually my last step is to use an Unsharp mask on certain areas of the image to increase the contrast of important parts, or create random texture effects as a result of the former use of grungy custom brushes.
However my music was still running (I fill a playlist with 28 minutes of music and do the wrap up when the music stops) so I could add a few extra details like the harpoon I forgot and some bubbles. I shaped some of the bubble clouds into rough arrows to lead the viewer's eye to the diver.
Unsharp mask and some last second details