“The Making of Live Water” tutorial and time-lapse video

Photorealism and Fantasy: The Making of Live Water

Live Water by Karin SchmynttKarin Schmyntt has shared a tutorial with us for her digital painting “Live Water”, the final version of which can be viewed in the Art Showcase. You can download the brushes she used to complete “Live Water” at the bottom of this tutorial, and find links to her portfolio, blog and contact information. There’s also a really cool time-lapse video showing her at work on the project.

Fantastic and photorealistic paintings are genres and styles that, in most cases, work well together. The fantasy, also closely linked to literatures of same genre, is probably an “art member” since its very beginning, while the photorealism was a term primarily related to an American movement, which gained strength in the late of 1960s with artists as Richard Estes, Chuck Close and John De Andrea. During this period, the fantastic art, before that produced only by illustration and painting, also begins to appear gradually in photographic works and acquire more space.

Today, with the possibility of drawing on a computer, we can make realistic digital paintings using basically the same concepts as the painters of the 60s/70s used; since we want a visually polished result, without much apparent brush strokes, using tools that are similar to airbrush – a tool widely used to perform this kind of painting on a canvas or panel – will be very important. As for the fantasy, references are essential: movies, books, other paintings, everyday facts and even dreams can help you when composing a fantastic atmosphere.

This step-by-step, therefore, aims to clarify a little more about how a work of fantasy genre, and at the same time in photorealistic style, can be done digitally. As example, I will use my painting Live Water, which I will try to expound a little more about the technique used, as well as custom brushes, textures and colors. Since not all the details are completely exposed here, watching the video that accompanies this text may be necessary to clarify some questions, if any.

1] Technical Information

This work was completely done on Photoshop CS3 with a Wacom Tablet in approximately 20 hours. The original file size and resolution is, respectively, 2851 x 4000 pixels and 300dpi.

For painting I used, most of the time, the hard round edge brush with Pen Pressure option checked all the time (Brushes > Other Dynamics > Opacity Control > Pen Pressure), varying its opacity during the process: for sketch – medium to high opacity; for colors blending – low opacity. Few custom brushes were also used to give more texturing in specific parts, like the character’s skin and the background – this brushes are available for download and will be better specified and detailed during the tutorial. Furthermore, I also made some use of soft round edge brush, in most cases to give more polishing and workmanship to the picture.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

2] Primary Ideas

Before starting a picture, I use to do some studies on a notebook or separate file to better visualize my idea and to know if the elements and colors I want to introduce are able to “talk to each other” to form a harmonious composition as possible. This is the time when various poses (if a character is a key element of the painting), combination of colors and lighting are tested in many different ways to the idea of what the end result becomes as clear as possible.

In the case of Live Water, my original concept was, from the beginning, portraying a dark and dubious atmosphere, which gives space to the observer to do various interpretations. For this reason I had in mind that it should portray elements that relate to the strange – and the jellyfish, in this case would be the key piece of the picture. As for the color palette, the decision was based on the complementary colors concept – in this case, blue and orange – which would give more contrast to the drawing.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

It is always advisable to lose more time in this part. From these choices and previous studies, the chance of your work flow be faster is higher, since the ultimate goal will be better visualized in your mind.

3] Sketch

Karin Schmyntt Live Water TutorialMany digital artists diverge when making a sketch. Some doodle a lot with different brushes and colors, gradually defining the shape of the figure they want to portray; others draft and define the figure, lighting and contrasts with black and white colors, introducing only later the colors – the method varies from person to person and from work to work.

In this case, the oficial sketch I did was done in Photoshop with the standard hard round edge brush in 100% opacity. In a black background file I traced, in a separate layer (Layer > New Layer), the character’s silhouette that was going to be portrayed in the work so I could have, especially, more security and control of the anatomy – is very useful in this case to use dolls or nude models as reference to assist you and give more certainty that proportions, muscles and body volumes are correct.

Once the sketch is completed, I use it as basis for defining the figure’s volume. For this, in a new layer, I start filling the silhouette with the base color of the character’s skin, then darkening the lines and reducing their opacity to work better on the picture.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

4] Blocking

Karin Schmyntt Live Water TutorialKnown the silhouette I’m going to work on, it’s time to apply the colors. Following the palette previously defined, I began introducing colors and lighting with fast strokes, varying brush’s opacity in 50 to 70% and not caring for the moment to be very accurate in shape, limit or detail of the figure but with the direction and focus of light and how the character’s body would respond to it.

This procedure is usually called color block and generally gives a good idea of how your picture will look like in the end, especially if you are working with a technique directed to photorealism.

Coloring the entire image initially in “blocks” you have the possibility to make further adjustments and confirm if the colors’ choice is interesting, if the lighting and composition are correct, etc., before you even begin to detail your work – this way you gain more time and can focus on important elements of your drawing.

You should also always have at your disposal a rich palette of colors when introducing light and shade on your painting; for example, instead of using white to define lights, experiment using turquoise or pink, both very clear – try to do the same with shadows: instead of pure black, opt for dark purple or dark blue.

5] Initial Details and Color Blending

Once the basic and solid forms are defined, the security to implement some details is larger. This was the moment I began to better define the face and the “hair”‘s shape of the character, as well as some parts of her body such as breasts, legs and arms.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

That is when the mixture of colors and polishing also became more intense, making the brush strokes gradually become less noticeable.

To mix colors the best you can, always try to use a low opacity brush – something around 10-15% – and, for smooth surfaces, try to finish them with a soft round edge brush, taking care to not make your image too “airbrushed”.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

6] Hand and Feet

Since they have much variety of position, expression and anatomy, hands and feet may become more complicated when drawing. So when you depict them, try to use some reference: a photo or live model – which can be a relative, a friend or yourself – should suffice. This will make the probability of mistakes reduce considerably and will help you to observe and understand over the time how each party behaves in certain situations. Sketches and studies are also recommended to do whenever you have an opportunity since, as the human body itself, hands and feet differ by gender, age, etc.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

In case of this work I used my own feet and hands as reference, opting for pink, green and purple during my mixing colors to diversify a little more the original palette.

7] “Hair”

During the conceptual creation of my work, I decided that the “hair” of the character would be one of the main elements which would give a fantasy theme to the image. The inspiration of both the form itself as the colors and textures, came from the tentacles that jellyfishes exhibit, especially the giant jellyfish.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Since the goal was to get a blurred, but controlled result, the use of Smudge Tool was essential to achieve it. Applying different colors to create a more interesting look, I first made the rough sketch its shape with hard round edge brush at 100% opacity, gradually applying the Smudge Tool to blur some parts of the image more securely – thinking from this angle, using this tool is better than mixing colors with soft round edge brush just because you can much better control what and how much smudge; using it in a moderate way the risk of facing a “confuse” image in the end is smaller. The same goes for the Blur Tool, which can provide beautiful results, especially when used for finishing touches.

8] The Jellyfish

The jellyfish’s painting followed basically the same processes of sketch and artwork of the “hair”, being used the same tools to do it. The only thing that may have actually differed was the fact that I’ve used modes and layer effects as, respectively, Vivid Light and Outer Glow to better emphasize the transparency (typical characteristic of a jellyfish) and the bioluminescence of the animal, which is the main focus of light in this painting.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Karin Schmyntt Live Water TutorialWhen painting an animal, especially one which you don’t have much familiarity, search as much references as you can to observe and study their main characteristics and behaviors. It’s always important to note what differentiates each one so you can explore to the fullest the anatomy, dynamic poses, bodily expressions, etc. and thus obtain the best result as possible. Moreover, from a further study you can build unusual looking animals, which work extremely well in fantasy paintings – preferably, make several anticipated sketches to better express your idea and see if it works or not.

9] Quick Textures

One of the most amazing ways to give more life to your artwork is applying textures, since they can affect the perception of an image. Depending on how and where you apply them, textures don’t transmit only tactile sensations; they may also convey, poetically, atmospheres and messages, which eventually invite the viewer to do personal readings of the work you’re exposing, making it much more interesting and expressive. But beware of excesses! An overdose can ruin your painting or, worse, make it visually messy and confusing. Try to apply textures in an advanced stage of your painting, when the forms are already almost completely set and do it gradually to achieve the most natural result possible.

In digital art you can put textures in your paintings by extracting them from photographs or even creating some custom brushes, whose forms are related to the effect you want to induce. In Live Water I used basically two custom brushes. The first one, used in this step, was originally created to draw clouds in another painting, but it worked well in this case to set some small imperfections and pores on the character’s skin.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

In a separate Normal layer, I applied the brush in some parts of the character’s body, especially breasts, stomach and legs, always in low opacity to avoid conflict and “concentration” of textures just in a few points of the image.

10] Color Adjustment

At this point, as several elements of the picture were already exposed and defined, with little to finish the painting, I could take a second large large for major errors and, among other issues, I noticed that the colors, unfortunately, were not yet in according to the theme – besides the fact that the blue was performing as a predominant color in the image. If that happens to you too, you can easily correct your colors in Color Balance option (Image > Adjustments > Color Balance), balancing them according to your taste and the atmosphere you want to create.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

It always worth testing various hues, saturations and values in your work – especially on those that you, for some reason, didn’t like the end result very much – since these adjustments can quickly change the style and the “mood” of your painting, making it completely different and more (or less) interesting. In case of a work related to fantasy or science fiction, any choice is very welcomed, just try to avoid monochromatisms, as it can sometimes make your work visually uninteresting.

11] Noise Filter

Karin Schmyntt Live Water TutorialBeing usually used in the end, this tool can be very useful if you are looking for an extra texturing and a “final touch”, especially if the figure involved is a human being or animal. Unlike a custom brush or a texture extracted directly from a photograph, the Noise Filter is able to create color variations in the painting, offering a “pixelated” look that can be visually interesting especially if you’re dealing with a photorealistic painting. Its application process can be explained using the image below as an example, initially without the filter:

First, flatten your image on Layer > Flatten Image and duplicate it. Click on the duplicated layer to select it, go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and set Amount to 8%.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Then, on the same layer, open the window Gaussian Blur in Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and select Radius to 0,5 pixel.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Finally, adjust the layer’s opacity according to the intensity of grain you want your image to have – for a subtle effect, the number can varies between 30 to 60% depending on the image size.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

Flatten your image again and you will have this as the final result:

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial - 11

For the outcome of the Noise Filter be the best possible is recommended that you apply it at the end of the whole process of your work or, at least, at a relatively advanced stage of it, where most of the details are already defined and set out clearly – this way the filter’s uniformity is maintained and you don’t run the risk of ending up with a partially grainy picture.

12] Background

The background of a painting may differ depending on the element for which you want to direct the viewer’s attention. Detailed and complex environments are generally portrayed when working in a landscape or in characters that appear in a secondary way of drawing – otherwise, if your painting is primarily a portrait, simple backgrounds are perhaps the best option for the viewer’s attention be directed to the main element of your picture, which can be a human being, an animal, an object, etc. Backgrounds can range from something abstract to figurative on a portrait but, regardless of the choice, almost always the forms presented are simple and light to the viewer’s attention not be diverted.

In Live Water, I chose an abstract and simple background, relatively quick to complete. Creating a new layer, I first sketched the whole shape with a hard round edge brush, then gradually putting colors, shapes and textures with a custom brush, the second and last used in this work.

Karin Schmyntt Live Water Tutorial

13] Final Details and Comments

After finalizing the background I also have added some last minute details and textures, as little glows in the character’s “hair” (a process that I couldn’t, unfortunately, record on video), just in order to enrich a little more the picture and give a finishing touch. Now, finally, the image can be considered done!

The end result:

Live Water by Karin Schmyntt

In the end, I hope this tutorial/making of has helped you in some way and added something to your knowledge in digital painting! Thank you very much to My Fantasy Art for this amazing opportunity and you, for reading this step-by-step.

Download the brushes used to complete “Live Water” RIGHT HERE.

Below is a time-lapse video showing the process of creating the digital painting “Live Water”, in which Karin spent a total of about 20 hours working on.

Software Used:

  • Painting: Adobe Photoshop CS3
  • Video recorder: Camtasia Studio 6
  • Video editing: Adobe Premiere CS3


You can also see the final painting on her Deviant page RIGHT HERE.

Karin Schmyntt’s websites:

Music used with written permission of the authors and are © Vibrasphere and © Emancipator
Images and video © Karin Schmyntt. Please do not modify without permission.

Leave a Reply