• Umbrella SkyEXOTIQUE 3
    "Umbrella Sky"

    CGSociety Tutorial, 24 October 2007

    Looking back into the Vaults of CGSociety, we found EXOTIQUE 3 cover artist, Marta Dahlig's 'Umbrella Sky' staring back. In this celebrated walkthru, Marta shows us how she digs into the details, building on a dream.
    CGSociety :: Tutorial
    24 October 2007, by Marta Dahlig

    Marta Dahlig takes us through the creation of the EXOTIQUE 3 cover image.
    Marta Dahlig’s gorgeous ‘Umbrella Sky’ image was unanimously chosen for the cover of Ballistic Publishing’s EXOTIQUE 3, and after submitting, Marta continued to improve on perfection. Here, she takes us through her process of building on a dream.

    Palettes and brushes
    When starting to work on this image I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve – an intimate and poetic mood, underlined by bold color choices and some surrealistic elements. I picked some general colors I would be using throughout the painting process and picked some

    skin tones for the character, by choosing a few midtones and then mixing them with the first palette. The brushes I used are quite standard for me: a hard round with ragged edges; a spackled brush; a rotating brush for skin tone blending and an airbrush.

    Color blocked, figure blocking
    After picking the colors, I opened up a new file and generally sketched the color layout (keeping the character colors on a separate layer), spreading different shades throughout the canvas. This helped me balance the painting from the very beginning, avoiding over-saturating or filling the piece with too much of one color.


    Afterwards, I dimmed the character layer and started blocking the girl in more detail. I don’t really do typical sketching but straight color blocking, as my line handling is extremely messy. :) Furthermore, color blocking gives me an early idea of how something will look in the future.

    Straight after I moved forward to slightly define the background. Usually, I just leave the background for the very end, but this time, as the majority of colors were placed in the sky, I wanted this base to be ready first. I didn’t define the background fully, but just pushed it a bit further to have a general idea of how it would work with the character later on. The whole background was done with the ragged and soft brushes in Photoshop, with some blending done in Painter.


    At this point, I started sketching out the character’s face, which was going to be one of the most important aspects of the image. I usually paint confident and provocative expressions, but this time I wanted the girl to be young, subtle and dreamy. At first I pushed the face I initially sketched further, but also sketched an alternative. The one on the left proved to be a bit too modern and concentrated, and so I decided to stick with the original. After choosing the face I polished it some more, smoothing the rough transitions in Painter, and adding fist hints of details, concentrating on the eyes, nose and lips. The final blending was achieved with “Just Add Water” tool in Painter.


    Once I had the essence of the piece completed, I moved onto the dress and the body. Still limiting myself to the mentioned set of brushes, I detailed the shapes I blocked in before – the body and dress. The dress stages were mostly done in Painter, as its oily,

    slightly smeary brushes and blenders made it easier to create the bold look of the folds I aimed at. To paint the body I applied the colors with a Ragged brush in Photoshop and blended them with the rotating brush as well as an airbrush.

    Now, after digging through tons of references, I moved onto the details – the umbrella and fish. The purpose of those elements, along with a little symbolism, is to add some magical depth to the piece overall.

    I wanted the fish to be looking ghost-like to avoid any attention being taken away from the character.

    Next page

    Finished submitted version
    After this stage I sent the image to the client and considered myself done. I was quite satisfied with it, but decided a few things needed changing and so I made an exception from my usual practices and came back to an old work and started polishing it up again.
    New Background
    Firstly, I have changed the aspect ratio of the piece, making it a bit taller – this change allowed me to paint a bit more of the sky as well as add some depth by painting fish far up above the character. Afterwards, I experimented and rotated the whole image around six degrees to the left – the horizon line was no longer parallel to the edges of the painting and therefore the whole image started looking a bit more interesting and dynamic.
     Lower part reworked
    Afterwards I immediately proceeded to fix the background – the clouds, the sea and the rock the character was sitting on, as they didn’t seem to be crisp and defined enough, especially in
    comparison to the girl. I did the clouds fully, as well as the basic wave and rock coloring in Painter, moving onto Photoshop for texturing and adding details.

    Face reworked
    Now I went onto detailing the face, adding some additional textures to the lips and skin (mainly freckles). The eyes were supposed to be lively, so I added some glittering sparks of blue and white, slightly breaking the color with some brown blobs. I also created a lip gloss effect on the lips, by placing lots of small dots of a lighter color over them as well as highlighting the most convex parts – the area just above the upper lip and the middle of the lower lip.


    I also repainted most of the hair, which, in my opinion, wasn’t textured realistically enough. For this step I used Photoshop and some custom hair brushes as well as the standard Hard and Soft Round ones. I always start with the smoothest brushes painting bigger and darker strokes, gradually moving onto smaller brushes and lighter shades. Afterwards I create a layer with a “Multiply” mode, and with an airbrush I place some extra shades to underline the hair’s softness, depth and volume. The final effect ended up being a bit too saturated, so I altered the colors with the standard Photoshop tools.

    For finishing, I integrated the character with the background to a higher extent by adding some airbrush strokes (with the colors eye-dropped from the sky) over certain areas of the girl, mostly hair and skin. Now, I repositioned and resized the fish and added some glows with an airbrush on top of them. For this step I used two layers, with their modes set to Color and Linear Dodge. I was actually quite surprised with the effects of this small step, as it alone let me create the mood I wished to depict – the painting now possessed a soft, magical atmosphere.

    Umbrella Sky
    After taking the last look at the painting I considered myself done. I have to say that working on this painting was a great experience and fun, not only because it let me concentrate on aspects other than intense detailing, but also working with contrasting colors. In comparison to my usual monochromatic color themes, it proved to be a very educating experience. At the very end, I’d also like to take a second to give the credits for the title of this piece to the song “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra – it never failed to inspire me :)

    Related links:
    Marta’s CGPortfolio
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