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    EXPOSÉ 5 - Now Availiable This painting was a personal project of mine that started quite some time before I even realized that my friend Kimberley is a perfect model for the main character. The inspiration came from Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Princess Mononoke” which had a profound influence on me. The film is a perfect combination of a story of epic proportions, sad atmosphere, interesting characters, uncompromising style and beautiful art.

    The scene in the magical forest impressed me a lot and a short while after seeing the movie I began planning the painting in my head. I wanted to have small creatures, undergrowth and ancient trees, and to have the entire scene bathed in a golden light filtering through the canopy. Initially, I wanted to make the painting in oils, but I decided it should be my first really elaborate attempt in making a finished, quality digital painting (by no means was it my first digital painting). The process was destined to be similar to how I approach oil painting with the limited, mostly self-taught knowledge and experience I have.

    After a couple of very rough thumbnail sketches outlining the idea, I took multiple reference photos of my friend. Then I made a bigger sketch that completed the composition. I wanted to keep the sketch small and simple, since I knew that the digital medium would allow me to easily change bits and pieces later on. I knew I would take advantage of this once I began to have a clearer idea of how the picture was going to turn out.

    The main composition for the painting is a straightforward diagonal that I often use because it’s dynamic and easy to control. Adding to this, the direction of secondary elements in the composition – such as creatures and vegetation - is supposed to draw the viewer into the picture and create a sense of depth and inward motion. Mostly, I trusted my intuition with what looks good and went on with it.

    First off, I made a freehand black and white study of the face with the reference picture I had chosen to best match my vision. Little tweaks to the expression were needed since the smile was a bit unnatural, as often is the case with photos; capturing the moment just before or just after the perfect smile appears. After finishing the face study, I made a quick and low-resolution monochromatic value sketch of the whole piece with the overall gray-green color I wanted to have.

    In the value sketch phase, I filled the canvas rapidly with lots of textures and interesting loose brushstrokes that I could build on in the later detailing phase. As with oil paints, I enjoy this phase of quick under painting because it’s the most relaxed, loose and quick phase in the whole process. The decisions and brushstrokes I lay on the canvas here, help and inspire me a lot afterwards. With the value sketch, I still avoided putting down the strongest highlights because I want to build the lightest values towards the peak throughout the entire process to have more control over the lighting. When the value sketch was finished, I increased the resolution to the final size and imported the study of the face to the image.


    The main painting stage was launched with defining the colors for the face, since the face would be the area with most contrast in color compared to the rest of the picture, and also the trickiest part to get right. I kept refining the features of the character all the way through the painting until nothing about the likeness was bugging me anymore. I feel the end product looks more like my friend than the reference, capturing the essence of her personality by emphasizing properties in her looks that always caught my attention.

    I defined the palette for the rest of the painting mainly when coloring the face. As with my oil paintings, the colors in the palette acted as a base for mixing new colors and modifying those already on the canvas. Throughout the process, I always consulted the initial palette when I felt like I’d reached a dead end with the colors I sampled from the painting itself. Usually I found a solution from the colors laid down in the initial palette. Towards the end, the palette lost its significance because I had even the lightest and brightest and the deepest dark colors on the canvas to sample them quickly.

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  • The detailing part was relatively easy and full of the joy of painting. I love the way John Howe handles detail in his water media paintings and I wanted to have a similar feeling to them: lots of detail, but handling them discreetly. For me, details should be there for the viewer to explore. I started building the detail on brushwork I’d put down in the value sketch phase. With textures, I relied almost exclusively on my all-in-one wonder texture of a tree bark.

    Combined with basic round or spackled brushes and jitter functions I had the level of randomness I needed and still sufficient control over the use of it. Additional tweaking to the details was made mainly with a small round brush. Adding to those, I kept experimenting with custom brushes (my own ones and Photoshop defaults) and used those discreetly to create more interest to the piece.
    The small three-leaf clover plants were painful to get right with drawing free hand, so I chose to create a mask for them in 3ds Max. With few variations of these I had enough randomness to repeat in Photoshop with scaling, rotating and mirroring.

    Also, with enough reference around for the shape it was easy to repeat the shape free hand with small modifications. The plants were kept in their own layer, so after the initial quick masked selection was filled with solid base color, it was easy to paint the details in with locking transparent pixels of the layer.

    The background was something I did not dare touch for a long time, since I didn’t want to ruin the work done in the value sketch phase. Once I had the courage to start working on the background it turned out bleak and monotonous at first, using only few basic and scattered brushes. I wanted to have more deep and vibrant colors.

    At this point, I experimented further with Photoshop shape brushes and pencil-drawn and scanned scribble brushes, and found the right combination of interesting ones to use in overlay and color dodge modes to make the colors in the background more lively and bright.

    Adjusting the colors with different blending modes for the brush is a good way for me to have a similar process as with oil paints when I apply transparent glazes of paint, building the colors and tones slowly to create more depth to them. If I wanted even more control over this, I could use new layers with different blending modes: as with oils, I could wipe the new and undried glaze of paint off if not satisfied with the result. Nevertheless I usually prefer using brushes with different modes right on top of the color, and usually undo is sufficient to prevent the most dramatic errors.
    I had a lot of uncertainty and indecision going on with which elements to have in the final piece. With digital media, I love the possibility to make adjustments and refinements to what I have in the piece altogether.

    The effort it takes to make changes with traditional media calls for detailed planning beforehand, while digital media allows me to get started with painting right away and make quick and dramatic changes during the process. I can more easily build up the entire piece towards perfection when seeing how the painting develops, what works and what doesn’t, and not be concerned whether or not it is exactly right from the beginning.

    I included many different things into the scene but in the end I chose to discard everything else but my absolute favorites, and decided to balance the scene with the play of light instead of creatures and vegetation. This is because the creatures were supposed to only contribute to the atmosphere and composition and not take over the whole image. For me, the main concern with the content is to have only the necessary bits and focus on the aspects I love the most.

    My name is Jussi Lehtiniemi, 25 years old. I’m from Finland where I first attended a university course leading to an MA in Architecture. Although architecture interests me greatly, I always felt it took me away from my true calling, which is telling stories with images and fleshing out non-existent worlds.

    At the moment, the architecture degree is on hold after getting three years into it and I’m now attending a BA in Illustration course in a British university. Although the content of the course is dealing almost exclusively with contemporary illustration and not with craft skills and technique, I still have the opportunity to draw and paint all the time and hone up my story-telling skills. And of course, I have brilliant friends on the course who have the same interests as I have and the same opinion about ‘contemporary’ art.

    Between university course projects, I’m devoting time to my personal projects, occasional freelance work and creating concept art, models and content for a ‘Half Life 2’ multiplayer modification titled ‘Warbreed.’ Modding gives me the chance to develop my concept art skills and workflow in a context that’s more tangible than a personal project. Developing ideas in a team is always more fruitful than doing it alone.

    I started with oil painting after getting hold of Boris Vallejo’s book depicting his techniques for fantasy art. Lately, almost all of my work has been digital but I enjoy the occasional chance to paint with oils as well. I think it’s possible to take ideas and approaches from either media, digital or traditional and use those in a creative way in the other.

    I’m glad for this opportunity to share my thoughts in this tutorial and I hope that I’m able to contribute something useful to the digital art community that has taught me so many things.

    Thank you, everybody!
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