Thursday, May 22, 2014

New "Virtual Plein Air" Landscape Studies

Study of Melville Caves Trail, Australia | Google Street View Reference

I'm just finishing my second of five weeks working in-house at Wizards of the Coast on a concept art project. It's been an amazing and very challenging experience; since I come from more of a finished illustration background, doing concept design is something I'm just starting to sink my teeth into, but I'm learning a ton and the educational rewards of each day at the office are plentiful.

One of the biggest challenges has been doing environment designs for the first time. I've always thought of myself as a "micro" painter, looking inward toward everything, instead of outward. I was the kid that picked four leaf clovers, always looking down at the ground and imagining being really really small. Imagining vastness is a new feeling.

Suddenly, with the most fortuitous timing imaginable, the Virtual Plein Air Facebook community sprung up. The group, founded by artist Timothy Rodriguez, prompts group members to find places on Google Street View, and paint studies from them. Of course nothing can compare to actually going outside and painting a plein air study, but this is a really fun and novel way to draw interesting scenery that's inaccessible, and get some quick practice to jumpstart my brain into making images of wide open spaces. The group has been exploding with studies since its inception one week ago today.

Study of Jasaan, Philippines | Google Street View Reference

This is the study I posted in the community yesterday. A couple people wanted to see the process, so I'm happy to oblige.

Like all my figure work, I start with a sketch to get the landmarks in place. I jump straight into color without doing any black and white or value studies, since the value and color information already exists in the reference image. Jumping straight into color, I put in large areas of local color to start with, and do several detail passes.

Close up of water detail.

A few people specifically wanted to know about the water texture, and it's actually fairly simple to achieve. Starting over the base color (the greenish-blue gradient) I brushed the lighter color all over the surface, then erased away the ripples. It's not an exact match to the photo but the surface highlights follow the same "rules," so to speak.

During the last few steps of each painting I do something I like to call "atmospheric noodling," which is mostly using Screen and Overlay layers to apply subtle changes to the contrast and color over the whole piece. In the case of the Jasaan study, I used the Gradient tool on a Screen layer to simulate the mist in the background, etc. This is the biggest thing that makes digital painting different from traditional for me- if it was oil, I could glaze darker darks into some areas, but it's harder to go lighter at the end with real paint. Digital allows you that flexibility, so the order of operations is a bit different.

Most of the textured brush work is done toward the end as well. Here's what the Jasaan study looks like from start to finish:

Enjoy, and I hope you'll check out the Facebook group and try one of your own.


  1. those are amazing!
    i am so goona try doing some myself. never thought using street view
    thank you :)

  2. you should check out shaddy safadi digital plein air society. lots of good stuff there.