I truly believe this. The actual strokes of a painting aren't that hard to make, they don't take that much hand-eye coordination, and, particularly digitally, there aren't any magic alchemical secrets to learn.
You have to see....and the first step to seeing is to analyze. I thought I'd take one of Jaime Jones' paintings from "Destiny" and give it a deep dive.
This painting really speaks to me, in content, composition, colour choice and brush technique. Let's look at the composition first off:
Pretty compelling evidence that Jaime wanted the subject to be the FG character, NOT the monster. Let's see what happens as we add values.
Interestingly, there isn't a lot of difference between 2 and 3 values in this painting. It's a high-contrast image without a lot of mid-tones.
Some people prefer a 4-value system of dark, mid-dark, mid-light and light. Even in that scenario, there isn't that much more information. The monster pops out a bit more, but it is still all about that dude in the front with the big gun. Note in all the versions the spiral composition that leads down the gun, across the floor, back up the guy in the bottom right to the monster, which leads back aground the doorway to the 3 guys, which lead us back to the foreground hero. Your eye literally just keeps circling this composition, which adds to the dynamic feeling.
Let's take a closer look at the foreground hero:
His silhouette is very well defined. The edges are sharp and easy to read. It's not *quite* lasso-tool-sharp, because that would make it feel like a cutout, but there are no soft brushes used anywhere near the edges. The value range is very controlled, there's not a lot of difference between the highlights and the shadows, particularly in the cloth sections. He's saved his "oomph!" for the big gold and bronze gun. That's where you get the most saturation and the most detail. Compare the barrel of the gun to the shoulder pad - Note how abstract the shoulder is in comparison. Even in the gun though, there are some lost edges and some abstractions. The internal edges aren't as sharp as the silhouette ones, but every sub-form has a value, a shadow and a highlight. Also look at the helmet and the shoulder pad - he's used bounce light from the gun to colour the shadows slightly.
The detail falls off as you go down the character. Look at the difference between the helmet at the left hand! You are clearly meant to follow the barrel and then "leave" the character, not get hung up on the details of their belt.
Now let's check out the monster!
We've already noticed that the creature isn't as important to the image as the hero, and we can see this decision being followed through in the painting technique as well as the values. Its silhouette is much less defined, and it fades into lost edges with the background in several places (like the right arm!) Texture is very abstract and suggestive. He's used the ubiquitous "chain brush", but he's painted on top of it and "messed" it up quite a bit. Look how he draws the eye with contrast and detail. The right forearm bracer has a TON of spec highlights and is fairly well defined. Compare that to the right hand! The left arm is basically just a blob, made at least partially with what looks to be the standard photoshop round brush.
The face is also quite defined, but even that is mostly abstract shapes. Note how the highlight strokes follow the contour instead of going across, but the shadows go cross-contour to increase the sense of form. The shadows were also painted with soft brushes, but the highlights are all made from texture brushes with harder edges.
The entire creature has been lit from two sources, one is the cool light from the entranceway, and the other is a hidden, warm light from camera-right. Gives him more options for contrast and interest, but the warm light is still very low-key, and doesn't give us a lot of details.
This is actually my favorite part of the painting, and makes a great "micro composition" all on it's own. The detail on these guys is super loose, but the silhouettes are still sharp - actually, they are sharper in some areas that the main character! Because the contrast is lower and there is less detail, he can keep the sharp edges without making them feel like cut-outs. Here, he's fogged out a lot of the information with a soft round brush, but note the use of the textured brush for the fog around the creature's leg. Gives it a sense of materials and separates it from the characters and the fog treatment they have received. The two-light scenario is especially visible on the monster's leg as well.
As with the creature, highlights are painted following the contour, shadows are painted cross contour and with softer brushes. The value range is quite narrow, but the hard edges of the highlights serves to give things a sense of detail that isn't actually there, it's just implied. Masterful. Look at the rim light on the doorway. Even though the light is blue, he's made it quite a saturated orange. It ties things to the creature and the inside, and gives a separation of space that wouldn't be there if he'd gone with a greener tone.
Check out the floor! Near the hero there is a suggestion of detail that fades off to literally dots as you move across the image. All that remains are the horizontal lines that help draw your eye across. Also note how he's used shadows on the floor as design elements to break up the space, give it a sense of depth and to help lead your eye.
Ok, now to think how to apply these lessons -
1: Even with a lot of characters and a lot going on, the composition needs to support the primary read and the main focal point. It should work in 2,3,4 or however many values.
2: Don't get mushy with your silhouettes, but don't make them laser-cut either.
3: Detail is a weapon in your arsenal, it is not a nuclear solution to be applied everywhere. Before you start detailing your painting, think where you want your viewers to look.
4: Highlights go with a contour, shadows go cross-contour.
5: Don't be afraid to use different treatments for the same thing. The soft brush that looks great for the fog on the characters and walls was not used on the creature.
6: Don't be afraid to "break the rules" of light colour to make your image work. That doorway rimlight is much better orange than it would be green.
As you've looked at these close ups, what did you see? Are there any lessons you want to take away that I missed?
Thanks for reading, please share if you think it would be helpful to anyone you know. You can check out more of Jaime's work at: http://www.artpad.org/