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Painting a Fantasy Art Scene with Procreate

The Owl Warrior - Andriel

Procreate is my go-to for creating full-color fantasy art on the iPad Pro.

“The Owl Warrior” is a new story I’m illustrating, which I am producing and publishing myself. I use the Procreate app on the Apple iPad Pro to bring this story to life. The thing you should know about the character featured in this painting is that I first came up with the design in 2005.

When I was in the process of creating The Owl Warrior story, I needed characters. One of the good things about keeping several sketchbooks from over the years is the ideas contained within them.

Using a good old-fashioned paper sketchbook is great for working out character concepts.

The character’s name is “Andriel.” He will be one of the main characters in the Owl Warrior story. The initial concept for this character goes back to when I wasn’t even making digital artwork. As you see here, I drew it in an actual sketchbook.

fantasy art sketch Andriel
The original character concept drawing for "Andriel"

If I’m ever looking to create something new, I will often go back to some of my old sketchbooks for inspiration. In this case, the character was already fully designed. So I just needed to add Andriel to the story.

It was now time to bring this character to life with color. In my normal workflow, I bounce back and forth between Procreate and Photoshop. But for this project, I’m going to be doing a lot of the artwork in Procreate.

Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro is my app of choice for ease of use in terms of interface and hardware.

Procreate logo

iOS is not my favorite, but the Procreate app works perfectly with it. Pair it with the Apple Pencil, and I only really need this app and the iPad and the Apple Pencil and I could get by making digital art. You should check out the Procreate website to learn more about it.

I like using this app because the interface is clean and easy to use. The app works well with the Apple pencil. There are times when I draw with it and it mimics drawing on paper so well, I can’t believe it. The app loads fast and has so many pencils, brushes, and effects brushes that the only limit really is one’s imagination.

It also has a perspective guide and drawing assist feature. In the case of using the perspective grid feature, you can set the drawing assist to snap your drawing or painted lines to the perspective grid. This is very useful for drawing buildings and any other box forms.

As for the hardware itself, namely the iPad Pro, I like how lightweight it is. Both physically and in how it operates. And what I mean by that is just how it’s an all-in-one, as opposed to a larger display tablet, such as a Wacom. 

Using Digital Model Referencing Applications for Figure Drawing Pose Reference

I start my painting by working on the drawing. I’m using another app on my iPad for this scene: Art Pose ME (Male Edition). It’s an app that allows me to pose the male figure at any angle I choose. I can even apply different body builds (slender to stockier), different hairstyles (even facial hair), and change the lighting.

Art Pose ME comes in handy when I need a unique angle for a figure. A version also poses the female figure, called Art Pose FE. Both are available at the Apple store.

Art Pose - Male Edition
Art Pose ME
Art Pose FE
Art Pose FE

Even though I’m using the Art Pose ME model and tracing over it, I still need to draw in the details of my character. So no, this is not cheating. Instead, the digital model reference dramatically assists me in getting to set up the scene and tell the story.

digital model reference
A snapshot of the digital model reference from Art Pose ME.
Art Pose Male Edition and drawing
Using a snapshot of the Art Pose ME figure while I draw over it, filling in details of Andriel's character design..

On a related note, there is also a desktop version of Art Pose. It’s called Art Pose Pro and is available on the Apple App Store. If you are working in Photoshop on your desktop, you can use this program to pose both a male and female figure in the same space. And there is also a version of Art Pose Pro available on the iPad.

Art Pose Pro
Art Pose Pro
Art Pose Pro male and female
Art Pose Pro lets you add one more figure and it can be mix of male and/or female.

Drawing, Painting, and Using Photo Reference

Once the drawing is finished and the composition set, I start to lay flat colors across the entire drawing. I do this by using the Selection tool. I call it a Lasso tool because, for me, it serves the same purpose as Photoshop’s Lasso tool. In a previous video, I showed how I used the Lasso Selection tool to lay flat colors.

color flats fantasy art scene
This is the color flatting stage of my painting process.

These flat colors are the base values for all elements in the painting. From the sky to the rocks and the flat colors on Andriel, these colors are what I call the middle tone of color. As I continue to work on the painting, I will paint over these base colors using lighter or darker values. This will give form to the elements in the painting.

One of the places I will spend a great amount of time detailing is Andriel’s head and facial features. For this, I’m using a photo reference. I rely on the photo reference heavily for the structure of the face. However, I’m going to stray from it ever so slightly here and there. I do this because I want to capture the look and feel of my own character.

Procreate painting using photo reference
Using photo reference to help me render the head and face of Andriel.

What’s nice about using a photo reference in this instance is that the lighting and structure of the model helps me to get really tight in my own painting of Andriel. The Art Pose ME model doesn’t have enough detail in the face for my preference in this instance.

If it were for a background character, it would be fine. But because I’m defining one of my main characters, it’s important to me to use a reference that has more details. I can always leave out information that I feel doesn’t fit my character. And in fact, that’s what I eventually do as I develop the painting to final.

Some people may feel that using photo references might slow them down.  Truthfully, it can take more time. But it’s time well spent versus trying to fake it, and then realizing the rendering isn’t coming out correctly. Then, you have to go back and fix it anyway.

So, I like to use photo references, especially for faces that are at the focal point in the illustration. In the quick hand drawing video below, I show an example of me using photo reference (of my own hand) while drawing in Procreate.

Same thing for hands. I always take pictures of my own hands for reference in my work. Doing so is especially helpful when the hand is holding something, as in this scene with Andriel.

hands reference pictures
I almost always photograph my own hands to use as reference in my figures.

I then will work purely from imagination on the floating rocks and sky fortresses in the background. The same goes for Andriel’s costume details. I often decide which elements I will reference and spend time doing so in my creative process.

I’m okay in these instances for the rocks, clouds, and sky fortresses, with them being a little less accurate. It’s easier to fake stones and clouds, but faces and hands need more attention to detail. This does not mean I don’t ever reference buildings or rocks. I will if it makes sense given the requirements of the scene and project.

stone detail 1
Details of the foreground rock.
stone detail 2
Details of the background rock.

I will spend more time on a face because it must be as spot-on as I can make it. In the videos below, from a different painting, you can see how I used photo reference for drawing a face. It helps add focus and detail in the area of the painting that is the focal point. This is not a hard and fast rule; it’s just my approach.

Making Prints from Digital Paintings

One of the fun things I like to do after creating a digital painting is print it out. In my studio, I am using an Epson SureColor P800*. This is a serious printer, not for the faint of heart! I love making prints in my studio because I can review the artwork in a format that is removed from the computer.

Epson SureColor P800 printer
I will often make prints of my digital paintings on my Epson SureColor P800.

For printing, I exported the final artwork as a .PSD file (Photoshop file.) I think it is possible to print from the iPad Pro, but I’ve never tried it myself. Thanks to my many years working in digital prepress, I’m much more comfortable setting up and printing from my iMac computer.

Once it’s been printed, I get a better feel for the imprint or impact of the piece on paper. Because I envision this eventually becoming a printed project, having a physical print gives me additional insight into how this will look when printed. While we’re talking about paper, for the prints that I make at home, I use Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster*

There are just some aspects of the illustration that I normally wouldn’t pick up on unless it’s in print. For me, having it printed so I can hold it in my hands is part of my creative process.

Below is the time lapse video as captured in Procreate as I created the painting. Click it to watch the painting unfold from start to finish in just over two minutes.

While I did this painting in Procreate, everything I’ve shown here can also be done with Adobe Photoshop. In fact, if you’d like to see how I built this painting up, you can download a layered PSD file when you sign up for my email newsletter. Just fill in the form below and I’ll email you a link to download the PSD file.

Owl Warrior - Andriel PSD zip file thumbnail

The Owl Warrior - Andriel PSD zip file


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