Planning the Focus Point
The best way to make your painting stand out is to make sure your audience sees what you want them to see. So one of the most important thing you can do is to establish a focus point. One painting can contain multiple focus points, so it is important to establish a flow that guides your audience through your painting.
A good flow can keep your audience looking at your painting for a few moments longer than they might have if you did not establish one. Tonal values in paintings are the most effective way to indicate focus points. Elements in the paintings such as rocks, rubble, trees, or machinery can also help establish a focus point, these techniques are also known as compositing. Let’s take a look at the following images, as an example.
In the first image, you can see how I have established top-down lighting onto the subject and used only one light source, the bright reflections on the helmet also help to bring out the focus point.
The second focus point would be the cigarette. Take note of how I helped accentuate the cigarette using the guns. All of this helps the viewer look at this painting from the top to the bottom.
In the next example, I’ve used the ships to make a pathway to my subject, and I’ve also made the chest of the character the brightest part in the painting so naturally it would be the main focus point.
Interesting Subjects and Storytelling
While composition helps to bring out a focus point, a painting that contains interesting subjects or elements can also make someone look at it for a few more moments. A strong back-story of a painting is definitely a plus, as long as you’re giving your audience some space to let their imagination run wild.
Different people see different stories, think of it as a cliffhanger from a movie or television show, our brains take care of the storytelling. Imagination is a valuable tool to make sure your painting reads well. Below are some examples of that contain good storytelling. As you can see, each painting allows you to see whatever your imagination can dream up.
Balancing the Painting
A good painting is a balanced painting, meaning that the painting works when it’s flipped both ways. One of the advantages of painting digitally is that there are a lot of tools in Photoshop that allow you to work more effectively.
While painting, try flipping your artwork horizontally by going to ‘Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal’, make sure that your painting looks good even when it’s flipped, if it looks unbalanced or your focus point is out of focus, repaint those areas while the painting is flipped, and try to flip the canvas back and forth during painting as well. Also, applying a black and white filter on top can also help to pin point odd areas. This works because you’re not distracted by the colors and you only judge the painting from its values.
Depth of Field
As mentioned above, working digitally has a lot of advantages that allow for a more efficient workflow. If you want your painting to be more photo realistic, the filters in Photoshop are your best friend. Ensuring that your painting has a sense of depth is the first step in capturing your audience’s eye. It doesn’t necessarily have to be painted to the finest detail to achieve it, sometimes it works the opposite.
Think about photography, some photographers like to include foreground elements in the shot, the foreground elements are always blurred and are darker in values, this is a very effective way to create a stronger focus point, and it increases the depth of field. By doing something similar in the painting it can have the same effect, it doesn’t have to be very detailed, just a simple silhouette with a blur filter works great (as shown below).
While foreground elements enhance the depth, the same can apply to the background, as well. By painting something simple with believable lighting, the lens blur filter or the ‘Gaussian Blur’ filter on that layer would be sufficient enough to greatly enhance the depth of field. Also, the blurred background will be less distracting and it helps to bring out the focus point even more.
Tip: Using ‘Gaussian Blur’ works the same as ‘Lens Blur’, but it is not as fine and realistic compared to ‘Lens Blur’. ‘Lens Blur’ takes up a lot of processing so it’s better to use it when you’re painting something that isn’t that big.
In this example, you can see both the blurred background and foreground doesn’t take away attention and it does the opposite instead, by strengthening the focus point.
For the piece below, both the foreground and background are not blurred, but the bright light source in the background helps to form a focus point just on top of the subject, and the darker foreground forms a frame to the subject as well.
Lastly, every artist has their own particular way of adding finishing touches to their paintings. Here I’m going to share a few of my favorite tips for applying the finishing touches to a painting.
When your painting is finished, applying some sharpening can help bring out some of the details. There are various types of sharpen in Photoshop, ‘Unsharp Mask’ is more preferable as it makes the strokes more obvious and keeps the painterly feel. ‘Lens Correction’ is another great filter. It gives the painting a chromatic aberration effect, which gives it a photo realistic look.
Tip: ‘Unsharp Mask’ works better when it’s minimal enough to not get noticed, and sharp enough to enhance the strokes.
The slight red and green offset effect is the result of the ‘Lens Correction’ filter. There’s no right number for how much you should slide the RGB sliders, use trial and error.
Knowing your tools and making good use of them is essential for producing better artwork, it takes a lot of trial and error before you can understand them, so make sure you spend some time trying them all out. Work smart and take advantage of the tools that Photoshop provides. Study other artists, keep practicing, but most of all, have fun!