Tag Archives: Digital Painting


Clouds have to be one of my favourite things to look at.  They are constantly changing, come in many forms and have an element of mystery to them.  Until the nineteenth century, they were all just called “essences” as nobody thought to classify or name the different types.

In 1802, a 30-year-old amateur meteorologist, Luke Howard, decided to categorize and name them.  He presented his findings to the Askesian Society in London, his work was accepted and is what we still use today.

I find clouds to be one of the most difficult things to paint.  The reason for this is that usually when I draw or paint anything I use a technique called the “Form Principle.”  The Form Principle is a way of representing the way light and shadow fall on objects.  This works well for painting solid objects as you think of the shape of the object you want to represent, then decide where the light source is, and this guides you as to where you put your light areas and shadows.


Diagram illustrating the Form Principle.  Artist Unknown


Unfortunately, this technique has only limited success when painting clouds.  The problem with this is you wind up with clouds that look solid – and that is not good.

When you observe clouds in the sky, the light not only hits the surface of them, it penetrates and scatters inside them; it is a phenomenon called sub-surface scattering.  If you have ever put a flashlight behind your fingers and noticed the way the light makes the outer edges of your fingers glow you have experienced what subsurface scattering is. This is the key to making clouds look believable.  Even at this point, though, you need to think about what kind of cloud it is an how its masses are formed.  The density of water droplets inside them will change the way light interacts with them.


Below, I have painted over the previous diagram.  The form layer is still there, but the light comes through the sphere spreading the highlight out to a much broader area, filling out to the edges and illuminating the area that follows the path of the light rays (the area in this diagram right below the reflected light). The area outside the sphere has a bit of a glow, but not too much.  Even though clouds aren’t solid, they often appear to have defined edges.


The diagram above still doesn’t look like a cloud, though.  What is wrong with the picture is that it is not built like a cloud.  Believe it or not, clouds do have structure.  I’ll update this post soon with some thoughts about the anatomy of clouds.

Red Clouds

I created the two paintings above using Artrage on my iPad.  I have a few more in progress and will add them to this post soon.


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Here are some story panels I did for Disney’s Planes in 2013.  The process for these was to take the 3D character models in Maya, light and render them and create the simple 3D backgrounds. The main portion of this task was combining all the elements and creating a digital painting in Photoshop.  One of the challenges for these was to make sure the planes are always positioned so you can see their mouths -so you can read their expressions.  This task was much easier on Cars as their mouths are right at the front.  With Planes, the long fuselages presented a challenge.



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Thowback Thursday: Art Edition

In 1997, I was working for Disney Interactive.  At the time, 3D environments were a relatively new thing.  I had the task of showing what we could do with the technology we had.  I created these backgrounds using 3DStudio and Photoshop. You might be thinking 3DStudio Max, but this was earlier than that.  3DStudio was created for the DOS platform, and models were built in wireframe.  That’s right – if you wanted to see a shaded view of our work you needed to render it. Sometimes you would have problems like inverted polygons (what would look like holes in your model), but you would have no idea until you rendered (and waited) to see your work.


The River Styx: from Hercules.


Palace: from Aladdin.

Another challenge in creating these backgrounds was giving them that feel that painted Disney backgrounds have. Often when artists create two-dimensional works, the goal is to make the scene “read” so the viewer can see what the artist is trying to convey.  Often this involves altering the perspective and placing objects at impossible angles. You see this effect throughout Western art before and after the discovery of linear perspective in the Rennaissance.  One artist’s work that comes to mind is Edgar Degas.


The Dance Class: Edgar Degas, 1874.

Degas often tilted the floor in his paintings – often at extreme angles.  It’s not unique to just paintings, though. The English theatre started sloping their stage floors upwards away from the audience as far back as the middle ages; a “raked stage”.

The two backgrounds shown here were built this way, where the floor is tilted close to thirty degrees, the buildings, columns and towers are tilted back from the viewer at the top and there are few if any straight lines.  It wasn’t enough to give the camera a wide angle lens, everything needed to be considered.  The only drawback to creating art this way is that the illusion only works from the front view.  If you start to move around the scene or look at things from the side-view the illusion falls apart.  I remember after having completed these backgrounds the art director saying “These are great!  Can we animate a fly through?”


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Andrew Loomis, for what it’s worth.

A few months back as I was working on a series of digital paintings on my iPod I decided to try something like a figure drawing.  Up to this point I’d only done portraits – mainly because of the small screen size – and I suppose I’m more drawn to portraits, anyway.

A friend of mine told me about the work of Andrew Loomis and I picked up a copy of his book, Figure Drawing: For All it’s Worth.  I decided to do a study of one of his drawings, only paint it in a style reminiscent of Gil Elvgren.

It was fun to do, but painting this small is a real challenge – getting the face right was the hardest part.  Anyway, here it is:

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Digital Painting, Paintings


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Art from Brave

  • Last year I worked on Pixar’s Brave for the Leapfrog Explorer.  It was a big project and my main task for this was painting backgrounds.  One challenge for work like this is the way the ground plane is tilted up at such a strong angle.  The reason this is done is that many objects need to be placed in the scene for the player to find.  Another challenge for these backgrounds is that only a small part of them is seen at any one time which creates challenges for composition – also the perspective would naturally shift in a scene that a character walks across them, but as these are flat backgrounds you have to create a strange type perspective that doesn’t really make sence.

In June I went to the Pixar campus in Emeryville, California.  It is such an amazing place.  As Brave was just being released they had the place decorated to celebrate.  They had enormous tapestries in the lobby and even the security was dressed in Scottish regalia.  The receptionist was also dressed up and when asked by another visitor if that was how she usually dressed she came back with, “Yeah, this is just how I like to dress when I’m pumping gas on the way to work.”

I was excited to see they had even made a full size the stone circle from the movie.  Here’s a picture of me awkwardly posing next to it:

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Brave, Digital Painting, Pixar


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My Cat, Nina. 1996-2012

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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Paintings


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Brushes portraits continued…

This is the latest portrait I’ve done in the Held series.  Like the others I painted it on my iPod touch.  This one is based on a mugshot from the 1920’s.

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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Paintings


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