Lighting and shade is the most important element when painting “atmospheric” pictures. Some examples are the picture on Alvang, the Tear Frost Flower, the Book of Knowledge, the Dark Stryke Shark and the Remusian Guard (see some of these pictures below). Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

1) I like to balance my “atmospheric pictures with approximately 50% on the light side and 50% on the dark side. This is important because light in a painting is nothing more than white or yellow or red paint, it only becomes “light” when it is contrasted with the dark portion of the picture. It is this contrast that makes the composition striking.

Before fixing shadows After fixing shadows  

2) The location and colour of the light source is very important. Try and use common sense as to where the light would hit your objects. The colour of the light will reflect on the objects in the painting and mute opposite colours. For example with a red light you will not see any green colours, you will see black or grey.

3) I enjoy painting light beams in pictures like in the Tear Frost picture and the Baych Grove picture. This is easily accomplished on its own layer by drawing a light colour bar of light.I usually soften the edges of the bar of light . I also make the light fade as it gets longer and longer. So it is stronger near the source. Make the entire layer opaque to your desired percentage so that the layers behind are seen through. Whatever the beam hits will need to be brighter than the surrounding objects.


4) With a textured brush I use the dodge and burn tool extensively to darken the side of objects away from the light source and to brighten the sides closest to the source.

Remember not all pictures are or should be “atmospheric” with dramatic lighting. However it is fun to do and the results are fun to look at, so I do it quite frequently.




As most of you know I use GIMP (get it free on the web) which supports the concept of layers. Today I will give some details on the layers that I used to create my Avatar picture of Seeker. I use layers extensively in order to allow quick alterations to portions of the pictures in response to all of your comments. This picture has 10 layers. The layers are numbered in the order I created them 1-10. I placed them below in the order the layers are stacked (6 is the topmost layer and 1 is at the bottom) I hope this helpful example of using layers. I suggest you start reading with 1 and progress to 10.


6. Tats
I copied the tattoos off the Alpha Channel layer and colored them red (while they were selected). I used dodge and burn to highlight and darken the tats in the right places.

5. Beard
The beard on the Alpha channel was too dark so I created a layer on top of the alpha channel for a colored beard. I actually copied that portion from the alpha channel and colored it.

2. Alpha Channel Layer
Next I copied the pencil drawing onto a new layer and added an Alpha Channel to layer to make the white transparent. This is the most important layer for this drawing and provides most of the shading and texture.

9. Coat
I added the coat color and used dodge and burn as well as a patterned brush for texture in the lower areas that were blank in the original drawing.

8. Shirt
I colored white for the shirt -no dodge or burn was required. I also added some strings on the shirt using airbrush tools.

7. Eyes
I added the red color to the eyes, I used dodge to brind out some highlights.

4. Hair
I added the hair and eyebrow color and used dodge for some hair highlights.

3. Skin
Third I drew the skin color using a basic color and used a dodge and burn for the highlights. With the alpha channel layer above it not much was necessary.

10. Background
I filled in a flat yellowish color. Using a texture brush I burned the edges and dodge a bit in the middle. Using the same brush I airbrushed some reddish highlights in the background.

1. Drawing (hidden layer)
I started off with a pencil drawing (scanned in) that I drew while on a flight from Brussels to DC. The picture was drawn from looking at a photo in one of the flight magazines with a few alterations evil. I hid this layer at the end.

Below are i) original drawing, ii) the picture with the Alpha Channel layer turned off so you can see some of the other detail and iii) the final drawing.

The original drawing The alpha channel layer The final drawing
Click on images to view enlarged versions.

 Date of last edit 31st Passing Clouds 1670 a.S.

Tutorial created by Seeker View Profile