last revision : February 2010

Painting tutorials

two painting projects discussed step by step

Polishing your artworks Tips and ideas

using ArtRage for producing finished and detailed artworks

a collection of tips about speed painting with ArtRage


This is a collection of some (hopefully useful) tips about speed painting in general and using ArtRage for this purpose in particular. It’s not a manual for that software nor a complete workshop about speed painting : I don’t think I am an expert of digital painting nor of ArtRage software and I don’t think I have awesome secrets to share — I’m just passionate about learning and about sharing what I learn, and that’s why I’m writing and publishing this little article. I hope it’ll be a interesting lecture! I’ll start with some misc tips and concepts and then I’ll go through two small projects. Enough with the introduction, let’s start introducing what speed painting more or less is.



A speed painting is a painting where you try to define the main concepts as quickly and effectively as possible. This is my personal definition of speed painting and of course I don’t pretend it to be valid for everyone, but it’ll be the starting point of this article. I always thought of speed painting as a kind of impressionistic approach — though with the painter attention aiming not only to the light behaviour but also to the core of the design we are wanting to portray. The result of speed painting can be a bunch of little thumbnails, an autonomous picture or maybe a sketch that will be used for further improvements and eventually turn to be a finished piece. What I’d like to point out is that a speed painting is not necessarily looking rough and unfinished; the look is secondary to the two parameters defining what a speed painting is : effectiveness of communication and speed of realization. The jump from a speed painting to a finished one lays on the amount of time spent for bringing the painting one step further, after the first goal (effectiveness of communication) is reached. Some artists are actually spending a lot of time to make their paintings have that unfinished raw feel! In next pages I’ll write about some ideas and tips and illustrate some painting process steps. I’m not saying they are the best tips, processes and ideas, but they work good for me.





Let’s start saying something that could sound pretty obvious : ArtRage is not Photoshop nor Painter. Digital artists are often jumping from a software to another one and expecting them to behave the same and have the same feature set. I think every software should be learned and used at its best, keeping in mind its main purpose. ArtRage is a natural painting software that aims to reproducing a set of real life instruments; the premise is similar to Corel Painter’s one, though ArtRage is also driven by a different and great user experience concept. That being said, wanting to work on illustrations using ArtRage means wishing to use the particular tools it offers and adapting to its workflow and its way of getting things done. This can be quite a shock for artists that are used to paint using mainly custom brushes and the advanced brush dynamics that Photoshop offers, or for the ones that are doing all their shading using burn and dodge tools; ArtRage Pro 3 includes a new tool called Stickers which can be used for simulating some of Photoshop’s custom brushes, but the experience will still remain quite different. Wanting to use ArtRage requires that we accept those differences and we try to get the best out of what ArtRage can do. A common myth is that ArtRage can be used only for rough sketches, paint-overs and more generally hobbyist stuff : this is quite wrong and on the net we can find a lot of examples of advanced artists that are using ArtRage for producing high quality artworks. ArtRage is also used as a concept sketching tool by many leading artists in the game and movie industry, and it’s becoming more and more popular, especially with its latest release, that brings many features that were missing (like selections). Spending some time to learn the way ArtRage works will hopefully convince you that it can indeed be used for producing all quality levels of 2D artworks. A last word about the tools we use for creating : while this article is all about ArtRage, you should feel encouraged to use the right tool for the right task. Being a purist is just a loss of time and what matters in the end is how well you achieve the results you need or want to achieve. There are all kinds of software; understanding which one is better for what we need is a great thing. Putting all of your preferred software and tools together will create your personal pipeline and will contribute to developing your skills and your own style.


Machine resources are not infinite; no matter how powerful your PC or Mac is, you still need to efficiently manage resources; each layer you add will require some more memory and processing power, and this is the first reason for learning good layers management. Note : ArtRage is not supporting multiple CPUs at the moment and its meta-data stuffed layer technology is requiring a lot of power and memory! Using only the necessary number of layers is indeed a good idea : you can create all the layers you need but it’s wise to merge them down once you don’t really need them anymore; this will free up memory and make your painting experience smoother. It’s obviously even wiser to keep layers separate if they contain elements that should be isolated, maybe for design purposes or for making revisions easier. Talking about the strategic part of layer management, using groups for keeping layers organized is another great idea; organization is a valuable skill and it will save us time and increase the chances of future creative

editing on our paintings. Layers are providing many management options and blending methods that’s well worth exploring and testing in different situations; the blending methods should be quite familiar to Painter and Photoshop users

and are extremely useful for painting in general and especially for speed painting. Some great layer features I use often are the transparency lock, merge group contents, duplicate layer and transform layers contents.

ArtRage has some useful features that will make our painting more intuitive and easier: one of them is the canvas manipulation that allows rotation, zoom and panning. For such functions and many more there are default hotkeys already set, and using them is a real life-saver and will drastically improve your workflow. Undo, redo, cut, past, copy are working with usual CTRL based Windows-like keyboard shortcuts. On the right I listed some of the hotkeys I use the most while painting (RMB = right mouse button, LMB = left mouse button): Canvas Rotation : ALT + RMB Canvas Rotation reset : ALT + D Canvas Zoom : mouse wheel or SHIFT + drag RMB Canvas Zoom to 100% : SHIFT + D Canvas Panning : drag RMB Canvas lighting toggle : F5 Pick colour : ALT + LMB Transform tool : SHIFT + T Select tool : SHIFT + S Resize brush : SHIFT + drag LMB


We can say “sticker” is the ArtRage term for calling custom brushes. A sticker is composed by a number of bitmap images and of parameters associated with them. For a better understanding of how to create stickers you can refer to ArtRage help and to various great tutorials available at Ambient Design Forums. But what are stickers good for? A basic usage consists in repeating objects, like the bolts and screws I added on the vehicle in “Garage Inc.” tutorial, for instance : by defining stickers for painting repeating details we can both save time and reach good quality results — that’s if our stickers are having a good quality and if we use them in a correct way of course. It is important to understand how to integrate our stickers in the picture, so that they don’t look fake and misplaced : a good example are the standard grass stickers, which can have some practical usage but can also produce a too much uniform and artificial look. A good trick is to use stickers on separate layers and play with the layer blending methods; the Multiply and the Soft Light blending are often giving great results when we use stickers for adding details. Working on a separate layer also gives us the chance of using the eraser with the stencils for removing parts of our stickers brushwork and help the overall integration. I highly suggest spending some time learning how to create and modify stickers, creating the ones we need instead of only using the standards ones (though some standard ones are actually useful and well done). It’s wise to create named stickers groups containing all of our saved

custom stickers organized for category (misc, structures, nature, and so on), so that we can find them fast and keep track of all the variations. You can also use stickers for adding texture to the painting (better if on a separate layer which you can then manipulate) or for roughly defining volumes and shapes that we can then polish with the eraser or other tools; from this last point of view, stickers are a good way for exploring shapes if we still don’t have a good idea about the design of some elements in our painting.

Stickers can often be used for different tasks than the ones they were created for, feel free to experiment and take note of your discoveries! In the picture I sketched a bit with some custom stickers I use frequently : even if each one of them was created for a precise reason but they proved to be useful in other situations too. Some of them are actually adapted from Photoshop ones, though as I said before the two brush engines are very different and many of the dynamics are not available in ArtRage.


That’s a widely used technique among graphic artists because it allows us to see our images with a fresh eye and easily spot perspective mistakes. ArtRage has two default shortcuts for taking a fast look at our flipped image : H will flip horizontally, V will flip vertically. They’re useful but I prefer to use the Transform All Layers function, since it allows me to work on the flipped image instead of just taking a look at it : go to Edit, then Transform All Layers, then right click on the image and choose the flipping you prefer.

A practical and quite fast way for checking values in our painting is to use a layer for muting the colours (as explained in the picture here on left). In this way we can understand values better and fix eventual problems we were not noticing with the colours distracting our eyes.

I often use this technique for selectively applying airbrush to a part of the picture without having to set up stencils; the name “masked airbrush” is not very correct indeed, but it renders the idea. We basically create a new layer over the one where we want to apply the colour, and we start using the airbrush on it, rotating the canvas so that our flow is going in the correct direction. After that we can erase the parts of new colour we don’t need anymore, and eventually paint over it to fix places where we didn’t erase good. It’s a very simple and fast operation but can bring quite useful results.


I spent countless hours trying to paint trees, rocks, grass.. and failing quite bad. I could not understand what was so hard in painting things that I see every day since I was a child; the point is that seeing a thing and knowing how to draw or paint that thing are drastically different things. For being able of painting something we must look at it with a different eye, paying attention to the relationships between empty and filled space for instance. We need to ask us questions about the functions behind the forms and try to sketch copying from live. I know this can sound a trivial advice and not really interesting, but I find it to be one of the most important things to keep in mind as artists. Studying nature and everything we see is absolutely valuable.

As many greatest artists (like C.Mullins and B.Vallejo, just to name two great examples of digital and traditional artists) repeat, using photos in our artworks is not an evil thing at all; it’s all about the usage we do of them and the results we need to achieve. Photo reference is crucial for learning how to paint things since we can’t be in all places of this world and see everything in person! Photos can also be the base for custom brushes, for stencils, for textures : being able of discovering an interesting texture and taking a good photo of it is a great artistic merit already. Being able of using that material creatively for achieving our goal is even better. Using photos for improving our creations is a great thing, and should be not confused with cheap tricks like painting over a photo and going around saying we painted it on our own, behaving like we’re just like Sargent : that’s pretty lame indeed, and ultimately useless and sad.

Sketching a lot of thumbnails is a very good way for learning to speed paint, because it allows the artist to concentrate on painting the most important things — without caring too much about the look and the quality of the finished piece. A thumbnail is usually a low resolution image painted or sketched with the goal of setting a mood and a lighting or of defining a base concept : in the one I posted here for instance, I needed to quickly paint a night scene with the ruins of few huts in the jungle, and a river flowing by. The resulting image is not good or interesting as a painting per se but it contains all the information I needed to include : the abandoned huts, the jungle environment, the night mood. Everything is sketched very roughly and the whole thumbnail took me less than 10 minutes, but it allowed me to explore solutions and synthesize; once I’m happy with one or two of those thumbnails and I feel I established the concepts I can go further and repaint it paying attention to perspective, details and so on.


ArtRage offers few but effective options for tweaking our brushes: my advice is once more to spend some time learning how to make the software help us achieving our goals. In the first picture below I posted four examples of strokes made with my favourite brush; it’s a tweaked oil brush that’s proving to be very useful and quite versatile, so I thought to share it. The first stroke is made with a light pressure and it’s giving us a great texture thanks to the canvas and the bristle becoming very visible. Changing the canvas texture and choosing a good combination of colour and value can help us adding beautiful texture to our paintings. ArtRage can have different textures on different layers and this is a precious way for building interesting layered textures without resorting to images. The second stroke is using a stronger pressure and it’s giving us a rich and powerful stroke, useful when blocking planes for our volumes and for sketching; it’s also great for adding finer detail if used with a smaller size, though the ink pen is usually better for that kind of job; it all depends on the look we are going after. The two progressions of strokes are showing how this brush allows us to build heavy textured or less textured gradients, with very good blending capabilities. When blending with this brush it’s important to pick each time the correct value and colour from our painting, in a similar fashion to the popular SAPALO (sample and paint at low opacity) technique that is very familiar especially to Photoshop painters. I do most of my blending using this same brush but sometimes I also integrate a custom palette knife into the process, usually in the first stages of the painting.

I sketched the second picture as an example of what I said about using this brush with paper textures : everything on that image is painted using only this brush and changing the texture parameters on different layers. As the image hopefully shows it is possible to build interesting textures playing only with ArtRage standard papers and a very simple oil brush : it’s all about experimenting and saving presets of what you find useful, so that you can access it faster next time you need it. The brush is available for download in the same page of my blog where you downloaded this PDF, together with 10 more that I use often.


Some people thinks ArtRage is only good for rough oils and that producing detailed artworks is not possible. That’s not true since ArtRage provides us with enough tools for reaching the degree of detail we prefer. I like to start painting on a canvas sized to 3000x2000 pixels or something close to it and scale it down when I’m done: working with high resolutions will allow us to paint finer detail and more easily. Even if this article is about speed painting, let’s take a look at some ways for achieving a more finished look when needed. I’m not a lover of weapons unless they’re inside a videogame, but since they’re a good example of mechanical and detailed objects, let’s fake we’re designing a weapon for a game and see how to go from a thumbnail sketch to a more finished artwork. We’ll fake our creative director gave us the following description : an assault rifle with a kind of sci-fi look, used mainly in fast paced action and requiring fire power more than precision. First of all we’ll have to do some sketches and choose the one we think is better fitting the initial concept; I sketched some and here on right is the one I did choose.


When painting shapes that are repeating it is useful to create custom stickers on the fly : this way we can achieve better results and be quite faster (this should be an article about speed painting after all!). After we finished with our sticker we can save it as a preset and use it next time we’ll need, thus slowly building our own valuable library of components. The very simple sticker on the left was created while polishing the rifle’s silhouette, and used for adding some details on it.

I polished the silhouette of the weapon improving it where needed and I started blocking the volumes (using the airbrush and the ink pen), basically trying to understand how to organize the shapes that will visually fill the silhouette. Once the values and the shapes will be working I’ll be able of polishing the result and start rendering the weapon more in depth. In this stage it’s important to go quite fast and don’t lose too much time on details that will only become possible after the overall concept is working. For achieving a better control when blocking the volumes it’s goo to try the variations on separate layers and only merge them down when we are sure things are working; at the same time, try to avoid having too many layers, or your job will easily become a mess and ArtRage will start slowing down. Remember : search engines are our friends! We have no excuses for not knowing how a 40mm grenade looks like and other stuff we eventually need to paint. The net is full of references and information and building an organized collection of them is truly a good idea.


The picture above shows the roughly rendered weapon in the middle of the detailing phase : this is the part of this walkthrough that deals with approaching a more finished look, and for achieving it we’ll keep using the selections and the eraser on separated layers but also increase the usage of the ink pen, changing the smoothing settings according to our needing; becoming familiar with the smoothing factor is quite important. Using the transparency lock is also pretty handy, especially if together with a simple trick : duplicate the layer that you want to work on, lock the transparency and do all your painting work. When you finished you can take the eraser and get rid of what you don’t want (remember to turn on the transparency before doing it!) and the original layer will show below the new one. Using this technique you can work very fast and try all kind of edits on your image in an efficient way.

Another good practice is to become familiar with rotating and panning the canvas when using the various tools : in this way for instance we can get the correct flow from the airbrush and we can draw better curves with the ink pen. ArtRage can paint straight lines if we keep CTRL pressed and we click on the starting and ending point of the line : this can be extremely useful when working on projects that are requiring a lot of shapes with straight edges. As I said before, it’s really valuable to learn which tool and which feature are working better for us in a certain situation and how can we take advantage of the software power. I changed the background from white to gray because it helps me to better read the values. Talking about values : this is a kind of “product showcase” so the lighting is quite diffused and omnipresent, though I’m trying to give it a directional component too.


Before going on to the final step of our project I’d like to spend some words about the detailing phase. From my point of view detailing has basically two goals : making the concept more interesting by filling it with things that please the eye, and then making the concept more believable. For our weapon the detailing starts with the observation of real weapons; as I said before the net is full of articles, photos and videos about everything, so it’s relatively easy to get familiar with the things we’ve to paint or draw. After I established the

kind of details I wanted to add, I started thinking on how to add them fast — thus staying faithful to the time constraints of the speed painting process. The point is that we could actually spend days on our artworks painting everything using only oils and achieving great and sharp results, but we are wanting to do it in less time so that we can create more variations if needed, and face deadlines if we are having them. I said already that it is a good idea to create custom stickers for painting repeating details. Another workflow I

use often consists on using selections for creating simple shapes , combining them for getting more complex ones, and then using various tools for making those new shapes to look like the ones I’m needing. ArtRage makes this quite simple and fast, thanks to intuitive selections, good layers management and the priceless transparency lock. In the next two pictures I illustrate the basic steps for creating the three thin cavities in the front of the weapon.

The first step is about creating the shape; there are many ways but I like to do it using selections. You could use stencils instead for instance. I’m creating many layers and giving names to them so that it’s easier to show what’s going on, but all this work is actually done in a single layer while painting a real life project; the result can then be duplicated, rotated, and so on. It’s good to create the details in an higher resolution than the needed one, so resampling won’t kill its sharpness.

The second steps shows an example of simple detailing for the shape : I used the airbrush for creating the illusion of a very little depth and then I used the ink pen for drawing a simple inner bevel. This is only a cheap example by the way : you could go on and study a better lighting, increase the bevel, add some texture, and so on. It all depends on the goals you have. My advice is to save all of your components on a file from where you can import them when needed.


We’re almost at the end of our project : the image above shows the weapon being already 90% rendered. Few things need to get fixed and finally I’ll work on a basic presentation (the results are visible in the image that opens this little tutorial). Comparing this image with the one on page 10 we can see that many details were added and they’re making the weapon more believable and also giving it a more alive look, as if it was used in many and quite harsh battles. A lot of the merit of the aged look depends on texturing, so I’d like to spend some words about it. Textures can be a great help but also a quite subtle enemy : they can add interest and details to you image but at the same time they can cover your hard work. To avoid this you need to learn to apply textures on separate layers and then use the eraser on them to get rid of what is not really needed, or for making something slightly less visible. In some parts of this image I wanted a

very grunge look and I went quite far with the texturing phase, actually losing some of the shading I did before. Design decisions must always be made for the sake of the concept and not for the “respect” we have for some parts of our picture that we like or that maybe required a lot of work. The final result is what matters! Texturing is not strictly meaning taking an image an putting it on top of what you painted; sometimes you’re lucky and it can be enough, but most of times it’ll only look a poor choice. For this weapon I used the ink pen and custom stickers for sketching various scratches and stains on different layers, erasing stuff here and there, playing with blending modes and finally mixing layers together. It takes some experimenting but after a while you’ll discover you can create interesting textures even with a basic usage of the ink pen and the eraser. The concept could have been shown better, putting less emphasis on the

mood and more on the volumes (which is what a 3D modeller would love us to do, since he’ll probably have to model the weapon) — a further step toward a very good presentation of the concept would be to roughly model it in 3D and then paint over it, which is a quite common workflow with such subjects. In our case we wanted to have our project ready and presentable as fast as possible; it’s not really a very fast speed painting, but with a total work time of 3 hours it’s still pretty fast. In a day of work we could paint 2 of those concepts and that would be quite good. The final image is almost 3000 pixels in width and this allows us to work more on it and further improve its look and even print it. I kept some elements on separate layers so that I can get rid of them if needed (like the highlights and the heavy texturing — and of course all of the presentation related stuff) : this is a good practice since it still leaves room for quite big changes if needed.


While “Garage Inc.” is not having the usual look you expect from a speed painting (rough strokes, simplified shapes, minimal detail and so on) I think it still falls in the category of speed painting since it required few time and it was completely organized around the main concept, which was to represent a futuristic vehicle that is staying in a dusty hangar, waiting to be repaired. In this tutorial I’ll show you some steps concerning the painting process and I’ll use them to underline some concepts I find to be interesting. I’d like to point out that this is by no means the best or only way of working, and that my advices could work fine for someone and don’t work at all for someone else. I’m always very interested in learning and taking a look at the way other artists are working, for pure curiosity’s sake, so I thought it could have been nice to share similar info. My method can change a lot and the one showed here is not the only one I currently use; I think it’s really valuable for an artist to be able of exploring and changing workflow, continuously integrating new knowledge and energies into it.


I have my concept in mind and I’m ready to start painting : first of all I want to get rid of the white canvas and have a background that is in tune with the mood I want to get. I start painting a more or less uniform background using a mix of oils and custom stickers. On a new layer I start sketching random shapes using custom stickers and others tools, looking for an interesting design concept I could follow. In this step it is important to feel free and just let things happen and imagination flow without worrying too much about technical matters and rules.

I think I can see the side view of a vehicle in the mess I created in step one, so I use the eraser to cut the not needed stuff away and give the vehicle a sharp silhouette. This process is close to sculpting we can say; the creative usage of the eraser can help working with the concepts of empty and filled space, which can give interesting results and definitely improve the way we approach the creative process. ArtRage is not letting us use custom stickers as erasers, but we can obtain great results using the eraser over stencils. In this step it was enough using a simple hard edged eraser.

I create a new layer over the existing two and using one of my favourite custom stickers I start blocking values. It is important to understand that values give precious information about the kind of material is being painted, and that we must keep in mind that the final value is showing the amount of light the object receives but also its material it. A good contrast is important for painting an interesting picture, so I started working on it using the big dark mass (that probably covers an engine) and the thin stripes. I still don’t know what to do with the cockpit, and this insecurity can be spotted in the messed perspective and the absence of a clear design direction. We’ll fix that later.


I decide the time is right for sketching an environment for the vehicle, so I create a new layer between the vehicle and the canvas, trying to block a simple hangar. I want a bright and foggy weather outside but also a good lighting inside, provided by other entrances that are more distant from our subject. Using oils and blur effect I also add a quick shadow to help me position the vehicle in space. I thought the cockpit should be open since the vehicle is being repaired, and to open it I select it with polygonal tool, cut it, paste it on a new layer and rotate it. I also cropped the image to improve the composition.

I start working on the engine mass and on the cockpit, trying to create a new contrast between the big empty surfaces and more detailed ones. For the whole painting I actually used the same tools over and over again: a custom oil brush (for 70% of painting), a bunch of custom stickers (10% of painting), a custom palette knife, the basic airbrush, ink pen, custom stencils and the eraser. I suggest you to try all the tools in ArtRage but to also understand which are the ones that are working better for you and for the way you create; once you understand this you can tweak the tools and save them as custom presets.

The concept is quite near to what I had in mind at the beginning, so I can spend few minutes to sketch some foreground and background elements that can help me reach two goals : make the hangar more believable and “close” the picture so that the viewer attention will stay in the centre of the image. You can spot ArtRage standard chain and cable stickers. The texturing in last steps was done using custom stencils I created from some photos I took over the years; always bring a camera with you and take photos of all the textures and references you find interesting, photos are really valuable for a concept artist.


One design decision I was unsure about was about the way the vehicle was staying suspended in air. I was thinking that a levitation was not really coherent with the concept of “damaged, needing repairing” so I decided to add some chains, sketching them fast with the ArtRage standard chain sticker : this is producing a too much perfect and uniform result, but I was too lazy for creating a custom chain sticker at that moment, so I went for standard one. I also worked a bit on the shadows, trying to bring the viewer’s attention even closer to the subject.

The chains were looking too stiff so I rotated them a bit and detailed them here and there with eraser and oils. Using some useful custom stickers I add bolts and screws, while some stencil and texture work provides more details for giving character to the image; textures and stencils are coming from an huge set of photos I took in a military cemetery in Moscow. The number on the vehicle is helping the viewer interest and gives more personality to the vehicle.

In the final step I work on the atmosphere (adding some dust with custom stickers) and on the mood of the overall picture; the green was looking interesting but I decided to play a bit with hue and I changed to a tone that looks less military and hopefully more appealing. At this point I only need to resize the picture, sharpen it (outside of ArtRage since it’s not having an unsharp mask at the moment), sign it and bring it into this PDF.


ArtRage offers plenty of features and different ways of accomplishing goals; learning to analyze the problems and to find solutions is a gratifying and useful activity. I therefore encourage everyone to spend some time trying to get used to the software and see how to make it work the way we need. I know it has been said countless times, but I repeat it once more : a common mistake is to think the tool is more important than the artist, rushing to download the latest software and play with its newest feature : we should keep in mind art history proves that people can produce great art even with the simplest tools, like a pencil and a piece of paper. The availability of hardware and software is growing and it’s easy to waste time trying all kind of software instead of working on improving ourselves as artists; that time would be indeed better spent on studies about colour theory, values, composition, perspective and especially observing the reality around us with an analytic eye. Thanks for reading this little article, I hope it was an interesting lecture. Have a nice time painting!

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About the author
My name is Andrea A. Bianco and I am an illustrator, concept artist and photographer working between Italy and Russia. I also have a background as web and graphic designer, though I am getting more and more involved with the challenging world of illustration and concept art. When I’m not painting or sketching I spend time on my other big passion, composing music and guitar playing.











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