Making of Shadowlands

Making of Shadowlands
Skill Level: Advanced
Used Software: Photoshop
Completion Time: 4 hours

In this tutorial Gloria Scholik describes how she was making her work “Shadowlands”.


In this tutorial I will explain how I created Shadowlands, from the basic color and layout in the beginning to the final image. I will also explain my use of custom brushes for creating the background. This image was created in Photoshop CS4 using a Wacom Intuos 3.


The first thing I do when starting an image, is brows through images for references to serve as a guide on lighting and anatomy. In the sample image I have included two of my own photographs, I will refer to these when I render the background. I want to capture a mood of mystery and I have decided my subject with be a fairy. I also want a lush environment for her to live in. I know I want to use shades of greens and gold’s, aware that greens add the mood of mystery I want to capture.


I begin by putting in some rough shapes using a hard round airbrush, I keep my layers separate for each subject, it will make it easier should I decide to replace one of the subjects with another. I am not concerned at this stage in details; all I want at this stage is to get color and composition into the image.


I add a tree to the foreground to help anchor my subject. I want her to seem as if she were part of the tree, to convey that she is also part of nature. I want her to blend in with the tree while still giving her definition. I use the same gold on her and the tree. In the background I add some mountains for interest.


At this point I want to decide how I will handle lighting. In a new layer I begin to define the light and dark places in the image, adding a hint of shadows and highlights to serve as my guide. I have decided that the light will be coming from the right, since the rest of the image would be shaded by the foliage. I am only going to have one light source, so all light will come from the same direction.


Keeping the light source in mind, I continue with the hard round airbrush, and add highlights, midtones, and shadows to the fairy and the tree. I am working with a fairly neutral color scheme for this image, so I am going to keep my highlights in the light gold, and shadows in dark green and brown. For midtones I will use lighter browns, gold’s and greens of the same hue.


It is a good idea to work on the entire overall image so that all will blend well together, so I work on adding shadows and highlights to the background too. Using a spackle brush I add some variations of greens for foliage. I do not want to go into great depth with the background, since it is far away, I want it to appear softer, lighter and have less detail than the foreground.


While adding details to the background, things are beginning to appear too sharp, so I add a median filter of 10 percent. This will blur the details and give my lines a more painterly look.


I have the basics done, so I want to start working on details. I will begin on my fairy first since she is the focal point of the scene. Using a combination of my hard round airbrush, set to opacity and the soft round brush, I begin to detail the highlights and shadows of the face and body, and skirt, blending highlights, midtones, and shadows as I go.


I want to do the same to the foreground and tree, blending shadows, highlights and midtones, and defining the shape of the tree bark and foliage. I also leave some parts of the tree very dark to add the sense of the tree having recessed scars.


Things are starting to take shape now; I want to add the final details to the face. I use a hard round brush and outline the eyes the line of the mouth and nose.


Using the hard round airbrush and soft round brush, I blend the shape of the mouth, paint in eyes and nose.


I add the details of the body, I want her to have delicate fairy features, so I give her slim, delicate fingers. At this point, I also add the final details to her body, the last bit of shading that will define her, paying close attention to the shadows around her legs to give them more depth, and adding her navel. I give her hair more detail using a hard round brush, then add a median filter of only about 5 %.


When I need to achieve smooth blending, I like to use a combination of a hard round brush and soft round. Using a hard round airbrush set to a low opacity (for this step I have my opacity at 11%), I begin adding color to my subject for the highlights, shadows and midtones. These will overlap and create variations in between. This can leave visible brush strokes, that is where a soft round brush comes in handy. With my opacity still at 11%, I repeat the process, this will smooth out the brush strokes.


For the fabric of her skirt, I use a hard round brush and hard round airbrush, I paint soft variations in highlights and shadows, starting first with highlights that are the top of the folds in the fabric, then shadows where the fabric has fallen, I define the edges with a hard round brush.


No fairy is complete without wings, for this image, because of the tone if mystery, I am not going to make the wing obvious and by angling it down, I will convey that she is reserved and guarded. I am going to make her wing like that of a butterfly, Using the hard round airbrush I paint the shape of the wing and then using a hard round brush set to pin light I add the light spots of the wing.


Some of my favorite custom brushes are those I have made from the patterns of hemlock foliage. It works well at painting rocks, water, moss, and of course, foliage. I select one that will make a good bark pattern that has good vertical lines. I select gold as my hue and in a new layer I stamp the hemlock brush, I duplicate the layers, adjusting for light and dark variations. Sometimes I will stretch the layers vertically with the move tool. There can get to be too many layers with this technique, so I often merge my layers, adjust for density or run a sharpen filter, and begin the process again. The key is a lot of layers with a lot of different density and shades of color. I make sure the bark flows around the scars on the tree and down the tree, to mimic the natural flow of a trees bark.


After I am happy with the look of the tree bark, I merge the tree bark layers together. With the airbrush set to opacity of only 15% I go over the tree once again adding highlights and shadows.


I paint in the details of the foliage, I do this with a combination of custom brushes I have made from my personal photographs of foliage, I also paint tree branches in the distance using a hard round brush in conjunction with my tree branch brush.


With a hard round brush, in a new layer, I paint in highlights, keeping true to my light source. On the underside of the foliage away from the light, the foliage will still appear lighter since light is passing through it, so I keep this in mind when adding shadows and highlights.


For the mountains in the distance I add highlights and shadows too, not too much detail, but just a hint, where the water is flowing through the valley, the light will be reflecting, so I use a light, almost white color. To do this I use a hard round brush and my tree branch brush.


I add clouds to the sky using a soft round brush, and for added interest, I also paint an eagle flying in the sky high above the clouds. The eagle is created by first painting the shape of his body and wings, then adding a touch of highlights to the edges of his wings and head using a slightly lighter color than that used for his body.


I use the same hemlock brush as that used for the tree bark, to paint in ferns. First I create a new layer, stamp the hemlock brush with a neutral color green, and the in a new layer, stamp the brush again using a lighter color green, I merge my fern layers together and adjust the density and contrast. I add some fern patterns over my fairy’s feet along with a hint of shadows that the foliage is casting, to help anchor her to her environment.


I go back over the whole image with a hard round airbrush set to opacity of only 15% and paint highlights where light is hitting to make my image more uniform.


I find that using a hard round airbrush usually leaves things looking too soft, so I merge my layers, run a smart sharpen filter of 10% at a radius of 0.5 pixels.


I make a small adjustment to the brightness and contrast. The very last thing I like to do is add my signature to my work, and the image is complete.

Here are the brushes used in the process of creation

Don't miss more tutorials and guides, published daily - subscribe to 2DTuts by RSS. Also you could Follow us on Twitter or simply recommend us to friends and colleagues!


  • I am a freelance digital artist and illustrator, with a background in oil and watercolor painting; I also have eleven years of experience working in the photo industry. I currently work in Photoshop, using my own photography to create custom brushes and textures to apply to my painted images.

    Website Twitter
  • KT

    Thank you very much for this amazing tutorial!
    It inspires me ^^

    Keep up the good work!