Howitzer Dragon Cannon Tutorial: Part 1

Introduction: For a quick view of the Howitzer Dragon Cannon, summary of the goals for this piece, how the reference photos were chosen (and the history behind them), see the Howitzer Dragon Cannon in my portfolio.  There I go into more detail on why I selected the reference photos in Step 1 (in short, to make a plausible artillery piece for a fantasy or steampunk setting).

Below is a step-by-step tutorial for how you can create your own howitzer dragon cannon and make your digital image look like an oil painting with thin charcoal accents.  This tutorial will introduce you to some of Corel Painter 11’s features and include tips on how to save time and produce artistic effects easily.

Requirements: Corel Painter 11 and a tablet (Wacom, Bamboo, or Cintiq).  Ideally Photoshop CS3 or newer too (steps involving Photoshop will be marked as optional).

Level: Beginner.

Click the images to expand them.

Step 1: Choose your Reference Photos.  I chose a howitzer cannon with a shield at a 3/4 turn towards the viewer.  The wheels were particularly interesting to me, which combined with the lever in the rear, made this particular cannon easily mauverable.  But most importantly, the shield will lend itself well to blending with the second reference photo of a frill lizard.  It will be a lot easier of you choose two compatible reference photos when making a new piece of art that will be a blend of them.  I chose a picture of a frill lizard that was also at a 3/4 turn and rearing up a little.  I could flip the photo into a mirror image, but for this project, all I need to see is the basic shape of the lizard’s head and frill.  I can imply that the fore-claws will be wrapped around the axel and covered by the frill.

Howitzer Cannon Reference

Frilled Lizard Reference

Step 2: Initial sketch.  I created the initial sketch in Photoshop, but you can choose to begin directly in Painter (see below).  To make your sketch in Photoshop, open the howitzer cannon as a new file, then make a new transparent layer.  Make sure to lock the Reference layer, sketch only in your Sketch layer, and label the two appropriately.  You do not want to draw directly on the reference photo or you will wind up doing a lot of erasing later on or start over.  The screen shot below includes how to arrange your layers, a dark color, and a thin brush.  It also helps to turn the grid on by going to View:Show:Grid.

If you are sketching directly in Painter then you’ll have the same basic goal and principles, just applied differently.  In Corel, you can open the reference photo and click File:Quick Clone.  This will lay a translucent (semi-transparent) sheet of canvas over your reference photo to draw on.  Adjust how transparent this canvas is by holding down on the topmost icon of the two squares overlapping above the vertical scroll bar.  To toggle the tracing paper off, just click that icon once.  Choose a thin solid brush, like a Pencil or Pen variant.  To view the grid, click the icon of a grid, also above the vertical scroll bar.

Step 3: Open your sketch (created with Photoshop) inside Corel Painter as its own layer above the canvas and label it Sketch.  Don’t worry, Painter will preserve Photoshop’s layers.  Just go to File:Open and find your Photoshop file.  You can hide (click the eyeball in the layers pallet) or delete (click the trashcan in the layers panel) your reference photo layer now.  Note that this step does not apply if you made your sketch in Painter.  Lock your Sketch layer down.

Step 4: Color your canvas (or tracing paper) with the Color Picker tool.  Choose a color from the color wheel, by mixing in the pallet, or by sampling an image of your choice.  I chose a solid parchment color because this would allow both light and dark values to show off the artwork best (and it suggests the kind of unbleached paper that might appear in a game this prop would be used in).  I’ve included my color set in the screen shot in Step 5, and you can view the color swatch codes, or contact me for the file.  The result of the colored canvas layer and the sketch on a transparent layer is this:

Step 5: If you’ve worked with conventional paint, you’ll be familiar with this concept of creating an underpainting.  The goal at this step is to create a new layer under the sketch that is shaded with dark opaque blue-green colors.  Later, the overpainting will have translucent yellow overtones which together will give the dragon depth and realism to the skin.  Remember, this should look like a painting of a dragon on a 3D object, and the person who would have painted it in-game would have used this traditional technique.

Note that all of the dragon layers are separate from the cannon layers.  This is because different parts overlap and obscure each other (like the foreground wheel over the dragon) and we want the freedom to have full and complete brushstrokes on the dragon without having to later erase the parts that wouldn’t be visible.  Also, if we make a mistake on either the dragon or the cannon, it’s an easy fix in its own layer.

First set up brush tracking so that your stylus will respond to your particular strokes.  Go to Corel Painter 11: Preferences: Brush Tracking and make a sample stroke at the speed and pressure you’ll be using for the underpainting.  Feel free to repeat this step as you use light, sharper, more detailed strokes.

Create a new layer called: Dragon Underpaint and file it below the Sketch layer.  Choose the Oils brush and a variant like Flat Oils or Fine Camel Hair.  Experiment by trying different brushes in a clear area of the canvas and see which you prefer.  Make loose strokes and follow the form of the dragon.  Don’t worry about being too realistic, in-game this would be a painted decoration on the cannon, not a living animal.

Step 6: Create a new layer called Dragon Overpaint above Dragon Underpaint and below Sketch.  Notice I chose yellows and yellow-whites for this layer?  I’ve switched to a thinner smeary brush variant with lower opacity and detailed areas that would be exposed to light.  The main source of light comes from about 10 o’clock but there is also light coming from about 4 o’clock.  This means that the exposed ridges on the dragon’s face, frill, body, legs, and tail all have higher concentrations of yellow, particularly yellow-white.  In some places I’ve added off-white at higher opacity with a thin brush to imply a shine.  Lastly, I’ve used some dark blue-green and feathered in shadows on the dragon behind the foreground wheel.

Step 7: Here I’ve cleaned up the image and added more details.  I’ve erased the parts of the dragon on both the Under and Overpaint layers to get a sense of what would appear from behind the wheel.  I’ve also colored the teeth, eyes, and added a yellow brow decoration.  I’ve added yellow to other areas of the dragon to create more depth.

Step 8: Now we’re getting to the fun part.  Make two new layers above the dragon layers called Cannon Underpaint and Cannon Overpaint respectively.  Lock the dragon layers.  In Cannon Underpaint we’re going with deep reddish-bown and dark gold colors to compliment the blue-green of the dragon.  Choose a flat 100% opacity setting for your brush.

But first, before you paint, there’s an easy way to select the areas you want to paint and isolate them within the same layer.  Go to the Sketch layer and select the magic wand tool.  In this layer, you are selecting part of the sketch so click on the area you’ll want to paint.  Edit: With the lasso tool you can add to or subtract from an active selection by holding down the Shift key and drag with the Lasso, or hold down on the ALT/Option key and drag. Hold down the shift key if you want to add more sections.  In this case below, only some of the spokes were selected with one click, so I held down the shift key and clicked on more spokes.  Then do not paint in the Sketch layer, instead click back to the layer you were painting in (in this case, Cannon Underpainting).  Keep that Sketch layer locked throughout the rest of the tutorial.

Edit: I recommend turning your selections into layer masks to save time on your project.  Selections can be saved as Channels (or Layer Masks if you prefer) which you can return to without having to make your selections by hand a second time.  Layer Masks can also be edited with brushes or special effect commands, giving you a lot of options.  To turn a selection into a Layer Mask/Channel, choose Select, Save Selection, or click the Save Selection as Channel button at the bottom of the Channels palette.  Then you can load the mask as a selection later on in your project.

To make the textures of the wood below:  Select sections of wood you’ll be painting in one brush stroke (either by hand or using a Layer Mask), like the very front of the cannon.  Go to your Cannon Overpaint layer.  Then in the mixing pad, take dark reddish brown, red, light brown, and mix them just a little bit.  Select the Sample Multiple Colors option there (with the size you want to sample) and the dirty brush.  Use a smeary or clumpy brush at about 70-80% opacity and make one broad stroke over the plank of wood you selected.  You may want to command-Z and redo this a few times until you have the angle of “grain” you want.

To lay the foundations for the shiny spokes, use the same method but with gold colors on them.  This time, instead of brushing with the direction of spokes, brush in a spiral outward from the center of the wheel.  Use the same technique with the dark grey barrel, but include very dark greys on either side and very light grays in the middle.  Use the Selecte Multiple Colors tool in the mixing pad to make a gradient and use the Dirty Brush setting before going back to the canvas.

Continue to Howitzer Dragon Cannon Tutorial: Part 2