When making a piece, this is the step most people usually jump to directly, myself included. However, it is important to know that concept and composition are very important steps that shouldn’t be skipped.

That said, when it comes to drawing or painting, it is a simple two-step process:

1) Sketch ideas until a viable concept appears.
2) Build the drawing/painting on top of that foundation.

If you wanted to add a third step, it could be…

3) Repeat Step 2 as needed.

…but then we expose the secret for getting better at anything:


In all seriousness, there are more than a few technical aspects involved in the production of a digital painting (SEE MASTER POST). But for those looking for the TL;DR, check out this video. It contains a fast and dirty example of all the technical aspects coming together.

For a little more complexity to the issue, here are some of the thoughts that go through my mind while I’m working.

When I’m planning the composition, I’m thinking like an illustrator. When I’m painting, I thinking like a sculptor. I try to envision the objects in the piece as three-dimensional. To do this, I ask myself the following questions:

What shape is every individual object when broken down? Sphere? Cone? An amorphous rhomboid blob?

How do these shapes interact with each other?

Where is the major light source coming from?

Where is the minor light source coming from?

How intense are the light sources?

How do they interact with the primary shapes?

While I ponder these questions, I start setting up the document I’ll be working from. Generally, I’ll start with three layers: Foreground, Midground, Background.

The Background is where the concept sketch often gets placed. It remains in sight until all objects in the Foreground and Midground are in place. The concept sketch is then hidden. In its place is a horizon, forest, back wall; whatever setting best fits the image.

The Foreground is the objects in the piece that are closest to the viewer. Sometimes this could be objects meant to aid in framing the composition. Sometimes it may be the primary object of the piece.

The Midground is everything else that doesn’t land in the Background or Foreground. This could be anything from secondary objects to certain weather conditions.

For the most part, a lot of this is in black and white, with color applied to the objects in a later step. Additionally, I spend some time smudging and blurring all the basic shapes as needed. But both of those steps are for future posts.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me directly on either Twitter (@markericelton) or Facebook (@MarkEltonArtist).

And to see more “works-in-progress” as they happen, follow me on Instagram or Tumblr!