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Creating Balanced Landscape Compositions with Jonathan Aucomte

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Jonathan Aucompte is an accomplished graphic designer, illustrator, and instructor who hails from Toulon, France. He draws both digitally and on paper, and you can tell from looking at his illustrations that he’s especially good at creating balanced compositions. Many of his character studies have strong landscape elements with carefully constructed foreground and background elements. He’s particularly good at using the Fisheye Perspective tool in SketchBook Pro, as evident in the piece “Rain Is Coming” below (bottom right). We asked Jonathan to create one of these balanced landscape character studies for us in SketchBook Pro and walk us through how he does it. We wanted to see his workflow in action and see the order in which he tackles the work.

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Some excellent examples of his balanced composition in practice from Jonathan’s online portfolio.

Setting the Perspective

At first, I draw a rough sketch in my physical sketchbook. I prefer using pencil and paper at the beginning of the creative process. I like to sketch directly on the Cintiq too, but the temptation is great to zoom in and add details, effects, and a ton of useless fancy stuff that can distract you from the essential: crafting the composition. I keep it simple and small and focus on the overall composition. If it works at this point, it will work whatever you do next.

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You have already achieved the toughest part when you finish your initial composition.

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Then, I set the horizon line. It is the spine of the perspective. When you stand up, the line is approximatively at the height of the eyes. Note that the line is at the third part of the picture. That is a composition rule I follow. You don’t have to follow it, but it usually gives a better effect.

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I create a new layer to keep the original sketch safe (you can lock it if you wish), then I activate the perspective tool using the Fisheye Perspective mode. I like it because it’s very dynamic. I put the center of the sphere on the horizon line and begin to draw some line to see if it matches the original perspective. Obviously, it doesn’t because my original quick sketch isn’t accurate. So I try to make it at close as I can and begin to draw the main lines.

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I change the background opacity and work on details. I make the foreground transparent and work on the background with a different color so I can better see the depth. Finally, I draw some abstract lines for the landscape to give the idea of a far away city.

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Time to draw the man. I create a new layer so I can move it or change the scale if I need to. I think a surfboard might be a good match for the picture. But it lacks something on the left, so I decide to add a girl in the foreground. It will give a nice depth effect when adding the colors and shadows.

Shadows and Values

Now that the basic sketch is finished, I duplicate the folder to keep a safe version. I switch off the original and merge the copy to get a single layer.

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Then I go to Image > Adjust > Grayscale and get a monochromatic version of my picture. Then I create a new layer and set it to Multiply mode.

coloring

I paint the shadows to focus on light and values. Then I lock the layer and fill the shadows with a blue tone for a more natural color ambiance.

Colors

I paint basic colors under the shadows layer (which is in Multiply mode). The blue shadows merge with the colors which leads to nice but also unexpected shades. It doesn’t fit the picture, so I open the Settings menu and change the colors using Hue & Saturation» option. Now I have a nice color ambiance.

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Now I just paint over my basic rendering. I use a brush from the Giuseppe’s Brush Set. I try to make it more organic by softening the shadows and adding brush strokes. I also want the line to disappear under the paint. I really enjoy the comic style line art, but in this case it doesn’t fit; it would kill the light effects.

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I set a new layer on Glow mode and make it around 50% transparent and add some light textures on the floor using the knife tool from the Oil Paints Brush Set.

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Then I add a new layer in Multiply mode and add more textures using the Fur1 brush from Giuseppe’s Brush Set

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I select the background and start messing around with the knife brush with the perspective tool on. I try to get a rough texture for the sea.

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Then I take the Fur brush to add somme details and draw the waves. I use a standard pencil to make the shiny reflections on the white parts.

Finishes

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I love the blender brush from the Mohammad’s Expressive Brush Set. You can mix the colors and get a nice painting effect. Perfect to finish the clouds in the background.

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Using the same tool, I start brushing the city in the back. I try to get a blur effect to emphasize the foreground, which is more important. I try not to add too much detail in the background to create depth and make the front scene the area of focus. I even add a blue filter above the background to add atmospheric perspective. I set it between 10 and 15% of opacity.

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I’m almost finished. I paint the smoke above the cups the same way I painted the clouds, using the blender tool. I also add some birds in the sky at the last minute because I felt there wasn’t enough life in the back.

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I’m happy with the result, but I want more contrast to separate the foreground and the background. I go into Photoshop and set the colors and light using Curves. You can see there is a small but interesting difference between the two.

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Now the picture is okay, but there’s a time when you have to stop!

Enjoy the tutorial? You can download a copy of this Balanced Composition PDF Tutorial if you’d like to save a copy for later.