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April 7, 2013
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Wallpaper: seventy2seconds.deviantart.com…
Background-only version: seventy2seconds.deviantart.com…
Scrap: seventy2seconds.deviantart.com…

Guess what? I finally mustered the courage to ditch the vector tool and go fully with my tablet. And I'm still alive, and proud of what I've achieved!

It all started shortly after being completed disappointed with my previous Ookami wallpaper. I was jumping from project to project, not really knowing which one to focus on. I had 2 main walls though, a TWEWY vector wall and a KH vector mask paint wall. One fine day, someone (I'm not saying who) tells me to stop doing vector mask painting and to only do vectors. Why? Because my vector mask painting is lousy. This person doesn't say that directly, but the meaning was painfully obvious to me.

After screaming at that person (she thinks she knows a lot about Photoshop, but in actual fact I'm waaaay better than her), I got really angry and frustrated, so I began to start even more projects. In a way, while still really upset, something in me got fired up and I wanted to do painting just to prove that person and myself wrong. For up to now I always believed that I would die without Photoshop's vector tool, and I could never do freehand painting. I was also in the midst of researching Photoshop painting tutorials for eyes and lips (that's for my vector mask paint KH wall).

Anyone remembers A Town of 3 Districts? I spoke about the artwork done for Japanese indies circle Mamyukka's Tentai Catalogue. In the midst of all that "I have to paint!" frenzy, I looked up the artist for Tentai Catalogue. This person was At Poki (Atポキ), who has a Pixiv account. I looked up Atポキ's page on Pixiv and found this beautiful artwork of a boy and the lamp man under the moon (see my scrap, link above). And then I guess something finally snapped into place. I decided I would use this concept on Kingdom Hearts, change the background to Traverse Town, and use Sora and Riku as the characters. I found the Chain of Memories artwork the most appropriate for this wall, and so I started.

I didn't really know what to put for the title, but at that time I was also clearing out my MP3 player, and I was looking through my Kajiura Yuki folder. There's this piece of music from Tsubasa Chronicle, called "The Dreamers", and since I had just finished KH: Dream Drop Distance at that time, I decided that "The Dreamers" would be the title of this wall. Anyway, I sketched in the buildings according to Traverse Town official artwork (of which I have a lot). I also resized Sora and Riku to whatever size I felt was appropriate, but I chose to redraw them in a much bigger size, which I should adopt as standard practice. Had I not blown them up to a larger resolution to redraw, I would be struggling with the tiny details like Riku's shoelaces and Sora's chain.

Anyway, their original poses were that on slanted ground. Sora looked as if he was falling forward, but in this wall, I wanted them to be standing on level ground, so I had to tweak the references before starting any work. Riku was easy to manipulate; I used a puppet warp on his right foot to turn it such that it was level. Sora was much tougher. I broke his body into 2 (I know it sounds violent but this is Photoshop), rotated his legs, merged the 2 body parts together, and used a puppet warp on the legs in an attempt to get rid of some of the curvature. I also used the normal transform (hold Ctrl, click on one corner of the bounding box and drag) to make his feet look smaller. I still think his feet don't look right, but that was the best I could do.

I was going to start work by vector mask painting Riku. But I was so enamoured by the beauty of the original Atポキ artwork. The uneven surface and painted textures added a whimsical, fantasy feel to the artwork. I really, really wanted to replicate the unevenness that could only be done by drawing freehand. And so I did it. I tested out freehand painting on Riku's hair. When I realized that yes, I could do it, I was thrilled! But there was the background – could I paint the background in freehand? I decided to break from my normal pattern and started doing the background first.

I tested out freehand painting on the Jewelry Shop first. I was using the soft round brush, 100% opacity and 100% flow. Thank goodness that I have sandara in my deviant watch. She posted an entry about the painting brushes she used, and I downloaded…all of them. I used a brush from Ditlev; it's a 63px brush that's somewhat like a rectangle, and it has a painted edge feel. Then I decided, since so many of the really pro artists tend to work with lowered opacity and flow, I decided to copy them. Well, I may not be a pro, but at least I finally know how to work the opacity and flow. Flow was especially important in this wall. It added that uneven texture for the light halos around the windows. Opacity was good for controlling the lightness/darkness of the shading, and it also helps in creating natural uneven painting "mistakes"…as in, it created the human feel. Vectors are hard and sharp and they give that "too perfect" kind of feel. With freehand painting and a lowered opacity, I could paint outside of the designated area but have it still look natural, as if I deliberately wanted to make that mistake. Also, the lowered opacity meant that I would have gaps in my base colour. Now, my "outline" is not really an outline; it's a base colour on its own. Meaning, if I were to erase the main base colour, the outline colour would show. This meant that the gaps in my base colour led to the outline colour showing through, and it actually helped to add to the texture of my painting.  

Initially I was going to create individual groups for each building, so if you look at my reference, I had numbered the buildings. However, when I discovered the beauty of Ditlev's brush + opacity + flow, I decided to go messy, so I did the buildings in 3 groups of left, right and centre. Left and right would have similar lights and darks, while centre was lighter to show that it was further away.

The ground was done with one of the custom brushes as well, but I have no idea which person's brush it was. I have 2 versions of ground; one with a blob-ish kind of texture and the other with straight lines as texture. I didn't like either one on their own, but put together, they looked ok, so I have both grounds; the top one on 60% opacity.

The sky is my favourite. It was done with DanLuVisiArt's cloud brush (this user was formerly known as Adonihs), lowered to 20% opacity. I created several layers of lightness. I started by brushing in a tight radius around the moon. Then, on another layer, I brushed another circle, but of a larger radius. And so I slowly increased the radius. The layers were set to color dodge/linear dodge/vivid light, whichever worked. After that, I added the stars with one of LadyVictoire's star brushes (I still can't paint stars). I also enhanced the colours by randomly putting some blue hue over the base colour and setting it to some layer effect. I can't really explain this…it's all trial and error. I also have a dark outline around the moon, though it looks very uneven. I'm not sure why some portions of it cannot be seen, but I thought that I could live with it, and so I left it.

So after doing the background, I set to work on Riku and Sora. I ditched that initial "Riku test" I did and restarted from scratch, now armed with my Ditlev brush and better knowledge on opacity and flow. It was quite fun painting like that. I did my best to add texture by not blending in the shades and aiming for a "cutout" effect. And honestly, now that I had to paint Riku and Sora, I finally noticed how dowdy their outfits were. I mean, pants held in place by suspenders, with the ankles secured by, what, a rubber band? A red bodysuit? I know Square Enix has the most creative outfits, but I guess we gamers aren't supposed to look at them in detail. Still, they look great as a whole and in game, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining about Sora's and Riku's lack of fashion sense!

After finishing the work on Riku and Sora, I set about blending them in. I used a trick from one Photoshop tutorial I read, which was to brush around the outline and set this layer to soft light. I used a light blue outline around Sora and Riku, as well as a normal outer glow effect. Then, to blend them into the wall, I sampled colours from the immediate background around them and brushed it onto their edges, and I also set this to soft light. In addition, there's a bunch of light/dark layers to show glow from the moon, and a "ground blend" to have their feet blend more into the ground. I did this because I checked the original Atポキ artwork, and the border between the buildings and the ground is a mix of both colours. Needless to say, I also did this "ground blend" for the buildings, though I think I ended up with an asymmetric shadow (one side is darker than the other). The curvature of the buildings isn't that symmetric either…I did try to rectify it, but I couldn't do much without going back to the drawing board, so I left it.

I understand that there are some issues with Sora and Riku's scale...for they are taller than the buildings. However, the buildings are supposed to be far away, and this was also present in the original artwork, so I hope viewers can appreciate this.

Anyway, I felt that I didn't manage to blend Sora and Riku that well into this wall, and the ground could use some improvement. I have a feeling that I used a brush that could work perfectly with adding a water texture…maybe I'll try that out next time! I like Riku's shadow, but Sora's shadow is a little off. However, I'm still proud of myself for breaking that "I can't paint freehand" barrier! This wall has absolutely zero vector layers, and I'm so proud of this. I will definitely have more freehand painted walls now, and I do hope I will get better!

Layer statistics:
• Riku: 67
• Sora: 83
• Buildings: 114
• Ground + Sky + Miscellaneous: 72

I had to merge many groups and move the working copies to another file, as my computer was lagging very badly. I think it's because of all of the layer effects. Or are raster layers much more computationally intensive than vector layers?

In any case, that next wholly painted wall will have to wait: I've got a TWEWY vector wall to finish! :D
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