Phil Dunne is one of those great digital artists that we really like to keep posted about. He is always surprising us with his pieces, talent and creativity. We mentioned Phil's work and ideas here a couple of times, check it out at: Interview and Showcase with the Great Illustrator Phil Dunne, A Desing is Finished when... 23 Pro Designers' Opinions and Design Inspiration: Tips and Secrets from 11 Famous Digital Artists. At this post he will show us all the creative process for his masterpiece Heist.

Besides all his talent, Phil is always very kind! When I talked to him about the possibility of doing the creative process for one of his pieces, he not only agreed but also got really excited about it and did this great case study for us. So here we are... showing you the steps of his creation, Heist.

Also make sure to visit Phil Dunne's incredible portfolio, Love The Robot.

Enjoy...

So, I present Phil's work and words!

When I begin to work on an illustration, I always have a rough sketch of it in my notebook. I carry a notebook everywhere with me, so I scribble out ideas that just pop into my head. I keep it beside my bed as I tend to get the most ideas when I'm about to go to sleep and when I wake up. I keep a small biro pen with the notebook so I can quickly rough out a concept. I always write notes beside each doodle because in my head, I'm planning out what coloring, layers and effects I'm going to use in Photoshop.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

I keep a few gigabytes spare on my hard drive for a digital scrapbook. My digital scrapbook is a folder filled with jpegs, tiffs, pngs, scans, urls and mpegs from the internet of stuff I find inspiring, like a picture of a fashion shoot, a cool website or an old advert I've downloaded. I also collect a lot of clippings from magazines and books and take tons of pictures on my mobile phone camera, like graffiti, street textures and urban spaces to use as reference points in my illustrations. Below is a screen grab of the pics that inspired me for this illustration. I think it was heavily influenced by the late, great Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, and by my favorite DC Comic's character The Creeper. I wanted to create something dark and mysterious; very moody and bleak...something I've never touched on before.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Also, this scene with Heath Ledger really inspired me...

As the embed is not available, here is the link to it.

The concept for the piece called 'Heist' was about a struggling artist who cannot afford to stay in his career because he has no money. Rather than give up on his one true love and passion, he decends into the underworld and decides to steal and gamble to pay for his art. This illustration was originally a personal piece, but I decided to submit it to the Depthcore chapter release called 'Heist.' I roughly spend a couple of days on an illustration. When I think it's nearly finished, I leave it for a couple of days and go back to it, just to add touch ups and highlights...it's good to give yourself fresh eyes when viewing your own work. I also work on concepts before I work into a finished piece, like below, you can see where I wanted to go with the illustration in this never before released concept illustration:

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Before I begin, I assemble what images and piece I need to work. For this piece, I placed a stack of miniature playing cards onto my scanner and I found an old photograph and used the back of it for the main image.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Then I work on the main illustration. I sketch my character's face using a set of technical pencils from 4H to 2B. I work quiet large, into A3 to get the right amount of detail I need. I take my time drawing, it's important that I get everything just right. If a drawing doesn't look like it does in my head, I tear it up and start all over again. The eyes are the main focus of this piece so I concentrate on getting the mood and intensity just right.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

When the drawing is done, I scan it into Photoshop at a very high resolution, sometimes it might be around 600dpi. I clean up the image slightly with the clone tool and adjust the brightness and contrast, to give it an aged look.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

You can see the difference in the original scan to the final pic:

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

So here is where I begin to Photoshop everything! :D

I use a Wacom tablet, Intuos3 A4 oversized. Anybody who is even considering being a digital artist should buy one, they are a great investment, they speed up your workflow and you can add a lot more personal touches to your work. I work all the time in Photoshop CS4, I don't own any pirate or illegally downloaded versions. I bought my versions of the Creative Suites, always have and always will. It is best to stay up to date with the latest version of Photoshop. Learn the Save shortcut on your keyboard!!! This has saved my skin so many times, I press it everytime I create a new layer or add something new. And keep all your images as a multi layered .psd file. They will be big but you can go back months later and remember how you blended that colour or created your best illo. In the pic below, you can see where I've added in the scans of the playing cards and adjusted their brightness and contrast accordingly. The playing cards layer is just on a normal blending mode, as I will add all the messy effects onto the layers above. I add two layers of spray paint brushes I created and set them on the color burn blending mode, the colour I used for these was a dark blue from a full saturation colour pallette. I also add in a small amount of red sprays to give the image balance and to tie it to the playing cards. I then add in the scan of the old photograph which will be the background for the drawing. I adjust the brightness/contrast to bring out the decayed look of the photo and add some random splashes of colour and dirt. I also add a slight drop shadow to the layer which accidentally gives me more gritty effects on top of the playing cards. Also mess around with Photoshop while working, the amount of mistakes I've stumbled upon that have gone into finished pieces is just countless at this stage.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

I then add in my drawing, which is set at the 'Multiply' blending mode. Usually I take out the drawing out of the page, but I left in the page to give it more of a darker quality. I rotate and adjust the drawing layer until it is just right!

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Colour!!!!! Colour is always the most important of an illustration. It can make or break it in my opinion. You need to select colour swatches that are vital to the concept you are going with. Pick around 10 colours and stick to them. You may not end up using them all. In Photoshop CS4, I use the Luminosity Full Saturation set of swatches. These colours give my work a unique look and make it really bold on screen. I begin to add in the flat colours to the drawing, on a normal layer mode set at 40% opacity. Then I add another set of flat colours on another layer, but this one is set to the multiply blending mode. It starts to give me light and shade and eventually it looks more tonal.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Highlights! This is where the image begins to look like a finished piece. But don't fool yourself into thinking so ;D I add another layer, set on normal blending mode at 55% to add the white of the character's eyes, the highlights of his clothes and skin and hair. As I said before, I wanted a grim, gritty, mysterious feel to the piece and I feel like I'm not there yet. I add another layer to the illustrations, to darken up the eyes and make the tones stronger in the image.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

I then add bright sprays of colour and extra grit on seperate layers to the image to beef it up. So now I stop!!!! This is where I take a breather from the piece, let it simmer for a day or so and come back to it. But during a deadline you might not have a day so it would be a couple of hours! I always go back the original inspiration and ideas I had for the piece, I flick back to my sketchbook and read my notes to see where I wanted to go with it.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

I reopen the file, with everything intact and add more touch ups, like making the white brighter in the highlights and adding the map at the bottom of the image and more dirt and grit.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

And then below is the final piece. I was so happy with it, it was probably the best illustration I had worked on. When I create my pieces and put them out onto the internet and blog them etc. I always examine the feedback I get from people and measure up what worked in my illustrations and what didn't. I always try to learn from criticism and see what are the good parts from a new piece that I can carry onto the next illustration I work on.

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

Final look:

Image selected for The Creative Process of Phil Dunne's Masterpiece Heist

About the author of this post

I'm Gisele Muller, someone who loves communication, design, creativity, technology and everything in between. A brazilian current living in San Francisco Bay Area, USA. Twitter user: @gismullr