After receiving compliments on the loyalists' armour and hearing a few of you wish they could do the same, I decided I'd try and help. This tutorial will guide you through the basic shading of metalic armour.
First things first, it's best to state the obvious here a now: there's no magical trick, only a keen eye and lots of hard work. Not only must you think weight and shape, but also movement: the viewer must not feel that parts of your armour obstruct the character's moves. Reference pictures of actual armour (not pictures of typical fantasy computer-game armour, but rather pictures of physical armour that has actually been used at some point in human history) will help design believable sets of armour. If you have the opportunity, visit a place where you can sketch from real armour. Sketch in odd angles, with special attention to light and shapes. Reference, reference, reference!
Now, the shading. I'll develop the tutorial through 3 examples, each one a different metal.
- Step one, pick the base colour of your metal. Greys for steel and iron, browns for bronze or gold. The colour you chose should reflect the overall tone of your finished armour. One this is done, pick your light source and begin the thinking.
- Step two, the dark tones. I use a brush of fixed size and variable opacity, with low transparency if you're heavy-handed. With Photoshop, I use the "Multiply" fusion mode and pick the base colour of my metal. In midtones, giving several light strokes is better than a single strong stroke, since it will give texture and a gradient effect to your metal.
- Step three, darker tones. For this step, I use a similar brush of smaller size and give heavier strokes. This time, it's better to apply large patches. What you'll have to bear in mind when shading is that metal doesn't reflect light like cloth or leather. Contrasts on metal are high, whether it be light or shadows. In my example, step #2 is far from enough. Shadowed areas develop darker patches, caused by the obstruction of light by an arm, a shield, etc. Reflections of nearby objects will also manifest as darker patches. Step #3 is better as far as contrast goes, but we're not done yet.
- Step four, counter-reflection. This step is the key to metal shading. When shading, you must be aware that metal doesn't need a direct lightsource to reflect light. Reflections on a nearby wall, shield, and light diffused by the sky are enough to cause the counter-reflection. For this step, I keep the smaller brush and select the "Screen" fusion mode. You'll have to imagine where your plausible secondary lightsource would be located. Every surface can have counter-reflections, it gives them volume and their metallic aspect.
Now your dark tones are done, it's time to give life to your metal by adding the light tones to the dark tones we've already done above.
- Step five - diffuse light: I pick a brush of fixed size and pressure-sensitive opacity, this time with the fusion mode Screen. The colour I pick in this step is the base colour of my metal. The aim is to obtain a diffused light in places not in shadow.
- Step six - strong light: more screening with the same bush and colour. On bent metal, light with be more intense as the surface comes closer to the light source. The key here is to have a good mental image of your armour, in order to identify those places where direct light is strongest.
- Step seven - pinpoint reflections: step six is already convincing enough, but not all the metal in a drawing receives the same intensity of light. In order to include this in your picture, spots on which you want to attract the viewer's eye will receive pin-size dots of white. I do this with a smaller brush, still in Screen mode, using this time a light grey tone so that the light tends toward white. This is important with tainted metals such as copper, brass, bronze... If you feel confortable enough, you can also use a basic brush and apply pure white in Normal mode. Note that not all mettalic spots ought to receive those white dots : your image would be too shiny. You have to use them as a track that guides the viewer to where you want his attention.
- Step eight - colour overlay: this step is what truly gives life to your metal and blends it in the whole picture. Reflections on metal are tinted by the nature of the light and the surfaces on which the light reflects. I use a fixed size, pressure-sensitive brush in Overlay mode with very low transparency (25-30%). The colour I apply depends on the nature of the light: bluish for the sky, orange for torchlight or a campfire, the colour of your character's clothes where they reflect light, brown next to leather or a wooden shield...Keep in mind that with reflections, the effect will only be strong close to the reflecting surface, whereas intense light sources such as the sky or fire will diffuse their tint everywhere. This step is up to your imagination, just don't overdo it. And keep that transparency low! Oversaturated reflections will only remove credibility from your painstakingly shaded metal.
To be continued...