Lesson 1 - The Star Destroyer
Let's start off with one of my favorite sci-fi designs of all time, the Imperial Star Destroyer. Now, there are as many different ideation methods as there are artists, or even pieces of art, so you might have your own personal way of coming up with ideas and that's great! This particular idea of mine came from a question: where and how do you decommission a star destroyer? I start by anchoring the answer to this question in our real world, then exploring different sci-fi adaptations of it.
Lesson 2 - Macro Concerns
Once I've chosen the low res sketch idea that I intend to continue painting, I work on the "macro concerns" I have in every piece, things like blocking in shapes, building elements that I intend to use to tell the story of the image, and establishing atmosphere. It's important to know as early as possible what you want to communicate in your painting and put in shorthand so you don't lose your train of thought later, while also taking care not to get too bogged down in fleshing out too many details too quickly.
Lesson 3 - Carving Out Details
A lot of artists -- myself included -- often warn about getting too caught up in details when the rest of your painting is still large, poorly defined blocks and shapes. Inconsistent progression in detail can often make your finished piece feel imbalanced because the discrepancy in the level of detail between structures is too wide. Nevertheless, details have to be put in at some point, so if it feels appropriate to detail something in your painting while everything else is still a loose sketch, go ahead and do it, especially if the detail captures a cool idea that you're afraid you might forget later. I work to guidelines, not rules; in fact, the thing I like most about rules is finding exceptions and breaking them. This detailing "rule" is one of those things.
Lesson 4 - Doing It Over
At some point in your workflow, you will probably find things getting out of your control and you have to scrap a couple of hours' work to "reset" your painting back to where you can take a different approach or make different choices. For some artists, redoing work they'd already done once can be the momentum killer that causes them to give up on a piece, but this doesn't have to be the case. These lessons are me painting this image in real time, warts and all, so inevitably the same thing would happen to me. In this lesson, I redo some stuff and begin defining the perspective of my painting.
Lesson 5 - Light, Shadow, and Local Colors
My approach to lighting tends to be analytical. It's all about angles and considering each surface geometrically, one by one, so that the painting is lit consistently. Likewise with shadows, and how both of these things affect my local colors. This is the repetitive, technical part of my painting process, but by taking the time to get this right, I give the whole of my painting its greatest chance at success.
Lesson 6 - Shapes and Scale
One of the major things I want to communicate by juxtaposing the activity in the fore and midground with the ship in the background is the scale of the star destroyer, because that's the marvel: that people go about their business in and around something as spectacular and as HUGE as this decommissioned spaceship like it was just another day. So at this point, I render out my shapes to emphasize scale and majesty.
Lesson 7 - Micro Concerns
I feel my painting coming together now. This is where I start preparing for touchdown. With all the big, foundational things taken care of, I now focus more on the micro things like refining edges and doing further work on lights and shadows in the thrusters of the star destroyer. It's all details the rest of the way from here.
Lesson 8 - Perspective
Now, I add details to the foreground, the stuff that's more obvious and therefore has a smaller margin for error. I also explain about perspective and converging lines.
Lesson 9 - Final Details
I'm just about done now. All there is left to do is to add the finest details in the foreground and background, keeping in mind that all of my final touches should help enhance what my painting is trying to communicate.