Deserted Stairs- a Photo Study Painting

Hello all! This is a long post 🙂

I finally finished my latest photo study and it took me around 6h to complete. The reference was provided by @gabeboy. Check out the original photo is here. As that post has already payed out, I recommend checking out and supporting this awesome photo also taken by @gabeboy. (And don’t forget to follow him for more) ^^

I will be doing more studies as they help me improve faster. Sometimes I’ll explain my process in more details, other times less. I don’t want to be repetitive and I want to spend more time drawing ^^

I picked this particular photo because of the heavy perspective, balanced composition with the stairs and interesting colors which accentuate the atmosphere. Desaturated yellow, usually represents decay in nature, contrary to green color.

First of all, I’ve a lot to learn about perspective. So to make things easier for me, I overlayed a perspective grid over the photo reference. I actually got the perspective wrong from the first try, I only focused on the stairs. After painting for 10 min I realized my mistake and redid the grid. I made the grid ages ago, I’ve seen other artists use similar and it has greatly helped me out. You can download my grid here or make your own.

How I made the perspective grid:

I started with a big canvas, then I used the line vector tool to make a cross, when using vector tool you have to apply a line to it. You can use a brush and shift, but vector is easier and more precise. Next, I just added as many lines intersecting the center, this is easy just tedious. Once you’re done, save and then you can use in all of your art. For example, for a 2 point perspective you will need 2 grids. You don’t have to copy the whole grid every time. It might take a bit of practice. You can even transform the grid, but the horizon line has to align.


The best part of doing studies is to experiment and learn new tricks and methods. It’s a good idea to decide on a goal before doing a study, you don’t have to copy the reference exactly the same. For me the main goal here was to create a fake sense of depth with perspective and color, the colors closer are warmer while further are colder and bluer.

There are also other ways to achieve a sense of depth that I didn’t use: like going from dark to light values, where darkest is closest and lightest furthest. Other method is repetition: drawing one object more times, making it smaller the further it is. The last trick is atmospheric fog, usually used for bigger scenes. This is done by adding a new layer and using a soft, light brush to blend the further away objects or people. Did I miss any other useful methods?

Setting Goals

Depending on the reference you may set different goals. Some goal examples: studying lighting, atmosphere, values, colors, anatomy, realism, even a single detail. It’s important to know what you’re studying for the most effective learning. If you want to be comic book artist you may want to focus on learning how to draw dynamic, possibly exaggerated poses and/or stylistic backgrounds. On another hand a concept artist needs interesting and believable designs. Usually several paintings based around one theme, creating the world where a story can take place in a form of a movie or a game (or other?).

Personally I haven’t specialised or developed one particular art style. My work requires me to do a variety of art jobs and the flexibility a speed of learning are the most important skills. In general I prefer drawing environments over characters, but I enjoy doing both. For me an interesting theme is the most important. Also I still have to work on my storytelling skills.

Back to the painting:

I either start with rough patches of color or line art. This is to set a rough idea of the composition. Lineart takes a lot longer for me if I don’t plan to keep the lines in the final artwork. Lineart is very useful for precision drawing and details, whereas working directly with colors usually creates a stronger atmosphere. However, this is just my personal experience.

I use 70-90% saturated brushes. I’ve learned that my painting stand out more this way and that it takes me much less time to complete them. I have two monitors now, so I keep the reference on my side monitor. However, I’ve done many studies with just one monitor and it’s just a matter or how you organize your work space.

Speaking of organizing, my this years resolution/goal is to become more organized. For example I have a bad tendency to name my folders: new, newer, newest, oldest. This ends up wasting my time and energy in the long run and it’s incredibly hard to find things. This is not just about my PC, but real life too. I still have anxiety symptoms and I’ve noticed clean space makes me more relaxed and more concentrated. My other resolution is to start doing self help again, it has helped me a lot in the past, and there is always space for improvement.

What is your New year’s resolution or goal?

The last thing I want to improve is my patience. I’m much more patient than I used to be and it has helped me greatly in real life and with art. I’ve learned a lot more by working longer on one piece of artwork then doing 4 in the same amount of time. It’s more important to analyze everything than to just do repetitive practice.

Once I finished setting up the scene, I zoomed in on one corner of the painting and started detailing it out. I also started using 50% opacity brush to blend colors more. This whole painting was done with a single brush, I just change size and opacity. I use textured brushes occasionally, but it’s easy to overdo it, unless you know what you want to achieve.


The awesome part about digital art is that you can constantly fix big mistakes without breaking the painting. For example here I decreased the size of the background stairs as I realized they were way too big. I cut out the stairs, resized them and then filled in the empty areas. I do this very often, it just takes getting used to. It can be daunting to break apart your own artwork, but with practice it becomes second nature. When using traditional mediums you can also fix things and make big changes, it depends on the medium. If you plan to use oil paints, you need the paint to dry and then paint a thicker new layer on top. For watercolors it’s better to spend more time planning the painting and doing small drafts before hand.

Here I cropped the painting a bit and I worked on some front ground elements. This is around 4 hours of painting so far. To save a bit of time, this is when I dropped the original photo over my painting to see more mistakes. I avoid doing this for as long as possible. I didn’t color pick at all, I used to when I first started digital art, but now thanks to practice I don’t have to. Even though colors aren’t perfectly the same, they are deceptively close enough.

Finishing Touches

Adding details takes me the longest time. It’s a good idea to add some sharp details to things that are closest to the viewer. The details further away can stay blurry. This adds another layer of depth perception. I should have detailed the bricks in front more, but I felt that I have completed this study for now and I’m ready to move on to the next one. You can always keep improving an artwork, but knowing when to stop is just as important as having enough patience. There are so many things to learn, but very limited time, so pick your reference wisely. 🙂

Process Gif

Thank you very much for checking out and reading <3


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