By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspirationInterviews

The following is an excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 5. In this volume, you will meet some of the finest 2D and 3D artists working in the industry today and discover how they create some of the most innovative digital art in the world. Here, Mariusz Kozik shows you step-by-step how he created Charge of the Cuirassiers.

Software Used: Photoshop
Job Title: Concept Artist / Illustrator

Using the Smudge tool almost as a Paintbrush

After many years of working at the easel, I found it hard to switch to an electronic medium. My experience in working with physical materials certainly left its mark and set of habits. Learning digital methods was not straightforward. I am still not entirely at ease with Photoshop and for that reason I will not write much about the techniques of working with the program, but rather will focus on painting itself.

Fig 1

When I first took up digital art I spent quite a long time looking for a way to easily manipulate a pen on a slippery surface and discarding any “computer stiffness”. I had to get used to drawing on a tablet whilst looking at a monitor, devoid of an ability to touch the canvas and feel the paint.

Fig 2

I found the Smudge tool (Fig.01) bore the closest resemblance to working with real paint. I like to start sketches with some black spots on a white background, which I then process with the Smudge tool. If, at any point, there is a need to add a different shade, I apply these as grays using the Dodge and Burn tools. I advise only using shades of gray when sketching as using color causes strange gradient effects. In this case it is better to use brushes that leave texture; this will save time when it comes to adding textures later. For this piece, this method helped me to quickly build the outline of the cuirassier’s sheepskin saddle (a regular part of their equipment). I used the basic brushes: Linden Leaves for the Dodge Tool and Maple Leaves for the Burn Tool (see Fig.03).

Fig 3

Battle Scenes
Ever since I sat down at a tablet four years ago, I have been creating battle scenes. The most important issue for me is a compliance with historical accuracy. However, I create the first sketches, composition and color from my imagination. Towards the end of the sketching process I start using instructional materials and references, through which I can develop the historical details. Creating battle scenes in art is a hard and laborious task. I have the advantages of a good knowledge of history and extensive knowledge of weapons, uniforms, military tactics, etc.


The Charge of the Cuirassiers during the Battle of Waterloo was fought on very wet ground. After heavy rain, the earth and grass were saturated with water. I thought that light shining through splashes caused by the horses’ hooves would make a very interesting compositional element in the image. Black horses with streaks of light illuminating the drops and mud could create a very interesting rhythm in the composition. Obtaining strong contrasts would also heighten the dynamics of the frantic cavalry attack.

I wanted to use a similar effect to other artworks, as demonstrated by some of my unfinished drafts. Celtic chariots scampering through the snow was the theme of Fig.02. With Charge of the Cuirassiers I was able to realize this idea in another environment.

Fig 4

Dynamism & Movement: Diversity in Unity; Unity in Diversity

One very important factor in a scene of charging cavalry is dynamism. A monotonous group of uniformed cavalry in straight and smart colonne serre formation can cause a lot of problems when it comes to achieving the right perspective. It is important to remember that no two cavalrymen should be moving in the same way. Their movement needs to be aimed in different directions, preferably centrifugally as this helps to strengthen their dynamism.

A convergent perspective can help a lot. When the central characters are approaching from the front, the characters at the sides need to be in a three-quarter setup (Fig.03). This is one of the many possible ways of energizing a composition.

In this painting I tried not to repeat the masses, the size of spots (although it seems to me that the two horses in the middle compete with each other), directions of movement, the layout or indeed the composition of light. I did this according to the principle of: diversity in unity; unity in diversity. Dynamism can also be strengthened by sharp edges, contrast and color.

Color: Less is More

It might seem that the use of many meretricious colors, with maximum saturation, would be a good way of achieving a highly expressive dynamic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fig 5a

Getting a message across in an image is like getting a message across in everyday life. If everyone in a crowd starts to scream information, I can guarantee that you will understand nothing. The same is true with colors. Artists use colors to provide information. They create a logical world on a plane based on internal rules that should be close to being harmonious. Confidence and awareness in the use of colors is extremely important. Basic rules have to be remembered, such as the interaction between different colors and the ratio of mass to saturation. By reducing the overall saturation of the artwork we effectively expand the palette of colors, allowing us to emphasize the most important information contained in the image. This also creates a harmony between the colors. A color gains its true quality and value when it is next to a “calm neighbor.”
Fig.04 shows how a red color next to a “calm neighbor” reveals its true power.

The French cuirassiers and their environment imposed a range of colors on the painting. The most active parts were the red elements and the details of the uniforms, completed by the blue areas on the uniforms and the gold inlay of the equipment (Fig.05a).

Red, blue and gold colors in the background; a delicate sky; and dirty, heavy ground with an olive hue made for a good, solid range of colors. All of this, along with the rhythm of the black horses, streaks of light and drops of water, helped to give us an interesting effect.

Fig 5b

Why is the setting in Fig.05b good? Because the largest volume in this view is the background, the colors of which are unsaturated. They do not compete with or disturb the more important elements, the cuirassiers, who should be the focus of our attention. High contrasts, saturated colors, complex details and reflections of inlays ensure that these characters dominate the painting.
Reflections of Light on the Cuirasses

The reflections in the cuirasses and helmets are the most important elements in this scene. All the characters are shown with the sun behind them. Although each item reflects the light from the ground and other objects, the cuirasses and helmets act as mirrors and give the whole painting a high luminosity and clearer form.

Fig 6

Cuirasses and helmets are not flat and so the reflections from the environment are deformed according to the spherical surfaces of these objects. In Fig.06 it is possible to see how the surrounding objects are mirrored. The sky reflected in the metal cuirass is more saturated and darker as the cuirass reflects the darker sky behind the viewer. This is achieved using a blue color with a slightly purple hue. These mirrors introduce the luminosity of the reflected world in deep shadows.


It was only at the very end of the work, once I had already established a solid composition, that I developed the details. I arranged the masses, set the light and range of colors, and resolved the sense of movement (Fig.07).
It is often the case that there is no need for excessive detail. If all the above-mentioned elements are carried out correctly then the artwork will already convey its message well. Adding detail will only serve to highlight the most important elements. Unfortunately, in historical illustrations, descriptions of individual items such as uniforms and weapons are more important than artistic matters. This is a source of constant regret for me. The important thing is that detail should not be added where it would be superfluous: in the background, shadows, etc. An excess of small details makes a painting unreadable, heavy and stuffy, especially if it is small-scale. Obviously, when working in a format such as 120 x 80cm, it is necessary to carry out work with sufficient detail. What we see on the monitor can be misleading because we do not see the complete work displayed in 1:1 scale. Well-prepared detail can jump out at the viewer when printed and once we can see the entire work in full.

Fig 7

After analyzing my work I came to the conclusion that it should be improved, or even started again. I feel that I devoted too much attention to the form in detail, and because of this I lost control of the whole composition. Also, at some point I stopped focusing on the lighting, which establishes the form of the painting. This work is not quite in accordance with the principles of nature. It is a well-known principle of good painting that through the manipulation of light and temperature it is possible to create good form, and therefore a good painting. Line drawings can guide you, but ultimately should be subordinate to light and temperature. I don’t feel that I fully achieved the objectives I had in mind when I started this picture. What I can say is that the best way to achieve these objectives became clearer to me as the work progressed.
I hope that these few paragraphs about my work and experience will help some of you to avoid making similar mistakes.

Excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 5 by 3dtotal.Com © 2010 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Art Masters can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

No Comments

No Comments

Tell us what you think!