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The following is an excerpt from Digital Painting Techniques Vol. 1: Practical Techniques of Digital Art Masters. Compiled by the team at, Digital Painting Techniques, Volume 1 offers digital inspiration with hands-on insight and techniques from professional digital artists. Here, Daniel Ljunggren shows you step-by-step how he created Steam-Powered Mechanical Destroyer.

Software Used: Photoshop

By Daniel Ljunggren


After thinking about the topic of this speed painting for a while, I started imagining something that would be suitable for a younger audience – perhaps a commercial for toys, with figures you can play with, and one of these toys being the “Steam-Powered Mechanical Destroyer” (or so the description on the back of the box would have you believe). I then thought that it would be more fun if it was a big robot, yet still friendly. The “destroyer” part was the main issue really, meaning I would have to turn it into something not so violent in order to keep the positive mood that I still wanted to achieve.

I could’ve gone another route towards something more serious, dark and violent, but personally, it wouldn’t feel very original. I’m not saying a friendly robot is original either, but perhaps a bit more of an unexpected approach to the subject title. I have interpreted the theme more like a concept artwork than a painting, so please treat it as such.

Step 1

Before starting to draw or paint the full-sized concept with details and all, a great and quick way to find your design is with a few small thumbnail sketches. This allows you to focus on the general shape, the silhouette, and the overall feeling of the concept. After a short while of thumbnail sketching, I see something that shows potential (Fig.01). I also put in a sloppy human figure to get a feeling of scale. Working a bit further with it I find a design and feel that I want to see a fully rendered version of (Fig.02).

Step  2

Using the thumbnail as a reference image, and keeping the main subject and the background on separate layers, I start to sketch the robot from a more interesting angle and in higher resolution. I’m still working in grayscale because I can focus on what I want to prioritize for the time being: design, proportions, pose and perspective. I find that the main challenge in this part of the process is to achieve the same feeling in the perspective image as with the thumbnail. If I would go on with the next steps before nailing that feeling, I know I would probably abandon it later on because it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, so being persistent in this step pays off (Fig.03).

Adding some more volume and details to the robot, and some brushstrokes to the background, I try to find the kind of lighting and contrast I want for this image. I add some highlights just to remind myself where the main light source will be (Fig.04).

Step  3

I set my brush to Color mode and paint some big chunks of colors on the background, as well as on the robot (Fig.05). Sometimes I don’t find the color I’m looking for when using this method, because of the values of the painting underneath, but it’s a quick way of deciding what general palette the image will have. I pause here, thinking about the impression I get from the robot. I figure that I really need to kill those highlights soon, as well as change the color to what I’m looking for. Creating a new layer (Normal mode), I start painting directly with colors, and soon I see something closer to what I had in mind (Fig.06).

Step 4

While developing the concept for this robot I came up with the idea of having it working in a junkyard, where he would be “the destroyer” of metal scraps. This would go well with the overall positive feel I was trying to achieve, and the background would be where I could suggest this (Fig.07).

Step  5

During the previous steps I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the robot’s left arm and hand, but as I tried a few shapes I knew it would gain visual interest instead of having two similar arms. After a few quick designs I decide to go for some kind of drill (this makes the robot fit better with the description of “destroyer”, too). With that done, I feel ready to start working on more detailed shapes and textures (Fig.08).

Moving on to adding more details and rendering (Fig.09), here I’m trying to make it look a bit more realistic; removing a lot of the black from the underlying sketch, as well as thinking of cast shadows and bounce lights from the ground. I put a few strokes on his head as well, trying to figure out what I want that part to be like.

I do some more work on the background now, making the sky clearer and redesigning some of his firebox and chimneys on his back, as well as giving a warmer ground. I still wasn’t sure at this stage what to make of his head (Fig.10).

Step  6 – Final

Finally I approach the face of the robot. I considered having the robot being driven by a man for a while (with the head as the cockpit), but with the current scale of things I had trouble making the chauffeur read clearly, so I dropped that idea and went for a kind robot face instead. This also helps strengthen the overall positive feel. I put down some more work into the firebox, showing more clearly that it is something that could open and hold burning coal. Background details are also added here, as well as some stripes on the robot – and then he’s done (Fig.11).

Excerpt from Digital Painting Techniques: Practical Techniques of Digital Art Masters, Volume 1 by © 2009 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Painting Techniques can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

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