Environment Painting & Design | CG Master Academy

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Environment Painting & Design

An 8-week course focused on creating stronger environment paintings based on a narrative of the student's choice

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Create strong environment paintings

In this follow-up course to Environment Concept Design, students will be diving deeper into the elements that make up a good environment painting—from values, lighting, and design to composition and colors. The goal for this course is to gain a deeper understanding and mastery of the intricacies of environment painting and design, specifically for the video game and feature film genres. A longer-term project will include design tasks as exteriors, interiors, establishing shots, and design call-outs.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (any), Wacom tablet or equivalent
Skills level:   Advanced
Prerequisites:   Perspective, Environment Sketching, Fundamentals of Environment Design, Environment Sketching for Production, Fundamentals of Architecture Design, Environment Concept Design, OR advanced digital painting and environment design skills

Environment Painting & Design WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Introduction to the class | Importance of drawing, values, vs colors | What is a value? (Value scale, Values vs colors, Value relativity, describing form) | Show hi-key paintings and low key (show on value scale) | Show concept with few details but great values | Value design (master paintings example) | Demo 1: Value design study of master's painting | Demo 2: Low Key Painting | Demo 3: High Key Painting | Demo 4: Paint mid-tones first then extremes
Classical rules of composition (theory) | Presentation of books | Master painting composition studies | Adding drama with cropping | Play with camera angle | Positive and negative shapes | Strong lines | Notion of contrast (shape, value, size etc) | Overlapping and tangents | Object/shape repetition in space | Demo 1: how to find interesting compositions with happy accidents | Demo 2: Refining a composition
How light behaves | Vocabulary of lighting and analyzing lighting references | Value relationships in ambient light vs angle of the plane | Demo: Painting light on simple buildings
Color wheel | Vocabulary | Harmony | Warm/Cool | Local color vs color of the light source | Demo: Paint simple colorful object with light & color, color & emotions | Presentation of my book "Art Fundamentals"
Color corrections over B&W values | Glazing over B&W | Finalizing B&W sketch and how to color it with different techniques | Painting from a color reference
Introduction about what the differences are from interior and an exterior shot | Demo: Painting (in color) an interior shot with at least 3 different light sources
What are edges in paintings? | The four different types of edges | Show examples in master paintings | Edges in shadows | Edges for shadow form vs edges for cast shadows | First: Demo with the study of a movie screenshot with only one opaque, hard edged brush. Second: Reworking the edges to get a final painting and realize the power of edges
Checklist (correct painting at the same time) | Demo: Blow up small part for details | Vary color temperatures and values for any plane | Add precision in form | Work on edges | How to get help from the use of photos.

Taking your skills to the next level

Gilles has been a Senior Concept Artist at Ubisoft Montreal since 2007. He has spent most of his time working on the Assassin's Creed games since 2008. Gilles also has work published in books such as "Digital Art Masters" (vol.7, 8, 9) and is a co-author of the book "Art Fundamentals" (3D Total).

Student interviews


April 18th!

Spring TERM Registration

Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021




April 18th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

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Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

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We can help with admissions questions, portfolio review / course recommendations!

The Practice of Painting

Interview with Nick Harran

Nick Harran  is an aspiring concept artist who shares with us the creative practices he learned and used in Gilles Beloeil's Environment Painting & Design course.

The Practice of Painting

Like a lot of people in the concept art field, growing up I was very much interested in video games and movies. I loved the different moods, colors, and worlds these places would take you. So obviously when I found out this could be an actual job I had to give it a shot. Rewind it back a bit; I live in Long Island, NY and went to Queens College. There isn’t a wide array of entertainment design schools here like there are in California and even then, they’re still out of my price range. I never thought I could actually be good enough to become a concept artist, so I figured I would just have to settle on becoming a graphic designer. However, even after graduating, and working, I still wasn’t totally fulfilled. I wanted to become a concept artist. And now that school is done, I realized I could now just work at it on my own. But bills still need to be paid! So I then got a job as a painting instructor at a paint bar where I still work today. The hardest part about working in Manhattan was, after working a long day and commuting, I never had the energy or the drive to further my concept art education even though I knew that was what I wanted. I did everything from watching youtube videos to buying books to get an education on my own, but it just wasn’t the same. I had no one to interact with, get critical feedback from, or even just hold me accountable to a deadline. Then I came across CGMA and everything changed. I could still maintain my schedule, my job, and my life, while saving money and not quite moving to the other side of the country just yet. I found that it was the most cost effective way to get an education in concept art and environment design and start myself on the path that I always wanted. 





I have actually never done this exercise before and found it tougher and more engaging than a typical study. Generally when doing a photo study I can fall into the habit of shutting my brain off and copying, which is something this prevents you from doing. You have to think more about the local value of each object and how that would be affected by different lighting scenarios. So definitely more brain power is required. 






So the assignment for this week called for 9 thumbnails, I submitted 21 and did about 100 in total. Because you’re exclusively working in black and white at such a small scale it’s really fun and easy to just keep pumping them out. Obviously there are quite a few duds in there, but since you don't spend too much time on each one, you forget about it, try not to repeat that mistake, and move on. I don’t know about other artists, but when sketching, I always fall into the same compositions of giant castle or fortress on one third and a little explorer on the other third. In order to combat this my instructor, Giles Beloeil, suggested using different overlays on our layers of thumbnails to get different arrangements of light and dark shapes, some “happy accidents” and something we wouldn’t have necessarily thought of before. This definitely helped with breaking up the same old predictable compositions. I also referenced some photos here and there to get some inspiration on some smaller shapes. 





For the different lighting scenarios I tried to hit those ones with the sharp contrasts and strong diagonals of light blasting through the scene, those always read nicely with the darks over light and lights over dark. I also tried to get different directional lighting with the sun directly facing the camera. Then to go in another direction I went for different weather and night lit scenarios. I would say similar issues came up as the week 1 assignment, and that was trying to stay accurate to how the light influences the local value and to the extent that it does. 







I always found coloring one of the most complex things to tackle. When working from life or from reference the color is right there, you just have to capture it and make it better. When working off of a black and white sketch, you either loose all the vibrancy in your colors or lose the readability that makes the black and white so great to begin with. So it’s definitely a balancing act. When doing a traditional painting I start with a wash of color. Giles suggested doing the same thing with a color overlay layer, to start the shift in your thinking from black and white towards warm and cool. I also overlayed some photo textures and broke it up with the mixer brush to help get a more traditional feel and break away from the sterileness you can sometimes get with digital medium.



While working on coloring, I broke up the big shapes, mainly the beam of light shooting across, figuring with a rocky beach it wouldn’t just be a crisp line. It would also pick up the little rocks and the medium rocks that were there and that would help add more interest and depth than just one giant rock on a beach. 





I really liked how my exterior shot with the pirate and the ship came out, so I wanted to continue with that theme. I love the cinematography and lighting in shows like Blacks Sails, in the cabins with the captain and crew standing around a table, scheming; the color that’s something like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with the teal color grading for night scenes to give a dark and ominous mood. From the beginning I knew I wanted the big glass windows with the teal moonlight shining through. From there it was just a matter of placing candles and a chandelier to highlight the pirates at the table and then my third light source, which was a candle at the closest desk, to highlight some paraphernalia and bring in a more life to the scene with objects. With such a small space the depth can be hard to sell. So I tried to think of it no differently than I would selling depth in an outdoor space, in that I pushed what was in the back of the room further back by lighting it up and really creating a fog in the room to help silhouette and push back some objects. 








The heavy lifting for the paintings was mostly done, but having a couple weeks in between revisiting them, along with the instructor’s feedback, you can easily point out the areas that are lacking. With a fresh pair of eyes you can more easily spot errors with value, shape design or even story. While having one gunslinger in a canyon is cool and all, adding another creates a story. Is he meeting an old friend? is it an enemy? and ambush? Just things, that while you should be thinking about at all times, can slip your mind. 



The checklist he provided was a tremendous help. Like spell checking an essay, going over the checklist forces you to evaluate the painting with a more specific goal in mind. Instead of asking yourself “does this look nice?” you’re asking “Is there an entrance into my painting?” or “are there any tangents?” With more specific questions you get more specific answers. You can call the piece done once the painting has passed each of the tests and you feel like adding more wouldn’t necessarily “add more.” 
 On my original pirate cove painting, Giles pointed out that my darks were in competition with each other, flattening out the scene. So during the polish up, I lightened up the rocks with some glowing orange bounce light from the sand, pushing them back and the pirate forward.





I think the overall skill of taking a concept from an idea in a thumbnail to a fully realized painting was improved the most during this course. He walked us through his methods and workflow that resulted in a final piece that was both readable, but also retaining a sense of painterly touch that I found really appealing to me. I thought both the thumbnails and the polishing assignments were the most fun. For the thumbnails you just keep working and you’re not attached to any one particular piece so mistakes are okay. You also don’t have to work out all the little stuff quite yet and get bogged down by local values, lighting, color, etc. The polishing stage on the other hand has all of that worked out and now you can just have fun making the piece as pretty as possible. The hardest assignment I would say was definitely the interior shot. For starters, it has the most line-work, perspective and precision involved, and when you get to the coloring and lighting stage you have to think of it differently and more in depth than you would an outdoor scene because any light source inside isn’t nearly as strong as the sun, so definitely quite a bit more calculation going on with that.
The experience I’ve gotten from the 7 courses I’ve taken previously at CGMA absolutely helped me with this course. Not only has it given me a workload and some hours under my belt, but I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way and already knowing what doesn’t work can help speed up the homework quite a bit. But if I had to pick one class in particular I’d say it was Marco Bucci’s Color and Light course. He thoroughly breaks down different lighting and color scenarios and how that interacts with everything in your scene and I believe that knowledge translated to a lot better work in my Environment Painting and Design class. My biggest tip to any- one that would like to take this class is be prepared to put in the work, and then do extra. If an assignment calls for 10 thumbnails, do 50, if it calls for 4 studies, do 12. That doesn’t mean you haphazardly do more for the sake of doing more, but do more than is asked, put in the hours, put in the effort and it will help you out tremendously.
Website: Nickharran.com 

Painting with Passion: What it takes to transform a blank canvas

Interview with Gergely Fodor

Gergely Fodor breaksdown his design process and what it takes to create digital paintings in Gilles Beloeil's Environment Painting and Design course.

Painting with Passion: What it takes to transform a blank canvas


I’m Gergely Fodor from Budapest, Hungary. I studied graphic design and am a long-time designer and art director in the advertising industry, currently running my own creative agency. We have an in-house film production company where as an art director I’ve been involved in about 50 TV commercials over the past 10 years. My passion has always been to create something new out of every blank canvas and to keep learning new skills, be that a new software, a new form of design, or even a new musical instrument! 

Why did you choose to take this specific course? 

There were two reasons I started to take classes at CGMA. One is that in the very near future I’d like to focus more on movies as a concept artist and as an art director. I’m taking part of CGMA’s Environment Design Program, and since I love painting it was an obvious choice to start with Environment painting courses. The second reason is that I want to spend a lot of time in the long-term with what I really love: traditional painting. I haven’t done that for a long while, and at CGMA I’ve already learned a lot of useful techniques (even though they are digital ones) that have given me the confidence to get back to the canvas after such a long pause. 

Before I started taking CGMA classes I did a couple of digital painting courses which are available online (e.g. at Gumroad, Schoolism, watched Feng Zhu’s FZD videos on YouTube several times, etc). But after a while I realised it’d probably be more productive if I could have real, live contact during my studies with the teachers and other students and also I needed to feel the pressure of deadlines. So I took the Foundation of Environment Design course first with Hueala Theodor, and then Environment Design and Painting with Gilles Beloeil. Hue and Gilles are amazing artists and teachers, and wonderful people, whom I’d like to make a point of thanking for all the effort they’ve put into these lectures, and the amazing knowledge they have passed on to us during the courses. 



How many thumbnails did you do in total? How many weren’t shown in class?

Thumbnailing is probably the most important part of the process because this is when you come up with the stories and ideas you’re going to tell through your images. I liked the way Gilles worked on his thumbnails. He took a soft and slightly textured brush and started to block out the big shapes. He would do 10 or 20 of these abstract images while looking for a composition or an idea he could capture. 

He also had some tricks which were quite inspiring: changing the layers’ blending mode to Multiply, and starting to randomly flip and rotate them on top of each other. In this way he accidentally created fantastic new images. 
Sketching each of these thumbnails took me about five to 10 minutes and I think I did about 100 all together for this week’s assignment. We had to upload 15 and then select two from this shortlist and start detailing those. 




How did you try pushing your designs in this preliminary stage? 

I tried Gilles’s brush technique to create thumbnails but although it was very exciting to watch how he worked, quite frankly I didn’t feel comfortable with painting the same way when I tried it myself. I couldn’t seem to find ideas that way so I stopped there, and started to think what should I do differently to find my own flow. I think it’s more important to try to adapt the ideas that you learn during these courses than try to stick with them if you don’t really feel that they are exactly the way you ought to paint. So I started searching for thumbnails created by other great artists in different ways and tried to get inspiration from them as well. I wanted to find a way to create very clear visuals with simple strokes and big, contrasting shapes. So I finally got to the point where I created a list of rules for myself on how to draw these images with a consistent look. And when I felt I’d found a graphic style that was comfortable for me, the ideas suddenly started to come more often. 





What concepts of composition did you try to emphasise? (classical rules, lines, focal points, overlapping, etc.) 

All of these! The contrasts between the big shapes are major things to me in the way of finding the right composition. First I have to figure out what’s going to be important in the image and what’s not, and try to play with the size of the shapes so the different focal points become clear. I like to stick to Edgar Payne’s composition rules or the rule of thirds, but this week Gilles also introduced a new technique - for me, at least - which gave me more room to place the different objects in my images. 

Did you find any “happy accidents” while sketching?

Some, but actually, not too many. In many cases I already have some kind of idea in my head right at the moment I draw the first lines. Sometimes I find new shapes when I try to sketch randomly but most of the time I feel as if I already have some blurry image in my mind in the beginning. And when I start painting, the image gets clearer - or many times not!




What lighting setups did you do? What challenges did you face while painting them? 

The task this week was to create three different lighting setups for each of our two previously selected paintings. The challenge in this practice was that I almost fully had to re-paint the images a couple of times. I made up a rule for myself before the course began that I must learn how to paint foliage somehow. During this week I figured out that I hadn’t tried to take the easy route: re-painting all the forests and leaves again and again was a very hard but great fun at the same time. 




I didn’t want bright daylight in my images, instead I tried to stick to the stories with the lighting as well. I felt that it’d be great if the light source came from behind the mountains or the trees, to give a slightly mysterious atmosphere to the image. Finally I placed the situation in the night because I also wanted to see the lights coming through the windows and that way elevate the scene’s mystery a little more. 



What techniques did you use for coloring? 

I like to use layers a lot and I always try to keep them well organized. I use a lot of masks too. As far as possible, I try to keep the mask of every detail. I separate the layers in folders named by the subject (e.g. BG, MG and FG) and inside the layer folders I add more folders to each object (trees, grass, clouds, etc.). This way it’s pretty easy to find what I want later and it’s easy to change whatever I’d like to change. So I either make a selection of the mask and paint the colors on a new layer, or I select a layer I’d like to color, add a new one above, and make it a clipping mask. When the amount of layers begins to get overwhelming, I start to collapse them, though I always try to keep as many as I can, not losing the opportunity to change anything even at the last moment. But in general, when I colorize a grayscale image I almost have to paint the whole picture again, but using masks makes this repaint process a little easier though. 




Were there tips you got from the instructor that you incorporated into your process? 

Even though I’ve spent my whole life working with Photoshop, Gilles taught me plenty of new tricks which I never had to use so often before. He showed us a couple of methods to colorize a grayscale image. I loved how he used the Curves for 
coloring things through masks for example. It’s such an easy way to make corrections too, cooling the shadowy parts or making the sunlit parts warmer. Actually this technique was so handy it really made the whole coloring process much easier for me. 

Did you make any changes while you were adding color? Breaking up shapes, improving readability, contrast, etc. 

I kept changing the painting until the deadline because I could never be totally satisfied. After a while it’s easy to get lost in the painting and it’s a great idea to have an occasional break so you are more likely to spot what’s wrong, when you come back to it later. Also sometimes when you see the picture in color, certain shapes get a bit more dominant than you wanted, so you have to adjust their position or shape, or size, etc. Coloring the image is a big step forward, but if the values and the composition were right in the first place, I found I didn’t usually have to touch the major parts, only the small details later. 





What was the inspiration for this shot? 
The role here was to create an interior environment with three different light sources placed around the scene. First I thought about what kind of light sources might be interesting to use. I came up with different ideas, such as where the floor was one of the light sources, or there were interesting lights around the walls (an aquarium lit from behind for example), or someone was holding a torchlight maybe, and so forth. But I just couldn’t come up with a story for a while. And then I thought about how much I love jazz and jazz clubs and this prompted the idea of someone at closing time in a bar watching someone singing on the stage from beside a pool table. This scene gave me a couple of possible sources for lighting the interior that I liked. 


What atmosphere/mood were you creating? What led to your color choices? 

Wherever in the world I travel it’s my passion to visit the most famous jazz clubs I can find. So I tried to remember places I’ve been before that could help me to create a nice mood. I love Ronnie Scott’s in London, and the Village Vanguard or the Blue Note club in New York, but this time I tried to capture a smaller club’s atmosphere while putting the situation into a fictional environment. 


What was the most helpful tip/tool you used while completing this assignment? 

There are two focal points of this image, one is the guy at the pool table, and the other is the girl on the stage. They both had to have characteristic lighting, and I added those little table lights that are supposed to connect the two characters together like a bridge. And then there’s the bartender in the mid-ground of course. I had to take huge care with various rules on a lot of bouncing and reflective lights, not mentioning rim lights which were pretty hard to solve (I couldn’t) and so on which was great fun. I found it extremely helpful to use 3D objects to create the scene, since interiors can be tricky to paint from the imagination in such a short time. So first I took freely-available 3D images of furniture from the net and bought some others for a couple of bucks if necessary. 





I spent some time creating the scene and finding the right camera angle. Then, once I was happy with it, I just made a screenshot of the composition. It was important not to texture or render anything at that stage. The purpose of creating the scene in 3D was just to save time, and give myself a guide for sketching the outlines. A great tip from Gilles was that if you feel you can’t paint some parts successfully, then take a picture and paint that! I was struggling with painting that wrinkled leather jacket on the guy from my imagination, so I shot a picture of a friend in the ideal position and used that as a reference, which was fun (Thanks, Tibi!). 





In practicing your edges with master paintings, have you changed how you look at your own work? What edge changes did you make to your Week 8 design? 

I had been waiting impatiently for this week since the beginning of the course. When I first started to do digital paintings I wasn’t worrying about edges at all. In fact all my paintings looked very messy because of all the soft brushes I was always using. And It was a huge mystery to me how all my concept artist heroes created those crisp, sharp looks on their designs. Then I learned a couple of techniques such as using the lasso to select or draw shapes, or creating sharp masks, or simply using only sharp brushes - which I’ve found the hardest thing to do at the time (I became very confident with that in this course). But unfortunately these techniques made my paintings too sharp at every level of detail, making the image look totally surreal, and more like some sort of illustration instead of a realistic image. I took loads of trouble trying to find a way to solve this problem but I just had no idea what could be the solution. 

At the beginning of this course Gilles had told us that we would be learning about this issue in Week 7 which made me very happy, because I felt this would be a game-changer for me. So then we first started painting studies of classic movies but with only a round, sharp brush. Everyone had the chance to choose any screenshot of a movie they liked. I tried to keep the previous weeks’ lessons in mind, so I looked for images from movies where I loved the composition and the color harmony was nice. I was also looking for images with low or high key values just to apply everything we’d learned so far. 




Finally I picked a couple of cool images from movies and DOPs I liked, and started to paint them with a sharpie. I think I’m a perfectionist in some ways and I can easily get lost in the details sometimes, so it took me about 6-8 hours to paint each of these images properly. 
The next task was to take these paintings and try to blur the edges where necessary, using different techniques. The Blur tool could be used here as well as picking soft brushes and starting to soften the edges so that they were not in focus, or should I say not of interest anymore. That’s because in real life where - as the saying goes - “perception is choice”, there are sharp edges only on the particular thing you are focusing your attention on at the moment, and elsewhere it’s more ‘out of focus’. After this practice we had re-work the edges on our own images as well. I really felt that I was elevating the quality of my paintings. I think working on the edges is one of the most important subtasks of them all. 



What is your approach to design? 

The Idea must come first! For me the most important thing is to have an idea behind what I create. If there’s no story or thought behind a painting (or for that matter any kind of creative product), then the viewer will have no clue what to look for, and will quickly lose interest in the work. So I always try to create some sort of story before I start painting. The story doesn’t have to be grandiose, for example in the Fallingwater house (I named it after Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture piece which inspired this scene) there’s this guy who could be a burglar who’s waiting for the lights go out in the house so he can break in. Or in the club scene the guy might be in love with that lady on stage, or he may be the owner of the place and the girl is auditioning, or anything like that. You don’t have to be very specific because it’s good to let the viewer to figure out the whole story, but I still like to have something in mind when starting to paint. 



What details did you add to push painting(s) further? 

Gilles asked me to go into more detail with this painting. The house was quite sterile in that all the walls were crispy white and straight and if you give such a design to the CGI developer guy in the production pipeline he’ll try to make it look exactly like your painting, which will probably result in a rather boring and artificial look in the end. So even though I like to keep things minimal in general, I tried to make the edges and the surfaces of the house more uneven with textures and cracks on the walls. Also the windows looked the same, they were evenly lit and textured, so I had to separate them in design by changing their values, adding shapes, and other tiny details. 



I had a lot of trouble painting the foliage. I ended up painting the trees’ leaves with a textured brush and I’m still not happy with the result. Gilles also suggested I use 
Photoshop Shapes to mask the edges around the hills in the background. This helped me out a lot because it was quite messy before and I didn’t really know how to fix it. 


Giles provides a checklist to review your work. What steps do you take before you call the painting done? When are you satisfied? 

The check list Gilles gave us is very important for painting an image successfully. The way it works I think is that as long as you keep these rules in mind from the very start of a project, when you go through the entire checklist at the end, you won’t have to make significant changes. Overall I think it is interesting that as you go forward with your studies you always need to keep in mind everything you’ve already learned, whenever you start work on a new painting. For example you learned about composition in Week 2, then about lighting in Week 3, color in Week 4 and so on. Every time when you work on a new subject you still need to have all the previous rules in mind. I generally try not to get over-excited with what I’ve done because I know that in the evening I usually think it’s so cool, but the next morning I can miraculously spot all its faults. If I have the time I close the image for a while and see what I think about it the next day. This overnight test always works for me. 



How did you apply the instructor’s feedback? Can you give a specific example? 

Gilles always gave me very detailed feedback and clearly highlighted the weak points in my paintings, telling me specifically what, how and why should I do certain things differently. I always took notes while watching his feedback videos, and when I was correcting the assignments I was going through these bullet points one by one to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. During the course there were only a few comments of his that I did not agree with 100% at the time but later I realised he was always right, of course. 
I come from the graphic design field and there were a few buttons in my head I had to switch to a new setting in order to succeed in this course. One of the most important things was that as a designer I always have to simplify everything in order to deliver a single message to the audience which means that in a lot of cases I have to use very simple, repetitive forms and maybe as few colors as possible, etc. But in environment painting it’s different: in nature repetitive forms are rare so I had to get this attitude out of my head and start to think very differently and try to apply a kind of abstract form-language to my work. 

A good example came when Gilles pointed out that all the trees and benches on the left side of the image were very similar in terms of shape. I didn’t see it that way in the beginning, but I took his advice and re-painted that part. And the next week he made the same comment again. And so I cleared those layers and re-painted them once more. This went on for weeks. Strangely enough, I wasn’t upset about it at all, although this was a tricky part of the painting because of the number of layers I had used, and all the foliage I had to re-paint again and again, a process that could be quite exhausting after a while. But instead I was very curious to see what would come out of it - and again Gilles was totally right of course: the forest started to look more realistic after a while. I kept getting this comment about repetitiveness from Gilles during the whole course and so I worked hard to eliminate this bad habit from my practice. 

What are the main skills that you have improved on from taking this course? 

This was the second course I took in a row at CGMA on the environment design topic, and the biggest result has been that now I dare to paint anything I can think. I clearly understand the process of creating environment designs from scratch to the final painting, although I realize I still have to work on so many skills to achieve the level of performance I aspire to. I managed to come up with my own approach to thumbnailing and I learned how not to always use textured brushes but mostly to use only simple, round ones. Taking care of edges was also a great lesson which helped me improve a lot I feel. It was such an honour to work with Gilles, not to mention all the amazing classmates I had the opportunity to watch creating all those fantastic paintings. I found the whole course so exciting I was broken-hearted when it was over! 

What assignment was the most fun, and which one was the hardest? How did you overcome those challenges? 

Seriously, every single minute of the course was great fun. If I had to make a choice (which I can’t, really), I think I most enjoyed working on the thumbnails in week 2. I find it pretty exciting to open a white page and just start sketching and after a short while you start to go with the flow. Ninety per-cent of the sketches will probably be useless, but the other 10% might be a great start for a new painting. Painting foliage is tricky for me so the hardest part was trying to learn how to deal with that issue. At first I tried a lot of texture brushes, but later I learned a couple of techniques that I can apply in my paintings now. 

What prior experience do you think helped you most going into this course? 

My early traditional art studies definitely helped but they were quite a long time ago. I think I have fairly good drawing skills but I hardly remember a time when I had to draw or paint traditionally during my career except those cases when I had to sketch layouts quickly or those very rough storyboards I had to do sometimes. I’m creating concept images in Photoshop every day, but that’s totally different from painting an environment from scratch. I really have to sharpen my pencil if I want to get to the top. I think I heard this quote of some great artist (J. S. Sargent maybe?) from Hue Theo for the first time and it’s so true: “Your painting is only as good as your drawing.” So in my spare time I sketch at every opportunity, I re-learn anatomy and draw figures on a daily basis and just recently started to paint gouache and watercolor too. 


Do you have any tips you could give other artists that would like to this class? 

On the website I recall it said that one should expect to spend about 8 to 10 hours on watching lectures and working on the assignments. In my case I worked on average 20 hours a week minimum on the projects, but when the assignment was trickier it wasn’t rare for me to spend 40 or even 50 hours per week on them. It meant no going out, no weekends, no sleeping, not much of a personal life, but it was still worth more than I can say. It was indeed quite hard to manage with my full time job and my friends and family on the side and I’m so grateful to them for this. I was so obsessed with doing it that I couldn’t wait to sit down to my Wacom Pro each night. On some weekends I was itchy and distracted when I had to do something else instead of painting. I know it’s a huge cliché, but it’s totally true, if you want to improve, it’s strongly suggested to have this kind of hunger and put as many hours into the work as you can. 

I have to take at least five more classes to be able to participate in the Visual Development and Art Direction Mentorship and that way completing the 2D Environment Design Program - I’m looking forward to that challenge! 

You can see more from Gregoely here:



Mastering the Technique: a visual breakdown into an artist's development

Interview with Vladislav Andonov

Vladislav Andonov tells us how Gilles Beloeil's techniques for painting helped him gain a new perspective and hone his observational skills in Environment Painting & Design.

Mastering the Technique:  a visual breakdown into an artist's development


Hello! My name is Vladislav Andonov. I’m from Bulgaria. I don’t have any art school background but I’m investing most of my free time in self- education of art. My love of art started about 10 years ago when I ran across a video of Feng Zhu. He explained what concept art means and like most of us I was intrigued. Don’t get me wrong, there came the hard part because I wasn’t able to draw at all and there are no specialized schools for the entertainment industry in my country.

Then I researched any information from where to start. That is how I built my fundamentals, dedicating months to it, until I started to understand how the light works, perspective, composition and more.

Now I’m doing illustrations for book covers. I did a few small concept tasks for an indie game as well.  I’m constantly learning and recently took Fundamentals of Environment Design through CGSociety. This is my second CGMA class as I’m very interested in concept design. It was easy for me to choose Gilles Beloeil’s course as I’ve seen some of his work before and love the moods he creates and the way  he plays with light. 

Introduction and Values

Even though I’m familiar with the most common concepts of values I’ve never done these specific exercises before. Giles made some good points about the importance of values for a good image read and introduced value design as part of the composition process. Value design was very interesting and made me look with new eyes when analyzing images for my studies. I’m really grateful about this first weeks' lessons.

From the stack of images available I worked through four in total. I did low key and high key value studies.  My notes of what attracted my attention and why I choose them is scribbled on the image.




If you don’t know how to start a drawing do it with small sized images. It was fun and easy. The images happen quickly and there is not much worry about mistakes. In minutes you’ll have a variety of ideas to pick from and variation to explore in values. It is good, if possible, to solve most of the composition problems at this stage. 

I didn’t have any idea of what I was going to draw so I relied on lots of “happy accidents”. What I did was letting my hand explore shapes looking for any scenes or something that made sense to my imagination. Once I had the prime idea I pushed and pulled elements to rearrange the drawings that fit, at least, the rule of  thirds. I did add and change shapes to support the area of interest. 


In order to explore alternative version, I also took an image and pushed the idea further. It didn’t matter if I changed it completely. I was looking for interesting and better solution. In case you get stuck on an idea, Giles shared some of his clever tricks to break this moment. A few of my thumbnails were created using this method.



I admit, as a self taught artist I may be missing knowledge or techniques. I suppose even with an art education I couldn’t know everything right? Classical rules, used by old masters, that Gilles introduced were new to me but they were interesting and gave me more possibilities in composition.




The slopes of the trunks are following exact lines from the grid. The next slopes and the fishing rod are not placed exactly to the lines of the grid but they follow near them by angles. All of this leads to the character which itself is placed on an intersection of lines. Then with Gilles’s help I rethought the silhouette of the left and right sides. They were a bit similar in volume so cutting from the right side and adding to the left solved this issue. 




For me the challenges here were deciding which light scenario was best for a scene. We can play a lot with it and it can be used as a tool to support the composition or ruin it. 



In example # 2 the light rays are peeking behind the rock and hitting our character. He receives rim light on his silhouette and it creates a strong contrast in our area of interest. I makes him easily noticeable. We can also follow the rim light down the hill and the lit river back up to him. In example #3 we have the opposite light play and an emphasized silhouette . Again easy and noticeable. There is a line on the left rock created by the light and shadows back to the character.  In #6 we have a shadow from the trunk. My intention was to make the viewer follow the dark value of the shadows to the character. Here I noticed one more thing- I have a pointy tangent. Tangents like this have to be avoided.



Color Techniques

I would like to say I’m good at coloring but I’m not. I’m very crazy with my coloring techniques and very destructive when I paint. I’m not a big fan of coloring from a black and white image. Usually I start with a sketch and then straight to colors. But for this week I tried the techniques Gilles suggested. I’m always open to new stuff and I’m here to learn after all. I can say, with some of my works it turns out nice and smoothly but for others I made mistakes. I’m okay with that; with mistakes I learn. 

Usually I work better if I have an image for color reference. It is easier to plan the colors. For this piece I liked this monochromatic reference but I put some blues and greens to balance the palette and to emphasize the two areas of interest. Also in this stage of coloring I still worked on the composition to improve it. I changed shapes, characters, added new elements, anything it needed.




For the next image I used a coloring technique Gilles showed us. It turned out really smooth and I’m happy about that. I’ll definitely practice his techniques to master them. Again I had a couple of images for reference but his time I was picking colors by eye and not using the color picker.





This next piece was a real pain in my butt. I chose to work from the original thumbnail. It has potential and I envisioned a gloomy look but I made lots of mistakes during the coloring process. Overall I shifted the main values down and lost the value structure from the thumbnail. Then I tried to save the image with different light. It could have been beautiful but it was not what was in my head. I guess at some point I gave up on this piece. 


Even disappointed from my failure above, I was not discouraged. I drew one more from scratch for this week- a cold post-apocalyptic environment. It was more overcast day, no direct sunlight and shadows.





Interior Shot

This week was a nice break but also a challenge since I don’t draw many interiors. For the first interior I took a thumbnail from week 2. I liked it almost instantly. The design of the lines was very loose and organic. Some sort of sci-fi scene in a structure deep down under the water. I used the coloring techniques from Gilles and it went quickly. The colors choices were taken from bioluminescent sea creatures. In a complex scene with three light sources I always deal with the main or dominant light first. Then I take care of the second and third in strength. Keeping some order helped me not be confused with the lights in the scene. Gilles also provided good lessons that guided me this week.


For the second interior I was inspired by Film Noir. I like the triangle hierarchy of character in the  shots. I also had a clear idea of what I wanted to draw. I started with a  rough, loose sketch then jumped into values. I worked with Gilles' lessons on light sources starting with the sun and bounced light from the floor. The red lamp was last. I wasn’t sure about the presence of the lamp but gilles feedback suggested I crop the frame. It is not necessary for every light source to be present and with the crop we worked for a better composition. 



 Final Thoughts

With Gilles's help I redid a couple of things in the composition for my red planet exterior. I broke the majority of vertical lines as well as the rocks behind the main character. For  the slope of the debris, instead of leading the viewer out of the frame, now it is in the opposite direction and I have an entrance that leads to the focal point. 




For me it is hard to draw a line and say “It is done”. Before this course I could always doodle around, add details and rearrange stuff but Gilles helped me in understanding the final stages. Now I can treat my work with a more professional eye. The only thing I need is practice to master it.