Art Spotlight: Arcane Sanctuary

Back to overview


Hi my name’s Josh, I’m a 3D artist originally from Hamilton, New Zealand. I initially studied 3D animation at Natcoll Design Technology, a tertiary education school in Auckland when I was 18. It didn’t quite stick so I moved back to Hamilton, met an amazing, beautiful woman who would eventually become my wife, worked a dead end job I hated for a year or two, and decided to give 3D another shot! I moved back to Auckland and studied at Media Design School for 3 years. Ever since I’ve been working in the New Zealand games industry (it’s been 4-5 years now!). I currently work at A44, which is located in Wellington (we recently released Ashen!). I have worked in various roles in the industry, from environment art, to level design/layout, to enemy encounter design, to VFX (my current role!). In my spare time I enjoy lazing around with my three cats I’ve accumulated; I also really love animals, especially cats and their toe beans!

Hand painting is a passion of mine that I like to keep up outside of work! At home I mainly use Blender for the entire workflow, model-unwrap-bake-texture! I love Blender’s texture painting tools, they are very robust. I usually have to find an idea I think might be cool so I can get passionate about it and retain enough motivation to see the project to completion. This phase of concepting and then starting/stopping projects, losing motivation and throwing them into the project graveyard happens a lot, but when I find the fire inside for something, it consumes me and I don’t stop until I get it done!

For this piece, I really wanted to give myself a challenge and make something with mostly unique UVs to practice painting light direction; the UVs are about 96.33333% unique (a lot of painting D:). I also wanted to pick a couple of main colours to use throughout to give the environment a distinct feeling. I fit everything in the scene on 4 texture sheets (minus the clouds, they were added at the very end of the process). One of the challenges when unwrapping and packing a lot of UVs together is to make sure you have good resolution across all objects for painting.

Inspiration for this scene was a medieval setting, I wanted to work with blues and greens so a snowy/desolate/gloomy setting felt like the right kind of vibe to go for.

A quick ref board of castles and rocks!


I knew I wanted a snowy/desolate vibe, but I wasn’t quite sure of what I wanted exactly. Something I tend to do when fleshing out a blockout is to model something, take screenshots of it, paintover, refine, block out more, take more screenshots, paintover, refine, block out more, etc., etc., until I am somewhat happy with it. You can see how the idea evolved with the more time spent! It is important to reiterate ideas in general whenever you are working on something. Often the best ideas come from refinement, not the first iteration!

Once I’ve modelled most of the elements I’ll start to think more about light direction for painting. At this stage I’ll usually add some lights in the scene to get a good idea of where the light would hit and where shadows are cast. I save off an image of something I think could work to refer back to when painting!


Circled are the places where I snuck in some reusable UVs, saving painting time where possible and where I could get away with it.

The only UVs that are mirrored and not unique in the scene are highlighted with green. If I mirror UVs I usually try to sneak it in and mix it up with a few unique UVs to hide it. For example, some of the planks are using maybe 5 different textures/UV shells, 2 that are mass replicated throughout and then an extra few unique ones covered in snow to give an illusion that helps break up repetition!

A closer look at the wooden planks, you can start to see some repetition in grain, snow, etc.

All of the scene smooshed down into UVs (minus the clouds!). I like to force a lot of UVs into squares/rectangles when unwrapping for diffuse-only stuff, it helps to maximise UV space!


My general workflow for painting is to block out colours, get a coat of paint on everything, and then reiterate from there. Something I do all the time is to take a screenshot and then take out all of the saturation inside of Photoshop to check my values. It is important to make sure you have high values, contrast, saturation, etc., wherever you want your focus to be!

Always start big. Block out colour and light first, then define shapes within that colour. For example in the picture below, I started with a rough paint of the roof and some values and colours I wanted to use. From there I started to paint in shapes of tiles all over the roof, keeping the underlying values and hues from the intial blockout of paint, while iterating and building up the diffuse more!

An early coat of paint, fleshing out light and base colour/palette

A few things that, in my opinion are a must when texture painting with Blender is changing the default colour wheel! You can do this in user preferences…

Changing it to this layout (Square (SV+H) gives you much greater independent control over values/hue/saturation!

There are two brush curve types I often use while painting, the soft round and hard round. To achieve these in Blender it is as easy as manipulating the curve, found within the tools tab/curve when in texture paint mode….

I think it is also important when painting a diffuse-only style to keep in mind that geometry also acts as a rough guide for painting! For example, to save myself work, I wouldn’t model snowfall that would occur in between every crack, or when one part of the geometry meets another, if the silhouette supports it, you can get away with a lot of things. As long as you keep in mind light direction and material properties while painting you can suspend disbelief and be semi-lazy at the same time!

The amount of time you can save by making sure your model has enough silhouette to support painterly illusions is awesome!

Also, a way to completely ignore seams between UVs and increase painting efficiency is to turn off these options: Occlude, Cull, and Normal. Doing so lets you project paint right through objects! This helps clear up any visible seams that may not be covered by pixel bleeding for any reason.

Make sure to turn these back on after you have finished clearing up seams, otherwise you can really end up making a mess!

The Final Steps Inside of Sketchfab

I like to do posts inside Sketchfab to see anything I may have missed during the painting phase, and I use the final Sketchfab output to take beauty shots for my portfolio! Another added bonus that I find with post correction is that I can take notes and compare what I had to make up for in post compared to my painting/finished work. For example, in this project, I mainly used post-processing to up the contrast and increase the darks (saves me from re-painting everything) and add a tiny bit more ambient occlusion that I didn’t get painting. I take mental notes of things like this to try to improve on in my next painting project. A personal goal for me is to always strive to do better in my next paint, so being critical of my work is a must. If you find you are looking at your project with glassy eyes, ask for some feedback from someone with a fresh perspective. I can guarantee there will be something brought up that you missed!!!

Thanks a lot for this opportunity to give some insight into my work/workflow. Hopefully someone took away something useful and is maybe swayed to give Blender and hand-painting a go!



About the author

Josh Rawlings

Josh Rawlings is a 3D artist originally from Hamilton, New Zealand. He currently works at A44 games, located in Wellington and has a passion for Hand painting and Cats.

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Related articles