A few months back I was commissioned by Jon Schindehette at Wizards of The Coast to do an image for Dungeon Magazine. The art order called for a creepy scene of a ghoul character dragging the corpse of a commoner through the streets of a dark medieval town. I was really excited about this project since I have always wanted to delve into the macabre with my work, but for general portfolio purposes always felt this imagery might have been a bit out of gamut for the way i wanted to represent myself.
I would like to share my steps a bit with this one. I always find it interesting to see how other artists approach each commission. I sometimes find myself wondering, how detailed do other people do their thumbnails? How many thumbnails? was there a color comp? How detailed was the final sketch?
I know my process is pretty ordinary for approaching a project like this, but for the sake of content and maybe answering some of the questions above for you, here's how I go about it:
I always do thumbnails. I hate thumbnails. I love thumbnails. I find some projects to be really hit or miss for me with thumbnails. Sometimes I can draw tons of thumbnails if i am inspired enough, but most of the time however I have a hard time doing lots of thumbnails. I tend to get stuck with liking my first one best (and usually it's the one that works out best). In this case though I really loved the imagery and could almost instantly come up with a scene from the art description. I think I did about 10 to 15 thumbnails before choosing these three:
The first one shown is actually the first thumbnail I did, and it was actually the one chosen. I usually send three thumbnails for a project depending on what the art director wants. Sometimes more if I can't decide or if they request specifically. These were also toned in photoshop to help emphasize the dramatic lighting.
After the thumbnail is chosen I will then shoot all of my reference. I am usually trying to get as specific with my reference as possible. Also with a piece like this, I want to make sure that the lighting is going inform me as much as possible. From all of my reference I create a final sketch that looks something like this:
Lately I've been doing all of my final drawings in charcoal. Vine charcoal on a pre-toned surface to be more specific. I've found that It is really nice for starting off gesturally and tightening down from there. Also, it's much easier to erase mistakes and change things on the fly. A problem I used to have when drawing in pencil was that I would lose the life in the sketch. Charcoal is much more like painting to me. This one also has a bit of photoshop in it to accentuate the highlights.
Next, usually while i'm waiting for approval on the final sketch. I will do a quick color study in photoshop. I am no digital painter so these tend to be pretty crude, but they do help out a lot.
I find that if I don't do a proper color study before starting a painting I will spend far too much time sitting and thinking about what colors to paint things. This can be annoying and stressful and take up too much time. So I just do one...it helps tons.
So last but not least it's on to the final painting after the art director gives the thumbs up on the previous steps.
This painting was done at twice the reproduction size so about 10x15". I always get a good image of my final sketch so that I can then print it out full size on drawing paper and mount it to my painting surface. Often I will mount the paper to untempered masonite from the lumber yard, but since this was smaller I decided to use Crescent no.115 three-ply hot press watercolor board. After that is mounted with at least three coats of acrylic matte medium, I will tone the whole surface with burnt umber. This automatically gets rid of the white of the paper and give a nice warm ground to paint on top of. You can see the ground color showing through in some spots, particularly between the cobble stones and the barrels on the left.
©2010 Wizards of the Coast
So there's a little look into my processes. Of course it's not always this straightforward, but most of the time it's similar. I have to give a big thank you to Jon for this project. He's a great guy to work with.
Stay tuned for more soon!