My latest painting, “Guardian” was a new exploration into character and environment. For me, the setting is akin to another character in an ongoing story, rather than a simple backdrop that plays second fiddle. I went through a lot of mockups to figure out how to best interweave these two elements and spent a whole day just sketching for this piece.
With this piece, I actually started working with existing pieces of reference in Photoshop first and then made a sketch of them afterwards. For some artists, this is a no-no; they would advise starting ideas with rough sketches straight from the imagination first, then shooting reference to match those, whereas this process is the reverse. I don’t actually think there is anything wrong with starting with photo reference first. I “sketch” just as much in Photoshop, grabbing pieces from photos that I need and throwing out what I don’t need, and arranging the elements as I see fit. A lot of editorializing goes on and I try to avoid being a slave to the existing images.
I actually visualized this piece having smoke plumes in the background at first. I thought an extra element of drama and narrative was needed – perhaps a disaster on the edge of the tranquil forest that our guardian satyr is the first to witness. As I painted the piece, I realized it wasn’t necessary. Still have that itch to paint some far off smoke plumes though – I think I tackle that in another painting.
I then made a final drawing of the assembled reference collage. Getting the satyr hooves to look convincing was by far the toughest part. My reference image was great for the hair on the thighs (a handy thing, those hair pants), but I still needed to figure out how to get the hooves to look like they were capable of bearing weight. A lot of goat images via Google helped out, and the horns of the Nubian Ibex provided inspiration as well.
I don’t have a lot of progress images with this piece, but a few of them here illustrate my thought process. I wasn’t sure at first how to resolve the tree – you can see that at first, I left a lot more detail in the branches in the first progress image on the upper left. They were too distracting though, and I realized the tree needed to lead the viewer’s eye to the satyr and provide a sort of “border”. Sometimes, a painting from another artist can help – in this case, I consulted a cover painting by the late illustrator Keith Parkinson, “Changeling War.”
Keith has done a great job in directing the viewer’s eye. The tree needed to lay back for cover text to go on top, and this works to lead the overall composition to the young warrior interacting with the man inside the tree. I took a note of that – and, admittedly, the purple flowers too. Purple is just a great compliment to green! Looking back, I can see how one might even think I started my painting with “Changeling War” in mind. I swear, I didn’t. I just happened to find it in an art book and realized Keith was facing many of the same problems I was having.
I think “Guardian” maybe be one of my favorite character portraits so far. I love taking old archetypes and recasting them in new and interesting ways. Creatures from Greek mythology are so iconic that they can be reused in almost any way. Medusa, you’re next! (maybe)