The Making of “Dana & Goliath”

Dana & Goliath - 24" by 18"

Dana & Goliath – 24″ by 18″

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Initial thumbnail sketches.

I promised a “making of” post for “Dana & Goliath” a little while ago – so here it is!

When I have a germ of a narrative idea for an illustration in my head, I always start out with very loose thumbs to establish a super basic composition. My sketchbook typically gets covered in scrawls that look very much like the above. I really wanted a strong gesture in the halfling swashbuckler as she defeats the ogre tyrant, and I finally landed on a sort of leaping, triumphant gesture that hit what I was looking for.

Digital grayscale value study.

Digital grayscale value study.

As this piece was turning into a pretty complex scene, I decided to fully flesh out a grayscale value study to really nail the parts where I wanted the most visual emphasis and establish elements that needed to fall back as supporting elements. I didn’t use to do this sort of preparatory work, but I’ve realized that it is a huge time saver on a piece like this. Working digitally lets me really tweak the contrast as much as necessary, and one of my favorite tricks is zooming way, way out on the piece to see if it still reads properly. The is a great test to see if a composition is working – if you can’t differentiate the major shapes at the size of a postage stamp, chances are it still won’t work when it’s enlarged to a double page spread.

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Still works!

Next step - shooting photo reference.

Next step – shooting photo reference.

All told, I used about 15 different photos that I composited together for the entire image. Some are just images I pull from online sources for a quick reference on how a rapier sword handle looks, or to how an aged wood barrel appears. I don’t copy these verbatim, but rather just look at them for quick notes on texture and form. Other references are much more literal, like the figures and also the castle interior itself.

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Its a little hard to tell here but this is a model constructed from gator board and drawing paper to get the proper perspective for the castle interior. I wanted the look of a medieval wine cellar, and this called for rough masonry walls and paved stone floors. Getting all those bricks in perspective was a tricky prospect, especially when they were so obscured by all the various objects in the room. The best solution turned out to be a physical model because I could control the lighting very easily. Some artists prefer 3D software like Maya for this, but I like getting crafty – it’s super fun and feels like I am really building an actual space.

Final sketch before painting.

Final sketch before painting.

After compositing all the reference together in Photoshop, I made a final drawing to really get details established. I didn’t bother with values because I had already established those in my earlier value study, and was mainly focusing on accurate proportions and proper perspective.

When I finally transferred this drawing to the board, I had almost already painted it in my mind because I had done so much preparatory work. That may sound bold but its how I actually feel sometimes when a piece requires this much reference shooting and model building. I worked on “Dana & Goliath” on and off over a period of three weeks in between other projects, and solid 20% of that was just the prep work.
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From sketch to final.

From sketch to final.

I hope you enjoyed this “Making Of” post as much as I enjoyed painting “Dana & Goliath”!

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