The Making of “Sierra and Mercury”

Sierra and Mercury – 18″ by 24″

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.


My latest painting is a commission of a friend and his roleplaying character. This collaboration actually started about a year and a half ago when his father contacted me regarding a portrait for his son as a birthday present. As is often the case with private commissions, it was some time before I was actually able to meet with the client to determine what sort of portrait would work best.

At first, I planned on doing a simple head shot style portrait of one character, but we ran into a bit of a problem. The father assumed his son would actually look like his roleplaying character – but the character in this case was actually a woman, and totally different in appearance. It would have been a bit awkward to present the final portrait, saying “here’s your son’s portrait – it’s actually a totally different person…”

Hence, a dual portrait was going to be more appropriate – the son, Sierra would be primary and his roleplaying character, Mercury would be secondary. In a way, I had two clients instead of one, so I needed to fit the expectations of both.

Mercury Redwick character study

In a strange way, I ended up focusing a lot more of my attention initially on the female character. She had an entire backstory, with detailed equipment and armor, so I needed to get that right. Sierra’s character, on the other hand wasn’t as well defined, so I invented more of his characteristics.

I actually committed a serious flaw in drawing Sierra’s character in this stage, but didn’t notice it at the time. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to his forward left leg, and how it foreshortens into space.  I would soon learn the error of my ways…

This drawing error persisted all the way into the final painting stage until I showed this piece to a few people and received feedback about the issue. I took a hard look at my original reference and was horrified to see just how badly things had gone astray. The moral of the story is: get that drawing right before going to painting! A bad drawing never makes a good painting.

In the end, it all came down to that tricky, foreshortened left knee of the front character. I repainted the armor on that knee several times over, trying to get it right. Only after I reshot a reference image with homemade knee armor was I finally able to figure out what was going on there!

The above timelapse video shows it all. At 3:27, the course correction happens – it’s still a bit painful to watch! I shared this on facebook, and after receiving feedback that people were curious about what I fixed, I decided that this post could serve as a useful educational piece on how paintings go wrong, and how they get fixed.

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