The Making of “Supernatural Disaster 5”

Supernatural Disaster 5 - for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

Supernatural Disaster 5 – for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

I was recently given permission to post some additional work from an ongoing project called “Supernatural Disaster.” I’ve been working on this project for some time now with the publisher Centipede Press. I can’t say much about it at the moment, but a first release should be coming soon. Big thanks to art director Jerad Walters for the project!

This piece called for some very evil trees, reminiscent of those found in The Wizard of Oz. Before making any sketches, I like to do my research. In particular, I studied this clip carefully:

What really seems to make these trees so eerie is their very human expressions, as well as the feeling that they are constantly watching. I think the idea that you can’t get away from a menacing presence that seems to watch your every move gets to a very primal sense of horror. It became clear that I needed to have a few evil trees in the scene, to show this sense of being surrounded and unable to escape.

24a 24b 24c

After studying the clip, I began brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the illustration. In addition to the trees, I needed to include a priest character fighting them off with a bible and a vial of holy water. At first, it was a challenge to figure out how exactly I should communicate visually that the water was a kind of weapon. I eventually figured out that holy water is typically carried in a bottle with a cross at the top, and it became clear that this would definitely say “holy water” more than anything else.

I always try to send at least three sketches to the art director with the hope that at least one of the three has a chance of being a decent idea.  After the second sketch was approved, I moved on the fun part – shooting reference!


For the evil tree, super sculpey turned out to be the perfect material to get the reference I needed. I loved working with this stuff and had a ton of fun carving the sculpey into the perfect expression of twisted malevolence.


After getting the tree just right, I hire the nearest model (myself) for the priest character and spend hours getting into character and hunting down all the proper priestly vestments, props and accessories. (Actually, any old book, liquor bottle and a dress shirt will do.) I overlay the reference on top of my sketch in photoshop and then it’s just a matter of matching up the different pieces to create a pleasing composition.


Then it’s time for the final sketch. I try to always take time for this step, even if the reference is really solid. I find that I always add or discard information, so a final sketch is key to figuring out how it’s actually going to be painted.


After all the preliminary steps, it’s just a matter of painting the final and sort of just feels like “filling in”. I had the most fun with getting the tree’s texture just right and used the palette knife to give it a rough, gnarled surface. There is a certain pleasure in scraping the paint onto the canvas that I just can’t get in any other media… I suppose this is why oil paint, despite it’s cumbersome set-up, expensive material cost, dangerous fumes and long drying time, is still my weapon of choice. I guess I have to learn to love it, because I definitely can’t let it go!

I hope you enjoyed my latest “making of” post! Thanks for looking 🙂

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