Sunday, September 30, 2012

Paladins are so OP

The motivation

I've been thinking about companies I could approach while looking for work. Paizo came up naturally - their main product, Pathfinder, seems to be very popular with players and all the good artists work for them. (gosh, what shallow reasons, right?)
And I thought they may be easier to approach than let's say Wizards of the Coast.

So a few months ago I started going through their art, trying to pick out something I could do, to show I can do their IP and do it with my own twist.

I'll admit, I've never cared that much for paladins. I never had Keldorn in my party in Baldur's Gate II, I never played one in tabletop roleplaying games. Playing a paladin felt almost as a cheat, they were great fighters who could also heal, turn undead and bless. (Yeah, clerics also, I know.)

Still, I really liked the design of Seelah by Wayne Reynolds. Seelah is one of the iconic characters in Pathfinder and I chose her for my portfolio illustration.
I liked the whole backstory with the paladin helmet, I liked her hairstyle, the fact she used a sword and shield and most of all - the confidence the artist painted in her face and posture. This paladin will smite evil and chew bubble gum. She just happens to be out of gum at the moment.

It's quite interesting to go through the Paizo blog and see all the different interpretations of this character by various artists:

The painting process

I began by doodling Seelah's angry face while gaming with friends. (note - drawing just a head and then trying to use it in the final drawing = bad idea)
Then I struggled with the pose. I wanted her to be cutting up some undead, in that Japanese style where they're already falling into pieces as she's finishing her swing.
The pose I am not too happy with. For one, an overswing this huge (that it tips you out of balance) is a no no in swordfighting. I should've probably gone for something with legs spread wide, stable, heavy and powerful looking.
But I also wanted motion and the destabilizing power of holy wrath to show through in the composition. So I went with this one. (in the end, as it often happens with my battle poses, I found out I've been ripping off Frazetta big time)

The next step was a drawing of the whole scene (in ArtRage) and a rough color study (in PS).

Mmm, yeah. Ghouls swarming behind her, ghouls being cut up into pieces in the foreground. So far so good, although in hindsight this was way too loose. (which I came to curse later)

I dove right in. You can see I rendered Seelah's face completely, while other parts of the image are almost blank. Yep, that's not a good thing to do either.

For some reason I decided to add knives to the ghouls. I don't remember why exactly, maybe I thougth the left arm was almost hitting a tangent with the cape and instead of changing that one thing, I added many other. Yeah, strange idea, not sure it worked very well. (I lost that implied circle in the composition, got a sort of a teardrop shape though. That's not too bad.)

Next step is a big jump, I didn't save the progress in between. I rendered a lot of the ghouls in both foreground and background, Seelah's armour and FINALLY decided to do something about that lazy looking cloudy background. (yay for ruins)
The armour I ground my teeth over. I adjusted the arm pieces a bit, because  I couldn't quite see how it would all hold together and move properly. The legs I couldn't do for a long time, the exposed knee is just not right (in my very humble opinion). I don't remember why I didn't put in some kind of inner knee bowl, or a piece of mail sewn to her pants, maybe to stay true to the design.
Anyway, lots of little bits and pieces of equipment to be painted on Seelah, that's for sure.

Then it was a matter of rendering more ghouls and dealing with the shiny flame path of her swing.
Right. If I planned this right, the sword would've been nearly white and the brightest point of the painting, the trail being sort of faintly visible. This way I had a very red hot iron looking sword and a blindingly bright path. What now?
Color Burn layer to the rescue! (in ArtRage! I very rarely use fancy layer modes in AR, but this time was a necessary exception.)
You may also notice there was a weird face thing under the shiny path in the previous version. I only noticed that near the end and almost by accident changed it to Seelah's tower shield. I quite like the idea she swung so hard her shield straps got torn and the shield flew from her arm. (win by accident? \o/)

Then I exported it into Photoshop, tightened up a few places, fixed values where needed, added a bit of glow, pushed contrast and hightlights. Voila! It's done and I need to not look at it for a few days. ;)

This painting hasn't taken longer than usual, but I painted it in bits and pieces when I had the time, mostly during weekends. This is a bad approach for me and it only made it more complicated. By the end I wasn't pleased with it at all and simply wanted to have it over with. I realized the many mistakes I've done and that fixing them would simply be a waste of time. So I bit my forearm and pushed through.

A good lesson it was, I have to plan better before I actually start painting. It didn't end up as horrible as I feared though. Especially the Color Burn layer at the very end made it jump from "what the hell am I doing with this?" to "Oh. I kind of meant for it to be like that in my mind.".

We'll see if it helps me get some work for Paizo!

Thanks for reading if you made it this far! :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oh the Banter, Lord!

If you haven't noticed by now, I adore the Mount&Blade series of games. And joy oh joy, yesterday the sequel to MnB was announced - Mount&Blade: Bannerlord

I was so happy I decided to spend a Friday evening by painting a bit of fanart. We have no idea what the setting of the game will be like, but I took it in a general mix of migration-era way, slightly Germanic/Arthurian and viking vibe. It was also a good exercise for trying to get faster and more efficient at painting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's alive!

It's alive and well.

What is? The Creature of course!

Recently I've had the wonderful opportunity to paint a new one for me - the Frankenstein monster!

The most generous and busy Jon Hodgson passed me this opportunity - to work with Iain Lowson on a cover image for his Dark Harvest anthology.

What if Frankenstein got it right? What if Victor Frankenstein had embraced his discoveries rather than seeking to destroy them?...
Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein is a detailed, fascinating game setting, a terrifyingly plausible alternative history and a fiction anthology; a gothic horror fantasy that will appeal to gamers and the general public alike. 
 The brief I got asked for the Creature watching a Promethean train (the flaming hand logo included and illuminating the rail tracks) from across Danube (over the Iron Gates gorge), looking grim and powerful.

Which is quite the compositional puzzle. Here's what I sent Iain along with the sketch.
The image as described in the brief gave me quite a headache. There's a compositional issue as well as a narrative one - how to show both the train and the creature (and their interaction in the story), as they're important elements, clearly at the same time?  
At first I did a more of a landscape shot and angle - behind the creature's shoulder, silhouetting him against the moonlit gorge with a rather tiny train going along in the distance. That felt a bit boring, as there wasn't much motion in the train, we couldn't see the design, Promethean logo and all that. Nor could we see the creature's face with his "grim look".

I looked at the previous covers and was intrigued by the first one - the idea to combine different shots into one image and create a collage. I've never done this as the kind of illustration I do isn't suitable for this approach. But here it seemed like it might work.

Trying to tie it even more into the existing material, I used a similar angle for the train bit as it appears in the comicbook page I have as reference. I put the creature on a rocky slope, actually climbing, or hanging off the rock. (hoping to put some latent strength and implied force in his pose)

The sketch was approved and I went from there. The Creature turned out to be a joy (!) to paint. The face (which is a part I always spend the most time on) was done in about half an hour! 
The train on the hand took a while. I haven't painted a train before, and even this one is more of an idea of a train, rather than something actually functional. Steam implying speed and movement and the train's lights also proved a bit tricky to paint.

Iain liked the final result, but felt we needed to make it more obvious the Creature isn't massive and dangling right above the train. To do that I lightened up the seams between the two parts of the image, putting more distance between them. I also added a colour shift, from a greenish moonlit side of the gorge to a colder blue one where the train is going.

Here's the final cover! (as always, painted from scratch in ArtRage Studio Pro)

Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fabulous hats and feathers

A short post today. I hope I'm allowed to show this (Jeff will let me know if not, I'm sure) - it's a page from my sketchbook, which I drew during the Splash conference last weekend.

(You can see me draw it a couple of times! :))

The sketches are of the Feathered Queen, a character I'll be painting for the upcoming "Guide to Glorantha" book. This character has been drawn and painted before, most recently by none other than Jon Hodgson:

I wanted to do my own take though. I didn't have any reference on me at the time, so there aren't that many Scythian/American Indian elements present. And the design will be different in the final painting, but I'm glad I explored the idea of fabulous feathered headgear and what shapes it could have.