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Partners, Part 1: BrainstormingBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Figured since it's been months since I've done a good sized fantasy painting, and it's been longer since I've done one with a dragon, what better time than now?
The thumbnail sketches come first, and help me pick a direction to take the painting in. These sort of go around clockwise from the value sketch.
The value sketch was the first idea I had -- I knew I wanted a mage, with a dragon curled up around her. I didn't really like the way the little sketch came out though, so I started doodling around the sides. The pose with the little dragon on the staff really appealed to me, but I decided that I didn't want the mage to take up so much of the painting, and tuck the idea away for next time. Going back to the idea of the mage sitting on the dragon, the bottom sketch holds more promise.
It gets some quick rendering, and after a few minutes I think I can probably do something with it. I scan it into my computer and print out a few copies of it so I can play around with the composition. It's quicker than re-drawing the sketch over and over, which is difficult to do and still keep the same gesture, or feeling, as the original, as well as the proportions.
You can't decide on your composition until you have a frame of reference, so that's the first thing I had to do. I used a ruler to keep the lines straight, and drew the top line first -- I liked the idea of the dragon's head being parallel to the upper border. The left border is close to the tail; not too close, as that would draw too much attention to it. But placing it near keeps the eye from spending too much time in the background. Similarly, the rightmost border is further away from the dragon to suggest that there is space beyond the frame of reference. I decided to crop a bit of the tail with the bottom border, as it was far too square when I included the whole tail.
Now that I have a better idea of what the drawing will look like, I start adding lights and darks. First I decided what the light source would be, and made it the top of the mage's staff; there will probably be some reflected light bouncing around in various places, but keeping the staff the lightest point will draw attention to it in a darker composition. Some darker blocks behind the dragon create some visual interest and break up the monotony of the background.
A quick watercolor sketch will give me an idea of how I want to proceed when I start the painting. The dragon is going to be a light golden color, and the dominant color will be a yellow-orange color, with blue-green darks in the background and warmer ones in the foreground. Note that this sketch was done on printer paper, and so the colors didn't mix very well, and the brush strokes are very obvious.
Time for the line art!
This piece is being done on a watercolor block, 10 by 14 inches, cold press. Since I can't trace when I'm using a block, I have to do the original drawing on the paper I'm painting on.
The very basic outline is blocked in; at first I'm not so worried about drawing the figures as much as keeping the composition similar to the thumbnail – I'm not drawing a dragon so much as I am comparing angles and negative space. Once I have the basic composition done, then I start refining the drawing more, doing the small alterations that need to be done. I'm also drawing this much darker than I usually would so that it shows up better on the scan; otherwise lighter pencil lines are preferable, as they don't show up through the paint later on.
Well that's all for now, next month we'll actually paint this sucker!
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