Dragon Warden

I’ve wanted to do a self-portrait for quite some time now, especially one that I could use as my avatar where I post as an artist.  I’ve held off for a variety of reasons.  One, it feels a wee bit vain.  Second, it felt a tad bit boring as a theme.  Three, I was pretty sure adding some face tattoos and elven ears would get lumped on the #beentheredonethat pile all to quickly.  So when I started out to create a self-portrait, I really did not think it would go much further than a quick sketch.

My lovely wife and I at Norwescon 38 taking our rightful seat atop of the throne of swords.

I had an idea of the photo I wanted to use, as I’ve been working on a number of concepts for awhile now taken from NorwesCon 38 where George R. R. Martin was the special guest speaker.  As one might expect, they had a throne of swords on-hand so all of us geektastic attendees could get our picture taken sitting on it.  So that is where I started.

Self-Portait prior to be going stage left with it.

Like I said, and as you can see from above, I was just looking to do a simple portrait in values only.  But then something funny happened on the way to the play, as it were, and I decided to do a more complete render in color.

Dragon Warden emerges from what was originally just a simple self-portrait.

I sorta love rim lighting, and argubly too much.  But as I added in highlights, I had this sense of the person – well, me, I guess – standing somewhere with strong glow of sunset behind them.  And from that thought, I imagined they might be sitting atop a dragon.  Of course!  Which is how I got into fleshing out a dragon in profile.

Dragon Warden with dragon pushed a bit with some more rendering.

My goal with the dragon was to have enough detail to be interesting, but not so much that it interfered with reading the dragon Warden.  Note, at this point, I’m pretty much flying at the seat of my pants.  As the idea of a dragon warden emerged, I realized the might be wearing some armor, too.  So I needed to go back to the original portait layer in values and add that in, too.  Given I’ve never rendered armor or metal in the past 20+ years, I needed to spend a little bit of time referencing photos found on the inter tubes.

Dragon Warden (self-portrait, v.final’ish)

Again, this was meant to be a portrait of this guy!  So I’m okay with keeping the warden as a bust.  And I’m pretty pleased with the dragon as it provides some interesting elements, and I do not think it overpowers the warden in the foreground.  I’m only sorta happy with the rendering of the chain mail and neck guard, something I might revisit at a later date.  That all said, I’m pretty happy with it, and happy to post it online as my own portrait.

Just in case you are wondering; yes, that is George R. R. Martin and me at Norwescon 38, no lie!  He’s kinda big deal amongst some folks.

Plains Walker, Wind Rider

As often happens, when I’m in longer meetings where I’m mostly listening to others, I will use “doodling” as a way of helping me stayed engaged and listen “more better”.  While it’s in argubly strange to some, doodling indeed allows me to listen better, not worse, than if I just straight-up listened.  

For what it’s worth, I’ve always done this for as long as I can remember.  And depending on the topic in school, such as math, it was my main mode of note-taking; assuming you agree with me that images of eyes, hands, dragons and anything else my imagination could conjure constitutes notes!  

I suspect that since I’m such a visual thinker that when forced to listen to people talking for long stretches, which can quite literally make me hugely irritable, that my doodling provides a stage, as it were, for the words to dance and play until I can finally find a way to make them to settle down in my head.  

I mention all this since this is how this particular piece of art started: in a large meeting of folks with me doodling.  For the record, I only got through the very preliminary concept phase of this piece as my doodling truly pretty unstructured.  Nor I did not start with this concept squarely in my head, but it sorta emerged as I went.  Only later, when I had time in a hotel room and on an airplane, did much more of the refined stages of the drawing emerge, as it were.

Concept, Value Study

Initial concept done in values.  I had this idea of a large fantastical beast, and is my wont, I wanted something that felt organic.  As such, I ended up with the antlers evoking a sense of tree branches and the beast itself made out of gnarled roots and tree limbs all interlinked; at least, that was the intent.  

Refined Value Study

Well, I woke up in the morning and hated (yes, hated) what I had done.  To be honest, I went to sleep hating it.  And woke up hating it even more.  But then in a flash, I realized my objection with largely structural with the plains walker’s neck, or lack thereof.  So with that in mind, I quickly just cut the head off and moved it and forward; it took just a few minutes to get it reattached to the body.  

From there, the rest was pretty straight-forward in terms of adding details.  Given that the antlers were meant to be tree branches, I opted to add a flock of birds resting on a limb.  And since I wanted to connect the human with the plains walker, I rather (too?) subtly had the front left leg’s tree limbs of the beast work their way through the earth and reappear as the human’s “staff.”

Color with details

At this stage in the development I thought I was mostly done, to be honest.  I was pretty content and thought of calling it quits.   There were a few things I did post the above, but I was pretty close to “done”, or so I thought.  

Now, I knew I wanted a wider formatted image, thus the black bars at the top and bottom.  Aside: this was largely a misunderstadding on my part since the app, Procreate, used to be unable to change the document size after creation so I created the bars to remind me of the constraints.  But I kept asking myself: what the hell are they both looking at?  And honestly, I had no idea!  And that was a clue that I was nowhere near being done.

Back to the conceptual phase.

As I mentioned above, I had some wonky image and document ratios going on.  As I was on iPad Pro using Procreate, I thought I would have to wait to get the image and document ratios to match.  And then lo and behold!  I discovered that Procreate can change the document size, and that changed everything! !!!  

The moment I was able to not only trim up and remove the black bands, I added space laterally so I could put something, anything, in the space oppositive my protagonists.   Originally I was going for very much a landscape image, and I had no intention of adding another creature in the picture. This was particularly true when I had the image orientation with the plains walker moving from right to left.  But!  But when I flipped the image such that the Walker was on the left side of the image, I knew I had more of the story to reveal.  This was even more urgent (for me internally) now that I created this widening chasm that needed something for the viewer to see.   It was just natural for me to go back to the concept phase and see what I could discover as shown above with versions A and B of the wind rider.

It is maybe not too surprising that a dragon and rider – wind rider, if you prefer – just emerged in a matter of seconds.  In the above two versions, I’m exploring some nuances in the narrative.  Are they friends?  Are they enemies?  Are they actively engaged in battle?  Or just at the moments before some unholy onslaught?  To be honest, I had no idea.  But as always, I tend to allow my narrative to be emergent.

Plains Walker & Wind Rider (final render)

And this is where we ended with both a plains walker and wind rider.  I opted to make a more menacing human atop the dragon with a more dominant posture along with position on its back – you gotta be a pretty big bad ass to opt to sit atop a flying animal!  Given that the Plains Walker is sedate and not in a dynamic pose of pending battle, I opted to similarly show the Wind Rider as poised with tension, but not necessarily on the very moment of attack; instead, allowing the viewer (you) to decide what might happen next.  

From a technical execution perspective, I also tried my hand at some foreshortening of the dragon’s body and wings – something (foreshortening) that I often avoid since I suck (technical term) at it.  That all said, I’m happy with the wings, especially the wing that comes toward the viewer.  I added a bit of blurring to the wingtip in the hopes of aiding the eye to be more naturally drawn toward the wind rider.  

But while happy with the wings, I may go back to the body at a later date when I’ve had a chance to figure out how to more specifically address, and in particular the tail that I tried to have come out and then recede away from the viewer.  I’m not entirely convinced that the illusion works, and I also think it may introduce some compositional issues for the viewer.

Close up of the Plains Walker.

Overall, I’m actually pretty happy with this piece.  While I find I’m never entirely satisfied with my work once completed, still I think this piece overall works well.  I think there is tension, albeit subtle, between the protagonist and antagonist.  Structurally, I think the composition generally works to draw the viewer’s eye in without allowing to getting unintentionally ejected.  And I‘m happy with the value control and color gamut – especially where I used the same hues to tie certain elements together to create a stronger narrative.  In particular, I think the elements like the flock of birds sitting on the Plains Walker’s limbs tie nicely with the lone sparrow making its way to the human who is holding a staff alight with the same lighted leaves as is streaming from the plains walker.

Close up of the Wind Rider.

I hope you enjoyed this, and if you want to see a quick 60-second time-lapie from initial concepts to final render then scroll down to the embedded video.  Enjoy.

Sky Dragon

The last in the series of dragon concepts I did for C.R. Sandidge wines, I finally spent some time to do a rendering.  While a little less painterly, I thought the balance of line and painterly approaches melded well together.

I did not have a final image in mind, as it were, with the rendering so much of this is purely organic.  Given that I was quite literally flying myself, I decided that the dragon should be flying high above the clouds.  Unfortunately, as I was away from the internet I did not have a lot of good references for rendering clouds at sunset; that said, I think the clouds all said came out well enough.  Nevertheless, on reflection, I wish I spent more time on the clouds to better giver the sense of sunsetting over them.

I had an idea of the dragon have some Asian accents, but I was curious about it have fur over parts of its upper torso, along with the idea of the mane being gaseous and alight in light and flame.

While too late, I sorta agree with others that a closed maw would have worked better for this dragon.  I decided I was “done” by the time I got this feedback, and decided to let is rest as-is.

If you scroll to the bottom you can watch a time-lapse of the dragon revealing itself.  Note, it is a little longer at 3 minutes, but hopefully you find the time well-spent.


Initial pass with some details getting fleshed out.
More progression with the rendering
Final render

Artist Resource no 14: Digitally Painting Light and Color: Amateur to Master

If you recall me talking about Austin Batchelor before, then you are right!  I previously featured him here back on Artists Resource no 10.  And now I’m back with a more specific review of one his online courses found at Udemy: Digitally Painting Light and Color: Amateur to Master.

I happened to take this class while also reading James Gurney’s similarly titled book which I reviewed on Artists Resource no 13; this course interestingly parallels many of the same topic as Gurney’s book.  If I had to take a bet, I suspect Batchelor has used this book as a reference outline for some, but not all, of his Udemy courses.  That is not a judgement, but merely an observation which makes this course particularly well-suited to act as an “unofficial” set of practicals that nicely compliments many key concepts introduced by Gurney.  But, whereas Gurney, and by an extension a book, can only describe how might one accomplish varying forms of light, Batchelor demonstrates this concepts in practice leveraging an iPad Pro and Procreate.

The course, in broad brushstrokes (bad pun?), includes: 1) understanding light; 2) understanding value; 3) light and form; 4) sources of light; 5) color relationships; and, 6) surfaces and effects.  While he is light (again, bad pun?) in some sections, they provide sufficient depth to provide context for other sections where he dives deeper into how to take key concepts and implement them.

A lovely add by Batchelor is the inclusion of the base file used through the sessions, allowing you to follow along by importing into your own version of Procreate (or favorite digital tool).  While his instructions are catered to Procreate, there is nothing specific to Procreate that cannot be translated, if not directly, to other applications.

The repeated use of the same subject material has the benefit of allowing you to build a holistic understanding of how all this techniques and concepts converge; enabling you to understand a single subject more completely than had Austin elected to vary subjects.  This is very similar to Gurney’s use of Abraham Lincoln’s bust, but Batchelor opts to use a bust more suited for folks interested in fantasy art (yay!).  That said, the subject he uses has enough variety to provide ample opportunities, in the last section, to delve into a variety points of minutiae that, while not necessarily profound, really help you develop a sense of depth by layering techniques together.

Assuming you have some basic understanding of light and form already, then the first few sections can be easily skipped over, albeit, I think they do sufficient justice to the topics if albeit in a very summary manner.  Where I think the greatest value can be extracted is from sections on light and form, and sources of light.  This is where Batchelor really shines (no pun intended), as his chosen subject gets repeatedly re-introduced under varying conditions of lighting.  And this is where you can watch in real-time Batchelor apply a specific lighting condition to the subject.  And because the video output from Procreate shows everything he is doing, you also can glean a significant amount of insight from his workflow.

Finally, while I did not think the section on Color Relationships provides significant value, similar to his introductory sections earlier in the course, there is nevertheless value to be had from his final section, Surfaces and Effects.

Like most Udemy courses, I would not recommend paying list price – this is not a condemnation of Batchelor or the course, but more that I suspect Udemy intentionally sets prices high so they can sell them low.  That said, I encourage you to wait till Udemy provides a discount (which feels like all the time), or follow Batchelor himself as he occasionally offers his courses at a pretty steep discount.  But even at its list price, it is not a bad value.  And honestly, if you are getting into digital art and already own an iPad Pro and Procreate, then Batchelor is singularly your best internet resource for getting up to speed on both Procreate and digital art, all in one place.

I should note that Bachelor has a fairly active closed Facebook group where students are invited to share their progress.  He is good at providing feedback, and in this regard, I think he provides a much needed community for every aspiring artist, especially as many of the online communicates for digital artists revolves around professionals seeking eyeballs rather than people legitimately seeking comments and critiques.  I might argue that for some people, the price of the course is worth it just to have access to a closed and curated digital artist community, especially for people still relatively new to digital art.

To wrap it all up, if you have any interest in color and light, and you are also trying to master a digital workflow then Bachelor’s Udemy course is a steal at any price.  I highly recommend you go out and purchase it now.

Artist Resource No 13: Color and Light

If you haven’t already, I encourage you read my post on color theory.

If you are not familiar with James Gurney, you are likely familiar with his works as creator of Dinotopia.  James is an exceedingly accomplished artist, with a well established reputation for creating exceedingly realistic renderings even when the material is often fantastical in nature.

He has written a few books for artists, and I wanted to take a moment to talk more specifically about Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter.  If you are looking for a practical guide to color theory then look no further.  If not the seminal work on the matter, it is nevertheless a tome that any serious artist can afford to ignore.

What sets this book apart is that James introduces concepts on a per 2-page pace.  Each page is filled with examples of the particular topic he is discussing, both from his and other’s portfolios.  His writing is concise and provides sufficient information to help you grasp the key concepts behind the topic.  Generally speaking, each topic lends itself to the proceeding topic such that I recommend people start from the beginning and work their way toward the back, unless you are already relatively familiar with all the topics covered.

In total, there are 12 chapters, or:

  1. Tradition
  2. Source of Light
  3. Light and Form
  4. Elements of Color
  5. Paint and Pigments
  6. Color Relationships
  7. Premixing
  8. Visual Perception
  9. Surfaces and Effects
  10. Atmospheric Effects
  11. Light’s Changing Show
  12. Resources

James starts out by talking about traditional art and how it evolved in relation to color and light.  While brief, this section helps establish how we’ve arrived at the subsequent sections of the book.  Next, he moves on to sources of light, each two-page topic within the section helping you quickly understand what things to consider to render these different light sources realistically.  He then moves onto Light and Form, followed by Elements of Color.  There are a few chapters such as Paint and Pigments, and Premixing that, while I read, can likely be ignored for digital artists.  Nevertheless, even these chapters are, I think, useful to every artist for the simple fact that James sneaks in sage advice on every single page.

What I appreciate maybe most about his book is his rather exhaustive, at least for an art book, list of resources in Chapter 12.  He includes both print and online resources, some of which I’ve referenced in previous posts.

While the book is not intended for a neophyte, the material is nevertheless laid out in a fashion that allows even the uneducated masses such as myself a toe-hold on page 1, and every page works to ensure you do not get lost in the wealth of information and insights James has to offer the reader.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough: go and buy it now!

If you prefer to watch, rather than read, more about this book, then Jason Morgan does an excellent job going through virtually every page of the book.  I highly recommend you watch his review beloe.