Viking & Thirsty Buck

I’ve been following The Tavern of the Thirsty Buck on Instagram for awhile now. I’ve found a lot of the photo shoots they take are a great place for inspiration and reference. While I do not do fanart per se, I nevertheless thought it would be fun to take one of their photos as foundation for a simple project.

Originally I want to basically do a quick study without a lot of embellishment, but as I progressed I realized I wanted to change the time of day to early morning with the sun rising off to the left. And because of its namesake, I added a deer (or buck) to the image.

I’m not entirely happy with the inclusion of the buck, though. As I watching Shadow & Bone on Netflix, the stag in that series influenced elements of the buck here. That all said, there is something off about it that I cannot entirely place.

I cannot entirely pinpoint it, but this image is less dynamic than I would like. I need to spend a bit more time analyzing some of my most recent works as I’m noticing a pattern, especially with images that include more of the body just do not have the same punch and execution as close-ups.


Kailynn is a half-elf who comes from an affluent merchant family only find herself on the road after a devastating loss of both her husband and child whom she has buried both. Now without family, but through her tragedy, she has found a new purpose to find and heal those in need.

After consulting with the person for whom this was created for, we felt the above actress, while recognizable within the fantasy community, nevertheless was a good archetype for the portrait we wanted to create. She has a particular quality about her that I think represents those elven qualities of beauty, while drawing in the viewer as she look back to her past even as she is turning toward the light and her future.

I wanted to have her wearing some that was both elegant, given her background coming from a merchant family, but also something practical and somber given where she is coming from great loss.

I opted for a more muted color scheme for Kailynn, but tried to bring in highlights brought in from the rim lighting as a nod toward the hope is looking for on the road.

Fey Eladrin

Forgotten Realms’ Eladrin including fey elfs who, after centuries of living in the Feywild, have adopted to their new existence including the ability to change their appearance to fit their mood, assuming characteristics of the season.

It’s a great concept, especially as an artist, as it gives me a chance to portray a single character multiple times, all with different color scheme and emotional subtext. While I’ve yet to do that with this character, I wanted to incorporate Autumnal colors into a female.

I followed my typical process of sketching out what I wanted, then quickly blocking in values while adding details till I was satisfied I had enough to begin the coloring process. As with previous pictures, I used a gradient map to help establish a foundation. I then added a color layer over top, knocked back to about 20% opacity. I did a lot of additional layers of Add and Multiple as I tweaked the original values a lot to bring out details I did not have originally. You can see this specifically with the hair which had no highlights in both the gradient map and values, but you can see in the other versions.

You can see that

Unnis Kilyax

As with Stone, I started playing a bit of D&D 5E after supporting Camp D&D Online on Kickstarter. Whereas Stone is a bit of a stretch for me as a melee fighter, Unnis is entirely my jam: magical glass canon.

Given that I’ve not played D&D since the 2E, I opted to go with Dragonborn as a race. And more so, I elected to be a sorcerer given that, too, is new to me, at least for pen-and-paper D&D.

At the moment, Camp D&D Online is largely one-shot games so some of the role-playing in a campaign setting that would normally span multiple, even dozens of play session, is absent. In this regard, you can certainly approach the games as largely an opportunity to go min-max and hack-and-slack play-style. Nevertheless, as much as possible I wanted to have a backstory for Unnis with some thoughts on how I want to develop the character, even largely just for my own entertainment.

Unnis was excommunicated and driven from his clan when his latent sorcerer powers emerged rather suddenly in his teenage years. Unaccustomed to his ability to wield magical forces, in a moment of lapsed judgement he loses control resulting in the death of a clan member. At first he sought solace amongst the cities of the other races, but being dragonborn, he was largely shunned as both outsider and threat. For the past decade he has lived largely in the wilds, lost in his own thoughts as he wrestles with his past while seeking atonement and reconciliation with his clan. Years on his own has given him a lean fighter’s physique, although he is more prone to deep contemplation and quick wits than taking on a more direct route to conflict resolution. My hope is to eventually multi-class, and have Unnis take on the paladin class as he seeks to redeem himself in his and his clan’s eyes as a means to atone for the mistakes of his past.

I found it challenging, at first, to figure out how to tackle a portrait of a dragonborn. Without any obvious references, I resorted to using the skull of a bear as the basis for his headshape. I’m actually quite pleased with results of this choice, as it pushed me to create a dragon-esque features that are not a repeat of other dragons I’ve drawn in the past.

Some of the reference photos I used to draw inspiration from in order to create Unnis Kilyax.

I took my usual route of first establishing composition through line-art. Once I had a good idea of the major elements, I blocked in rough values. This helps me understand if things are working at a macro-level without a lot of fuss or muss. It’s pretty trivial at this stage to change lighting in a matter of minutes if I do not think things are working. Once I get my values roughed in, I just start to refine my values while removing lines till the values themselves take over with their own shape language.

While I have, in the past, done a more painterly approach of just blocking out the shape language and values at the same time, I’ve found that my brain just loves working with lines first. I keep pushing myself to not rely on lines, but for now this seems to yield the most consistent results for myself.

I will continue to refine and add details to my values till I feel I have all the details I will need before I move on to adding color. I opted to using a gradient map as my first step to ensure that as I apply color using a color layer, that I avoid the pitfall of coloring over grays as my values. That said, I also develop my values using grays as its just easier to select grays from a colorwheel. Alternatively, if you do not want to or cannot use a gradient map, then minimally shifting your grays to sepia make a tremendous difference when you apply colors over-top. Until recently I did not entirely appreciate the value of gradient maps. They are a really powerful tool as you can avoid almost entirely the use of multiply layer for shadows and add layer for highlights since the gradient map itself provides these necessary hue shifts for free.

That said, after I rough in my colors. Without a gradient map, this can actually take a bit of time to make things look natural since again you must use multiply and add layers similar to cell artwork. But with gradient maps, this can take as little as 2-3 minutes. I then like to start adding punch through the delicate application of color burn and add layers. For me, I really like high contrast images with some deeply saturated areas with strong highlights. I’m also a chump for doing subsurface scattering (light bouncing below the surface of the dermal layer (this is what makes your hands glow around the edges if you put a flashlight behind it), so I intentionally extended Unnis’ ear out a bit so that I could show some of this with the top half of his ear and his foreground horn.

For this image, I used gaussian and perspective blur (I used Procreate for this piece) to both the foreground and background horn to help provide a sense of depth. I also applied this to the lower torso and bottom part of the staff to help draw the eyes toward the face. I did this by duplicating the layer, then removing everything except elements I wanted to blur. I used Procreate’s ability to apply blur by pen so I could provide graduation to the blur since items will start to come into focus as they get near the focal point, something that you cannot achieve if you apply blur to the entire layer.


I recently started playing D&D 5e on Camp D&D Online after backing it on Kickstarter. I tend to play magic users pretty much any chance I get, so for a change of pace I thought I’d play a melee character. For point of reference, some 35 years ago was the last melee character I played was a dwarf fighter with big dreams of becoming a paladin. It should be noted that this was in the days of 2e where such things were not, per canon, allowed. And as you might guess it with a bunch of teenagers, the DM refused so I just roll-played as if my dwarf would some day catch the notice of a human paladin who would induct me into the eternal order of protectorates. It never happened. Dwarf prejudice was a real thing, kids.

Before you worry about me, I also created a dragon-born sorcerer by the name of Unnis Kilyax, for whom I will illustrate later this week. But for whatever reason, I started with my first fighter in decades creating a warforged warrior who woke from a scrap pile of their brethren without memory of its past. Stone exudes a child-like innocence that sits uncomfortably with the fact that they are an elite, two weapon wielding mercenary which its named Sword and Axe. Warforged, if you don’t know, are decidedly simple and direct in all things including the naming things.

When I started sketching Stone, I thought I might go with a more straight-forward rendering using line-art and cell-shading. However, I really did not like the line quality, and I started to tweak I ended reworking the entire piece to be a more painterly rendering. Once I got done and let it sit for a few hours, opting to change some subtle shading around the mouth along with details on the face that I think help keep the eyes on the face.

Given that Stone is a walking automaton with a body that is effectively a full-body suit of armor, it did not make sense to have them wear a helmet. Interestingly enough, I hate the hood as an element from the perspective of character design, but I never figured out a better approach. I struggled how to convey that Stone was a fighter in a portrait, thus why I added a sword-like symbol over the forehead as a compromise. Admittedly, there is an error of mystery with the rather organic elements of the hood with what is otherwise an entirely metallic and mechanical humanoid.