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.

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