The inner workings of a commission

I really liked some of the sketches and ‘milestone’ phases for my recent commissions so I thought I’d share them. As you can see, sometimes the sketch can be loose, sometimes it’s really detailed. Click on the images to see a larger view

NCadet Elthas Sketch 1 -  viking mercenary sketch

One thing to note, sketches are often not fully refined. There will be minor issues with anatomy, some bits might appear more rendered than others. Sometimes clients may get worried that these little things will carry on into the final piece.  The idea is to get enough of the image ‘correct’ so both the client and I can go away at the end of the process happy. This was a case of I wanted to make sure the client was happy enough with me to keep going as it was slightly different from the original brief (not much, just a bit). We discussed some changes around his expression, and playing up the scars more.

NCadet Elthas 2 - Viking warrior sketch

Quite often with commissions I’ll work out a tonal version of the final piece. It allows me to focus on structural details. I don’t bother about all the little bumps and scratches and filigree stuff, this is about making sure the anatomy works, and the image is not going to look too flat. As these were ‘busts’, the face is the character. Sure the costume tells us stuff about their profession, how travel worn they are, for me the face and the expression is what makes the portrait.

Sometimes I don’t work this way, sometimes I just go in gung ho and paint colours directly (so don’t expect to get a fully rendered piece like this for every commission … I swap and choose, some commissions I do pure linework).

NCadet Lunzie WIP -female viking mage

As you can see, I put in enough details on the jewellery to get an idea about how much there was going to be. I hadn’t decided the details for the costume (beyond a fur lined overdress/ cloak & and under-dress) and the goggles were pretty basic. The client asked for some minor changes to her cheeks and some braid/ hair pieces added.

You may notice that there are some unifying elements to the portraits. Both characters, while being polar opposites in many personality, are part of the same world – in this case a world with many Viking elements (though I’ve stretched this to include Anglo-Saxon and Celtic influences – this is a fantasy world after all :) ). There are some obvious links to Vikings – the runes on Lunzie’s jewellery and goggles, the use of amber and bone beads, fur lined clothing, leather armour, use of braids, a Celtic motif on her necklace (they’re based on a bundle of beaded jewellery and my Celtic necklace, plus some Anglo Saxon based jewellery reproductions I wear when re-enacting). The braids are the main visual link (which are shown in the final renders, not here), but I also tried to use similar tones in the metal and leather.

I’ll be doing some future posts on painting scars (nothing gross, just minor stuff like on Elthas’s face), and I want to do a post about armour & costume design as I’ve had a few questions regarding referencing and design. If you’ve got other questions, feel free to drop me a line or comment below!

You can see more on the finished pieces here