Ria - Tiefling Palading from Dungeons and Dragons

I love Dungeons and Dragons commissions. The world is so rich, there are so many playbooks, and unlike many visual RPGs such as Guild Wars or World of Warcraft, I'm designing a character from the ground up.

Recently I worked on a commission for a client I've worked with several times in the past. This time, he wanted a representation of his Tiefling Paladin, Ria (there's a long back story, but it's not mine to tell :) ) Being a tiefling, they have horns and a tail, and often times coloured skin that's not quite of this world. The skin and hair colour was very fixed in the client's mind and he provided some artwork as a reference, as with the symbol of Lathander, her God/ religion.

I always start with a couple of thumbnail sketches. In this case it was 4, but because I plan on reusing the poses I'll only show the one that we settled on. At this point they are really rough, the armour was combined from some different thumbnails, and the background was from a different sketch. You may be able to see some of my redlines from the pencil sketch this started from.

Unless the client says to go full fantasy, I try and keep the armour relatively realistic - that being said it is fantasy! I mix and match things from European 15th-16th century 

 Thumbnail sketch

Thumbnail sketch

This is the original sketch. Her horns were more pronounced and her tail longer. I hadn't designed the sword or fully worked out the background. This was a relatively simple background. We worked through a couple of different horn concepts and changed the tail length 

In this instance I decided to keep the armour standard steel, and focus on the background as defining the armour light. Lighting can really change the mood of a piece. Most clients tend to want portraits to be fairly well lit and not so gloomy but I always like to provide a few options

This is the final painting. Because it is not a detailed background (and the client wasn't charged for a detailed background) it is fairly painterly and more suggestive of a forest. It also helps push the character into focus. A lot of time was spent rendering metal!

 And here's a closeup of the face. This full painting is painted at 8.5 x 11.5" @ 300 dpi. 

And here's a closeup of the face. This full painting is painted at 8.5 x 11.5" @ 300 dpi. 

If you want your own character commissioned, go to my commission page to see my pricing and some previous examples

Balancing a day job, freelance illustration and illness

I started this post a few times. It was long and rambly with a lot of talking about art college and the beginnings of the internet business model. I decided to scrap it all and just keep it simple. I started making some notes about things I've learnt along the way, and I'll be re-posting over the coming weeks some old articles I wrote for EMG Zine/ Part time painter blog where I talked about specific techniques I've tried at one time or another to try and help productivity.

As a bit of background:

  • I've had an art business since 2003 when I got my first website and ABN. Most of my art income comes from painting commissions, though in the early days the majority came from originals and print sales
  • I've worked part time since I was 16, starting full time work in IT mid 2003 after several years full time study at university. I was still studying part time while running a business and working full time. I made a conscious decision to work in IT as I am one of these people that can't just be consumed by art... I like constant learning and being mentally challenged. The art business is more than just painting - you are an Entrepreneur, a one person shop. It's a lot of work and I tip my hat to all full time artists. 
  • I don't have a partner or children. So guess who gets to do all the chores :D But I have a cat who does not understand boundaries
  • I got diagnosed with my illness when I was 17. I was misdiagnosed for probably 10 years until my physical and mental health hit rock bottom about 10 years ago. It's a managed condition. I see doctors regularly, I'm on daily medication, I go through good patches and extremely bad patches. People judge you for it - especially as it's not a visible illness, and aspects are completely misunderstood. I daily have to manage what I eat, how many hours I sleep, and try and keep my stress low - yeah, work in IT, that's a low stress job! 

So here are some high level thoughts on balancing multiple hats.

According to plan...


Knowing your limits and setting boundaries

You know yourself better than anyone else. When you are not doing the art business full time (or don't have a lot of support), you are doing it around other things - family or work or illness. You have to be realistic about how much time you actually have for your business... and then think about how much time you have and whether you can actually commit to every spare hour you have. 

I get home from work quite often after 7pm at night after working a standard day. I have one day off a week that many weeks is half taken by doctors appointments. After getting dinner and getting my crap together for the next day (in theory there's cleaning dishes, maybe doing a load of washing) I am left with not a huge amount of time. I can't stay up late. My meds make me tired, plus I need sleep or my condition deteriorates. I sometimes will answer emails, do some social media, write a blog post, pack an order... but most of the time I've learnt I need to have wind down time for myself. I might game for half an hour or watch some TV or read a book. Years ago I used to come home, and paint or study until midnight. Nowadays I can't.

Knowing my limitations, I've come to the realisation that I don't work quick enough for freelance gigs like game cards or company illustrations. It's why I do private commissions because I have more control. I've only done one illustration for a game when I was overwhelmed and probably didn't have the energy. It took longer than I wanted (though there was no strict deadline), but I always felt bad about it.

What are your priorities

Priorities can shift at any time of the year, at any time in your career. Your business has to be fed and nurtured, some times it will take more energy than at others. You have to make a commitment to it. But, that doesn't mean your priorities are going to be consistent. When I first started, prints and products were my priorities. I had to change my priorities when the margins became really narrow and I worked out I effectively had 3 hours on a Saturday morning in which I could get to the post office. You would think this is plenty of time, but what happens when a family event comes up, you get sick, you have to go to a shop that's open in the same time but on the other side of town.

Priorities also are about what makes you happy or gives you satisfaction as an artist. You're compacting your art business time down into maybe a few hours each night and possibly part of the weekend. You will begin to resent your business if you feel like you are coming home to more work. Or you'll burn out.

Think about what it is about the art business you want to focus on and don't apologise for it. As long as you are professional, carefully consider what does and doesn't align with your priorities.


One of the things I did badly when I started was reacting to things, rather than being prepared in advanced. I'm moving my print sales pretty much to fulfilment as the time cost for packaging items and going to the post office, even for one item is worth less to me than time spent painting. But while doing lots of print sales I found that sitting down and preparing a stockpile of prints, buying backing boards in the right size rather than hand cutting to size, and using prepared templates instead of a custom one all save time and energy. I used to have stickers for shipping labels but these days I've changed directions so don't do huge amounts of physical sales.

For commissions, I have contract templates, I should have canned email responses but I don't. I do however try to make my information about commissions clear and concise. Consider having a FAQ page... I think mine hit the dust when I rebuilt my website, but I did make a post about image usage because that is what I used to get the most emails about when I was first starting out. 

Also set up client expectations up front early. I have worked out I have to chunk work into thumbnails, sketches, and then the final painting. I give an estimate for the work explaining roughly when I'll be checking in, and try to stick to it. Unfortunately things don't always go to plan as you can't prepare for being sick or your computer dying, or thunderstorms preventing you from working digitally the only day you have off! 

Learn to say NO 

I cannot stress this enough. If a commission feels off, don't take it (working with a day job means I can be a bit choosy). I still take on work that occasionally the interest wears off on part way through, but I've learnt that some work or some opportunities can be energy vampires. When your time is limited, you do not want to be stuck doing something that takes up time you don't really have and makes you resent your creative business. Most of the time something else will come along that better aligns with your priorities anyway.

If at first you don't succeed...

There are dozens of techniques for improving productivity. Pomodoro, time-boxing, those tools that eliminate distractions, Rescue Time (for watching how many hours you spend avoiding work...) Try each one, and if it doesn't work, move on. Just be prepared that some things will work, some things won't. You are trying to work smarter, not harder. 

Build in down time

You are not a machine. You need to have fun. It is healthy to paint your own personal work, go to the movies, have family days, go on holidays, exercise (bleh), do things that you enjoy. I probably paint less these days because I game more than I used to when I first started my business, but I need that time where I'm not thinking about work. It's my thing that I look forward to. You have to have something you enjoy doing outside of work and family.

And don't feel guilty about it (unless it's interfering with deadlines and you're procrastinating)

 Build in downtime... go to the beach

Build in downtime... go to the beach


Don't compare yourself to full-time artists!

Oh man am I bad at this. When I don't feel like I've improved in years I have to remember other artists have a lot more time to practice their craft. They are working constantly in the arts industry... it's like comparing a top level athlete to someone who plays football on the weekend. It's OK to be slower, it's OK to have smaller sales and make less money, it's OK not to get the awards, it's OK not to have thousands of followers. 

They are working at it all the time. If it bothers you, turn off social media for a while and just paint or do something that makes you happy. I found that I had to stop looking at Instagram because it was seriously depressing seeing people doing amazing art all the time... and me painting maybe one full painting in a month or two. I stuck with twitter because there was more words than pictures, but I still could connect with other artists.

Get involved with artist groups

There are going to be other artists like you. They may be difficult to find but connecting with artists who understand having a hundred hats in the air is going to make you feel not so alone. (Or maybe that's just me). Artist groups and challenges can get you excited and out of a rut.

You're going to get overwhelmed at some stage

It's going to happen. Whatever you do, there are going to be times where there are simply not enough hours in the day, you're unwell and need to rest, or you've just overextended yourself. If something is not working, try to figure out a way to make it work. Try different techniques until you find some solution that works. Cut back on the things that don't give you what you need. Don't agree to things that you know are going to be more trouble than they're worth.

Well... there's probably more that I've forgotten, but that's probably enough reading for now! Hopefully this helps at least one other artist not feel quite so alone. If you ever want to chat, I'm on twitter where there are some great artists that interact on a regular basis. I'm in a few great Facebook groups - mainly One Fantastic Week though they tend to be more focused on full time artists - still a great group for connecting and asking questions.

If you know of any great groups for connecting with artists, let me know!


The Moss Mist fantasy cover art

This is my latest cover art that I just finished for Regina Richards.

The brief was based on a scene in the book which had a lot of complex elements. 5 characters, each with detailed descriptions, green skinned characters in leather garb against a forest background, and one blue skinned character who is central to the novel. The original brief called for the female character to be on top of the rock, but the client and I agreed that it took the focus away from the two main characters  and just didn’t work for the purpose of the commission.

Sometimes this happens – what is a great action scene in a book, will translate fantastically well to an illustration, but may not work for a cover. When designing cover art, you have to remember that there has to be space for the author’s name, as well as the title of the book. As an illustrator, it’s my job sometimes to try and guide a client down a path that I think will work better. But all of my commissions are very much collaborations, with a very large amount of input from the client. Ultimately it’s the client’s product that I am creating work for, and it’s their name that will be associated with the work most visibly.

That’s why commissions can take me 2-3 months from the first contact to the delivery of the final images. This piece had 5 sketches, one colour sample, and a couple of tweaks to  the original sketch. And then there is the painting (I think I took 2-3 weeks for the final painting). In amongst this, I normally have a day job, although for this one I was at home, but not very well. I couldn’t spend huge amounts of time at the computer without feeling sick or dizzy.

Anyway, here’s the finished product, and a few sketches as well!

The Moss Mist - final wraparound cover

The Ebook cover illustration

The line art / sketch that the client went with. I never fully render trees as I tend to prefer painting those details and allowing them to be a lot more organic

The colour concept with design markings to show the spine location and bleed

Cada Female Character Portrait

I had the pleasure of working on a character commission portrait doing my favourite type of character – female warrior/ ranger kind of characters. The character had previously been started by another artist who was sadly unable to complete the work, so I was given a great concept sketch which was really loose, but gave me some great starting points. The client pointed out some actresses the character reminded her of, and I worked from there.

This is a digitally tinted and textured painting, which started with a pencil sketch on tracing paper. I love sketching on the velum like surface. I then transfer and clean up the sketch in Photoshop, adding a background. A tinted, textured paper is added, then I add the colours

Ranger character Cada

Cada - face details

Original sketch – This is purely pencil, hence all the smudges

An alternative sketch where I did the head and some details in Photoshop, while tracing over the original sketch to change the costume a bit. The pose was a little closer to the original concept, but the costume was not – I was a bit worried the first sketch would be too simple.

Cada - alternate sketch

RPG Portrait - full body

I love doing character art for Dungeons and Dragons original characters. It gives me a chance to design some fun but practical armour, as well as completely impractical costumes. If you want a full  colour portrait, commissions start from $200 for a single character with a fairly simple background (like simple forest, cloudy skies - if you want complex alchemist study or detailed city scene it may cost a little more). Further information available on my commission page

Love’s Call – Painting Work in Progress shots

This is the 3rd post in this series. You can find the first one here (describes design & composition notes), and the second one (colour concepts) here.

This painting is finished, it is in the galleries under the Love’s Call cover art page. I’ve also posted it at my other haunts, though without the layout work done by the publisher.

I don’t normally paint this way, I just decided to try a different way.

Colour blocking and starting with a gradient for the background

  1. This shows roughly how I have things set up in Photoshop. I often have the one painting opened in two windows so I don’ keep on having to zoom in and out on certain areas.
  2. On a few separate layers, I defined base colours for the major features in the painting. This helped me with selections later, so that if I wanted to paint only the columns, I could load the selection, and paint on a new layer within the lines of the selection. I also created a gradient to roughly match the colour concept, and created the base sky colours. I’d already started on the wolf, since fur, like feathers is still evil to paint It will continue being evil until I get more used to it.
  3. I started working on the costumes. I work all over the place. I did Leargan’s shoulder plate/ pauldron. There’s a wolf insignia on it which took a fair amount of time. I started on one of the columns, still unsure as to the perfect colours.
  4. I started adding volume to the central columns, and added some mountains. I wasn’t sure I liked them so I left those to focus elsewhere in the painting
  5. More working out the stone work and columns
  6. I’ve done a lot of work on the female character by now. Her face is mostly complete, her clothes are near done. I’ve started adding in the purple flowers in the middle ground, and roughly working on the greens for the background fields. Added rough shading to castle towers, loosely painted mountains on the back cover.
  7. Minor fixes to her hair
  8. Minor fixes to her skirt
  9. Mountains have been given more detail. I started work on the male character’s face and sword
  10. Added details to the male’s costume, gave him hair, started playing with fields in the background.
  11. Worked on the central columns. These were not working at all and I repainted them a dozen times.
  12. Hydrangeas are evil to paint. But that’s what I’d chose to paint, so that’s what I painted. I worked from several references, winging the flowers in a lot of bits.
  13. This was the ‘smack me upside the head, gosh I’m stupid’ moment. The castle behind them is supposed to be the same castle from the first book cover… which has round towers mostly… and is more white stone than yellow stone. So I completely repainted that. I repainted all the fields on the back cover, because I liked the way they looked on the front. The stones floor and columns were simplified.

Also, just to show you  how crazy I am with details, that never show up in the small view of the painting, here’s the hydrangea process:

Animated gif of how I painted the hydrangeas

Details from Love's Call

The final painting

RPG Half body and tinted lineart commissions

Another post showing examples of the work I do for the 1/2 body and tinted digital full body sketches. Commission information can be found on my commission page. They are normally around $150 US dollars and painted at about 8.5 x 11.5" @ 300dpi (2480 x 3508 pixels).

Digital Walkthrough – Dragon Thrall

From April 2007.  Nowadays I tend to completely work in Photoshop CS, but many of the techniques are the same no matter the software. This is a fairly rambly post as it's taken from notes I made while painting. This is NOT the way I work for client work!!!!! This was a personal face study that I built a painting around. I now plan things!

This painting was completely unplanned. It started out as a gothic vampire piece… ended up something completely different! These are some of the notes I posted to LiveJournal while painting, and subsequently featured in February 2008’s EMG-Zine.

Normally it’s a good idea to plan a painting. You should work out your composition details, color schemes, lighting sources and other technical details, but sometimes it’s more fun just to get in there and paint! Some of my best paintings have been the result spontaneity, experimentation and sheer desperation to fix a mistake! It started out as an exercise in skin tones, turned into a modern vampire piece and ended up having dragons! Hopefully you’ll learn a few things about why planning can be useful, as well as why it can also be fun to follow the rambling path your muse sets you on!

A few thoughts on digital art and painting software:

There is a plethora of information on digital art available online. This article isn’t a basic A+B=C tutorial. It’s more a discussion on the creative process I employ while painting digitally. For this article you will need a basic understanding of Adobe Photoshop or similar software and have access to a digital graphics tablet (or be really good with a mouse!). Access to Corel Painter would be handy too, however you can get similar effects in Photoshop with a bit of experimentation and practice.

I use Photoshop and Painter together. I’m not going to argue about which one’s better – because frankly it’s like comparing a banana with a pineapple! They’re both graphic software programs, however they’re designed for completely different purposes. Photoshop is an editing tool which you can paint with. Painter is purely designed for painting, with a few editing tools thrown in. With each new incarnation the blurring of these definitions decreases. I’m sure that if you experimented enough, you could probably get the result you want in either software.

Setting up the canvas

I started the painting as an exercise in skin tones. I hadn’t worked in Painter for a while and thought it was time to flex those painting muscles again. Unfortunately some versions of Painter can cause files to corrupt in native Painter file format (pre-version 5), so I recommend that you either create your file in Photoshop first, or save the files in Photoshop format (*.PSD extension)

 Just started painting a face, based on a reference photo of  Selina Fenech  

Just started painting a face, based on a reference photo of Selina Fenech 

Just like painting on paper or canvas, a blank canvas can be very intimidating. I always lay down a color of some type on the background layer just because it’s something to start with. When you plan a painting it’s a good idea to think about the lighting in regards to the background. If you are painting a scene which is sunny, then a warm yellow or warm blue might be a good choice. If you’re thinking about a night scene then start with a dark indigo or a cool blue. If it’s in a forest you may want to think about a green, while a snow-filled landscape may require a pale lavender-blue color.

As I said, this was a practice for skin tones so I decided on a dark maroon to pick up the dark tones in the hair (I’d planned on painting a redhead). Most of the time I apply a lighting filter, or a gradient to make it more interesting – kind of give it a focal point.

The first character I sketch on a separate layer to the background/ canvas. When painting directly onto the computer with a graphics tablet I generally start with a few lines to work out the placement of the head, eyes, mouth, nose and ears. I then work out a few ‘base’ colors that I will use for the skin. I place ‘dabs’ of the color I use regularly somewhere on the canvas:

  • A mid pinky-brown color – the base color
  • A pale yellow/ pink color for highlights
  • A redder tone of the base color used for cheeks and nose area
  • A purple version of the base color for shadowing
  • A darker brown-pink for the deep shadows
  • A light pink-purple (not shown) for blending in areas where the skin is fine and the veins show through.
 My colour palette - I tend to try an paint with less grey tones and more vibrant tones

My colour palette - I tend to try an paint with less grey tones and more vibrant tones

In later versions of Painter you get a tool called a ‘mixer’ where you can place dabs of colour and create variants using the mixing tools. If you are having difficulties with colours try using the colour picker on real photographs and see what ‘real’ skin colours look like. You’ll probably be quite surprised!

Once I have the colours and some lines down I begin to paint. For this face I used Painter’s digital Airbrush set at about set at about 10% opacity, 100% Resat, 0% bleed and 0% jitter. I vary the brush size from about 150, right down to 2 or 3.
I spent about 2 hours to get to this stage.

 Lips details

Lips details


A few notes on skin tones:

  • Every person has a different skin tone and texture – we’re not all a standard ‘flesh tone’, straight from the tube
  • Men and women also have slight variations in colouring
  • Different nationalities have different skin tones. Some have ruddy complexions, others a yellow undertone, while some have dark skin. Study photographs, place them next to each other and note the differences
  • Skin tones reflect the colours around them. If you are wearing a purple shirt, you will get some reflection under your chin depending on the lighting. If you are standing next to a yellow wall, the side facing the wall will reflect the yellow.
  • The colour of the lighting impacts on skin highlights and shadows. If you use a yellow light, the shadows of the skin are generally the complementary colour (in this case purple).
 I don't know the origin of this picture, but this is the kind of stuff described in Don Seegmiller's book (if you know the source, let me know)

I don't know the origin of this picture, but this is the kind of stuff described in Don Seegmiller's book (if you know the source, let me know)


One thing I remember reading (Don Seegmiller in his book Digital Character Design and Painting) was the fact that the strip across the nose section of the face is pinker than the rest, while under the eyes should be purplish-blue as the skin is so delicate here. I recommend his book for color theory, regardless of the painting medium! In fantasy art, the ability to create convincing skin tones in important, particularly if painting something like a Drow, or even an alien with blue skin

Blue, green and everything between. Different skin tones don't just mean one colour

 A light skinned Drow

A light skinned Drow

Adding the hair

Hair is basically made from 4 colours which I vary the opacity and size of the bush. The illustration below shows the four colours and the way I build up the hair.

  • A mid tone
  • A light tone
  • A dark tone
  • A very light tone for the highlights
 Loose steps to painting hair

Loose steps to painting hair

Why having no ‘theme’ for a painting can be a problem!

Like most sketches where I don’t think about anything much except picking up the ‘paintbrush’, I get to a point where I start wondering about things like ‘does she want straight or wavy hair’, ‘does she wear modern or old fashioned clothes?’, ‘what the heck do I do with the background?’.

 Started off as an urban fantasy portrait

Started off as an urban fantasy portrait

At this point I was listening to rock music and it was about midnight so I decided it should be a vampire/ gothic piece. Originally it was just going to be a strapless dress but it ‘felt’ wrong. I added a leather jacket and a cameo choker. I planned on having a night sky, maybe the silhouette of a building. This means that dark blue is going to have to replace the maroon canvas colour. A guy is going to be behind her, all ‘vampy’ and hopefully pretty good looking! I took a break and came back to the painting after some food. I’d been working for about two or three hours and realised that I’d changed the angle of her torso mid painting which is why it is looking odd. This is why it’s a good idea to plan your painting before you begin! You can waste a lot of time working on something, only to realise there is an inherent flaw in the drawing. So I really had a think about where the painting was going… which was feeling like the great digital dustbin in the sky!

 Continuing to paint, still without much purpose. Note how I use colour patches beside him... I used to do this all the time, now I just use a second window

Continuing to paint, still without much purpose. Note how I use colour patches beside him... I used to do this all the time, now I just use a second window

 Face detail of the male, still fairly rough

Face detail of the male, still fairly rough

Unfortunately I only had a clear picture of the character’s faces so I was basically very aimless when painting. I get bored with details so I moved onto the male character. I knew I’d have to revisit the female character but something was really bothering me about her and I didn’t want to think about it too deeply. I spent about 2 hours working on the guy. Notice that his skin base is slightly more yellow. Guys’ faces are also more angular than females (generally) so I painted in a more aggressive manner, not blending as smoothly as for the female. I also added in some texturing with a ‘captured bristle’ brush.

A note on photo-references:

When I work from photo references I try to avoid working directly from one reference for copyright reasons. Each painting I’ll often work from at least half a dozen images (which I normally collect AFTER I’ve made the initial sketch). I also have a huge collection of images that I’ve harvested from the net, reference books/ CDs, personal photo references. 

I also like working with greyscale images and using small images so I can’t rely upon them too heavily. This way I can make the colour up on the fly. I also find that it helps to practice sketching in greyscale. You focus on rendering the form rather than colours, which teaches you a lot about volume, lighting and texture.

Back to the painting

 Further refinement of the characters

Further refinement of the characters

I spent another 2 hours on this (up to about 10-12 hours now). I kind of became obsessed with finishing his face. I put him in a leather jacket and white shirt and played around with where his arm should go, ultimately deleting it. I changed the background colour to a near black colour while I was playing with things. I’m still not convinced about what’s going on in the painting. But I’m happy to let my mood decide what’s going to happen. I enjoy these kinds of paintings because I just let the paintbrush take me where it wills. However it’s getting to the stage where I will need to decide if I’m going to do something with this painting, or just file it as an experiment.

 Face is pretty much done

Face is pretty much done


I’ve got more details to do… tidying up his eyebrows, giving his skin some texture around the jaw line, finalising his nose and lips, and one of his eyes is slightly off (shadowing and shape’s wrong… but I’ll fix that up later.)

Vampire goes Renaissance?

I’m heavily influenced by music. When I paint I listen to a variety of music, and often it can influence what I paint. I stopped listening to my Dishwalla album and put on Medieaval Baebes… at which time I thought to myself ‘this is just two people standing together, there’s no fantasy here’. So the painting went Venetian 16th century!

 Vampires go Renaissance?

Vampires go Renaissance?

I’ve obsessed over historical costume for as long as I can remember and one of my favourite paintings is Rafael’s La Donna Velata. I deleted the leather jacket and replaced it with a front-laced bodice over a creamy chemise. This costume was popular with working classes as it was comfortable and didn’t get caught up while working. I think it is important to think about the clothes you put your characters in… it is part of their story. It can suggest what they do and their status in society, it can also indicate if they’re light and fluffy, or rigidly straight-laced.

 Detailing the bodice

Detailing the bodice

A few hours work went into the dress. It’s not finished yet. This is only the basic form. I’m debating about patterns and colours. The more elaborate fabrics tended to be used a few decades after this dress style was popular, and only by the wealthy, but it’s fantasy so I guess I can do what I like!

Working out the background:

 Adding some background... seeing my layout

Adding some background... seeing my layout

I have decided a night sky doesn’t suit the lighting of the characters, so I’ll do a dawn/ dusk sky. I flicked through some reference shots of skies and started laying down some colours in Photoshop with a large airbrush tool. Not much I can say about skies except for the light will reflect on the characters, which is why it’s not a strong sunlit scene. In this low light there won’t be much reflection or shadow.

I’m still playing around with the idea of having a column behind the male character. The sky’s getting close to being completed. I’ll start looking at the lighting in the painting later on… normally that’s something I do in the planning stages for a *proper* painting. It’s up to about 200MB… time to save a new copy and collapse a few layers I think.

On a side note, I’m not happy with the poses or placement of the characters. They’re too rigid. There’s no connection between them, I need to bring them together somehow. I’ve started to realise the girl’s body looks too small and much too straight on for her head. I’m going to have to repaint whole chunks which will be a lot of extra work. You can do this with digital, however if I’d planned the painting I wouldn’t have to be ‘fixing mistakes’ at this late stage!

 Reworking the poses and costumes

Reworking the poses and costumes

I added some columns and moved the characters closer together. Each character is on a separate layer and I often take a copy of a layer to do the modifications (in case I muck it up!) I also do iterative saves… I have 7 versions of this file from various ‘major’ points from within the painting.

I like the placement better than the previous version, but I know that I’m going to have difficulties with his arm placement. I also don’t like her headpiece. I haven’t spent much time on it, but it just looks wrong – far too elaborate. I’ve got a feeling that she’s not the kind of girl to wear masses of jewellery! The pose is still disjointed. Why is she moving away from him? It doesn’t exactly look like a comfortable pose. Is he trying to put on her cloak, take it off, or strangle her? When you paint, you have to think about how the painting could be interpreted.

The home stretch

 Working out the male's body and some background details

Working out the male's body and some background details

Unfortunately I sat down and painted in one marathon session (without taking saves part ways through). Inspiration struck and all at once I knew exactly how the painting had to look. All the missing elements fell into place. I had the narrative that went with the painting, I knew why they were standing together. The pose was vital to the scene. I think it is important to know ‘why’ things are the way they are. Sometimes it can be as simple as ‘because it looked right’ or ‘because I want the viewer to feel scared’, but with more narrative pieces, the ones that work best tend to make every piece of the painting into something vital to understanding the whole piece… like clues in a mystery novel.

I ended up moving her directly under his chin and slightly curved into his body and moved his arm so he’s supporting her, rather than embracing her. The sky remained unchanged however the bottom needed a focal point – it was too empty. The forest and cliffs are a scene I’ve used in numerous paintings… they are like an old friend – something quick and easy.The lake came next, and the glow lights (which have no real meaning, but they ‘fit’ with the mood of ‘magic in the air’). It still was looking empty. In the story in my head the character’s connection is through dragons. I’d already planned on giving the female character a dragon necklace and the male character golden eyes, however I think a more ‘literal’ representation of the dragon was needed. The placement was deliberate in that I wanted the viewer to follow the motion from the dragon to the characters and back around.

Often when I’m working without reference (like I did for their poses, I try to work out their bodies in their entirety. Even though it still looks a little ‘wrong’, because of the angle of his body, his shoulder is right behind her hair. I tried extending his shoulder but it didn’t look right either.

 Not quite there... adjustment layers

Not quite there... adjustment layers

I added an Overlay layer to do some lighting along the side of the girl’s head and the columns. There are 13 layers in the final version (after I collapsed the multiple character layers from the previous version).

I thought I was finished. I posted it online, added it to a few galleries, but something was still a little unrefined. So I stepped away from it for a week or two (see further down for the revised version).

Some notes on Composition

 Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds

I like working with the Golden Mean (also called the Golden Section/ ratio/ proportion/ The Divine Proportion). It’s a way of dividing up a painting so that the image is artistically and geometrically pleasing. It’s based on mathematical principles and can be seen in nature in such shapes as nautilus shells. Below I’ve added guidelines in pale blue that divides the painting into thirds. Notice how the parts of the painting that your eyes are drawn to tend to fall along the lines, with the light in the forest being at a ‘focal point’, where the lines intersect.

 L shaped composition

L shaped composition

The painting’s composition loosely fits into what is called the ‘L’ Composition

 Leading the eyes with V's

Leading the eyes with V's

It could also fit in with ‘V’ or ‘triangular composition.

The trick is to try and get the viewer’s eye to follow the movement from one point of the painting to the next

Final Piece:

 Final image

Final image

I went back and refined it a little… just added a few more details to the hair, fixed the column and tidied up the tree-line. There are still aspects I’m not entirely happy with, but I’ve spent enough time on this painting… I don’t want to overwork it.

So 20 or so hours later, here’s the final piece and the story that goes along with it:

 Detail of male character

Detail of male character


Text I wrote to go with the painting

The dragon-thrall caught her, its silken threads binding her mind to the golden dragon completely. Kara and the great beast launched upwards as one, pushed from powerful back legs. Muscles flexed as the wings extended fully, capturing the wind and propelling them higher still. Freedom! She threw back her head and laughed, the rumble echoing from the surrounding cliffs. The sun and sky called to her, daring her to fly higher and faster than she could ever dream.

She wheeled to the right as she caught movement in the valley below. Ruby eyes fixed on the deer. Tucking her wings to her side, she dove towards the earth, pulling up just above the forest, the trees bending then snapping back in her wake. Kara could taste the hot, sweetness of the blood. She wanted it, lusted for it, she had to have it. It was a burning pain that drove her.

Something yanked at her. Whipping her head around in annoyance she couldn’t see a rider. Focusing on the deer again she snarled as the strong will commanded her to stop. The hunger tore at her, but still he cajoled her, coaxed her, and compelled her. Snarling and baring her teeth she snapped at the unseen force. Finally he dominated, wrestling control from her. Emotions flitted across her mind – fury, hatred, pain, desire. And then she was in her own body again.

Rhys caught Kara as the dragon-thrall released her. He’d been with her throughout the flight, his golden eyes seeing just as the dragon had.

“Now do you understand?” he murmured, his breathing still ragged from the clash of wills. She shuddered, glad to still be in his steadying embrace.

“It helped, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand them, not the way you do.”

Prints and products are available here from RedBubble , painting can be found in the Dragon Fae Oracle as the Lovers card.