Monster manual III - chapter start artwork.
Dungeons & Dragons. ©Wizards of the Coast
Acrylic, Approx 21" x 19".
Original Artwork for sale; £1200
The Monster Manual III has now hit the stores and I can share the Gnoll Spirit Summoner I created for the book.I really wanted the central, shaman-like, figure and the spirits to stand out in this image. To that end I chose warmer less saturated colours for the background, which was rendered with softer edges and lower contrast than the foreground. The latter has tight definition and saturated cooler colours with higher contrast. The difference between these two approaches is what helps keep the image clear and readable.
The following is a walkthrough showing how I arrived at this final point.
The Line Sketch
My starting point is a line sketch done with graphite onto board. I like to resolve a lot of the aspects of the image at this stage, and subsequently create a tight render.
About a third of the way in from the left you can see a faint vertical guide line that marks where the guttering will fall on this double-page spread.
My Working Space
Here you can see my set up. The painting is mounted onto the drawing board, with palettes and reference in place. Note the helmets tucked away at the back right. The nearest being sat on a floor standing speaker - music always helps.
The First Pass
I always favour working from back to front, with the focal elements usually rendered last. This is no exception, and you can see that I have painted in most of the background and am moving onto the foreground.
I have also loosely blocked in the ghosts. As I want them to have softer edges, and fade into the image, it is easier to do that if I introduce them from the beginning. This prevents me painting up to them and inadvertently creating an unwanted edge.
The central figure has been masked off which enables me to paint with big loose strokes over and around him without worrying about dirtying him up.
Most of the fore and background elements have been completed. I also softened the orange somewhat and brought in a touch more green. This helps lower the saturation and gives some greater contrast for the flames to work against.
The Gnoll has had the masking film removed, and you get the sudden glare of white paper, but also those nicely kept crisp edges.
Before going into a full render I like to map in the basic colours with a dilute wash. I did the same with the background when I started. This helps confirm the colour choices I have already made, because if I did dislike them now would the easiest time to make changes.
I approach elements within the picture much as I do the whole, back to front, or in the case of figures inner layer to outer. This means that items which would overlap something else are painted later. Much easier and more flexible than painting up to the edge of something. At this point I have completed the fur/flesh and mapped out where the glowing magical light will fall.
Continuing on the figure is completed. During the process I might well revisit areas to check the whole ties together. This might mean redoing shadows on the fur, or darkening areas of the body to make sure the overall effect is consistent. I might paint elements seperately but I will rework any of them to make sure it pulls together as a whole. This can often include throwing in non-local colour in the shadows or highlights to help with the unification.
Spirits Begin To Emerge
I feel like I am on the home straight as I move onto the last figures. Though I naturally worked my way through the spirit figures, one at a time, I didn't try to bring any of them fully to completion at this point. I knew that it would be necessary to have another pass to get the values right throughout them, and I certainly didn't want to get too dark at this stage.
Working with acrylics it is a lot easier to darken an image, rather than lighten it. That is especially true when you are working with dilute washes, as I was with the spirits, as opposed to a more opaque finish, like the Gnoll.
The Hyena spirit on the bottom left demonstrates that final revisit across the painting. The blue has been tweaked and the value range extended both ways, lighter and darker.
This is true of the whole painting. A last pass across the whole painting is very important. I don't want to create a disjointed piecemeal painting, and it can be too easy to focus on individual elemenst whilst neglecting the whole.
Of course this is not truly the end. I now needed to scan the image, make colour corrections, then decided any digital tweaks. In this case I upped the saturation on the Spirits and dodged some highlights to get some more intensity into them.