Sunday, 24 January 2010

Dwarf Rune Dice – Walkthrough

I was recently commissioned by Q-Workshop to produce a design for their new Dwarf Runes dice set. The picture will go on the backboard to which is affixed the dice blister pack.

I was given a lot of freedom to come up with a design, and I decided upon a carved stone relief of a stylised Dwarf head, inlaid with metals and gems.

Whilst the entire image will be visible, the lower part will be partially obscured by the plastic blister and dice, so I made sure that the focus is on the upper part of the image. The focus will be achieved a number of ways; through the natural pull of the eyes, the level of detail in the helmet and the lighting.

I decided to take the opportunity to create a walkthough. Pausing throughout the painting process I took a series of digital photogrphs with the painting taped to the board. I have adjusted these so that the levels are consistent throughout, but I've not otherwise colour adjusted them. However you can see that they are not very divergent from the final scanned version.

Stage 1: Using masking fluid I blocked out the elements that will either be inlaid metal or gems. I then applied a base colour wash to the whole page. This helps ‘fix’ the graphite in place, and gets rid of that intense white of the unpainted page.

Stage 2: The base wash was deliberately loose to help create some texture, but as this is stonework I will need a lot more. Using an old toothbrush I splattered the image with darker shades of paint. It looks quite obtrusive at this point, but I know it is going to get knocked back when I really start painting the piece, and will ultimately be quite subtle in the mix.

Stage 3: Using a large brush I work over the whole picture loosely picking out the form, whilst also bringing in colour variation. You can see where the masked areas still look quite white, as the rubber solution of the masking fluid partially repels the paint.

Stage 4: 2 hours 45 mins. I start putting down the darkest values, and in the process pick out and define the form. I keep some variation in the colour of the shadow, and despite the detail I try not to make the end result look too much like an inked line drawing.

Stage 5: Having worked in the darker values I now wanted to firm up the mid range. It was also looking a touch too green, so using a nice mid grey I built up a more opaque layer. As I went along I took the opportunity to soften and lose some of the edges I had created in the previous stage.

Stage 6: 4 hours. I reintroduce and/or expand upon some of the other colours that were in the picture. I want the stone to look old and weathered. These other colours help give the impression of lichen growth and staining. I also soften the edges of the cast shows with some of the golden brown.

Stage 7: I don’t want the picture to appear completely monochromatic, and I also like to have some interest going on in the shadows as well. To address those issues I introduce some indigo/purple into the shadowed areas. It suddenly gets a lot more interesting as this colour interacts with the underlying green shade in the stonework.

Stage 8: The highlights are brought in. I avoid white at this stage, as I want to tie the strongest highlights in with the metal work. As I want the metal to pop I don’t want too much visual conflict from the stone. The brush marks are deliberately varied and energetic. A lot of this painting has been about texture, and I am not neglecting that at this stage.

Stage 10: The masks are removed!

Stage 11: 7 hours. The metal and gem details are painted and the strongest highlights are put on. I give the whole piece a final once over tightening the odd line, and amending values as necessary, though this process has been ongoing during all the previous stages anyway.

Stage 12: The painting is scanned, and then adjusted to match the original painting for levels and colour. Finally I do some slight dodging to intensify the highlights and saturate the gems for further intensity.

I call it finished and send it off for approval.

Stage 13: 8 hours. It was felt that a bit more colour was needed, so I did a digital paint over to introduce more gold onto the carving. It certainly reads more strongly now, and is duly fully approved with the following comment: Great! It’s awesome;)

At the drawing board. Note the reference, including print outs of my original line drawing and a value study.


  1. I'm starting to run out of adjectives I use to comment on this blog, what the hell - this is awesome!

    Very interesting (for us non-traditional people) and just a great walkthrough.

    Thank you!

  2. I really liked watching your process here, thank you for sharing! I like reading the reasons you give for certain steps too, its very informative. :)

  3. Thats awesome ralph! Thanks for the walkthrough, makes me wanna get some paints and stop depending so much on my computer :O

  4. Great technique and execution. Overall I'm amazed how you shaped the lighting to form most of the contour shape of the stone relief. Excellent!

  5. Excellent run through of the work. Thanks Ralph that was great. I've just finished my own 'real' painting and boy do I need to practice!

  6. Very cool! Thank's for showing us a little window into your art processes!

  7. Thanks very much for all your comments. I feel very gratified to have got so many positive responses.

    As this was a fairly straightforward piece it seemed like a good opportunity to work up a walk through. I can now see that I should try and do this a lot more often. Using a digital camera has made the whole process a lot easier - previously I would have had to remove the piece and scan it (sometimes in several parts) then replace it and carry on painting. That just felt incredibly disruptive, and doesn't compare to pointing and going 'click'!

    I am now looking forward to getting on with some more paintings so that I can record them too (just a shame they will take a while to clear the NDA's).

    Thanks again.

  8. Great job, Ralph. That came out beautifully!

  9. Now THAT is a walk-through.. brilliant Ralph, cheers! :)

  10. Super job Ralph - one question - what kind of surface did you paint it on ?

  11. A great heartfelt thanks for sharing, Ralph! It always a treat to share in another's process...four thumbs waaay up!

  12. Thanks for all the further comments. It was unusual analysing my own process as I went along. I wondered if it was affected at all by knowing I was recording the steps as I went. I do think I might have adhered a little more rigidly to a process than I might normally. I can work more different elements as I go along, just to check it is all pulling together, and it keeps me interested.

    Larry - I paint onto mountboard (or matting board?). It is a heavy duty card with a smooth finish not dissimilar to cartridge paper. It is not very absorbent, so you don't tend to get those nice wash effects that watercolour paper can offer, but it is robust and can take a lot of pounding. I also like that smooth, weave-free, finish. here's a link:

  13. Looking forward to the new progress reports.
    Have a fruitful Art week! :)

  14. Thanks for posting this. I found it very helpfull. I apreciate you taking the time to put it on your site for us aspiring artists. Rock On!
    Dave Davies

  15. Thanks heaps for this walk through. It is always great to get that look over the shoulder. And it looks awesome by the way.

  16. Your work is gorgeous! So glad I ran across this blog :-D

  17. Thanks for all the further comments. I am very pleased this is proving interesting and useful. I am now planning on photographing lal my pieces as I do them :)


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.