Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Return to Blogging: Of Limited Loyalty

This is obviously my first blog post in quite a long time. Over the past couple of months, I felt uninspired about the state of my own work. It did not affect the quality of the work I was creating (recent work has been pretty good, actually), but I certainly did not feel like blogging. It's very hard to fake enthusiasm, so I decided to spare the Internet community my thoughts until I had something meaningful to say. So here it is: my return to blogging.

Back in February, I was assigned the sequel to At the Queen's Command, by Michael Stackpole. The aesthetic of the sequel was similar to the first; I needed to imitate the style of 18th century painting but depict an 18th century in which dragons, zombies, and a mysterious race of underground-dwellers shared the earth with humans. And while At the Queen's Command asked for a specific painting to mimic, Of Limited Loyalty was a little more open-ended.

The short story is that I went with these two John Trumbull paintings:

The top painting would serve as the model for the composition and the bottom would provide color inspiration. I took that basic outline and began planning where the major characters in the book would go. The dragon (or wurm, technically) in At the Queen's Command had been transformed into a larger monster with wings and Gila Monster coloring. Also important were the grey-skinned, magical humanoids that were to be shown in conflict with the humans. I tied these creatures together, and replaced the figures in the Trumbull painting with the book's characters. The sketch I submitted was approved on the first round and I was ready to go to final.

I prepped the 20x30 canvas and used a projector to transfer the sketch to the final size. Here, I'm tracing the projected sketch onto the final surface.

But I had much more drawing to do. The traced outline was only a compositional guide. I still needed to refine the drawing much more. Below, you can see the final drawing taking form over the loose outline. The biggest problem was the character in the fur cap. He went through many revisions until he didn't look like he was shooting the main figure in the back.

The following animation shows my progress after each work day. Fifteen stages over fifteen days … just in time for the deadline.

I painted a loose color study before working, so I knew the hue and values I wanted over the entire painting. As a result, I could work on small areas of the canvas and be fairly certain the whole thing would tie together. I could paint a small amount of background color around each character and then work on the figure, so that I could get the edge quality I needed right away; I wouldn't have to go in later and try to blend all the edges to various degrees.

So anyhow, here's the smallish version of the whole illustration (click for a bigger view).

And some details:

And the final cover from Night Shade Books:


  1. Wow. That looks like it was both really a pain in the rump - and really damn fun. Either way, the results are great.

  2. Thank you for sharing your process. Great cover.

  3. That is a bad-ass painting! Love the sci-fi/fantasy twist on Trumbull