One of the stretchgoals for my Kickstarter campaign for The Prophecy Sketchbook involved me taking a sketch chosen by the backers and turning it into a new illustration. The backers voted and chose 'The Dwarven Explorers.' This was one of my favourite sketches from the book and I was very excited to bring it to fruition. This was originally a secret painting intended for the backer's eyes only. I've decided to share it, as well as the process, now that the book is out. The painting is included in the book, which is available for purchase here.
The Original Idea
The original sketch depicted a party of dwarven explorers dangling on a long rope in the middle of some Escherian nightmare realm. The original sketch was a year old by the time I came around to painting it, so I had to take some time to get reacquainted with my intention for the piece. One of my main goals for this illustration was to preserve all the personalities from the sketch into the final. It was a little daunting coming back to it, mostly because of the complexity of the background.
From Sketch to Painting
My first goal was to fix some old drawing mistakes and get some values and colours down. I always treat the transition from a drawing to a painting like a sprint to reach the point where I can start painting properly in my next session. This part can be a little chaotic, and it goes a little differently on every illustration I do. I try to ignore making things pretty, and instead lay a rough groundwork for the value and colour scheme across the whole image. In a way, its like leaving notes for your future self on what to do.
The Long Middle
The longest and most difficult part is painting the picture. During this stage, some kind of problem emerges that needs solving. Every piece seems to have one. In this case, I had the nagging feeling that the light from the lantern wouldn't light the top dwarf enough. I tried adding a light source from above, but it made him look very removed from the rest of the picture. I solved this by just making the lighting up, using a little of both lighting setups to make it work.
I'll then move through the painting, refining each section to a finished state. The more I do this, the more obvious the unfinished areas become. I'll tweak the overall colour scheme as I'm working too, making sure to add vibrancy as I paint.
I find that it's good to take a break for a few days before calling a painting done. When I come back with fresh eyes, I see all the small stuff that needs changing. I decided to add the Torchbearers in the background, wandering through this paradoxical labyrinth. This helped balance the colours by having small areas of yellow inside the main blue zone.
I use a lot of adjustment layers at the end of the process. I use Levels (a lot), Selective Color, and Hue/Saturation to try and balance the image and make sure it looks the best it can. I also use some texture layers to break up the smoothness that comes with working digitally.