These are a series of characters I designed for a film I was developing a few years ago. Creating fantasy creatures like these is a joy for me. When I was young growing up in the Everglades of south Florida I spent a large amount of time out in the swamps and forests drawing and painting. I often imagined that there were creatures there that I couldn’t see. I’d like to add that these were all done well before Avatar.
So, once again I like to start with a textured, toned background. This is several watercolor textures I have in my files layered and set on multiply over a warm tone.
Next,I played with the textures a bit more and roughed in the gulls.
I wanted to play with warms and cools in this piece so I next layed in a blue gradient tone. I also added shadow tones in the foreground for composition. The gulls also got shifted up a bit.
After looking at the composition in reverse, I decided to once again move the gulls over slightly. This is also where I create a new layer under the drawing layer, set it to multiply, and rough in the tones on the gulls.
Because of the feather detail, I decided I wanted to tie the drawing down, so I turned the texture levels off so that I could see the drawing layers better and begin to tie down the drawing.
Tied down drawing with layers turned back on.
Once again I wasn’t quite happy with the gulls compositionally, so I enlarged them a bit. This I felt was more pleasing.
Now I’m ready to start rendering my values further. This is where I also start paying particular attention to color temperature. Especially between shadow areas and light areas.
Notice that the feathers in shadow tend to reflect back the color of the sky where they face up and the warmth of the ground where they face down. Getting these color temperature changes right will really get your subject to sit in it’s environment not to mention increase the sense of actual light. At this point I’ve also roughed in the light and shadow shapes of the back and wings.
Here I’ve rendered the feathers of the back.
Time to get to gull number two.
Here I just use my eye dropper to grab the same colors of the first gull and I begin to render the second gull.
Once the second.gull was rendered out I felt the background needed to darken. I wanted to get the gulls to pop better and have a better sense of light.
At this point it’s a matter of laying in the ground texture and shadows. Here I kept things loose and really just played with texture, value and color. I really pushed the blues in the shadows to play against the strong oranges, browns and reds of the seaweed.
As a final touch I compressed all the levels and color dodged the warm areas around the gulls on the ground to warm, and brighten it up. It gives a much better sense of light.
I first like to start with a textured, toned background.
I then rough in the layout. This is where I resize and move things around to get the composition right.
I then lighten that level, and create a new level to start the more refined rendering.
Once the drawing is done I roughly start laying in local color. I set this level on multiply so that I can retain the texture underneath.
At this point I create a new layer and begin to find my darks and lights. I also pay particular attention to color temperature at this point. In a dominantly warm or cool piece hitting just the right amount of opposite temperature can really make a piece sing.
At this point I’m going in between light, dark, warm and cool. Cool doesn’t necessarily mean colors in the blue, violet and green range. I’m really playing with varying temperatures of the earthy ocher colors of the lion’s coat.
At this point I start to add the details of the background. This is where the texture that I started with really comes in handy. I really let it do a lot of the work. It surprising how little detail you really have to create in order to convince the viewer they are looking at a field of grass.
I continue adding the details to the background. I make sure to pay attention to color temperature just as in the lion. Also adding small indications of detail such as the little white flowers or the dried orange leaves really get the whole thing to sing. It’s important not to overdo this. A little will get you a lot.
Start with a toned textured background. I always start in a mid tone so that I have room to judge both my lights and darks. When starting with a white canvas I find it difficult to properly judge my lights because they are always darker than the surrounding canvas so they don’t look light enough and my darks look too dark against the white so then I don’t go dark enough. Also, the texture will come in very handy when creating the Baobob Tree.
I add a layer and roughly lay in my composition. I tend to use the thirds rule when finding my focal point. If you break up your composition into thirds both vertically and horizontally you will end up with four points on your composition where the lines intersect. These tend to be visually comfortable areas to place your focal point. The monkey in this case is basically in the upper left point of intersection. This is not a hard fast rule. I use a lot of other methods for finding the focal point, the best being just what feels right, but it’s a good rule to remember.
This is where I make a lot of compositional changes. In this case I wasn’t happy with the monkey’s pose so I decided to change it. I’m looking for a meditative feel to the piece. The monkey is so small compared to the gigantic Baobob tree. It was very primal when I first saw it in person. I want a pose that reflects that feeling.
Still not happy with the pose, I changed it again. This time I like it and I roughly lay in some lights on the monkey to get a better sense of how it will sit in the composition.
Now I just start laying in color. The bark of the Baobob is somewhat shiny and therefore reflective of a lot of the surrounding color. I pay particular attention to changing temperature.
Here I start to refine not just color but also pushing the range of the values. I try to keep a dominant value range which in this case is a slightly dark mid tone, I then find areas to sweeten by finding just the right amount of lighter values. In this case the monkey starts to pull the eye already because it contains the broadest value range in a such a concentrated area.
I now feel like I want to push the canvas textures a bit more and make them work for me. I multiply the textured layer I started with and bring it up to the top of the layer order. Only the monkey, which is on it’s own layer, is on top. I then set the texture layer to multiply so that it will pick up everything underneath.
Now with the color working for me and the value structure basically in place I set about pushing my value range. It’s important to be disciplined at this stage. Broadening the value range too much over all will flatten the composition and confuse the viewer as to where the point of interest truly is.
Here I continue with the value structure and the tree texture. I go back to the monkey periodically but I really try to work the whole composition at the same time. Creating the texture and reflected light on the right side of the tree was particularly fun.
At this point I originally felt that the painting was finished. I woke the next day though, not happy with it. I felt I had lost my focal point a bit and the value range was a little all over the place. So…
I added a layer on top and set it to multiply. I then grabbed a cool blue grey and set about creating shadows and dappled sunlight. I put the monkey in the sun as if he were welcoming the morning. I also set my brush to color dodge and burned in the monkey a bit to give it a feel of warm sunlight. Also, I hit one of the dead leaves to give a little balance.
A few years back at Disney we created a book called Torch Tiger. It was a collection of works by Disney artists and the content had to be each individuals interpretation of the title. My wife Karen had passed away the year before after a long battle with breast cancer and I wanted to do something for her. This is what I produced.
These are two images I’ve created in the last couple of days. I love to sit and create fanciful creatures like these. I’ve gotten into mixing my photos with my paintings to come up with what I feel is an interesting look.
Drawing and painting the animal world has been an obsession of mine since I was a child. I’ve been blessed with the experiences of having traveled the world photographing and painting the natural world. Everything I paint or draw, I’ve seen in their natural environment.
Here I wanted to create what I thought a real mermaid might look like. I wanted it to be something that you might actually see out in the ocean. I had recently designed elves with the same notion and so I wanted to give it a shot for creatures under the sea.
Please look to my King of the Elves post to see many more designs from this project
So when we were designing our elves, we wanted them to feel as if they could actually be out in the forest. If they had been there for thousands of years without having been seen, how did they do it? We looked at animals that use camouflage and mimicry to conceal themselves. Eventually the elves began to take on a unique feel. They began to grow leaves right out of their bodies! We thought that there are so many insects, lizards and birds that match the foliage that they live in then why not the elves?