The Making of: And thus Easter was saved...!

As promised in the last post, I'll take you step by step through the creation process of my painting called "And thus Easter was saved".

In this post I will cover:
  • My thought process behind an illustration starting with initial thumbnails for composition.
  • Character creation through iterative sketching and painting presentation pieces
  • Step by step of the painting process

Everything starts with an idea.

in this case I wanted to create a painting to be printed as postcard to be sent to family, friends and customers as a Easter present. Besides that, I also wanted to be able to print is as a poster for myself as well.

I start by writing down my idea and scribbling small thumbnails in a booklet or other available pieces of paper.
In this stage, I write and sketch along as I think and develop
the idea through an iterative process, mixing and switching masses, shapes and thoughts as they come to my mind.
I tent to talk to myself or think out loud doing that
(which can be really awkward in a public space like a cafe, which totally wasn't the case here.... )
This stage tents to be extremely messy when I work on personal paintings. As you see,  writings and thoughts are all over the place. Note to self: get that sorted out and a little less messy!

After going through a few more iterations, I arrived at the idea I wanted to go with: One hero character in victorious pose on top of three villain characters.
With these initial steps done, I like to write a briefing where I lay out what needs to be researched and designed for the final painting, what time frame each task has available and where the deadline will be. Doing this helps me stay focused on the task and forces me to make decisions.

In the next step I develop the characters that will be featured in the painting. Doing this beforehand will save me a lot of time later since I don't have to figure out what the characters will look like during the painting process. Another upside is that I will have an easier time when I need to do a painting with the same characters again.
Like with the composition and idea of the painting itself, I start by sketching thumbnails and writing down ideas and thoughts.
Doing this, I try to visualize the characters. what there personality is, how the act, talk, move and present themselves. Giving them names also helps me to know them better. Doing this feels like watching a movie in my mind. only the popcorn is missing.

Shape language is a very important tool in that matter. Knowing what certain shapes communicate helps you to transport the meaning you want to your audience. There is a lot more playing into this, which is a bit much for this post. I might do  a blog post about this matter in the future, but there is a ton of information about this on the Internet already. I highly recommend you look that topic up!

These thumbnails and notes are the basis for the sketching phase. Here I use the general shape I established during the thumbnail phase as a guideline. Each character goes through multiple iterations before I make a choice. Sometimes I also take elements from previous sketches and reuse them in the next one. For example taking the head and put it on a different body.

Depending on the style and / or importance of the characters, these sketches can be more or less detailed.

This stage can also be used to further investigate the characters. Depending on style, which often determines the level of detail and size you can put on the characters. Those details should, besides being practical, tell the audience more about the character. This can be literally everything. A few examples would be the design of the sword that is loosely shaped like a carrot, or the designs on the tunic that tell something about the knights heritage. Thinking through all this stuff takes time but it will improve your paintings in general and make the painting process much more relaxing. More on that later!

Now that the sketches are done, it is time to make a choice. In case of personal projects, I do this decision mostly by myself. I am the " customer ", so I call the shots! But it can be of great use to show the sketches to friends or people on art forums and artgoups. Getting their input and thoughts can be a great help, especially when you are starting out. You can also do this on every previous step!

With the decision made the next step is to refine the sketches. I made a clean line art, followed by these presentation paintings. Doing these to that extend is not really necessary. I painted them on my live stream, so they got a little bit out of hand. It is enough to fill them with flat colours and maybe draw them from side and back as well.

As mentioned before, having reference like these is a big, big time saver in the long run. Now that all the creative hard work is out of the way, I can focus all my energy on painting!

Now that all this pre-production work is done, we can finally go to the painting part!
In the beginning of this post, I established the composition in thumbnails. As with the characters I choose one composition to refine into a sketch.

I start out by drawing a rough sketch placing the characters and elements based on the thumbnail. Here can make changes and adjustments to the composition very quickly.
For example, here I changed the position of the sword and the saved object. I figured it would make much more sense that way around.

Next, I draw a clean line art on top of the sketch on another layer. For me, this step varies from painting to painting. I only do a line art like this when I want the final painting to show it. If it is not needed, this stage usually is much more loose.

 The following is straight forward painting. Before I get to the colors, I usually do a quick color pass to try out different color schemes and light directions. I sadly lost the file to that...
Anyway, I start out by doing an underpainting. Much like in traditional media I use it to set the general tone of the image, in this case a reddish-brown base. Having a colored base like this also helps judging colors correctly.

The time spent on pre-production led to a huge time save in the painting process since I did not have to worry about the design of the characters. It made it also easier to pose the characters like this since I had a clear image of them at hand.

At this stage I am done with the basic rendering of the image. I decided to soften out the roughness of the rendering compared to the previous state, as I felt it would look bad in postcard size. I still like the rougher look of the previous stage... so I might use that as reference for a later style test. I also chose to stay in a relative "overcast lighting" situation. It's not quite overcast as it should be in order to be correct, but it serves it's purpose. Not having strong lights or shadows enables me quickly switch between different lighting types.
Using adjustment layers, layermodes and masks I changed the lighting of the painting to something that resembled the initial color sketch I had. I like this approach since it is very modular and enables me to change the mood of a painting to what ever I want. I used Hue/ Saturation, Color balance and Curves adjustment layers. I got that technique from a video of Dice Tsutsumi. Look it up, its awesome!

Here we are at the final stage of the painting.
Here I just rendered what was left to render, cleaned up some gradients and values and brought the painting slowly to its final stage. The whole process from the initial sketches up to this point took about 22 ~ 24 hours stretched over several days. Painting the final image took up around 16 hours of that.
I think I saved a lot of time thanks to all of these preparations id did before I started to paint.!

And that's that! A complete walk through about the thought process behind the painting "And thus Easter was saved ". I don't put that much thought into every painting I do. But if I want to do more with it or work for a client piece, this way of working always leads to a better result than relying solely on the spark of inspiration. I hope you enjoyed this walk through and could take something away from it! Feel free to leave me a comment if that's the case and if I should do something like this again.