October 8, 2011

Eowyn & the Nazgul process

Most of my current work is tied up in NDA, so I'd like to share the process on a recent favorite. This started as a fun side project for the Eowyn and the Nazgul ArtOrder challenge, then turned into an obsession.

initial thumbnail

After five or six thumbnails, I kept coming back to this one. The interaction between the characters was a bit weak, but the larger shapes were starting to work.

grayscale process

The image on the far left was submitted to the Muddy Colors gang for critique, and the consensus was it needed more narrative. So, I extended the canvas, added Theodin, his horse, a dead knight, and Merry in the distance to lock in the triangle composition. The muzzle on the fell beast went through several variations until it looked less like a dragon's maw and more like a beak (to stay true to the text). Also, many thanks to Tyler Jacobson for tips on making the light ricochet off Eowyn, creating a sense of glow.


Photo references used along the way: 1) My daughter as Eowyn. Holding a pose is hard enough, so I tend to make props out of cardboard so they're not too heavy. 2) My son as Merry. 3) A dead horse found online (it was too scruffy and skinny to be a king's horse, but a good starting point as I can't draw horses for shit). 4) Some dork with a headband, also found online. 5) Drawing the perspective on the Witch King's mace proved incredibly difficult, so I made a model out of a broom handle, foam core, and tape. 

final grayscale

color process

Once the grayscale was done, digging in and painting the image only took about three days. Balancing the warm and cool tones without getting too saturated was the hardest part, Minas Tirith needed to be cooled off several times to get it to read as white and not sandstone. A staircase leading to a door was visible until the very end (it was pointed out to me that a giant staircase leading right into a citadel might not be the best defensive strategy. Um, yeah, dumb idea). I replaced the staircase with a wall, and added a lot more combatants to the background.

In the two and a half weeks it took to complete this project, I listened to only one song on repeat: A Knife in the Dark from the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. If it had gone on much longer, my family probably would have destroyed my stereo.

final color


  1. Great to see the process, love the piece man :)

  2. Very awesome! Thanks for showing the process.

  3. thanks for the process of this great piece!

  4. You say you can't draw horses for shit, but there is no way I'd be able to tell that. I keep looking at the horse and going "damn, that's good." Also, this is one of my favorite pieces of yours.

    Do you finish up the grayscale portion when sending your sketches to clients? I'd be interested in knowing how far you take it before you consider the "sketch" part done.

  5. God damn this process post is awesome. Thanks for sharing all the material with us, man! Very cool to see how you constructed and revised everything. You know how much I dig this piece ;) haha

  6. This piece was truly one of the best in the challenge. =) Amazing work

  7. Every time I see the full amount of reference, used by good artists I am a bit more disappointed.

    Painting from photos is not a mastercraft..

    Great illustration though.

  8. Thanks everyone!

    Stryke- an interesting point, and one that's been debated many times before. I like to use as many references as possible: photos of models in costume, homemade props, pictures of animals, pretty much anything I can find that will help give a greater sense of realism to the image.

    I draw from a reference, but I don't trace over a reference. Even if I did, would it make any difference to a viewer seeing the final image? The end justifies the means, at least for me. It can be a dangerous game though, a reference should serve the painting, not the other way around.

    As a side note: I'm not comparing myself to them, but Greg Manchess, Michael Komarck, Dan Dos Santos, and James Gurney all use multiple references. Frazetta did too. I'd be hard pressed to find someone in this field who doesn't consider their work mastercraft.

  9. This one stood out from the start. Beautiful. I love that you included Merry. Compositionally, you included all the key elements of the narrative without sacrificing the main event between, Eowyn and the Witch King. Thank you for sharing your process.

  10. Thanks Kim!

    (by the way, I absolutely love your "Polar Bear Express" and "Summer Faery" pieces, were both of those traditional? Wonderful work :).

  11. That's a great piece. Love the process too, thank you for sharing :)

  12. Thanks for sharing your process! I love the colors.

    Got a question: how did you transition from b&w to color? I've tried a similar process with some of my own stuff before - doing a b&w sketching and adding color on top of it, but the colors always turned out too harsh or too weak and I end up fudging the entire picture trying to get some decent colors.

  13. Absolutely amazing, the atmosphere of this piece just blows me away!

  14. Thanks again!

    Ruth- The most effective way I've found to transition from grayscale to color is by using photo filters (Image→Adjustments→Photo Filter). A light wash of hue can be added with a filter without altering the value like the Color Balance sliders do.

    Try duplicating the grayscale layer, make the top layer a warm tone, and the bottom layer a cool tone (or vice versa depending on your desired palette). Then lightly erase portions of the top layer to bring out the contrasting tones on the bottom layer, kinda like adding a transparent color wash in oil. Once the overall palette is looking like you want, flatten the layers and use the alt-option key on a brush to pluck colors directly from the image for the final painting.

    Also, the number of hues in the Photo Filter is virtually limitless, it can be set to Color Fill any hue you choose, in any opacity (just be sure to click "Preserve Transparency" so it doesn't trash your values).

    I hope this helps.