Eric Deschamps illustrates an epic scene from his story Spirit Season, searching for the essence of adventure as he designs the composition
My aim with this workshop is to work towards conveying one of the driving forces of the Spirit Season storyline: adventure. Specifically, I want to relate the girl’s feeling of awe as she travels swiftly over a vast landscape.
Before you start, make sure you have a purpose to your piece of art. I decided early on before any pencil touched paper that I wanted to showcase action and adventure. The action didn’t need to be as intense as a full-blown fight scene, but it did need to provide plenty of motion to the composition. Aside from the action what else adds a sense of adventure to a story? How about an object or element that’s out of the ordinary, which can hint at a story or past history. I will shoot for that as I move forward.
It’s also smart to set one personal side goal for each piece you do. For this piece of art my goal is to capture a specific ethnicity for the main character, Aurelia.
One advantage of working digitally is also something that can hold an artist back. This is the ability to make changes at any point. A digital artist can always hit Undo and can endlessly work on top of an image. The same can’t be said for traditional media. The drawback is that it can lead to too much trial and error, draining the life and spontaneity out of the art. I fought with this a lot in the past and it still creeps in at times. Plan ahead with plenty of thumbnails and sketches!
1 Sketching the action
I want Aurelia hitching a ride on the back of a creature with her pal Rohu clinging on tight. Once my rough sketch of the adventurous trio is complete, I scan in the page. I then look for any adjustments that can be made in Photoshop to improve the drawing. For example, I stretch out the creature’s legs to increase the sense of motion and action.
2 Visualising the environment
I’m not sure what the background environment will be, so I experiment a bit more in Photoshop before I move back to my sketchbook. I ditch the idea of the trio emerging from an elliptical void. The edge of the canvas will crop the creature rather than a void. Even though it’ll be cropped, I draw the creature in its entirety so that I get it right.
3 Hinting at a larger story
The girl and her friends provide the action for the piece, but I want some mystery to hint at an underlying story. The landscape will serve that purpose. The rolling hills are carved up as if some enormous entity has sawed through them. I bring the closest hill even closer to the foreground. It now angles down the composition, adding to the angular motion of the big creature.
4 Drawing Through
The interaction between Aurelia and the clinging Rohu is tough to draw. I won’t be able to pose a primate for reference, so I improvise and find plenty of internet reference. I draw over the top of my pencils – blue for Rohu and red for Aurelia – making sure I draw her arms and legs through the big creature. I want Rohu to look scared, while Aurelia hasn’t a care in the world.
5 Time for more reference
I notice the perspective on Aurelia. We should be looking up at her from below, instead of at eye level. Lifting her head to see more of the underside of her chin and nose is an improvement. It may help with the friend’s arm across her neck, which is also bothering me. We should also see the underside of her dress. So I go outside to shoot a few quick references.
6 Refining the face
The biggest challenge will be Aurelia’s face. I want her to have facial features and skin tones most often seen in Central America. I don’t have these features and am also not a 14-yearold girl! Up on my second monitor I have a slew of portraits of people from Nicaragua and Honduras. I study nose, lip and cheek bone shapes, as well as skin tones and even hairlines.
7 Exploring the colour options
With Aurelia and Rohu less of a mystery for me, it’s time to try out some colour schemes. I first settle on a purple and blue scheme. This will only work if the scene takes place at night, which won’t show off the landscape. I also want the viewer to see the planet in the sky, the way we would see the moon in the daytime, only much bigger.
8 Refining the colour
I start adding in blues and carving out clouds. I’m not interested in a typical blue sky and green hills scenario, though. An autumn foliage scene would give me more options. I use yellow foliage interspersed with evergreen and patches of red foliage. I tend to use saturated colours so I spend time trying to limit the number of colours in the image for counterbalance.
9 Astronomical research
The story’s set on a habitable moon with its parent planet large in the sky. I research how The Earth looks from The Moon and how The Moon looks from The Earth in the daytime. The darkest areas of the planet disappear, blending with the blue sky. It’s difficult to resist adding lots of detail and heavier darks to the low-contrast planet. The subtle rim glow brings it to life for me.
10 Clouds should help the composition
The clouds aren’t working with the composition. I don’t like how they make a nest for the planet. I use the Transform tool to warp them into a more angular shape, adding to the overall sense of motion in the piece. Now the clouds cut into the planet rather than resting underneath. The right edge of the planet fades into the sky, which helps it feel less solid.
11 Subtle details help the concept
The cuts in the hillside reveal the bedrock. I describe the texture of the bedrock vertically. It’s more interesting to show layers of sediments instead. The lines of sediment don’t need to be exactly horizontal or vertical either. Angling the texture of the bedrock not only adds visual interest, it also gives the viewer a peak into the history of an active landscape.
12 Atmospheric perspective
The foreground hill is the darkest with the most contrast. Each successive hill going further into the distance is lighter in value with less contrast. Atmospheric perspective gives the viewer a sense of depth. Using repetitive shapes like the hills here is a device that works well to enforce a sense of space. The widening slices in the hills also help reinforce this feeling.
13 An overworked face!
Aurelia’s face bothers me. The perceptive still doesn’t feel correct. We should see less of her left cheek with more overlap from the nose. This face has gotten overworked. My time is best spent starting over. I should have done so earlier on! I take a solid colour and cover her face. I realise that I need better reference and so, with that new reference in hand, I start anew.
14 Making the final pass
With the face problem solved, I move on to putting the finishing touches to the artwork. At this stage I often save the image to Dropbox so that I can look at it on my iPad or phone. It’s helpful for me to see the artwork on a smaller format and a different resolution screen. I also make sure I take a break, in order to come back to it with fresh eyes.