How can I convey to the viewer that a figure is struggling to pick up an oversized weapon?
Ronnie Jarvis, Wales
Answer Mélanie replies
For a scene like this, I’m going to exaggerate the character’s musculature to make it more obvious. I can achieve this simply by increasing the shading on the muscles, using strong shadows.
My character is trying to pick up a sword, so his arm and back are the most important part of the composition. It’s where the action is happening so I choose to focus on this area, and detail those part more than the rest of the body.
I decide to show the upper part of his back to emphasise the physical effort. The character’s whole body is working, not just the arms, so I must show muscular contractions on the back. The legs are also working under the strain – they also provide the anchor for the rest of the body – so the muscles must be also contracted and in motion.
The body movement is also important. Here it forms an arc; the body follows the action, and this helps the viewer to understand that the character is struggling with his task. You can exaggerate the curve if you want to accentuate the character’s physical exertion. Furthermore, pushing the facial expression will help. The character can be in pain, have a look of concentration, or even crying with frustration. You can have fun adding details like sweat, a red face or protruding veins. The more details you add, the more convincing the final painting will be.
Facial expressions can also convey physical effort and struggle. However, in this example I choose to keep it simple, to focus on the body’s efforts.
The body’s curve brings movement and dynamism to the whole composition, and helps the viewer to understand what the character is doing. The more accentuated the body curve, the more convincing the action will be.