Painting against a dark background
Kev Crossley breaks out the easel, brushes, pencils and paints, and tackles a classic pulp fantasy composition with a twist
For this painting I wanted to pay homage to the classic fantasy compositions I loved as a kid. The image of a lone hero battling atop a mound of fallen foes is perhaps the principal cliché of fantasy art. But the dramatic potential is huge and besides, it’s great fun to draw!
I was also inspired by the PreRaphaelites, in particular John William Waterhouse and the infamous Baroque painter Caravaggio. They utilised dark background colours to contrast against the pale skin tones of their subjects with striking effect.
While still at school, I taught myself how to paint using watercolours and coloured inks. I never received any formal instruction, so I had to work out the rhythm and flow of the medium by trial and (much!) error. The looseness and versatility of the paint when applied in wet washes was endlessly rewarding. Complex colour planes could be built up by layering consecutive translucent washes, and I enjoyed how the wet paint sometimes dried to leave abstract marks and patterns. However, because of the transparent nature of watercolour it isn’t practical to paint light over dark, and this became a limiting factor when I sought to emulate the oil paintings of the old artists who inspired me so much. I began to use the paint thick, straight from the tube with little water, but watercolours simply aren’t intended to be used in this way: the colours become lifeless and flat.
It was during this time that fully painted art began to appear in sci-fi/ fantasy comic 2000 AD. I discovered acrylics were the medium most frequently used, so I bought my first set and began the long process of teaching myself to use them. I found I was able to get closer to that classic fantasy art feel, but I haven’t put away the watercolours for good.
A common practice among oil painters involved producing a watercolour sketch of a painting before starting work on the final oil version. The artist would experiment with the colour palette and tone balance, saving time later on.
After 15 years designing video games, Kev turned freelance, illustrating monsters and warriors for gaming books, working for 2000 AD and various US publishers. He also provided writing and art for books, and in 2012 illustrated Ian Livingstone’s 30th anniversary Fighting Fantasy title, Blood Of The Zombies. www.kevcrossley.com