Tell a story with an image
Applibot illustrator Crowgod lays out the process he uses to create artwork for the online card game Legend of the Cryptids
Crowgod on creating art for Legend of the Cryptids.
One of the things I’ve learnt from working on Applibot’s Legend of the Cryptids line is the importance of being able to tell a story through an illustration. With Applibot’s appetite for success, the art has to appeal to a wide audience who may be unfamiliar with the Cryptids brand, which in turn might be the push they need to try out the game.
Therefore, before drawing even a rough sketch, I read the description of the scene carefully and imagine what’s happening to the character. The premise of the scene is that a young warrior is desperately seeking out a miracle cure that’s somewhere at the top of a giant tree, in order to heal his sick mother.
I want to make the figure as heroic-looking as possible – hopefully he’ll become an iconic card character. To tie in with the tree theme, he’ll wield an axe rather than a sword. Picturing him midway up the giant tree, high above the clouds, will increase the feeling of peril and drama in the scene, which should further engage the viewer.
Okay, enough talk – let’s get to work!
1 Quick sketch
I draw a quick sketch of a giant tree reaching up into the sky. I consider the diameter of the tree, how it grows and its appearance. It should be a solid structure that can be climbed without using ropes. My character is a young warrior, and I decide to depict him bare-chested after seeing some reference photos of rock climbers. As well as being dangerously high up the tree, there’s added drama from the small dragon that’s attacking him. The scene will be well lit because it takes place high above the clouds.
2 Monochrome sketch
I draw the character, monster and objects in the background all in black and white. Darker colours on the edges of the image and lighter colours towards the centre help to create the focal point, which is where the struggle in the sky is taking place. I use greyish colours on the background because I want to soften the contrast between black and white. As a result, I make this grey area the most eyecatching area in this illustration. I use the strong backlight to help make the atmosphere perspective pop off the page.
3 Colour process
I create a Multiply layer and choose a base colour by using the Gradient tool. Then I apply this using the Paint Bucket tool. Next, I create an Overlay layer and use a light colour to highlight the differences between the objects.
4 Raising the contrast
I now create an Overlay layer, then add colours to the dark side of objects and bright side of the background because I want to accentuate the contrast between them. Then, on another Overlay layer I add the reflected light on the dark side of objects. I repeat this stage, but this time reduce the Opacity to 36 per cent, to achieve the right amount of contrast between the duelling characters and the background.
5 Colour sketch
I create a new Multiply layer and choose the Gradient tool and Paint Bucket tool to paint the base colour. Then I create an Overlay and Color Dodge layer to highlight the basic colour of the character and background. Using these layers boosts the base colour, so to control the brightness of this colour I adjust the Opacity using a soft brush.
6 Colour tweaks
You could also adjust the colour using the options within a Fill or Adjustment layer. I choose Vibrance… from the ‘Create new Fill or Adjustment layer’ option to tweak the saturation. I also use the Selective Color menu. I set up my colour palette as HSB sliders – it’s a quick way to adjust the purity of colour and saturation in the image.
7 Take your time with colours
It’s not easy to create an image with lots of elements and keep them in balance. I advise being patient and thinking before making your next brush stroke. I always search for reference images for depicting the texture of objects, and then use different light spots to unify all the various elements.
8 Character accessories
At this point I need to think more about the character’s clothing. I decide to give him some protective gear – the sharpened metal plates around his legs and lower arms – but I’m mindful that he still needs the freedom and flexibility to be able to climb the tree. This is why I choose to clothe him in fabric trousers, with leather belts included for visual interest. Elsewhere in the scene, I pay attention to the gradation of colours on different layers.
9 Adjust the atmosphere
I copy the character and the dragon using the Lasso tool onto the new layer. After that I create a new layer based on the original one. This enables me to use the Paint Bucket tool to paint, as well as adjust the overall Opacity. The result is that I enhance the depth of the tree that’s in the mid-ground.
10 Detailed design
I always think that a well-thoughtout design aids the storytelling in the scene. Here I’ve indicated the interaction between the young warrior and the dragon, which enhances the feeling of movement. The figure’s pose is offbalance and his muscles are tensed, which shows he’s ready to strike the dragon. The direction he’s facing also adds to the sense of threat in the situation.
11 Reading the scene
People are used to reading from left to right, top to bottom and near to far. Therefore, the viewer should be able to see a strong, powerful anti-clockwise curve that’s produced by the twisted giant tree. This curve matches the movement of the axe. The dragon’s facial expression is a clear indication that it knows it’s about to get a lot shorter…
12 Depth and volume
I add gnarly details to the tree trunk in the mid-ground to show its almost menacing bulk. Then I create more layers and paint a range of different elements such as clouds and the land far below, which enhances the depth between the background and foreground.
13 Additional elements
I add more details and a pattern to the axe. Then I adjust the edge line of character and foreground to accentuate the volumes and the depth within the painting. Highlighting the edges and painting reflected light also helps to bring out the volume of objects.
14 Finishing up
I decide that I want to make my warrior look even younger, so I adjust his face accordingly. Finally, I introduce a beam of light that picks out his body, and tweak the highlights in the scene.