How to cre­ate an iconic por­trait with Mélanie Delon PLUS! Ge­orge RR Martin re­veals his favourite art

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Be­ing a long-time fan of Ge­orge RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book se­ries, it’s per­haps no sur­prise that Daen­erys Storm­born is my favourite char­ac­ter. She’s de­ter­mined, ruth­less, beau­ti­ful and clever… and she’s got drag­ons. So it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to be asked to paint her.

The process be­gins when I re­ceive some com­po­si­tion ideas from the Imag­ineFX team: they want her sit­ting on the Iron Throne with a dragon in the scene. Cru­cially, they stress that she doesn’t look like the gor­geous ac­tress

1 Ideas on paper

I quickly sketch my first idea out on paper. It’s nei­ther de­tailed nor pro­por­tion­ally cor­rect, but it helps me to see if what I’ve imag­ined is work­able. I don’t try to per­fectly re­alise my idea – it’s more a sketch of the real sketch. I’m a firm be­liever in sketch­ing im­pul­sively and nat­u­rally. I never over­think my sketches on paper. Emilia Clarke from the TV adap­ta­tion. I agree that it would have spoiled the fun of cre­at­ing the char­ac­ter: I want to paint Daen­erys how I imag­ined her when I first read the books.

It’s the same for her winged com­pan­ion. Be­cause it’ll be my very first dragon, I know be­fore start­ing any­thing that it’s go­ing to be the most dif­fi­cult part of the paint­ing process. I want him to look strong, real­is­tic and in­ter­est­ing. With this in mind, I have to do a lot of re­search for the beast. It’s cru­cial to have a strong base be­fore start­ing the paint­ing, just to

2 The colour scheme

I con­tinue with my paper sketch, then scan it and open it in Pho­to­shop. At this early stage I want to choose a ba­sic colour scheme and de­cide on the light­ing. Again, I don’t need to have de­tails in place – I sim­ply pick my colours and ap­ply them to my line art. I use a ba­sic Round­edged or a very smooth tex­tured brush, and set them to a large size. know where I’m go­ing with him. It’ll save a lot of time in the long run. Once ev­ery­thing is clear in my head I can start sketch­ing. There are a lot of de­tails in this paint­ing and it’s easy to be­come overwhelmed by the amount of el­e­ments in­volved, so it pays to be or­gan­ised in my ap­proach. I need to work on a big can­vas: this il­lus­tra­tion is 3,756x6,199 pix­els at 300dpi. A 3,000 pixel-sized im­age is the min­i­mum if you want to in­tro­duce de­tails to your paint­ing. Okay, it’s time to bring the beau­ti­ful Daen­erys to life… my way!

3 Start­ing for real

Once my prepara­tory sketch is done I can be­gin on the real paint­ing. I’ll be paint­ing over the sketch in this in­stance, but I could have done this on a new layer. Speak­ing of which, I re­work all the parts of the sketch on a new layer, this time pay­ing at­ten­tion to the anatomy. I even take pho­tos of my­self sit­ting in the right po­si­tion. Again, I don’t need pre­cise strokes so I use a ba­sic Round-edged brush.

4 A collection of swords

I now tackle the Iron Throne. It’s not your usual fan­tasy throne – in the books it’s said to be made up of a thou­sand swords, but I won’t be paint­ing all of them! I sim­ply paint one or two ba­sic sword shapes on a dif­fer­ent layer, then du­pli­cate the layer and place it next to the first one. I re­peat this step sev­eral times un­til I cover the back of the throne.

5 Defin­ing the face

I want Daen­erys to look young and in­no­cent like an an­gel, but also de­ter­mined and quite dan­ger­ous. To achieve this I play with my colours and con­trast. The char­ac­ter has white hair so I de­cide to ap­ply pale, ten­der colours to her face, and keep the rest of the paint­ing very dark. I add some very light pur­ple around her eyes mixed with a pale blue, to in­crease the re­al­ism of the skin tone.

6 Mak­ing the neck­lace stand out

I want the queen’s jew­ellery to con­vey her im­por­tance, and my so­lu­tion is to cre­ate a col­lar/neck­lace combo with golden drag­ons. I do a quick line art over the paint­ing to vi­su­alise my idea, and then with a tex­tured brush I start on the base. I choose a mid-tone for it in­stead of giv­ing it an overly bright or dark colour, be­cause it’ll be eas­ier for me to add light and shad­ows to it later on.

7 Re­fin­ing the face

I care­fully add some vol­ume to the face, by in­creas­ing the lights and shad­ows. I use a very soft brush for the skin, mixed with some spack­led ef­fects to add more colour vari­a­tions and tex­ture. For the eyes, mouth and nose de­tails I work with a ba­sic Round edged brush. I set Dy­namic Shape>Min­i­mum Di­am­e­ter to 0 per cent, which is per­fect for ap­ply­ing fine de­tails.

8 The dragon

At this stage, I have to change the dragon’s po­si­tion. He needs to be look­ing at the viewer, so I have to re­think it en­tirely. I quickly sketch new line art over the paint­ing to see how it can work with­out ru­in­ing ev­ery­thing I’ve al­ready done. Then on a new layer I start de­pict­ing the dragon’s re­vised shape. I work from a limited colour scheme for the mo­ment, be­cause I need to find the right com­po­si­tion first.

9 A dress for royalty

I al­ways work on my il­lus­tra­tions as a whole when I have a lot of el­e­ments. It’s the best way to unify the im­age, en­sur­ing that ev­ery­thing looks like it be­longs in the scene. So now I need to work on the dress. I keep the shape sim­ple, then add some em­broi­dery to the bot­tom of it. To save time I draw some pat­terns, and then du­pli­cate and place the lay­ers where nec­es­sary.

10 The dragon’s head

It’s time to go back to the dragon, whose head needs a bit of work. This step is the most dif­fi­cult for me, be­cause it’s not a crea­ture I’m used to de­pict­ing. I try dif­fer­ent shapes and styles un­til I find the one I like. It’s a mix of Chi­nese and rep­til­ian drag­ons. I choose to en­hance its scaly skin by adding some pale pink to his nos­trils and a very bright or­ange on the top of his snout.

11 Adding more jewels

I go back to Daen­erys’s dress and her jew­ellery, and de­cide to add a big or­ange gem­stone, to sym­bol­ise fire. The de­sign is in­spired by the Art Nou­veau move­ment be­cause she needs to have some fem­i­nine, al­most girly el­e­ments on her – re­flect­ing the queen’s youth. I also add some blue stones in the col­lar dragon, in­stead of hav­ing some­thing in solid gold.

12 Tex­tur­ing the dragon

The dragon’s head needs a lot of tex­tur­ing if he’s to look real. I want him to be cov­ered with scales; he must have a strong-look­ing, thick skin. So I build it up layer by layer. The more scales and de­tails I add, the bet­ter the end re­sult will be. Dur­ing this stage I change my mind and de­cide to paint him with real eyes, in­stead of glow­ing ones that are per­haps slightly too fan­tas­ti­cal for the com­po­si­tion.

13 The throne

The char­ac­ters are im­por­tant but the throne is also a key part in this scene. I need to add more swords and blades all around it. I in­tro­duce more swords next to her left arm, with dif­fer­ent pom­mels, hilt de­signs and colours. I don’t tex­ture the blades too much for now – I sim­ply use a ba­sic Round edged brush to paint the dif­fer­ent bases. I du­pli­cate swords where ap­pro­pri­ate to save time, which is cru­cial when work­ing to a dead­line.

14 Add tex­ture to the swords

The swords must look used, so on an­other layer and with a very small brush I scrib­ble all over the blades and pom­mel to mimic the in­tense wear and tear of bat­tle. This is also a good way to cre­ate vari­a­tions when paint­ing iron or any other kind of metal. This tex­tur­ing process takes me a long time. I also use some Screen lay­ers to make the light brighter on the edges of the swords.

15 The dragon’s body

The dragon needs to have more de­tail el­e­ments too, such as scales and huge horns all over his body. I paint those on a dif­fer­ent layer, just to main­tain con­trol over these new el­e­ments. So, for ex­am­ple, if I need to re­size a sin­gle horn I can do it with­out mod­i­fy­ing the whole el­e­ment. I use a tex­tured brush for this step, be­cause I don’t want the dragon’s skin to be­come smooth and shiny.

16 Ex­tra de­tails

I con­tinue paint­ing the queen’s trap­pings of her reign, giv­ing her a golden chain over her arms and a sim­ple crown on her head. This crown is also a sym­bol of fire – the golden waves are like flames. I add dots of light to the jewels, be­cause those el­e­ments need to be shiny. To cre­ate this ef­fect I se­lect a bright yel­low colour and set the layer to Screen mode.

17 Fi­nal ad­just­ments

Once the de­tails are done I play with the light. I’m keen to de­pict a glow­ing ef­fect around her face and also on the up­per part of the throne. I choose a bright pas­tel green and then, with a large di­am­e­ter size brush, I paint over all the ar­eas where I want more light. I set the layer to Color Dodge on a very low Opac­ity and add the light that will bring the scene to life. Be­hold, the ma­jes­tic Daen­erys Storm­born!

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