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