I have an as­sign­ment to paint a rot­ting an­i­mal. Any tips? Ja­son Man­drake, US

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Mark replies

I imag­ine a scene where a cow­boy finds the ca­daver of a gi­ant mu­tated creature in the desert. I want to de­pict the car­cass in a con­di­tion where most of the rot­ting phase is over, but the skin and skele­ton is almost fully in­tact. The dry cli­mate has pre­served the body, so we can still see the over­all shape of the beast.

I start by block­ing in the creature’s sil­hou­ette and then roughly paint the com­po­si­tion. Then I in­tro­duce parts of the skele­ton that’s vis­i­ble through the dry skin. The next step is to in­te­grate the bones and skin and also add some holes to the skin to show the hol­low in­sides of the car­cass. Lay­er­ing is im­por­tant here, be­cause I don’t want to end up with a flat an­i­mal pelt.

Fi­nally, I add more tex­tu­ral de­tails to the whole body, pri­mar­ily us­ing Over­lay lay­ers to pre­serve the painterly de­tails that are al­ready in place. I use var­i­ous tex­tured cus­tom brushes in this case, but this is also the op­por­tu­nity to be cre­ative. For ex­am­ple, in some of my projects I’ve used pho­tos of rust and con­crete sur­faces to achieve the look of an un­even rot­ting skin. I also fix the light­ing and add a few more de­tails to the fo­cal point to fin­ish the scene off, so that the im­age com­mu­ni­cates the story per­fectly.

Lay­er­ing the car­cass re­veals some of its skele­ton (1) and the hol­low body (2). I try to follow the bones with the skin (3) to cre­ate an in­ter­est­ing sil­hou­ette.

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