How can I con­vey to the viewer that a fig­ure is strug­gling to pick up an over­sized weapon?

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Ron­nie Jarvis, Wales

An­swer Mélanie replies

For a scene like this, I’m go­ing to ex­ag­ger­ate the char­ac­ter’s mus­cu­la­ture to make it more ob­vi­ous. I can achieve this sim­ply by in­creas­ing the shad­ing on the mus­cles, us­ing strong shad­ows.

My char­ac­ter is try­ing to pick up a sword, so his arm and back are the most im­por­tant part of the com­po­si­tion. It’s where the ac­tion is hap­pen­ing so I choose to fo­cus on this area, and de­tail those part more than the rest of the body.

I de­cide to show the up­per part of his back to em­pha­sise the phys­i­cal ef­fort. The char­ac­ter’s whole body is work­ing, not just the arms, so I must show mus­cu­lar con­trac­tions on the back. The legs are also work­ing un­der the strain – they also pro­vide the anchor for the rest of the body – so the mus­cles must be also con­tracted and in mo­tion.

The body move­ment is also im­por­tant. Here it forms an arc; the body fol­lows the ac­tion, and this helps the viewer to un­der­stand that the char­ac­ter is strug­gling with his task. You can ex­ag­ger­ate the curve if you want to ac­cen­tu­ate the char­ac­ter’s phys­i­cal ex­er­tion. Fur­ther­more, push­ing the fa­cial ex­pres­sion will help. The char­ac­ter can be in pain, have a look of con­cen­tra­tion, or even cry­ing with frus­tra­tion. You can have fun adding de­tails like sweat, a red face or pro­trud­ing veins. The more de­tails you add, the more con­vinc­ing the fi­nal paint­ing will be.

Fa­cial ex­pres­sions can also con­vey phys­i­cal ef­fort and strug­gle. How­ever, in this ex­am­ple I choose to keep it sim­ple, to fo­cus on the body’s ef­forts.

The body’s curve brings move­ment and dy­namism to the whole com­po­si­tion, and helps the viewer to un­der­stand what the char­ac­ter is do­ing. The more ac­cen­tu­ated the body curve, the more con­vinc­ing the ac­tion will be.

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