How would I go about il­lus­trat­ing iri­des­cent scales and feath­ers?

ImagineFX - - Imaginenation Artist Q&A -

Ruth Geal, Eng­land

Al­li­son replies

The key to paint­ing iri­des­cence lies in un­der­stand­ing a lit­tle about how iri­des­cence works and how it ap­pears in na­ture. Iri­des­cence is a prod­uct of struc­tural col­oration. It’s pro­duced by mi­cro­scopic struc­tures that re­fract light waves be­tween lay­ers of light-re­flect­ing cells. The lo­ca­tion and shape of th­ese struc­tures varies from species to species – lizards, snakes, and birds, for in­stance, are all dif­fer­ent.

Birds use iri­des­cence for courtship and dis­play. When paint­ing feath­ers, I put down a base tone and then be­gin lay­ing out sat­u­ra­tion changes and where the light will hit. I tend to think of it in terms of hot spots (sat­u­rated warm tones where the light hits) and cool spots (darker, cooler sat­u­rated spots that help boost the hot spots), that I then fade into slightly de­sat­u­rated mid­tones where the shape falls out of the light.

A snake’s iri­des­cence is tied heav­ily to the kind of scales it has. Those with heav­ily keeled scales are of­ten dull and drab, while those with smooth scales (ideal for fric­tion re­duc­tion) ex­hibit it quite fre­quently. Once I’ve plot­ted out scales and have an idea of where the light will hit I start build­ing up low-opac­ity colour in the spots where the iri­des­cence should fall (this is typ­i­cally not where the light di­rectly falls, but on ei­ther side of it). Un­der­stand­ing the va­ri­ety and func­tion­al­ity of the scales will help you de­ter­mine what kind of scales your crea­ture should have, and how much iri­des­cence would make sense.

I chose a feath­ered ser­pent for this task for the con­trast in iri­des­cence – the slick, smooth sur­face of a snake vs the softer, bril­liant feath­ers of a bird.

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