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Core Illustration Process

Orc Warlord Card Illustration
In this tutorial I will be sharing with you my current core process for creating illustrations. I’ll be guiding you through each step of my art process in creating the Orc Warlord boss monster illustration for the Legends of Draxia card game. A fantastic small-box resource management card game if you're interested in checking it out.

1. Thumbnailing

With the overall concept in hand from the client: that these would be tarot shaped vertical cards featuring a single boss monster each and that this card would be an Orc warlord. I was excited about this commission because beyond the boss-type I was given full freedom as the artist to design the bosses.

So, I start my thumbnailing, getting my brain to start moving and design this boss. I am thinking I am going to want him to be large and muscular almost hulk-like to really show his power as a warlord. In my thumbnailing I am looking at the overall composition, the figures pose, and the gesture of the sketch. I will do as many thumbnails as needed until I find one that resonates with me.

2. The Sketch

My clients never see my thumbnails because they are like an artist’s shorthand and are not typically clear enough to sell a client on an idea for an illustration. So, I refine my thumbnail defining all the major elements of the illustration such as the anatomy of the figure and major costume elements. I also use a little color to help break up the shapes and make the figure stand out from the background. Since this will be a card illustration in a game I also place the game text over the sketch so my client can see how all the elements will interact with the art at the end. So my client knows that this artwork will work in their game.


3. Drawing Phase

My favorite part of the process. With the sketch approved I print out the sketch (minus the text) extremely lightly on smooth comic Bristol (the best paper to draw on in the universe), then begin blocking in my drawing in col-erase colored pencil. I find to start with the colored pencil helps to move across the drawing a little looser then if I jumped right into a lead. I work quickly at this stage of the drawing blocking everything in.

Once I am confident in the direction I wish to take my drawing I switch to working in 2H & HB mechanical pencil and really dive into the drawing. At this point, the design of the character and composition are all solved for already so I can just zone out and draw. Love this part. When drawing I typically draw all the holding lines first, then and texture or inner detail, and lastly build up my thick to thin line quality at the very end of the process. With the drawing completed, I will scan it and bring it into Procreate.

4. Setting up for Paint: Flatting/masking

Before jumping right into paint I first flat in all the major shapes in a piece, each on its own separate layer. This is so that I can quickly select these shapes during the actual painting process. In Procreate you can now save these shapes as selections so that they do not take up layers or in PS you can save these as alpha channels to again conserve layers. Since this piece is fairly simple with just a single figure, I just flat in the figure to separate it from the background.


5. Let’s Start Painting

With all the foundation work done I start that actual painting. A general rule when painting traditionally in oil, which is how I learned to paint,  is to work back to front. So, even though I am painting digitally I still follow this rule. I start into the background taking it to a point where it is almost finished.

Since this will be a card illustration I keep the background fairly simple and loose. I use darker values in the corners to focus your eye on the figure and the diagonal smoke/wisp lines to add a sense of motion to the composition by emphasizing the overall thrust of the composition.

6. Bring in the Color: Local Color

I now begin work on the figure by first flatting in each major shape separately in its respective local color. Local color is the color of a surface with no light or shadow affecting it. As the image shows I also keep each shape on its own separate layer so that I can quickly select each layer should I need to modify just that element as I move forward. This helps me to be more flexible and quicker in making adjustments as I go.

7. Initial Gradation

I begin the actual rendering of the illustration by placing an initial gradient over the whole main figure. I find this immediately brings flow to the figure and gives me something to que off of and channel as I move deeper into rendering. Here is an image with the gradient applied as I intended: a soft light yellow layer and next to it I turned that layer back to normal so you better see it since it is subtle.

Though it is hard to notice without a side by side comparison I also colorize my lineart at this stage. I was finding that the black line was really draining the life from my illustration. So, I changed the linework to brown which warmed up the piece and better blended the linework with my color scheme.

8. Value Pass

When rendering an illustration in simple terms I use a multiply layer for the shading and a normal layer for the lights. The multiply layer is usually set between 50%-100% depending on how I feel. For example, if I know I will do more than one pass the first pass will probably be at 50% with the subsequent passes being more opaque. This side-by-side shows the illustration with the shadow layer set to multiply and on the right, I switched it to normal and turned off the lineart so that you can see what this rendering looks like.

I play around with my shadow color wanting to achieve the right warm feel. Since the shadows are on their own layer I can always select this layer and color it or use HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) to modify the layer to shift its color.

9. That Last 10%: Rendering Fine Details & Focal Point

This last stage of painting is all about making the illustration pop. I darken key shadows, brighten the highlights in the focal point, and refine the rendering in the face of the Warlord. This is a fun part as I love to get in there and noodle the details. I block in the brights in the focal point on a normal layer set to 100% opacity. The focus here is making sure the illustration reads clearly and that what I want to be the focal point of the illustration (his face) reads as the focal point.

10. Prep for Print / Final Delivery to Client:

With the painting finished there is one final quickstep where I save out the illustration in various formats: RGB for digital, CMYK for print (when moving back and forth have to often do HSL, Brightness/contrast adjustments). I want to make sure I have the right types of image files ready to deliver to the client. With these files saved out the illustration is finished!