Monday, July 30, 2012

Ghost Kraken

The actual title of this piece is Grasp of Thalarkis and it was painted as the cover to Dungeon #203 (to illustrate an article with the same name as the picture). I'll let you figure out who Thalarkis but I don't think that will be difficult.

I've always wanted to do a cover to either Dungeon or Dragon magazine. The magazines are e-zines now but a cover is still a unique challenge, a chance to stretch out, work in a vertical format and (sometimes) do a more complex picture. However, when I received the art description for this one, I knew I was looking at a real challenge. I was to illustrate a wizard with a glowing wand and a frightened expression his face being dragged down toward a shipwreck by a Kraken. Okay, that sounded cool but difficult but throw in that the kraken is a ghost and it became truly difficult. I made it even more difficult by forgetting that little fact as I was composing the picture and visualizing the color scheme.

One of the difficulties in painting an underwater scene is that it can easily become too monochromatic. The Kraken in the Dungeons & Dragons world is a yellow-green color and after composing this piece, I forgot that the Kraken was supposed to be ghostly so as I was visualizing the color scheme, I was thinking I'd have that yellow to keep the image from becoming too monochromatic. I was also conveniently forgetting that the kraken would actually have to be at least partially transparent (since it was a ghost).

When working digitally, I usually jump right in and paint in color but the requirements of this piece led me to work it out in black and white first. I started by roughing in the values and beginning to refine shapes in gray, eventually working up a complete value study so that I could make sure the picture read well. From there, I gradually added color, slowly building it up on layers in Photoshop until the picture was completed. I rarely work this way on the computer (although I almost always do a value study first when working in acrylic) but it definitely has it's benefits and I've used the approach a few times since. It's nice to solve problems in gray before applying color although I find it less instinctive and more difficult to build color using this method. In the end, it's another useful 'tool" to have in the tool belt.

I was happy with the way the picture turned out and so were the kind folks at Wizards of the Coast so I hope you like it too. In addition to the final painting, I've attached my initial rough, the preliminary drawing, the first gray study and the final gray value painting.


  1. Great piece! Love the process shots, too!

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