This cover illustration is for a DnD supplement book called: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms. I think it is the first cover I ever did picturing a bright sunny day in “Fantasy Land”. It struck me, while starting on it, that I always choose strong unrealistic or symbolic color themes. This time I would have to base the colors and light on something real.
The assignment was to show a Ranger waylaying a disguised Drow on a wagon pulled by a troll. All should take place in a sunny country-like setting. One evening in my sofa I sketched a couple of thumbs. One of them caught my fancy and I sent it along with a description of what it was. It kind of needed that. I was going to make the ranger hide behind a pillarof stone about to draw his weapons. Kate Irwin, my art director at Wotc liked the idea and asked me to continue.
As always, I started sketching each figure individually to keep me from keeping the darlings. I do a bunch of sketches of each figure going for the strongest expression or pose I can. The rest is abandoned midway or when I see they are of no use. I then digitally placed the ranger and the troll sketch in the thumb to see what it looks like altogether. “it kind of looked boring”. When I looked at it for a while I realized, that the trouble was, that the ranger, who was supposed to be the antagonist, was facing away from the action. His face was turned away from the villains and the whole storyline read more like he was being discovered while hiding in fear, than that he was attacking them. This is, to me, one of the worst pitfalls in sketching. Since I am the illustrator and I got the art description to read out loud again and again, I KNOW what is going on in the picture, no matter how unclear that is. But the spectator should be able to see the same thing even at first glance. That is my job.
So I started out again on the ranger. I sketched him as he was jumping over the pillar striking at the unaware troll. The troll seeming to have heard something behind the stone and looking for it while lifting his club. This sketch had a much better story. But now I ran into some other troubles: The Ranger was filling out way to much at the top of the image where the title would be. In order of moving him down I changed the pillar to a stone fence and corrected some anatomy of the troll. I also changed the drow from being unaware to having actually spotted the attacker desperately trying to pull the troll back. This image shows the scene right the second before it all goes bloody and crazy. It holds so much more tension and automatically makes you guess at the outcome. Those are my favourite. I am pretty sure the Troll is not going to make it, and the way the Ranger is smiling it seems like he got everything under control.
In transferring a sketch to board I try to further emphasize everything the picture is all about. I add details and use references of trees, stones, paths and wagon and harness. One more thing: I liked the idea, from the first thumb, that the troll was leaning or bending down searching as if he heard or discovered something. I was going to add a dead chicken or a bloody piece of meat to the cracks in the stone fence. Supposedly the Ranger left it there as a decoy to make the troll halt or even look down so that he could strike. I tried different things but was afraid that it would be impossible to see what it was, so I came up with the idea of a small golden statue of a ranger like figure. It would gleam and shimmer and catch the eye of the stupid troll. The nose acting almost like an arrow pointing towards the figurine.
The grey version is how my painting looks like before I start painting. It is inked in thin pen, toned with black acrylic. On a print out I made a colour rough. In the final I got so carried away in details that I even added butterflies. ( there is 2, can you find them?)I liked the idea of the ambush taking place in “just another day in Forgotten Realms”. I even stopped at my way to the studio in the morning to pick flowers along the road to paint from. This painting is one of my favourites from last year. Perhaps because I got to tell a story. When I think back on my favourite DND covers it is always the ones with a story I remember the clearest.