A while back I was contacted by a collector who was interested in commissioning a large scale painting of one of his favorite characters, Harry Dresden of the ‘Dresden Files‘. Not only have I been trying to steer my work more towards private commissions, but I am also a huge fan of the series myself, so it was a great opportunity to paint something fun.
I had done a few paintings of Harry already for various editions of the novels, so the collector was already familiar with my work, and I was already familiar with the character. The commission however, still posed a few unique challenges.
Unlike a book cover, there isn’t just a single story I was trying to depict. Instead, I had 14 novels worth of inspiration to pull from! Thats a lot of material, and there is no way to really encapsulate it all in one image. So instead, I tried to focus on scenes that included some of the characters that I, and my client, liked the most…
First and foremost is Harry Dresden, a modern day wizard who helps maintain some semblence of supernatural order in his native city of Chicago.
My client is also a particular fan of the Denarians, demons whose souls embody the 30 pieces of silver Judas received to betray Christ. Whomever comes in contact with these coins becomes the unwilling host to those demons.
Then there is Lasciel, a Denarian herself (albeit a bit more friendly than most), who mentally posseses Harry after he touched one of the coins. Lash constantly tempts Harry with knowledge and power beyond his means, which he refuses, knowing it would only grant her greater power over him.
And lastly, Susan, a reporter turned vampire who shares a romantic past with Harry.
Below are some of the sketches I submitted for approval. Yet, for each completed sketch you see, there were dozens more left incomplete.
In the next few installments, I will show you which sketch the client picked, the revisions, the photo shoot, and of course the process leading up to the final painting. So stay tuned for more!
Oh thank you Dan! I just love process posts 🙂
How long did you spend in those sketches? they seem pretty refined to me, and knowing there are many more unfinished ones.. that's a lot of work! I'm guessing that since this is for a collector, you were given a longer stretch of time to do this commission, am i wrong?
I do hope he choses the big one-kinda epic and victorious…or the one with the bubble and cracking ground – I find it rly dynamic and overall cool…the romantic ones are good too if you are into this romantic thing 😛 and the one on the bottom is rly nice as well but may I ask if it would be better for the composition if his head was at least slightly turned towards the line of fire…maybe his body leaning backwards in the opposite direction…or it would be too much with all those “glowing arrows” that are pointing in that diagonal already. I know it is not a blog for suggestions and discusions but that is how I feel the piece. Would love to hear your oppinion. Thank you
I would imagine that where the painting will hang would also be an important consideration.
Dang, how did your client ever decide between all these killer concepts? Really gorgeous, all of them. How long would you say each concept took you to cook up, Dan?
Like I mentioned, there are a lot of bad one you don't see here. But if I get 1 or 2 good ones done in a day, I'm happy.
Possibly, but at the sketch stage, I'm not really worried about that. If he were to choose that sketch, I would then start messing around with subtle things like that.
Each one takes a few hours, but it takes hours to get to that point. And yes, private commissions have a considerably longer deadline. Because publishing deadlines always take precedence, private piece can take up to a year to complete.
Possibly, but I would hope not too much. For what he's spending on the painting, he's better off rearranging the room.
How many thumbnails do you generally do to get to each sketch?
It's totally random. Sometimes 1, sometimes 20. You just keep sketching until you strike gold.
Great sketches, Dan, as usual when I come here I get floored.
I hope you don't mind another kind of technical question, though (and take it in the spirit in which it is meant).
Every now and then I have had a private client asking about commissions infolving famous literary characters ( Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones come to mind), up to now I've always declined, since those characters aren't of my own devising and the client wasn't a right-holder for the IP, now, though, I wonder if I haven't been over-cautious.
Would you (or anyone else on Muddy Colors) be so kind as to elaborate a bit on the topic, please?
That makes sense. Thanks!
You can create an original work of art of any character you want, and sell it, even Mickey Mouse. In the US, the original art is protected under your First Amendment rights. Making reproductions is a totally different story.
I'm not saying your painting should “match the couch”, but a more formal composition might fit better with traditional decor where if the room is very modern a more dynamic composition might fit better.
Thank you, Dan, that's good to know.
Hi Dan– I'm a huge fan of your work and am an illustrator myself. I've never had the opportunity or instruction on how to work with oils, but I'd very much like to give it a try, if for nothing else than to learn something new. If you have a spare moment, could you suggest a good way to start learning to use them? Hope my question isn't too vague.
All the best!
There is 3 years worth of blog posts, to start.
I also have a few free tutorials on my website:
First of all, let me start by saying that I have never heard of this character, and know nothing about him.
For me, a piece of art is successful if it extracts an emotional response from me. If I can just walk by it, than I don't consider it successful. A prime example of this is the sports paintings of Leroy Neiman. I hated them! But they definitely got a reaction out of me – ire! Probably not the reaction he wanted, but for that reason I always considered them successful.
These paintings are definitely successful, although they do not lead me to wanting to buy one or all of the books about Dresden. Why? Because the paintings shout “asshole” at me.
Not your fault of course, The paintings are beautiful, and you always shine when you have more space than a book cover in which to tell your story. Even though one of these will ultimately be a one-of-a-kind-commissioned-painting, I hope you sell some prints.
Fabulous! Still, I don't see Bob in his spirit form, and he's one of the nicest character in the books.
Did you vision the spells reacting like special effects or is it just to show the viewer the “physical” effects a spell would have on the surroundings?
Dan, I think I know which one was picked…seems like I saw one of these before…is that possible?
Btw had a great time hanging out with you at IMC last summer. Stay cool bro.
My money is on number three. 😉
LOVE the treatment on Harry's shield bracelet. He looks awfully young, though. Is this by the client's choice? I often picture Harry as a bit older, or at least looking older than he is because of getting knocked around for most of his life. I also choose #3.
And he tried, trying to get away from the city where it was. I do not know what to put you in the sadness is regret or angry anxiety! He continued on to the game and enjoyed it every single day