I’ve started a new collection of illustrations for the new year called The Dungeon Master Series. This project consists of 12 images dedicated to classic RPG moments gone suddenly, terribly wrong. It is built upon some previously established images of mine from previous years and the goal is larger print set (and possible calendar) dedicated to the theme.

Today, I’d like to share with you some of the development from the most recent image, Goblin Ambush!

Sketchbook Thumbnail and Digital Clean-up

Digital Color Comp


I don’t spend too long in the early thumbnailing and comp phase, even though in truth, it is one of my absolute favorite parts of any painting. It’s when all the most fun discovery occurs and while the temptation is to stay here forever, that is precisely the reason I need to rush it.  At this phase I want to get all of my ideas down as fast as possible while all of them are still fresh in my mind. If you get bogged down in shading, you may forget all the little moments that inspired you to draw this in the first place. So I want to capture all the action of the scene as fast as possible, and I don’t spend any longer than is absolutely necessary on any details or shading.

The Ugly Stage Comp

As the image progresses towards completion I spiral further and further out into both madness and slower, more intense rendering.

But there is a place between these two worlds; the one, a world of mad, chaotic creation, and the other, a world of methodical, organized rendering and completion. In between lies something truly horrific: The Ugly Stage. It is my least favorite part of any painting. It is where all of the hard work that goes into wrestling a thumbnail into a finished illustration is buried, often tucked away out of sight. The reworks, redraws, edits, the scrapped doodles. Usually, we illustrators don’t like for people to see all those skeletons under the floorboards, but well, here is the one from this image. And it is a real nightmare. (You won’t tell anyone, right? My friend, Mr. Tommygun would really like to keep this between us…) Once this horrible and tedious stage is taken care of, I can feel confident that the rest of the image is going to work out.

Clean it Up! Tight Line Drawing over Ugly Stage Comp

With the ugly stage out of the way, I produce a clean line drawing on smooth bristol using 2H and HB leads in a .5mm mechanical pencil. With all the guess-work taken care of in the previous stage I can make a drawing that is far more proportional and refined. This is particularly the case when you are working primarily from imagination, and have no photo reference to appeal to for help.

Since the drawing is only meant to capture the shapes and design, I don’t focus too much on rendering and shading yet. Those will come in the color phase and since I have a reasonably solid color comp, I don’t have to worry too much about figuring out where my lighting is coming from and where the shadows should be.

Step-by-Step Color Process

For the color work I first establish a warm “drawing” in watercolor over my graphite drawing. This warms up the lines and adds shadows. I then begin to slowly work in colors in washes until I have achieved the final saturation and value that I am after. I add in acrylic white for some highlights and opaque passages. I blend this right into the paint in some areas when I need a more natural looking transition. I am using non-staining watercolor paints and working on hot press, so this allows much of the intense colors to be re-activated and pushed around with the acrylic white. Finally, I scan in the image and add some details and refinement using Photoshop.

Thanks for joining me for this entry in the Dungeon Master Series. I look forward to sharing more with you soon!