Most of my career has essentially involved making two-dimensional images that represent three-dimensional realities, and most of my education involved drawing from observation. But what happens when your process is to draw what you observe, but you don’t have anything to look at?


What do you do when you don’t have the models or reference you need, or can use? Of course, for people, I try to find the right models and costumes and shoot my own photo reference, or on the case of landscapes, I work on location. Like many illustrators, I sometimes create the reference itself- which sometimes involves making fairly elaborate reference models.

For the cover of the book Written in my Own Heart’s Blood, I was asked to make an illustration based on the number 8. After many flase starts (involving octopi, spiders etc) I eventually settled on the mobius-strip like concept of an Octothorpe.

Rising to that challenge is one of my favorite parts of illustration. This month I thought I would share a few of the sculpted props I have made for my illustration projects.  Although these pale in comparison the work of dedicated three  dimensional illustrators like Chris Sickles, making reference models is one of my favorite parts of my process, and as such, I thought I might share with the Muddy Colors readers.



Preliminary drawing for a story…about a dragon living beneath a city…

I always start with some kind of drawing…

…Then I might make some kind of rough shapes for lighting, in this case using plastacine clay…

Then you realize that for the sake of continuity you need more reference…

The finished art.

and then,  you paint the finished art.

three versions and the finished cover for the anniversary edition of Outlander.

Something that I had not planned on was that sometimes the reference model would evolve into being the illustration itself.

Artwork that was used was created as a sketch for the book cover eventually found its way onto the Outlander television series.

evolution of the octothorpe fron a brooch to a wax seal.

a little Anubis bracelet prop

Part of a cover of a landscape created from paintings and photographs or grass rocks and tree branches. Be Sure: it’s good advice.

Previsualization for a painting incorporating photographs shot in a swimming pool with a house made of Gator Board.

Here is a reference sculpture in progress…the molten effect is achieved with using red casting wax over a sculpy base, then melted with a blowtorch.

this dinosaur ( 30 inches long) was originally created as reference for a piece of concept art did for Jurassic Park many years ago. The t-rex in the film evolved in a different direction, but this sculpture survived and  sat in my studio for years.  One day Bruce Wolfe saw it and suggested that I have it cast in Bronze.

The casting process was highly instructive – it might be a good subject for a future article.

And so, like the “Dino DNA”  in Jurassic Park, my reference model found a new life – in this case as a sculpture in an edition of ten.

As I used to tell my kids (and now occasionally tell students) – “I can’t tell you what will happen if you do something- I can only tell you what will happen if you don’t.”