My ‘Rose Red’ painting is currently hanging at the Norman Rockwell Museum as part of their ‘Enchanted: The History of Fantasy Illustration‘ exhibit. As such, I thought it’d be fun to dust off this old post from when I first painted this image. It’s odd to look back on this article now, as you never know what pieces of yours will stand the test of time. At the moment, it felt like any other job. Now, it has become one of my most iconic images in my portfolio.

The following article was originally posted September, 2013:

Here is a painting I just finished up for DC Vertigo’s best selling comic, ‘Fables‘. Shelly Bond, Executive Editor for Vertigo, asked me to depict the heroine Rose Red for issue #136’s cover. She asked that I either show her knighting Lancelot, or show her by herself with a focus on her armor. I worked up two different versions of each concept, and submitted them for approval.


Shelly decided to go with the more contemplative solo shot of Rose Red, feeling that the composition was a nice compliment to the previous issue’s cover painted by Greg Ruth.

Once I had sketch approval, I went about acquiring reference. Since the look for the character was already established, I was mostly concerned with lighting and anatomy reference. I used an amalgam of reference to aid me in the painting process, including:

– A photograph of a student from the IMC, whose hair was similar in color and cut to Rose’s,
– A 12″ figurine, which I donned with aluminum foil armor, for general lighting information,
– A shot of my Niece, to help me portray the realism of the face and hands.

Once I had all my reference, I redrew the sketch directly onto my gessoed illustration board. There were still a lot of graphic decisions to be made about the armor, so the drawing process actually took considerably longer than usual since I kept double guessing myself.

Eventually, I resolved the drawing, sealed it, and went about laying in paint. I began with a very light wash of oils to help establish the overall color scheme.


I allowed the wash to dry overnight, and then went back into it with semi-opaque paint, gradually building up the realism.

Eventually, I got to a point where I could start to envision the final, and was not happy with what I saw.  The general temperature scheme of the monochromatic sketch looked fine to me, but something about the actual painting looked ‘off’. The flesh tones of the face were a particular struggle, as they just looked a little lifeless and icky.

Often times, when I’m stuck like this, I will photograph my painting, import it into Photoshop, and just start messing around with it. This allows me to make brazen revisions without fear of destroying the original painting.

I soon discovered that the flesh tones were fine… it was the color of the armor that was making them look messed up. In fact, the whole painting would look a lot better if the armor were gold instead of silver.

Changing silver armor to gold armor is pretty darn easy in Photoshop. In real paint… not so much. There is no easy way to do it. You just need to suck it up, and repaint the darn thing. I was able to color shift a good amount of it simply by applying an intense yellow glaze, but ultimately it took a lot more time than I would have liked. Though, in the end, I think it was worth it.

The revised comp also prompted me to add some more rose bushes around her, both on top and in front.

Secure in my color choices, I just needed to refine things. A little more polish, a lot of filigree, and the image was finally complete.

Rose Red, by Dan dos Santos. Oils on Board, 12×16 in.

For those of you in the area, I will be exhibiting the original painting this weekend at IlluXcon in Allentown, PA, along with a several other works.

Fables #136 will be on the stands in Mid-December.