Today I’d like to share a quirky little image I painted recently for a #LETSDRAWMONSTERS community challenge that we hosted on Twitch. The prompt was to design and draw a Hydra, but one based upon Herons, instead of the classic snakes or sea serpents.  We also added a bit of narrative that it would hunt for victims in a murky swamp and for anyone interested in going the extra mile, we added a hero who must confront it, whom the chat aptly named “Toadysseus the Hoplite.”

Before embarking on the journey, I did some reference studies of the monster I was about to draw. I found some great shots of herons wading and hunting to use for these life studies. Committing the forms and shapes to mind before diving in helps me keep my creature grounded in reality, while also allowing me the freedom to create wild poses and compositions, without having to be locked in to using the exact angle and lighting of my reference.


After I finish doing the life drawing, I did some sketches of my scene.  This first sketch felt correct. I end up changing a lot from here, but this was a good base to get started from. I know where my characters are generally going to be placed and their relationship to one another. I know where my horizon line is, and where everything sits in three dimensional space. I would go on to add many things in later on, branches, lily pads, fog, an entire ship, but all of these things exist around the main elements of the composition here. I think this first sketch is always the most important bit of drawing that I will do in the entire image-making process.  Everything else depends on this.

For this one, instead of working with my beloved pencils to create a more dense drawing, I dove right into the underpainting to get a sense of my lighting and mood.

With my values established, I move on to a rather simple color study.  I am working in Photoshop on a Wacom tablet to add color, and have used color dodge and soft light layers to pull the bright warm colors out from the dull neutral background. Understanding the color temperatures is my main focus here. After I get a sense of what those should feel like, I then make sure my local colors are working as well. For this I use a color layer to add in the brighter greens of the frog figure and the dull greens of the lily pads.

With that setup, I can now begin to splash around with more aggressive and interesting brushwork, to try and pull texture and movement out of the shapes and colors.  There is so much less to worry about now that my values and colors are established, which fives me a great sense of freedom at this point.

The whole painting was finished live on stream over the course of 4 streams. All-in-all, it took about 16 hours, which is faster than I normally work, but very enjoyable for something done live while interacting with everyone.

I hope you like this one! If you’d like to join us in a future stream, I stream on Twitch every Wednesday at 10AM EST at: