-By Chris Casciano

Hello Muddy Colors! I can’t quite express my excitement to share my process here on this amazing platform for the very first time! For the last six years I’ve been painting heroes for my personal series, The Iron Cast. When I first started the series my inspiration came from attending my local renaissance festival, and more specifically, watching the armored joust. It was the best! I got to watch people smack each other with pointy objects, gorge on giant turkey legs, and yell silly things like, “huzzah,” while simultaneously spewing debris into the summer air. After the joust I was able to see the armor up close… and HOLY GUACAMOLE it was incredible! The craftsmanship was astounding and each piece was beautifully crafted. But what I found the most interesting were the dents, dirt and all the grime mixed together with whatever oil they were using on the metal to keep it functional. I loved that it didn’t have the “knight in shinning armor” look to it, and I just really wanted to capture this feeling in my paintings.

  As time rolled on though I began to think more about the characters inside the armor. I thought about their stories and the reasons why they take up arms in the first place. What kind of person are they? After all, not all heroes are strong and confident. Do they put on armor willingly or because they must? Do they want revenge for some past injustice? Are they the kind of person who leads armies or do they prefer to blend into the masses? As I paint I think of all these things and what message this particular hero might be trying to convey. And so, when every work is complete I write an accompanying short story to tell the tale of what makes each hero… a hero. (You can read them all on theironcast.com)


I’m here though to share the process of my latest cover work, “The True Dragon of Atlanta” written by Lazarus Black and art directed by Echo Chernik. Although the hero from this story wears no physical armor, we wanted to incorporate dragon scales, which of course if there’s anything better than amor it’s dragon scales. Echo put together a mood board to which I added a few images of my own. This is something I do all the time before I even consider putting “pencil to paper”. It’s usually a combination of artwork and actual photographs. The artwork serves as a source of inspiration to me – could I maybe make a similar stylistic choice? Do I like the color palette they used or the composition? With the photographs I’m really grabbing anything I can find that I could use as reference for my illustration. Most of the photos on the mood board don’t end up being used at all, but I collect them anyway because my pre-art brain says they could be useful. Much of what you see here is collected from online resources, but I usually take my own photos once I figure out my composition.

Now it’s time for what I like to call “frankensteining”! Using a combination of millions of photos, Photoshop filters, and some of my own digital painting I mock up my composition. My goal here is to assemble a master reference so that I can constantly refer to it while creating the actual painting. This mock-up is never easy to achieve. In fact, sometimes this can take days, even weeks. In some ways it’s actually more difficult for me to figure all this out then it is to do the painting. I move things around, adjust colors, change this, drag that over here, pull my hair out, all in the name of solving the puzzle for a final composition. However, on this particular piece I had an Art Director who has a tremendous eye for design and a clear vision for what they wanted. So it didn’t take all that long to frankenstein this one up.

Ok let’s paint! I love me some mixed media and textures! I also HATE to paint on a plain white surface. So here I’m going to do some experimenting with ink and watercolor techniques in an attempt to build up some cool texture. I print out a digital drawing on watercolor paper and with ink, water, and dish soap I blow some bubbles just like you do in chocolate milk. I scoop the bubbles onto the paper and when it drys cool things happen! But at this point, I dont really know what will happen. Sometimes the inks go rogue and it doesn’t work out quite the way I wanted. In fact I often have to re-print the drawing and try again. On the True Dragon piece I tried this three different times before I was happy. So then right on top of the ink I might try some watercolor stuff with rubbing alcohol resist or sea salt… it just depends on how I feel that day!

After all the texture is built up. The drawing looks kinda destroyed, but it’s my job to try and find it again. So with acrylic, I go on top of the texture and try to establish some large simple shapes (keep in mind I’m always looking at my frankenstein from here on out.) Then on top of the acrylic I use cut paper collage to incorporate even more shape language. Finally, I’ll put down a coat of matte medium and start painting for realzies in oils.

I know that was a lot of steps to read so if you’d like to watch the process, this video of “Unsung Hero 17: Suma” up on my Instagram page probably shows it the best. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cj4HtQnOjFG/

So here’s the final original painting…

And now for the digital trickery! There were a few changes I wanted to make and a few the client wanted as well. But to do all this with traditional media would take me 187 years. So instead of taking 187 years I decided to make these changes digitally.

  1. Add MORE texture!
  2. Incorporate more reds
  3. Change sword
  4. Make face a little more fierce
  5. Change the shape of the bell in the background

Ok so let me share just one more little process thing. I wanted to add texture that looked authentic to what was already there. I didn’t want it to look over “digitally”. So I made more textures with traditional media and imported them onto the painting which was now photographed and opened in Photoshop. I did this using yupo paper and alcohol inks. I drop the inks onto the paper and then spritz it with a rubbing alcohol mister bottle. Here’s a video of me doing this https://www.instagram.com/p/Cr05NBsPmB2/

Alas we have arrived at the true final! I hope you all have enjoyed learning about this process! You can always see more of my work by heading over to theironcast.com. Thank you for reading!