Decoding Daily Deviations is the series that aims to unlock the secrets of what it took to create these magnificent artworks and motivate others to work towards similar recognition. Each week we will present an interview with one artist who has recently received a DD and have them share the details on that specific piece, relating to their creative process, techniques, and narrative inspirations. If you've ever wanted to know more about a beloved artwork and the talented skills applied to it, this is the series to keep track of!"
FEATURED ART: The Tomb King by JarrodOwen
DD DATE: 2016-07-08
TIME SPENT: Many hours on and off over several months
TOOLS/PROGRAMME: Photoshop, Zbrush, Modo
This was an illustration commissioned by Mike, for whom I'd previously created a piece based around another of his characters: Ulysses.
With the Tomb King, the goal was to show Mike's character Ptramsese (pronounced “Tramsees”) an undead Egyptian king. Mike wanted to see Ptramsese within his throne room, a powerful King ruling over a Kingdom swallowed by the desert, surrounded by all manner of things both alive and dead.
Here's an excerpt of a description that Mike sent to me during our very early discussions of the piece:
“Ptramsese the living is a character inspired from Warhammer Fantasy's Tomb kings. A empire of the dead the look and feel of ancient Egypt, only far more fantastical and obsessed with the afterlife. Ptramsese was a young king, and died young in his 30's while doing what he loved, 'Living'. He was a prince and later king of adventure and experience seeking, focused much of his city state wealth on acquiring scrolls of knowledge, art from distant and savage peoples, he collected women and men of strange races to decorate his court and bed chamber, and even filled his stables with great beasts and equine beauty that he often broke and tamed by his own hand. He was an enlightened man, though of great hubris due to his and his belief in his own divinity, and such was his downfall as he was struck down at sea by the blade of a pirate between his ribs and into his heart.
Millennium later, he awoke a desiccated corpse, warped by dark magic that turned his once life rich lands into a wasteland where even the rivers flowed poison and sand has overtaken all earth. He now tries to bring life back to his court, to experience what he can no longer have with his empowered but no less dead flesh.”
Mike is able to go into an impressive amount of detail when describing his characters; not only their physical appearance, but also their past, their complex motivations and their relationship with the world they inhabit. Certainly one of the hardest parts of establishing a vision for this piece was choosing exactly what aspect of the character and world we wanted to show and therefore what elements we may have to leave out. I was conscious of overloading the piece with detail and therefore losing some of both the visual impact and the clarity of the message we wanted to convey.
In addition to the character of Ptramsese, Mike also wanted to include his friend's character; a priestess whose regenerative powers Ptramsese relies on to allow him to hold on to a small part of his former living self. He described the character as being either insane or bewitched by Ptramsese to the point of literally seeing him as the handsome king he was and not the reanimated corpse he had become. Mike also explained Ptramsese's desire to bring life back to his kingdom, that he would routinely have exotic animals be brought to the palace from far away lands. This is an idea I latched onto and inspired the idea to have the panther laying on the ledge behind the throne as well as the large python slithering down the stairs.
Ultimately my goal was to show Ptramsese as a powerful and immortal ruler, surrounded by death, longing for life and a kingdom as it once was."
“The Tomb King” captures a cinematic spectacle with its forbidding atmosphere and incredible level of detail. Please, discuss your creative process and the techniques you employed in working on the illustration.
Once Mike and I had agreed on a general vision for the artwork, my first step was to gather a whole lot of images, both photos and artworks, to be used as inspiration and for reference throughout the creation of the piece. I drew a lot of inspiration from old orientalist paintings in particular, many being great examples of the visual quality I wanted to achieve, as well as their ability to transport the viewer to another time and place. I also looked at many photos of ancient Egyptian clothing and designs, knowing that I wanted to give the image a distinctly Egyptian feel, with an additional element of dark fantasy.
My next step was to put together a rough sketch, focusing on the main elements that I knew we wanted to see in the scene. This helped me to get a better grasp of the viewpoint, the character poses, as well as to visualize some of the ideas we had for things with which to populate the throne room. Mike was happy with the general feel of this sketch, but also wanted to see more of the surrounding environment and raised the possibility of introducing the character of the lich priest, who would be having audience with the King.
It was at this point that I saw the opportunity to jump into Modo – a 3D program I had recently started to learn – to see if I could use my limited knowledge to put together a basic layout for the room. This ended up being incredibly helpful and no doubt spared me from any mistakes I would have made trying to achieve correct perspective without it. Modo allowed me to relatively quickly establish the shape, sizes and position of the walls, floor, pillars and stairs as well as establish a general lighting setup.
Since I was having a fun time learning new things, I decided to also tackle the serpent statues in 3D using Zbrush, a program I'm also fairly new to, but have found quite easy to use after familiarizing myself with the UI and basic functions.Using Zbrush I was able to import one of my pillars from Modo, then sculpt the snake statue so that its tail coiled around it. Eventually, after some trial and error, I had my finished Zbrush sculpted statues placed where I wanted them in my Modo scene. With the scene complete, Modo gave me the ability to move the view point to any position in the 3D space. I considered a few different perspectives before ultimately settling with one quite similar to that in my rough sketch.
Having a pretty good 3D base to go forward with, it was time to start painting in Photoshop. Regarding my painting technique, I almost always approach each object in the same way; focusing first on the larger shapes and then gradually narrowing that focus until I'm working on the fine details. I concentrate primarily on achieving correct values, making sure that the object I'm painting adheres to the light sources I've established and sits realistically in its surroundings. When working digitally, colour is something that is easily altered or introduced later on in the process, so I often start with quite a monochromatic colour scheme, adding different shades as I go until I have a colour palette that can be quite complex.
Despite having at least a hundred Photoshop brushes in my collection, out of habit and familiarity I often fall back to using just a few. They usually include a slightly irregularly shaped but otherwise simple brush for general painting, a similarly shaped but textured brush for breaking up brush strokes and implying finer detail and a regular soft round brush for blending.
Aside from the 3D elements, most of the added details in this piece were painted, with exception of some of the hieroglyphs and sections of the skull imbedded wall behind the throne, which were sampled from photos. When I use photos in my work, I do my best to make sure that they are well integrated into the rest of the image as I'm not a fan of what can be a jarring contrast between sharp, detailed photos and looser, simpler brushstrokes. I usually only like to use photos for minor elements and after adjusting the colours and contrast to fit the surroundings I will often paint over them to give them a similar visual quality to the rest of the painted image. Similarly, in the case of this image where I was using a 3D base, I did extensive work to paint over the unsuitably perfect 3D forms, roughing up the edges considerably and adding cracks and texture to the surfaces.
Since I knew that this was going to be quite a detailed piece with lots of things littered throughout the scene, I made sure to focus on the most important parts first, those which would most influence the flow of the viewer's eye within the composition, such as the characters and animals as well as the throne, fire cauldrons, the strong shaft of light through the opening and the tattered fabric caught by the wind. Once these were blocked in, I was able to move onto the secondary elements: the hieroglyphs, various skulls, furs, the background landscape etc. I was careful not to make any of the secondary elements too visually prominent, as this would pull focus away from the characters or possibly muddle the composition. There were quite a few ideas that I tried to implement throughout the process that were cool in theory, but failed to work visually within the context of the image.
Once most of the secondary elements had been added, I returned to flesh out the characters, further adjusting and adding details to their faces, bodies and costumes, painting and repainting various aspects until I felt happy with the overall result. Generally I try to paint the figures without reference if I can, but in the case where I run start to struggle – as I did with the priestess in this image – I have no problem turning to photo reference to help me achieve something more convincing.
Once I was happy with the design of the characters, it was about at this stage that I realized that the Priest character was perhaps a little close to the bottom edge. I decided to increase the canvas height a little and with more room to play with, I saw the opportunity to introduce the large python to the scene. Finally, the entire image received one last detail pass, with a few more minor elements were added such as pots, bones and the vultures in the background, after which I was ready to call it done."
Did you encounter any creative challenges when working on the piece? If so, how did you tackle them? Is there anything you would do differently now if you could?
Aside from the struggle of learning how to use new software, this piece was certainly a test for my patience and mental stamina. I was lucky to be able to work on this on and off over several months, with breaks in between for other projects, otherwise I think I may have struggled to maintain my enthusiasm as well as the attention to detail I had hoped to achieve.
Often my artworks focus on a single character, with the background being secondary, so tackling a piece with multiple characters within a highly detailed environment populated by animals and various objects was really something I haven't done before. It was certainly a challenge to balance the various elements, choosing what to include and what to leave out, where to place certain things as well as the usual challenges that come with trying to achieve a decent level of realism.
Despite spending a large number of hours working on this, I do think there is plenty of room for improvement. I regret not being able to spend more time developing the look of the characters. It would have been ideal to have been able to develop the character concepts separately before tackling the final artwork."
What’s one piece of advice that you would share with other artists hoping to reach this standard of work in the future?
I'm not sure if I'd say it's healthy, but it can be helpful to feel regularly unsatisfied with the work that you do, as long as you have the strength to turn that feeling into fuel to keep working. I think there are many things that I could/should have done to make my artistic journey easier, but it's my determination to keep going despite the obstacles that has allowed me to reach this current standard with my work. The important thing is to never doubt that you can do better if you just put in the time and the effort.
Another piece of advice would be to surround yourself as soon as you can with people with similar artistic goals, whether it be interacting with other artists in real life or simply posting regularly and messaging people online. It's very easy to lose sight of where you are with your skills and what you need to do to improve without the feedback and encouragement from others whose opinions truly matter to you. I've seen the most rapid improvement from those people who are not afraid to put themselves and their work out there, not to mention it's vital to your career as a professional artist to be known and respected among your peers. As an introvert myself, I am very aware that this does not come easy to some people, but it is considerably more difficult to improve and to be successful as a professional if you isolate yourself."
What does this DD feature represent or mean to you at this stage of your artistic development? What can your watchers look forward to next?
It might sound silly, but when you spend so much time staring at an artwork it can become very difficult to accurately judge its quality when all that catches your eyes are the mistakes or things that you could perhaps have done better. Receiving a DD and all of the positive comments, favorites and viewers that come with that are valuable confirmation that I am in fact doing something right, I am improving and the extra effort I put into this artwork was not wasted. I'm incredibly grateful to have my efforts recognized and it certainly gives me a good supply of positive energy to keep me going.
As for what artworks I have planned for the future, I'm really keen to do some more personal work, perhaps some character concepts and environments. Also possibly some traditional pieces, I always enjoyed using pencil, but have done very little pencil work since picking up digital. Oh, I'd love to continue learning Zbrush too and would love to post some finished sculptures at some point."
Bonus question: Can you cite a memorable reaction to this piece in the comments at DA?
I really enjoyed reading through all of the comments, but it's those where the commenter goes into detail in their response to the artwork that I most appreciate. It's particularly pleasing when they confirm that certain things I tried to do with the artwork were successful.
You are luck to be able to do these things! i don't know many egyptian works with this same visual power and strong visual story! Well all details are really impressive, but my fav. detail is relative to the ancient fabric all ripped all around the scene. A powerful detail to enhance the feeling of forgotten place and to circumscribe perfectly the space.
Majestic scene befitting one of the Tomb Kings of old! Great balance between light and dark in the scene, and great juxtaposition of the gleaming gold and bronze and the magnificence of the monument with the decay of its state and inhabitants. Turquoise is an excellent colour appropriate both for the culture and the contrast it has with all the yellows. Cool text as well. Alas, why must GW always scrap its coolest things?
very nice artwork! this tomb king seems to appreciate more alive human and animals than undead."
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