Illustration Master Class Painting

We received our assignments about a month before the Illustration Master Class. I of course picked the assignment to paint a dragon and at least two characters. I played with some ideas, maybe a Dragonlance scene, maybe an undead army. But I settled on a cathedral type building, a battle scene, and a deformed dragon. Sadly the extra mouth in the torso didn't make it to the final version.

This thing started as a very rough sketch on a Cintiq and iPad. The iPad is useful in a meeting when I want to paint- but can't be in the studio.

I would not recommend working this way. But I wanted to start in a way that was spontaneous and would create challenges to learn from.

Ugly beginnings:

Sketching on an iPad:

I did not have much sketch time before the IMC started. I found myself putting up a sketch on the critique wall that was a mushy mess with no reference.

I really had no idea what I was getting into. . . the Illustration Master Class had begun.

The initial critique was with Donato, Scott Fischer, Scott Allie, and Jeff Mack. All of them had great insights. Donato jumped on board with the idea of a battle scene and pushed me to isolate an area of focus. Scott Allie advised me to embrace the chaos in the battle scene and not worry about making the story obvious.

The next day after the critique I jumped right into color and rendering. I had less than a week to finish in between all the lectures. Dan Dos Santos and Scott Fischer really helped me out with directions to take the lighting. Scott did a paint over where he emphasized the back lighting on the dragon. Dan added a burning torch to illuminate some of the foreground and an archer shooting the dragon.

After some advice about shooting reference from Dan, I started grabbing everyone I could from the studio for reference. This is definitely something I should have been doing while planning the composition.

Only orcs where harmed in the making of this reference.

Donato added more figures. And he, Greg Manchess, and Adam Rex moved the characters around. Their advice was great. I'm usually worried about uncomfortable cropping and tangents. But in battle scenes you actually want to do the opposite and get some uncomfortable intersections between the characters. At the end of the IMC my painting was coming a long but it needed a lot of work.

I worked on it much more at home after getting critique from some of my trusty and eagle-eyed artist friends. Also I was lucky to catch Greg Manchess at a Tor.com party and he showed me possible battle poses in the middle of a crowded bar. It was kind of like an 80's break'n movie where everyone clears the floor for the dance fight!

It was still lacking something.

Dan Dos Santos did a great paint over showing me where I could push the lighting. So finally after another day or two of work. I had a final painting. It was a long process but I learned a lot, especially the value of having good quality reference and a strong drawing before I dive into the painting!

A few adjustments to lighting, details, and the magic effect.


  1. It was an honor to see the making of this piece in person through its various stages.

    Making up action poses in the middle of a crowded bar--- that sounds epic. And how amazing the difference made by that final push with the more intense colors.

  2. Thanks Seiji. Yeah, Dan really helped me out.