Painting a Fantasy Image with a Model

green and white leafed plantsPainting and drawing fantasy imagery is fun and creative. However, one major challenge to doing so is a lack of references. Portrait and landscape artists always have a reference to work from. Unfortunately, artists that paint fairies and dragons do not. References give an artist confidence to know that what he/she is painting will be visually convincing. Without a reference photo, how do fantasy artists pull off believable imagery?

So what do fantasy illustrators do to help them hit the mark? These artists often use the power of their own imagination in combination with numerous approximate references to develop their imagery. For example, using observable butterfly wings as fairy wings, or reimagining the components of construction equipment as robot parts.

Essentially, fantasy artists still work from references. They just do so in a more creative way.

In this article, I would like to profile a process used by myself and other artists to create convincing fantasy art. This process brings together the desire to imagine with observational drawing skills. It was the process used to develop the digital fantasy painting below.

Planning a Fantasy Painting – The Art is in the Planning

Often times, the most important artistic decisions are made before a painting begins. Sometimes, numerous studies and thumbnail sketches are made to sort through compositional choices. Each sketch offers one option the artist could pursue.

The greater the number of preliminary sketches the artist makes, the more choices they have. These sketches don’t have to be perfect – they just have to capture a generalized idea. Here’s a look at a few rough preliminary sketches of the dragon I planned on using in my scene…

As you can see, these are simply loose gestural sketches without any detail or shading.

See also: Gesture Drawing the Human Figure

Another Way to Create a Fantasy Sketch

There is another way to sketch fantasy subject matter. But instead of sketching with paper and pen or even a digital tablet, let’s sketch in three dimensions. Three-dimensional sketching gives the artist an easy way to tweak variables like point-of-view and lighting.

A two-dimensional sketch is usually a broad, loose drawing that is short on details. Often done at once, a sketch is just a step in the process of “wrapping our minds” around our subject.

It’s the same when sketching in three dimensions. A 3D sketch is not a sculpture so much as a rough model. This model gives the fantasy illustrator a better chance to accurately capture the nuance of light and to tackle difficult drawing problems like foreshortening.

You don’t have to be an accomplished sculptor to create a workable model. Let’s take a look at how easy the model building process can be.

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