Making Of 'Ash and Sam'

Introduction

"Ash and Sam" was originally painted as a full-page illustration for a game magazine, showing the main characters from "Evil Dead Regeneration", the game.  My concept was centred on showing the relationship of Ash, the hero, with his deadite zombie sidekick, victorious over a pile of zombies (or deadites!).  My influences came from fantasy art book covers from the 70s by artists like Frank Frazetta, who created dynamic heroic poses and figure compositions using a traditional oil technique.  That was the look I was attempting to mimic in this painting.

Thumbnail stage to establish the composition of light and shadow

First I start with black and white thumbnail studies, just exploring the composition of the figures with abstract patterns of light and dark shapes. It took me years as an artist to realise that the black and white value structure is the heart and soul of the image. In my opinion, this is the secret to a dynamic image; not making something realistic, but rather breaking up the image space into an interesting pattern of light and dark shapes.
 
When I start this process, my mind goes through a visual checklist:  Do I want a dark figure on a light background or a light figure on a dark background?  Do I want the light to come from the side, above, or below?  Do I want my eye to flow left, right, upward or downward through the composition?  Learning to make quick visual decisions is important in developing your eye skills.
 
Notice how the base shapes form an "A", or a figure triangle, which is "A" for Ash.  I decided to make the flow of the eye go upwards, symbolizing the team of heroes triumphing over all.  The area of Ash's heart will end up being the focal point, which symbolizes his persistence to live and conquer evil.  Many important decisions can be made at this stage that will determine the power of the final painting (Fig.01).

Fig. 01

Fig. 01

Colour thumbnail stage to explore colour combinations

Using one of the black and white thumbnails I experiment with a wide range of colour compositions to see which colour scheme will fit the mood.  Since the Evil Dead story is more earthly than high-tech, I choose a warm colour scheme with reds, yellows and greens (Fig.02).

Fig. 02

Fig. 02

Take photographic references to get details

Using artist friends to pose for the characters, I do a photo shoot with props to get necessary reference for the body, hands and legs.  Even though I love to paint most things out of my head, it is helpful to have great references to fall back on, especially when you have a tight deadline.  One good point to remember when shooting references is to have an assistant help work the lights while you work the camera.  I have the assistant move the lights around the model so I can see what the light and shadow shapes are doing.  I'll photograph a lot of variations of light direction and poses.  When I compose the final painting I pull from the best photo information to design my shadows (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

Tight pencil sketch stage to define key details in composition

I compose the final composition by doing a tight pencil sketch using multiple layers of tracing paper.  The importance of this stage is to refine the shapes and refine your drawing, especially any important details to the painting (Fig.04).

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

Under painting to establish the base light and dark structure

Since I had illustrated the cover of the game box, I had previously painted faces of the characters that I could use to get a start without having to paint them from scratch.  I took my favourite value study, enlarged it to working size, and pasted these details in place.  Now I block in the base structure of all the main elements in sepia tone to mimic my traditional oil painting technique.  Basically, at this stage you block in all the light and shadow shapes in sepia tone as a value foundation for the painting.  The main Photoshop brush I use is a chalk brush with an 'opacity jitter' brush setting.  It gives me the feel of an oil brush (Fig.05).

Fig. 05

Fig. 05

Apply texture to break up digital look

At this stage I apply lots of texture information on top of the image to get lots of cool atmosphere and "texture stuff".  It breaks up the smooth, clean digital look and starts to make the piece have more of an oil painting look.  One way to do this is to load a texture into your brush using the texture settings.  The texture I used was an old stained concrete wall I photographed on vacation.  Place the texture on a separate layer above everything else and set the layer setting to 'overlay' or 'hard light', then adjust the opacity to taste.  I then apply a layer mask to the layer and paint into the layer mask to break up the opacity more randomly (Fig.06 and Fig.07). 

Fig. 06a

Fig. 06a

Fig. 06b

Fig. 06b

To make textures using a more traditional method I use illustration board, canvas or watercolour paper.  Sometimes I gesso it first with a stiff brush to get directional brush strokes in the gesso.  After putting a wash of a dark colour on the board, I tilt the board while it is wet to get drips and random texture.  If you sprinkle salt onto the board while it is wet you can get some wild texture!  That's an old watercolour technique.  The outcome is a texture with drips and cool happy accidents.  After it's dry, scan it in and use it as a greyscale texture.

Build up the base colours

I call this stage the "ugly" stage.  I begin to block in the base colours to layout the main colour composition.  In order not to lose my value relationships, I use 'color' or 'overlay' mode in my brushes to lay out colour quickly.   Next, I block in the main body colours with a regular brush.  I added blue in Ash's shirt, red on the chainsaw, orange in the background, and so on.  I don't get caught up in making the colour too accurate since I will be layering lots of colours on top of it.  Digital art is so wonderful in that you can undo, try something else or delete the layer if it's not working.  I find it important to work the whole painting and not focus too long on one area.  My technique is a loose building-up process where I can make changes as I develop the image, refining the shapes and details as I paint (Fig.08).

Fig. 07

Fig. 07

Start building up details

It's time to start bringing out the highlight shapes, adding ghoul faces, refining character body parts, and so on (Fig.09). With all the strong red brown under-painting as a base, I start adding the complimentary colour to red, which is green, to bring the light out (Fig.10).

Fig. 08a

Fig. 08a

Fig. 08b

Fig. 08b

Add highlights and refine details

The painting is now nearing completion.  I focus on pushing the contrast of colours and values around the main character's head and chest by adding highlights.  Since this area of the painting is the focal point, I put my strongest value and colour contrasts here.  I've also added some splatters and grit.  At this point my focus is pushing the quality of the details in the areas in which I want your eye to focus.  I try to stay out of the shadows and do most of my work in the highlight areas.  This allows the shadows to blend more together and breathe (Fig.11).

Fig. 09

Fig. 09

Add final details and colour adjustments

In the final stage I add the last little highlights and push the saturation of the colour to give more drama to the scene.  Even up to the end of the painting I am still refining details, such as the smoke out of the shotgun and the body parts.  All in all, this painting took me about 40 to 60 hours to complete (Fig.12 and Fig.13).

Fig. 10b

Fig. 10b

Fig: 13

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