Combine fantasy and realism for striking creature art

Artist Elizabeth Torque uses a heap of references and a smattering of myth to create a fantasy creature.

Visual references combined with mythology and folklore sources will help you paint a real-life beast in a fantasy setting

Before launching into a sketch of my character, whether human or animal, I try to collect and study a huge amount of reference material first – both photographs and video.

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This is necessary to understand the forms and movements of the character I'll draw. Eventually the forms can become exaggerated, and not resemble the reference material at all, but it's good to start from a realistic image.

When we talk about dragons or unicorns, we don't really need to think about the fantasy element of what we're drawing. It's right there staring back at you.

But when depicting a more common animal tinged with fantasy – a bear in this case – then it's useful to weigh up the specific fantasy elements that you're going to add to the illustration first.

If I have the time, I like to read books on mythology and folklore, or get inspiration from the Greek gods, Celtic songs, or legends about Indian shamans and their totem shields.

Delving into the past, I find that for many Native American tribes the bear is a sign of courage, wisdom, intuition and special powers. That's a great element to incorporate into our fantasy bear.

I like working with Photoshop because it enables me to quickly capture as many ideas and change my sketches as much as I want, much the same with inking and colour. So here we go!

01. Exaggerate what's there

I draw a quick outline shape to understand the perspective, the body shape, lights and shadows. This is a skeleton made with simple lines. Importantly, the cross is in the centre of the head and in the chest.

Exaggerating the peculiarities of the bear make it a more appealing creature: I give it a huge round head, a large hump and rounded, very strong-looking arms.

02. Make a friend

Now I can comfortably draw on the skeleton of the bear. I define the details and I think about giving the beast a companion. A small, thin human makes the bear look even more stunning and overwhelming.

It also tells us that the beast is smarter than the average bear, it's loyal to the human character and serves as a guardian, or perhaps a fellow soldier.

03. Fur that glows

Now I start to colour the bear. For the fur I add a line of dark colour, then some lighter colour on top (1). I then apply reflections of sunlight on the head and shoulders, before adding green reflections from the water and surrounding vegetation (2).

Finally, I paint in a flash of light green in the eyes to create a magic link between the Shaman and the bear (3).

04. Hairy palms

Now it's time to detail the scene. In the palm of the Shaman's hand we see a magic glow, like the bear's eyes (1). This also connects with the bear head on top of the Shaman's staff (2).

She wears clothes that mimic the bear furs, on her arms, legs, neck and shoulders (3). To finish, I draw splashes of water to suggest the bear's forward progress with heavy steps (4).

Words: Elizabeth Torque

An illustrator and comic artist residing in Spain, Elizabeth Torque has worked for many American publishers such as DC, Image, Aspen and IDW. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 92.

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