Realistically paint a character frozen in ice

Illustrator Paco Rico Torres outlines techniques for realistically painting a hideous creature encased in ice.

Ice is mainly translucent, so you should be able to see the character inside – unless the ice is covered with snow, frost or something else. Light passing through ice is refracted in one way or another, so the thicker and more irregular the ice is, the more distorted the things inside will appear. Furthermore, although light can pass through ice, it’s not totally transparent, so lights and shadows will be cast over it, just like any other solid object.

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Find some pictures of ice and objects frozen in ice, and observe how the refraction usually distorts how we see the objects inside, common shapes of ice, how the light passes through it, and how it shines when it's clean. Once you're familiar with the material, you can start painting.

I would advise painting the full figure (you don't need to put too much details on the parts that will be inside the ice) and then, using different layers, begin painting the ice encasing your creature.

01. Distortion

First I paint the character, then I paint the ice over it on a low-value Opacity layer. Then, using the Smudge tool, I distort the figure, trying to mimic the manner in which ice usually distorts the way we see objects that are inside it. I try to do this according to the shape of the block of ice that I'm painting. It's essentially a matter of observation.

02. Light and shadow

After that, using a combination of Screen, Multiply and Overlay layers, I start to paint the lights and shadows of the ice. For this example I use some textured brushes to achieve a thick-ice texture. I paint the highlights on the surface of the ice, attempting to follow the shapes that I think my block of ice should have, using a bit of intuition.

03. Reflections

When the ice layer starts to actually look like ice, I use normal layers to paint additional reflections of light, trying to add more information about the shape of the block of ice on the areas that look a bit empty. I also start to paint details in order to solve minor imperfections in the image. And with that I'm able finish the core of the ice structure.

Words: Paco Rico Torres

Paco Rico Torres is a freelance illustrator living in Spain who's produced art for several card games, magazines, books and role-playing games. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 106.