How to capture a story in your fantasy art

Expert fantasy artist Nick Harris explains how to capture an intimate conversation between two characters of different heights.

fantasy conversation nick harris

Intimate conversation to me implies the two characters talking should have their heads close enough together to allow privacy. The interesting part of this is how you choose to arrange it.

With both standing up straight on flat ground next to one another, the taller character would need to crane his or her neck down, while the shorter cranes his or hers up. Now while that's okay, there's much more fun on offer than that.

Not only can you show the nature of the conversation, but express something about the characters by staging everything more creatively. Just how big is the height differential? What might the conversation be about?

fantasy convo sketches

Taking a bit of time to investigate angles and character combinations for an idea like this can open up all sorts of interesting possibilities

Does the nature of the conversation mean one or both characters are cross, happy, worried? How does that affect their body language and their attitude to one another? Are there any props to help overcome the height difference? Where are they having the chat? Indoors or outdoors makes a big difference to how the conversation can take place.

I've doodled a few ideas proposing some different ways that could put two such characters in a position to have a tête-à-tête. Hopefully I've hinted at some different dynamics too. Here, I've gone for an interior setting that provides a suitable prop and a plausible situation with the two discussing something in the wizard's hand. The two characters in sentry pose are there to add to the sense of secrecy and suspense.

01. Simple start

fantasy conversation

This off-kilter composition still focuses on the two main figures. I'm aiming for a conspiratorial feel with both heads tucked under the brim of the wizard's hat. In this instance the height difference is resolved by how they use the bench. I slap down a simple tonal pattern over a sketch in ArtRage, using the oil brush.

02. Build it up

fantasy convo step 2

I build up volume while keeping a muted palette that I think will suit the mood. As I do this, I try to ensure that the most interesting part visually will be the area where the two main characters are studying something. During this phase I let the wizard's head get a bit big and have to put it right. Good old digital editing!

03. Add detail

fantasy convo step 3

I use the image's brightest light source from the small window to drag the focus more towards the right on the main figures. I do this with thinned Oil Brush layers set to Multiply over an opaquely painted base layer. I pick out glinting details last on a layer over the top. That's always the fun bit that might just make the thing pop.

Artist's secret: keep your distance

fantasy convo tip

For something like this where the pattern of light is key to the composition, it's a good idea to develop it as far as possible without zooming in too much, and paint with the largest brush you can bear to use.

Words: Nick Harris

Gloucestershire-based Nick Harris went digital in 2000 after 18 years working with traditional methods. He works mainly on children's illustrations. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 91.

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