How to paint realistic bone armour

Mélanie Delon shows us how to create a skeletal armour, and what brushes to use for an eerily realistic depiction.

bone armour finished

Don’t forget to work the different elements as a whole, otherwise the armour will look fake and not a part of the character

To create armour with bone, the first thing to do is to create a lot of sketches, to identify the design that you want to explore. You can have a lot of fun and freedom doing this because the combinations are unlimited. Here, I keep it quite simple: some thorax bones around her chest with a huge animal skull on her shoulder. You can of course mix human and animal bones to achieve a cool look.

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Once I'm happy with the design, I can start painting. I choose my colour scheme: always mid-tone colours for the base and the sketch. For the bones I pick a desaturated beige, and start working the whole armour with it. At this stage I'm using a basic Round edge brush, because 
I don't want any texture for the moment.

Skull armour sketch

Sketch of the armour. At this point it’s just to get 
a rough base and a quick idea of the design.

Next I play with the light, increasing the curves of the bones and skull to make them look more realistic. I pick a bright beige for the light and a dark brown for the shadows. Both tones need to be coloured (never use pure white and black). If they're not, the shading will look dirty.

Now I start working on the texture. This part is important because it'll define the bones and I need a lot of texture to make them look convincing. For this step I use several custom brushes and different layer effects, such as Soft light or Screen, to achieve the texture I want.
I finally add more details and fun elements to the bones, such as some war paint on the shoulder skull.

01. Start Simple

bone armour step 1

The first thing I do is add volume to the bones and skull. I slowly work the lights and shadows until I've got something close to what I have in mind. Then I add the details, such as cracks all around the skull. I really like those kind of small details because they’re not obvious, yet manage to bring something really special to 
the subject.

02. Add Texture

bone armour step 2

Once the base is done, I work on the texture. Bones aren't plastic so I'm adding a lot of texture, with a Dynamic Shape brush with Opacity Jitter set to 
100 per cent. With this brush I simply draw several brush strokes, which creates a lot of surface and colour variations to the bones. I also use a different layer mode to increase

03. Finish with detail

bone armour step 3

I'm almost there now. All I have to do is add some details here and there, such as some metal parts in the skull, blood and some war paint. Those details will give a nice background to the character and more realism to the armour. I also paint some dots of light to add dynamism to the bones and increase the contrast of the whole armour.

Artist's secret

The bone texture brush

I use this brush for the bone texture. It's a custom brush – the basic shape is a simple black square with dual brush set to a random Spackled brush. The rough strokes add depth and variation to the texture.

Words: Mélanie Delon

Mélanie Delon is a freelance fantasy illustrator. She works as a cover artist for several publishing houses, and on her personal artbook series. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 93.

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