How to paint a zombie pin-up in Photoshop

Serge Birault puts a grisly spin on the traditional crowd-pleasing element of American football.

zombie cheer

I'm a real sucker for those low-budget horror films and B-movies from the 70s and early 80s. They're a huge influence on my personal work. My regular clients don't usually ask me for this kind of stuff, so I was really pleased to be commissioned by the ImagineFX team to come up with the cover art for this month's horror issue.

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The brief was to paint a zombie cheerleader. My challenge was to convey the idea that she was one of the undead – blood, gore, rotting flesh and so on – while retaining her sexy looks. I try to do expressive pin-ups and so I'm used to drawing grimaces, but I've never painted a woman in a state of bodily decay. Tricky…

I also found it difficult to depict the correct amount of gore. It was all about getting the right balance: somewhere between a tame-looking image and one that was too extreme for the newsstand. The last problem I encountered was the American football element. It's not my culture, I'm French and I hate sport. Thankfully, I managed to find the correct references online. Let's hear it for the internet!

01. Heads up

zombie cheer head poms

My first thought is to replace both her pompoms with heads, but there's a danger the joke would become lost in the imagery. It wouldn't have been easy to paint heads that look like pompoms. Furthermore, this pose would have to fit around the text on the cover, and so the zombie would end up looking awkward.

02. Killer looks

zombie pom

Painting the zombie holding a bloody pompom and a single head initially looks to be a workable solution. I'm keen to depict an expressive decapitated head and in this composition it would become an important part of the image. Unfortunately, once again the pose just isn't suitable for the cover. Time for a rethink.

03. Go team!

zombie final pose

I eventually click that the classic cheerleader pose is the best possible choice here. When I later add the goal post, the character's tight-fitting outfit, the head of the rival cheerleader and the horde in the background, all these references to American football and high-school life make the image work – finally!

04. Hair today…

zombie cheer hair

Painting hair is my new hobby. I like complex haircuts. There are many different and effective techniques, but I only know one that utilises the three-pixel Round Hard brush. It's a lengthy process that can sometimes be boring, but if you're well organised then a character's hair can be fun to do.

Next page: more on how to paint a zombie pin-up in Photoshop