How to paint realistic muscles

Artist Sara Forlenza shows you the best way to paint muscles illuminated by firelight.

sara forlenza warrior muscles

Learn how to create this muscular hunk with Sara Forlenza's step by step video

A muscular character whose body is illuminated by firelight is a classic fantasy composition. The trick is finding an efficient way of painting such a scene.

First, I have to decide where the fire is. If I'm portraying a barbarian then a light coming from below will help to emphasise the strength and power of the character. Furthermore, using a cold ambient light will make him stand out even more.

sara forlenza muscles

Painting a rough sketch of the light-shadow contrast and then slowly adding details helps me to define the barbarian’s anatomy

When a light source is very strong and bright, the original colours of any affected objects are significantly altered by the hue of the light. In this case the muscles of the barbarian will feature a range of warm colours: browns in the shadows, and oranges and yellows in brighter areas. It's crucial to keep in mind the light source and where the shadows are projected.

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A light source at floor level means the top of the scene will be in shadow and I can build on this effect with ambient light. Clothes and various objects will cast their shadows upwards and this will help to give credibility to the character.

check out those muscles

Once the artwork is finished it’s easy to see how shadows and ambient light make the fire-lit muscle structure stand out effectively.

I define the muscles of the belly, ensuring that they're anatomically correct, and in the areas of bright light I add touches of very pale yellow to accentuate the three-dimensional appearance of the barbarian's abdominals.

Words: Sara Forlenza

Sara Forlenza is a freelance illustrator living in northern Italy, where she works on book covers, digital card products and role-playing games. She's also a keen PC gamer. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 115.

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