When planning how to draw a well-balanced group image, you should show the various characters in an effective manner, and emphasise their characteristics and dynamic nature. The figures in the foreground will clearly have more prominence, but they can't all be in the foreground. I've found that a useful way to show them is to use a view that's slightly from above, which especially suits a portrait-format image.
One technique to lift the characters from the background and give them a degree of dimensionality is to introduce architectural or natural elements. Note that these elements need to be in keeping with the scene's setting. In my illustration I add a staircase and put in semi-natural objects (some standing stones in the background). I also add tufts of grass and worn rock, before creating a very rough and ready sketch of the characters. I keep my elements on different layers, which enables me to make corrections to the image towards the end of my painting process.
Usually, I'll want to emphasise the importance of the main character and so I would normally place them in the centre of the composition where the viewer's eye will look first. However, in this case I'm keen to create greater dynamism and so I leave that area free. I want the viewer's eye to move from top to bottom, taking in all my characters as they do so.
01. Plot using a grid
I start the design phase of the image by drawing medians and diagonals, locating the centre of the image. In this case I create a grid, dividing the width and height in three, but other artists might use the Golden Spiral or different kinds of grids – each solution is valid! I sketch the characters in a rough way, so I have an idea of the pose and perspective.
02. Insert some character
Active characters help to ensure the scene has dynamism. The sorceress casts a spell, the raven-woman spreads her wings, the deer-man charges with a spear. Next, I focus on the anatomy, which is essential to ensure credibility and gives a naturalness to the characters' gestures. Only at the end do I add details such as hair, clothing, weapons and armour.
03. Back it up
At this point in the creative process I introduce colours. I usually start by painting the background, so I choose the type of lighting and where to place the light sources. In this case, the environment is characterised by a leaden sky, a prairie and some mountains, so I paint a cold, ambient light. I also use a warmer rim light, which introduces visual contrast
04. Add final details
Ambient light doesn't cast sharp shadows, but gives a more defined look so I can show off the characters and their details. I pick desaturated colours to maintain the dark look of the sky, except for the magical light of the spear and the spell of the sorceress. I ensure that my characters are affected by aerial perspective, so I desaturate colours where necessary.
Artist's secret: Layers and layers group
I work on different layers for each character, so I can move them if the image doesn't seem balanced. If I feel that I'm about to be overwhelmed by the number of layers, I create layer group and organise them accordingly.
Words: Sara Forlenza (opens in new tab)
Sara Forlenza creates art for book covers, cards and RPGs. After many years with traditional techniques, she was introduced to digital art. It was love at first sight.
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