How to create a Pan's Labyrinth-style monster

09. Bring in charcoal shadows

Close up of a charcoal portrait

Wait for the paint to dry before reaching for the charcoal

Before I switch to dry media I make sure the paint has dried completely to avoid nasty surprises. I like using charcoal to deepen dark areas even further without adding new marks or distorting the existing textures. I also use it to smooth the edges, in this case around the faces. For smudging I use my fingers.

10. Get splashy

Add texture with splashes of acrylic paint

Add texture with splashes of acrylic paint

I add splashes of acrylic paint to areas I want to gain more texture, whipping my brush around like a wand. If too many droplets accumulate in one spot, I use my fingers to wipe them off before they can dry. Areas I want to remain untouched by the paint can be covered with scrap paper.

11. Add some white

Close up of the charcoal sketch having gesso added with a paintbrush

Use gesso rather than acrylic for bringing in some white

I use gesso to paint thin layers over faces, hands and hair to soften the underlying textures and lighten these areas. I work on details such as the eyes using opaque paint. I prefer using gesso over white acrylic paint because its chalky nature leads to a surface that takes dry media very well.

12. Introduce white noise

Close up of a hand adding white charcoal highlights to the hair

White charcoal is perfect for adding texture

I use white charcoal sticks to create broad textures that add some noise to darker parts of the artwork. I want the hair of the blonde figure (Edith) to fade to white towards the background, forming a contrast to the blackness behind the second figure (Ofelia). To achieve this I use the charcoal to lighten this area.

13. Draw in highlights

The image shows a mirror reflection of a face with hands over the eyes, and eyes in the palms

Stick with the white charcoal for highlights and details

I draw in highlights, the final details and dynamic lines with a white charcoal pencil. For extreme highlights I use a white coloured pencil by Derwent, which is very soft and creates brighter lines than the charcoal, but can't be revised or drawn over as easily because of its oily composition.

14. Keep the eyes engaged

Close up of a green pencil adding slight colour

A handful of subtle colours will help keep things interesting

To make the otherwise monochromatic image more engaging I use pencils to add a few colours, while keeping it subtle so I don't mess up my tonal values and contrasts. This makes the picture seem much more alive and interesting. Mostly, I use clay tones, but also add blue to light areas and green to contrast the reddish lines.

15. Check it on screen

Close up of a palm with an eye in the middle

Finish things off in Photoshop

After scanning the artwork into Photoshop CC I use Levels and Selective Colour to achieve the right contrasts. I also play around with the saturation of the image, to amplify the subtle colours of not only the pencil lines, but the different hues of the black and white paints. 

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 142; buy it here!

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Jana is an illustrator from Germany who creates moody and fantastical mixed-media artworks to accompany everything you can read, watch and listen to. She's worked with Titan Comics, Bracken Magazine and Bottleneck Gallery.