maandag 3 juni 2019

Khazar Bagathur Part 2: Pushing Further (2019)

Hi Everyone!

Two months ago i finished my painting called Khazar Bagathur. The Painting had an overwhelming positive response online, and it got me a tremendous amount of high end jobs. However, since the piece is rather personal, I kept going back to it over the last three months, and made numerous minor changes to it. In my eyes, the piece changed tremendously, and i would like to  share my process with you.

Phase 1: First Share

The painting was shared in it's first finished iteration in february 2019. It already received a positive response but a friend of mine told me i could push the face a bit more. Thats where I started to notice a plethora of different things that I thought could improve. I had my holiday in NYC to think about these topics:

1. Saturation: Even though the colored front and background add to the contrast of the warm/cool dynamic of the painting, I felt that the saturation for both was a bit too much. Not necessarily incorrect, but too much for the feeling I would like to convey, which is more realistic rather than Blizzard/Disney style.

2. Face: The first thing i noticed that could be improved. It is pretty funny actually since the face is where people look at first, so it should be perfectly rendered (same goes for the hands actually)

3, 6, 8, 10 Contrast (Shoulder, hands, arms, loincloth and background details): I felt the first iteration could have popped a bit more, especially when the torch is so close to the shoulder as a secondary light source, and the primary light source from above is a useful tool to include crucial elements and exclude secondary elements from the focal area. The loincloth had too much contrast, so I dimmed it down. Same goes for the rock in the background which has the same amount of detail as the character itself almost.

4. Proportions: I used the reference on the left for the painting, which i did not translate that well actually. The perspective is not that clear (something which i only fixed in the last iteration), but the primary issue is the lens distortion. The head looks a bit too large for the torso, which hindered the painting greatly.

5. Hand: The hand holding the chain has a very odd tangent where it is *exactly* touching the top of the fur-trim on his belt. This creates an unnatural composition and gesture.

7. Silhouette: The first iteration is missing a great deal of silhouette below the waist; It is just an upper leg without interesting folds, so i added an extention to the loincloth to make some sort of battle skirt on the sides of the body to make the silhouette more interesting.

9. Foldings on pants/knee: The reference photo used a pants that did not translate the gesture into very interesting foldings, and while in the workflow I blatantly took that to the first iteration. The gesture isn't really showing that much tension, so i added some extra foldings to where the knee meets the boot. This didn't prove as effective either as will be discussed later in Phase 2.

Phase 2: All the little things add up

After i shared the second iteration I started to actually receive the job offers and even better positive response online. Due to that positive feedback I spent more time looking at the piece and over time discovered various minor things that bugged me and which I will address in the second half of this blog post.

1, 2, 6. Perspective: The second iteration did not consider the horizon line like the third version. While the initial reference photo (Phase 1.4) is clearly shot from below, ├índ from an angle,  Iteration two does not translate in any foreshortening or perspective. This is mostly due to an undefined horizon line (6), which did not stand out due to the surrounding being in nature/organic shapes, where a horizon line is a bit tougher to spot unlike architecture/geometrical shapes. In third iteration I established a horizon line and changed the perspective on the fur (1) , and the plating on the lammelar armor (2).

3. Chainmail: Minor part of the painting, but in the 3 months i have been fixing this painting on-and-off I learned from artist Gambargin how to make believable chainmail. Don't just paint  OOOOOOO's above one another, but rather intermingle CCCCCCC's in opposite direction every row


4, 9 Hand Gestures & waving fur coat : I wanted to push the looseness and confidence of the hand gestures. Initially the hand holding the wand was anatomically off, and didn't feel very dynamic. The hand holding the chain didn't feel very natural either. Didn't feel like he was *holding* something. In the final iteration I made the hand holding the wand more expressive, with the thumb adding tension, and in the hand holding the chain I made more of the fingers visible, to show more room for the chain to be held. For this purpose, I shot reference again.

Also, the fur coat in the 2nd iteration felt a bit static, hanging in a perfect 180 degrees. the final iteration made the fur more waving to push the movement (9).



5. 7, 8 Legs: The legs had numerous issues attached to them. The initial reference photo, had the left leg/ our right forward. While that was implemented in the painting, the legs were still too close together perspective wise. The spacing of the legs (5) could be enhanced to push the gesture and make the painting more dynamic (Even though its a portrait piece!) through increasing the front leg's size and decreasing, and fading the hind leg. Increasing the front leg also solved the issue of the upper leg being too long (8). Even though the reference photo was used correctly regarding the folds, the material of the pants did not translate in interesting folds to enhance the all-important gesture. I shot photo of my knee bent;trying to find cool foldings.

Final thoughts



When you improve in your artistic career, you eventually reach a point where the art looks good on a ''first glance''. This proved a great advantage for me in previous iterations of this piece. But as a nitpicky artist you start discovering mistakes the more time you spend with an image, a process which can be tremendously annoying, especially since sometimes you spot ''mistakes'' that aren't there. However, I think around 80% of things that bother you are real issues to be addressed. In most cases, these little issues can be ignored without them having to ''kill'' the painting, but to me those issues accumulated and when they have been fixed the difference started to show greatly. 

Even if for another person the changes mean little to nothing, I have learned tremendously from those little mistakes, that are all little lessons that will be adapted in future paintings (where the problem could potentially hit much harder).

I hope you found this blog useful! Please give me your thoughts; either comment under the blog, social media platform of publishing or an email would be awesome.

In any case thanks for stopping by!


zondag 17 maart 2019

Khazar Bagathur Part 1: Initial Painting (2019)

Hi Everyone!

Every once in a while i have the urge to talk about the process of my artpieces. In this blog post i will talk about my newest image called Khazar Bagathur. My goal is to teach, inspire and simply guide those interested into my process as an artist.

The image is made as a part of a series, with an emphasis on the Dark Age factions, which delves into their tales of war, heroism and falling from grace through occultism. The character depicted is a ''Bagathur'' (meaning hero in old turkic) from the ancient Khazar Empire, a turkic tribe who converted to Judaism around 750 AD, while still maintaining their belief in shamanism.

Khazar Bagathur

''We embrace our new god with every fiber of our being, and carry him closest to our heart, however, ancestral stirrings still speak to. They guide our hand, teach our children, grow our crops, and defeat our enemies''. 


  The Hermetic Tarot, The Knight of Wand

  I was always fascinated by the Tarot when i first saw a unique variation of them in the album ''Holy Wood'' by Marilyn Manson back in the day. Besides the divination aspect of Tarot, it holds a lot of archetypical imagery which, in my opinion serves as a backbone to a great amount of artwork in the entertainment industry. I fell in love with the artwork on the ''Hermetic Tarot'' deck when i saw it on my trip in Israel in a store. The artwork above is inspired by the ''Knight of Wands'' Archetype.



Nagato Iwasaki's Driftwood Sculptures

I always liked the haunting aspect of these sculptures, in the water. Originally i wanted the Bagathur to be surrounded by similar burning idols/sculptures, but i found that would require a horizontal and perhaps more dynamic composition. I settled with the main character itself standing in the water, without the sculptures with a more straight forward approach for the character to be in the main POV.

 Justin Sweet, Chronicles of Narnia

This is a painting by Justin Sweet, done as concept art for Narnia. I have been a fan of Justin Sweet ever since i saw his artwork on the Magic the Gathering set ''Legions'' . His mood and brush efficienty are just amazing, and i wanted to try something similar with my paintings, a warm hard light source coming from above.

Jason Rainville, Mardu Skullhunter

With Jason, i have a love/hate relationship; i think his work is absolutely stellar, but him entering Magic the Gathering as an artist, raised the bar tremendously for those needing to yet get in, haha. I studied the artwork for ''Mardu Skullhunter'', to push the rendering to the next level (and since both artpieces have the sime idea +/- too. I also got inspired by the gold coins in his braids, i added two on my characters Moustache!



Before i start to work, i gather as much reference as possible, because i dont want to get stuck not knowing how i should paint something. Here is a collection (not complete unfortunately) of items, and where i used them later down the road.

It varies from reference for the fire, furs, apparel/weaponry to overall gesture/anatomy/lighting, environment to smaller details like the Khazar Tamga (Rune) which comes out  of his staff and the Menorah Brooch on his chest.



While every step integrates more rendering and details, there are other key parts that i would like to address in each phase:

Step 1: Shooting Reference

 I always like to shoot my own reference. I can guide the pose, lighting and overall expression/gesture. For this purpose i used myself as a model, trying different poses in front of a filming camera (on selfie mode) and eventually screenshotting a few poses that align with my interest. Filming yourself rather than taking pictures can help with your poses more fluent, due to your screenshots capturing a mid-action movement.


Step 2: Placing inside a scene

For a quick overview i like to place a cutout of my ref into a scene, which is a photobashed version of the water/sculpture showed earlier. Right now i just need to make the values and color correct and i have a base for my image in step 3.


Step 3: Block in

Right now its time to push the shapes and values. I use the mixer brush to blend all the pixels together and refine the shapes after. I should have a clear overview of what my painting should be from a thumbnail POV, and if thats not the case, i need to remain where i am until the image reads decently. I also changed the hand gesture to hold chains, as an extention of the wand he is holding.


Step 4: Detailing and enhancing focal Point

For my reference i used white sheep fur, which proved to be a great focal point behind the darkened background. I enhanced the overall contrast, and pushed the definition of the shapes/rendering.


Step 5: More contrast

Painting dark scenes, does not have to mean your painting actually needs to be dark, it just needs to have a clear contrast between light and dark areas. Step 4 lacked nuance, and was too dark. I pushed the contrast even more, and started to shape up the secondary, dim lit light sources on his sides.

Step 6: Auto Tone

 Local color (mostly reds) started to shape up in Version 5, which eliminated the depth. When that happens, i select the ''Auto Tone'' Function (Image-->Auto Tone) on a flattened layer. It searches for the best contrast and color relation and adjust your images that way. top create a more coherent feel. the tool isn't perfect obviously, so you need to adjust areas manually. While this version looks more coherent, it has a uncomfortable green hue that needs fixing.


Step 7: Not yet finished

 I enhanced the saturation around the flame/lit areas, to have saturated warms, and desaturated cools. On this exact stage i actually shared the painting online, and it received greatly positive response. When time came i spotted various minor issues with this painting that I decided to fix in version 8.

Step 8: 12 things i needed to fix

I stumbled upon various issues in Step 7 which are fixed in step 8:

1. In my reference i took in step 1, there was a lot of lens distortion going on. limbs looked bigger/smaller than they were. I copied these mistakes onto this character, who had a head too large and torso too thin.

2. The head missed a tremendous amount of rendering, as a focal point it should be perfect.
3. The arm holding the chain has a tube shape, and not an organic one that starts thin and ends up thicker at the arm-muscles.
4. The loincloth had too much contrast; It fought for attention with the focal areas.
5. The Chain arms needed to form a focal/depth area. I needed to enhance the contrast by lightening the lit part of the arms, and darkening the adjacent areas.
6. There was a tangent between the hand and painted fur beneath the armor.
7. There was way too much detail in the background. It fought for attention with the already detailed character.

8. the character took up a tad too little space in the piece, which resulted in a bit of dead space at the bottom of the water area. Since the illustration leans to a portrait imagery, i wanted the character to take more space in the canvas.
9. Silhoutte was missing around the leg area. I used the loin cloth to push the silhouette and make it more dynamic 
10. The blues in the painting were too saturated, which looked a little bit unrealistic. I desaturated them, so they still suggest the color blue, but dont fight with the dominant colors red and yellow.
11. Too little bounce light on the character from the surrounding areas. Needed to add more blueish/cyan tones on the sides of the character to balance things out.
12. Too many darks in the midtones, i removed those and added lighter/more saturated colors instead. Has a more dreamy look to it (needed to pay attention to not kill the contrast), and technically will also look better on phones and print.


 Step 7-8



Conclusion: The Final Step

In this painting i did not struggle that much in the process compared to earlier personal paintings. The problem solving went decently, be it technical aspects or conceptual aspects, however the ''dot on the I'' which i tackled in step 8 was a new experience for me to push myself further. I needed to ask myself more critical questions and make A LOT of comparisments with other artists to achieve that result. The final step made alot of difference to me and it gave me great insights on what i can improve in a future painting

**Part two is online very soon! In this blogpost I will address mistakes that have been noticed after this blog post launched

As always, i'd like to read your thoughts; discuss!

All the Best,