Stephan's first art book was one of the very first books I got when I started wanting to doillustration. I had the privilege of hanging out with him a bit last weekend at SDCC, so he was fresh in my mind for today's post. This image is one of his magic cards.
Obviously, this is a creature card. Because the illustrations on M:tG cards are small, the subject needs to read very clearly immediately. Stephan choose a fairly standard lighting scenario, backlit warm against cool to pop out the subject and make it read. The spider-esque nature of the creature really comes through with the silhouette, even in the final version.
Yeah, that's a creepy 2-value abstract. Reads quite well, both with circles to frame the creature and the legs and shadows to draw you in to the center.
Note the relatively unbalanced 3-value distribution. The brights are reserved for the eyes, and the background directly behind the creature. The "spokes" of the composition to lead in your eye are even more visible and obvious now.
By the time we get to 4 values, we have mapped in the atmospheric perspective and the sense that this creature is coming towards us. In all of these simplifications, it remains a "low key" lighting situation, which is totally appropriate for the subject matter.
The head of the creature could be more of the 2nd read than the subject - The subject would then be those red "sacks" that identify it as a "mother." - but if so, this is a strong second read, and we like to look at heads :)
The silhouette is strong, but the details are quite loose. You can see some photo texturing, but it has been heavily painted on top of with what looks like a chalky texture brush. I'd say he's also used some custom brush shapes to create the mandibles. There is a secondary light source from the front, off screen right that is warm and slightly below the creature. The bio-mechanical nature is being conveyed with flesh-like tones and a metallic treatment to the edges and where the form curves. I really like that one bright highlight just to the right of the top eyes. I would guess that the banding around the neck was created with the lasso tool and gradients, and then "dirtied up" with textures and some subtle brushwork.
Look how abstract and blobby the shapes on the shadow side are. He's spent ZERO effort where he didn't need to. Not sure he could get away with that if this was a book cover, but for a Magic card (or piece of concept art), this is great.
I pulled this out to point out how loose it is, and how he's used another light to bring out the form and show the metal rendering. Lots of lasso+soft brush here, and then the entire thing has been gone over with a soft, textured brush to add atmospheric perspective. The looseness gives it energy and a sense of motion.
The main body of the creature is mostly just silhouette and core shadow. The details he is showing have sharp edges and are rendered to show the metal nature. Like around the head, the background legs are just silhouette forms. They are there to draw your eye in composition-ally, but not to hold your attention.
Here's where the blue and cold-colours come in. Notice that this is not a simple gradient of 'yellow to blue' across the top. The purples closer to the subject unify the image and give it cohesion. It reminds me a lot of the old poster for "Something Wicked This Way Comes." There are literally NO details at all to show what this place is. It feels metal, or at least constructed, but that's all you get. Lots of textured brush shapes. The areas behind the legs are just brighter than the silhouette, and then vignette in the corners.
The very bright sliver of light behind the creature is an interesting choice. I would have been afraid that it would draw your eye off the page, but it completely works.
Lessons from this one:
- Know your final illustration size when you can. He can be looser and work faster on this one because it is going to be a M:tG card.
- Lasso+gradient works well for metal plates.
- Cool foreground, warm background, but warm foreground light.
- As before with other things we've looked at, don't be afraid to have unmotivated light sources to add drama and help show form.
- Atmospheric perspective doesn't need to be simple soft airbrushes - textures can help the space feel more dense and add interest.
- Even when all you are showing is a creature, try to work out a foreground midground and background, and vary the level of detail between them.
Thanks as always for reading, I hope this was helpful and interesting :)