[reprinted from Onder Magazine Issue#1]
As you may know, the Hellmaw setting was created by Ed Greenwood through a very interesting process. He asked me to paint anything I wanted – as long as it was related to horror – and would then draw his inspiration directly from the illustrations I’d produce. I had never done that before, nor had I ever heard of anybody doing that in the past. So I jumped on the occasion and proceeded to let loose my darkest thoughts and shape them into dozens of portraits.
When I paint a portrait, I tap into my personal set of references and inspirations, often creating my own narrative about the character I work on. But once an author picks a portrait to write their own Hellmaw story, the portrait becomes theirs, and they can give this character any identity, personality and experiences they want. The result always amazes me!
In this article, I will explain the general process of the creation of the Bodyless portrait used by Marie Bilodeau for her Hellmaw novel Eye of Glass.
Step 0 – Inspiration and References
Before putting pen to paper (in my case, I use a Wacom Intuos graphic tablet) I browsed the internet for reference. I already knew I wanted to do a flying head, inspired by the Penanggalan – a vampire ghost from the Malaysian folklore whose head and entrails separate from her body to fly in the night in search of ”food”. I was also inspired by the cleaner, more family friendly, Japanese Nukekubi : a beautiful woman whose head just comes off and flies around.
Finding references was very easy. Reference images give me confidence and help me refine my ideas. I usually create a virtual scrapbook page on which I place all my reference pictures.
Step 1 – Rough Sketch
Usually, I spend between 10 to 30 minutes to produce thumbnails and quick sketches. In the case of the Bodyless portrait, I already had a good idea of what I wanted to do. I had in mind the picture of a pale woman’s head with long black hair flying into the frame and her spine trailing behind her like a snake’s tail. So in this case, it took me only 5 minutes to scribble something I was happy with.
Step 2 – Grayscale Values
In order to define shapes and volumes, I blocked in some grayscale values. This is probably the most important step, because it defines so many aspects of a picture: shapes, composition, and points of interest (via contrast and clustering). I tend to spend more time on this. For Bodyless, I made sure the face and the hair were contrasting nicely, with the spine vanishing in the darkness behind.
Step 3 – Color
I started to add colors on top of my grayscale picture. In order to make the pale, slightly warm-colored skin of the monster pop out, I decided to use a cold dark blue for the background.
Step 4 – Lighting
To give a bit more depth to the image, I added a blue light source coming from the left side. The light source is out of the frame, but we really just need to see its effects on the subject. Dramatic Impact Achievement unlocked!
Step 5 – Detailing
This is the longest of all the steps. But it’s where the magic happens. I feel like about a quarter of the total time put on a painting leads it to approximately 80% of its way to completion. But the last 20% takes the remaining three quarters of the time. Also, digital media makes it possible to change even the largest elements quite easily. For example, in this painting, I thought the face of the monster looked too much like a Japanese No mask. So I changed it to a grimacing blood-spattered horror with electric blue eyes. I then added some texture in the hair, skin and spine, added details in the mouth and eyes and blurred the spine in the background to suggest speed. I also put some flying particles in the air to add realism and glazed in some bloom effect on the lightest points of the picture.
This is the general process I go through for each Hellmaw portrait. I hope you enjoyed this article and if you haven’t done it yet, go read Eye of Glass – the first book of the Bodyless awesomology. You will be very, and agreeably, surprised by how Marie Bilodeau used the portrait. It is one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I’ve ever had.