Color: Red creature
Location: Mountainside under gloomy skies
Action: Show a knight like the one on pg. 145 of the "Roll" styleguide. He rears back on his chestnut warhorse, waving his sword, looking serious, fierce, and heroic. Perhaps a bit of sunlight graces him, breaking through the overcast sky. Other soldiers (male and female) on horseback ride down the mountainside after him.
Focus: The horseback knight
Mood: All would follow him into battle.
There were two things straight away that were potential issues. First, the horse and rider can't both be rearing and riding down the mountainside as the description insinuates. It's got to be one or the other. I explored both and decided on running. It was more proactive and thus more interesting to me.
Second, a more importantly, there was a horse. I mean at all. Forget what's it's doing, I had to paint a horse, which is something I very rarely get called upon to paint. I have a difficult time drawing horses and this was further complicated, it turns out, by the fact that the horse and rider in question were to be running downhill. Why is this a problem? Simple: racing a horse downhill is generally considered cruel as horses are often injured and can even die as a result. Indeed the only downhill horse race that I'm aware of, the Omak Suicide Race, is constantly protested for this very reason. As such, what little video footage and photography of such activities is usually pretty bad and semi-useless for the purposes of reference. One gets the feeling that there's a conscious effort to keep it off the internet.
So that's really informative and all, but why's it important? Simple: horses running across flat ground don't move the same way as they do when running downhill. The weight distribution is completely different as are the various muscle bulges. Given that I'm not completely comfortable with drawing horses (and I'm not exactly comfortable riding them either since my last experience involved an old nag trying to throw me while on a cliff-side trail which would have resulted in a hundred foot drop), and given that I'm not quite as knowledgeable of horse anatomy as I probably should be, I really could have used solid reference in order to truly sell the downhill charge.
Still, I cobbled together what reference I could, supplemented it with photos of horses running across flat ground, and took a shot at it. Okay, several shots at it. After many discarded attempts, here's what I came up with:
|©Wizards of the Coast|
|©Wizards of the Coast|
Much of painting was done on the fly with this one. I was constantly editing and reediting the background, whose landscape you'll note changed quite a bit from the original sketch. Something else that clearly changed was the horse, much of which was repainted no fewer than three times.
This piece was a problem piece. It was commissioned with two others and was the first piece I started and the last one I finished. Unfortunately, the problems were all my own doing. I had failed to nail the drawing up front and spent the entirety of the piece trying to recover from that. I spent the vast majority of the working duration solving problems when I should have been polishing, and were I to do it all over again I'd spend a lot more time up front in order to save myself the later frustration.
Whether or not it's a good piece I can't say. What feelings I have for it are tainted by the difficulties involved in its creation. I'm pretty sure I've done worse, and there are some qualities I actually dig the heck out of. For one, I got to paint something with fairly limited color (which I'm usually discouraged from doing, but enjoy whenever I get the chance). Two, I'm quite pleased with the sense of light and how it reflects off the armor. Lastly, I'm pretty happy with the background players, who manage to insinuate far more than they describe. Beyond that, I see only its faults, a plague which I think all artists are doomed to suffer from.
Still, I wrestled with the piece and managed to finish it. It wasn't a total train wreck, and there were no complaints from the client (at least not publicly). But, the end result of the piece was that it solidified my decision to start showing my circle of artistic confidants sketches rather than finishes. Plus it got me thinking more about the beginning of a piece again, which is never a bad thing. Many pieces are doomed by the lack of effort on the front end, and this one could have been among them.