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Lighting a dynamic character

By Romana Kendelic
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 7th May 2015
Software used:

Background figure

The man on the bridge went through a series of incarnations before I settled on a surprised passerby. I tried a guard on the double window left, and a group of people closer to the girl, but all of them proved too distracting.

After the initial drawing, I blocked in the large areas of the figure. I was more interested in volumes and his overall expression than any details. I also wanted to make certain that he was not just pasted in but part of the environment. I made sure that his color scheme matched and the pillar was casting a shadow across his arm and shoulder.

Surprised passerby, drawing, rough and final


With the thief character moving on nicely it was time to concentrate on the environment. On the wall behind her I painted the pattern of peeling paint. I worked with a limited range of reds and purples.

For the bridge I looked at some images of marble slabs and pillars to get a better understanding of how they worked. I then painted in variations of color before adding the characteristic swirls and lines. It might be interesting to notice that while the bridge is painted with desaturated purples, we perceive it as being cool gray because of its placement in the vicinity of other saturated hues.

Painting the background

Far background

From the start I intended the background behind the bridge to be relatively simple. But after some failed attempts to paint it, I realized that it was once again time to go back to drawing. Following already established perspective guidelines, I drew three windows.

Also, I felt the image as a whole was too warm, so I added cool pale blues in the far background behind the bridge. This served to increase a sense of depth. I finished it with just a hint of detail, including some crumbling paint and a few cracks in the walls.

Windows in the far distance

First details

Personally I am very fond of images that offer a wealth of details to discover. Some Old Masters were exceptionally adept at hiding entire small stories in their paintings. While Thief was never meant to be that detailed, I did try to add variety of textures and patterns to it. I added her braid to reinforce the diagonal pull of composition. I played with swirls on the marble pillars and painted small flakes of paint around the window behind the figure. Also, I was rethinking some of my choices, in particular lighting the large cast shadow on the wall to make it blend better with the rest of the image.

Adding in details

The face

The face is always one, if not the most important aspect of the image. In this case I wanted it to be a strong, slightly angular face, caught between expressions just as the thief is suspended in mid-air. The viewer is not supposed to be certain how this is going to end, just as she is not supposed to know whether she is going to land safely. A moment later she might laugh in delight, frown with fear or smirk with derision. That is also why she makes no eye contact with the viewer. A skillful thief will keep her eyes on the prize.

Developing the face

Cropping of the image

At this point I took a step back to evaluate what I had done. And while I still liked all the little architectural details, I had to admit to myself that they were drawing the attention away from the main character. It was supposed to be about the girl, not the environment. Cropping the image was the necessary step to keep the focus where I wanted it.

Cropped version of the image

Lower leg

Our eye is inevitably attracted to the line of action and the highest contrast in the composition. In this case this is the thief's right lower leg and foot. I wanted it to be elegant, slightly stylized, but still anatomically correct. You may note that I started with flexed toes but gradually extended them. I believe that the contrast between flexed ankle and extended toes adds to the sense of tension. I saved my strongest highlights for the crest of the tibia (shinbone) and patella (kneecap).

Lower leg process


My thief needed her prize: a piece of loot that made jumping off the bridge a worthwhile prospect; a visual MacGuffin (a narrative device in the form of a desired object, or goal that the main character pursues). It could have been a pouch of gold, gems, a priceless scroll, or anything really, but I decided to go with something smaller, more subtle ‒ a shiny bauble.

In a separate file I designed a small sealed glass container with brass ornaments and a single dangling pearl. Since it was going to be very small in the final image it didn't need to be very detailed, just a hint of the highlights to draw the eye was enough.

Glass and brass ornaments with a pearl


When designing the costume I was inspired by medieval and renaissance fashion. I tried to put together the elements from the real world that appealed to me, while still keeping it both sensible enough for a rogue to wear and fantastical to fit the context of the story.

For the billowing petticoat, I took a piece of crumpled linen cloth and draped it over the chair just to see how it moves.

I painted the buckles on the red bodice with rough blocking in and a couple of bright highlights, creating more a suggestion of the metal than a detailed rendering.

Folds and buckles

Finishing touches

The illustration was now finished, but it still felt just a bit too dark. After merging the layers, I played for a while with color balance, contrasts and shadows/highlights until I was satisfied.

The readability of the image is what interests me the most at this point. All those painstakingly rendered details would be of no use if the image was not easy to comprehend with a single glance.

The final illustration

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