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Lighting a dynamic character

By Romana Kendelic
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 7th May 2015
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Romana Kendelic shares the techniques behind her dramatic images...

For a long time I had this undefined idea of a female character jumping into the abyss below. I think the concept of decisiveness, abandon and risk-taking is what appealed to me in the first place. When you think about it, it has similarities with plunging into a new painting. We never really know what awaits us at the end of the fall. The salvation of a well-executed work or the impact of failure.

I tried a couple of times to realize it, but was never satisfied with the result. Thief is the third such attempt. In this tutorial, I will try to show you some of the process behind the image, explaining why I made certain choices and sharing the techniques used.

The process is not typical for me. There was a lot of going back and forth between the drawing and painting. The piece was both under-planned and over-planned in certain areas. Probably the most important thing I learned during the process was how to make decisions for the good of the image. To cut a beloved detail just because it does not fit the whole. At one point an illustration develops a life of its own – sometimes that is not exactly what we intended at the beginning. Sometimes that can be frustrating. But the trick is to let it develop and let it grow. We as creators are here just for the ride. That is when the magic begins.

Drawing the Thief

It all started with an idea of a thief jumping off a bridge, window or cliff to escape the pursuit. I wanted to illustrate the moment after the decision had already been made, but it is still uncertain whether it was a good idea. Drawing all of that proved tricky. My model was sitting on the corner of a table, balancing while I tried to depict that feeling of falling through the air. I realized that I had to shift her center of gravity if I was to capture a sense of weightlessness just before the fall.

Line drawing of the main character

Background references

I had a vague idea of the background with the architecture of some old city, crumbling but still decadent; more a feeling than a developed idea. At the end I decided to base the architecture on examples from the real world – nothing too fantastical. So I went searching for references online. I looked at images of balconies, ornate windows, bridges, colonnades and medieval alleys. I built a rough cardboard maquette and photographed it under different lightings. That helped immensely with the pattern of shadows the pillars were going to cast.

Lighting the maquette

Final drawing

Drawing the bridge in three-point perspective with a dramatic angle, with all these arches, wasn't easy. It has been years since I constructed so many ellipses, and relearning took some time. I could have used a 3D program to help me with the background, but drawing it out helps me understand the forms and prepares me better for the painting to come.

When the drawing was done I scanned it in and added the Thief. I will keep shifting the figure throughout the painting process, avoiding tangents, and trying to find just the right spot.

Perspective drawing of the bridge


While I knew from the start that I wanted dark colors based around purples, it was important for me to properly plan the palette in advance. My main light source was going to be warm – a lantern or a torch maybe – and that asks for a limited color scheme. I chose the whole range of hues from violets to dark, saturated mauves going almost brown, with yellow/orange for a complimentary contrast, and pale-gray blues to cool the whole scheme. At this point I also painted a rough color sketch to make certain my color choices worked.

Color scheme


Finally I was ready to start painting. Putting my drawings on separate layers set to Multiply, I began blocking in the basic colors. I kept it simple with just the large shapes, trying to avoid detailing at this point. I established the pattern of light and shadow and painted the big cast shadow behind the girl as I planned that as my darkest area. Much of that original plan would change as I go along, but it helped to start with the unified image. Throughout the painting process I only used a Hard Round brush set to Opacity.

Laying down the first colors

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