[pix_dropcap]A[/pix_dropcap]lmost exactly one year ago, February 26th, 2015 to be exact, I finished my Curse of Strahd painting. Creating art for a client usually takes a long time before it sees the light of day, but I didn’t think it would take this long.
Technically I started this project in November of 2014. The original due date was in December, but with the holidays looming, we decided to push it back until January. Of course when January rolled around, I ended up going to WotC for another concept push. That meant I would only have time to work on the Strahd painting at night at the hotel. We decided to push it back again so that I could spend more time on the painting.
I remember asking in May 2015 when this painting would come out and they thought maybe it would come out in November. Then I heard December. The wait was a long one, but I’m glad they finally released my painting, especially since the game doesn’t come out until March 15th, 2016.
Most of my time with Wizards of the Coast is spent working on Magic: The Gathering. I haven’t done any D&D work for several years, not since Dungeon Command, so it was good to get back to it. The demands for D&D are quite different than Magic, so I felt like I had a little more freedom with this illustration.
I think interior illustrations are generally more relaxed than say an illustration for a specific card in a game like Magic: The Gathering, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.
The brief for this painting was pretty simple.
Mood: This should have a gothic horror feel to it, it’s supposed to be the creepy portrait that seems to stare back at you.
Standing pose, gothic horror feel, got it. Sounds pretty straightforward. As soon as I read the brief I immediately thought of John Singer Sargent’s portraits. I really wanted to do something similar because I felt like it would fit perfectly. I had done the same thing with Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath, which my AD mentioned, so I wanted to do that again with Strahd.
Most of the time when I go into a painting I don’t really have a clear idea of what I’m going to do. I just sort of scribble around and hope that I come up with something.
This painting was a little different. I pretty much knew what I wanted to do. The gargoyle fireplace sounded like a really cool idea, but I think in order to fit a gargoyle fireplace in the painting, I would have to zoom out too far. Strahd wouldn’t have the same impact.
I really wanted to do something similar to Sargent, so the outdoor scene wasn’t going to work either. I decided to go with a smaller fireplace so that Strahd could take up the majority of the frame.
In the first sketch I came up with I had Strahd leaning against the fireplace. He was a little arrogant and would probably stare at himself in a mirror all day long if he could see himself.
Luckily I just so happened to have my sword with me at the hotel, so I was able to take some pretty sweet reference pics of myself lounging around my hotel room while wearing my sword. Maaaybe I’ll post some of my reference shots, maybe.
My AD felt like Strahd was a little too “cowboy” in this pose. He needed to be a little more reserved and a little less “hey ladies, do you like my fireplace?”
We also talked about doing some sort of visual gag that had to do with the fact that Strahd is a vampire. My AD came up with the idea to have him holding a glass of wine and only the wine glass could be seen in the reflection of the mirror.
I came up with a new sketch that incorporated the wine glass and it was approved. Fast-forward a year and you can see what the final painting looks like!
The lighting was a little hard with this one. I wanted this piece to be very dark and mysterious. I wanted Strahd hiding in the shadows and only have part of him standing in the light. The image WotC posted is very bright, which I can understand since printing usually makes an image darker. When viewing it online though, it is a little too bright for what I intended. When you make something that bright that wasn’t supposed to be, you can see a lot of unfinished areas in the shadows that you normally wouldn’t see.
Gamma is always something you have to deal with when working digitally because everyone’s screen is different. Most of the time I don’t have much of a problem these days, but sometimes when you work on a dark piece there can be issues.