With this project, the thing I was most interested in was painting an image with a dark, moody atmosphere, much of it in shadow, and a bright spotlight to illuminate key elements. I was inspired by the work of the great Renaissance painter Caravaggio. I was intrigued by the idea of illustrating a very modern subject in a more classical style.
I used a few different brushes in this project, but most of the time I stuck to the good old Chalk brush, with pen pressure on and shape dynamics off (Fig.01).
I started off with a very rough black and white sketch (Fig.02). When drawing the first thumbnail of any image, I don't worry about accuracy, anatomy or even composition. In the beginning, what's most important is getting the gist of the image in my head down on paper; allowing myself the freedom that helps me to articulate my vision and develop new ideas. I decided I wanted the spotlight coming from the right in order to illuminate the foremost soldier's face as he looks around the corner, and also to create an air of mystery; just what exactly is he looking at? Initially, I wasn't sure how to pose the second soldier, but sometimes one element helps to define another. In this case, the lighting really determined his pose for me. I knew that I wanted him edge lit by the spotlight as well and for that to happen he had to be standing, peering over the side of the tank.
I started over and drew up a second, more refined sketch (Fig.03). I decided to adjust the angles of the rifles to make them suggest the shape of an arrow pointing toward the foremost soldier's face, to better guide the eye towards him. I giddily realized that, in doing so, I could pick up some of the spotlight on the front guy's hand and rifle (an exciting discovery)! I also added a secondary light source from the left and mapped them both out (Fig.04).
As I continued working, I didn't deviate much from the color in my initial sketch. A monochromatic look, I decided, would best convey the gritty, war zone feel I was trying to get across, though in the end I wish I'd deviated just a bit more color-wise.
With the composition, lighting, and poses roughly mapped out, I began to finish the piece. For me, there are two ways to complete a project – keep things zoomed out and work on everything at once, or zoom in and finish it section by section. I jumped into the latter perhaps a bit too early. Normally, I try to start the final rendering only after nailing down the sketch. But I still wasn't 100% sure about what I had down, and as a result each figure underwent a few variations (not without frustration) before I was finally satisfied.
The first part I began working on was the front end of the tank. I've always felt that reference material is important, but with real-world mechanical objects, I find that references are particularly important. I happened to have a model of an Abrams on my desk, which I lit appropriately and directly referenced (Fig.05). With my model as a visual guide, this section was the most straightforward to complete.