"Ash and Sam" was originally painted as a full-page illustration for a game magazine, showing the main characters from "Evil Dead Regeneration", the game. My concept was centred on showing the relationship of Ash, the hero, with his deadite zombie sidekick, victorious over a pile of zombies (or deadites!). My influences came from fantasy art book covers from the 70s by artists like Frank Frazetta, who created dynamic heroic poses and figure compositions using a traditional oil technique. That was the look I was attempting to mimic in this painting.
Thumbnail stage to establish the composition of light and shadow
First I start with black and white thumbnail studies, just exploring the composition of the figures with abstract patterns of light and dark shapes. It took me years as an artist to realise that the black and white value structure is the heart and soul of the image. In my opinion, this is the secret to a dynamic image; not making something realistic, but rather breaking up the image space into an interesting pattern of light and dark shapes.
When I start this process, my mind goes through a visual checklist: Do I want a dark figure on a light background or a light figure on a dark background? Do I want the light to come from the side, above, or below? Do I want my eye to flow left, right, upward or downward through the composition? Learning to make quick visual decisions is important in developing your eye skills.
Notice how the base shapes form an "A", or a figure triangle, which is "A" for Ash. I decided to make the flow of the eye go upwards, symbolizing the team of heroes triumphing over all. The area of Ash's heart will end up being the focal point, which symbolizes his persistence to live and conquer evil. Many important decisions can be made at this stage that will determine the power of the final painting (Fig.01).
Colour thumbnail stage to explore colour combinations
Using one of the black and white thumbnails I experiment with a wide range of colour compositions to see which colour scheme will fit the mood. Since the Evil Dead story is more earthly than high-tech, I choose a warm colour scheme with reds, yellows and greens (Fig.02).
Take photographic references to get details
Using artist friends to pose for the characters, I do a photo shoot with props to get necessary reference for the body, hands and legs. Even though I love to paint most things out of my head, it is helpful to have great references to fall back on, especially when you have a tight deadline. One good point to remember when shooting references is to have an assistant help work the lights while you work the camera. I have the assistant move the lights around the model so I can see what the light and shadow shapes are doing. I'll photograph a lot of variations of light direction and poses. When I compose the final painting I pull from the best photo information to design my shadows (Fig.03).
Tight pencil sketch stage to define key details in composition
I compose the final composition by doing a tight pencil sketch using multiple layers of tracing paper. The importance of this stage is to refine the shapes and refine your drawing, especially any important details to the painting (Fig.04).