"Mr. Reaper" was made with a single objective in mind: having fun! I looked for a subject that I could mix the universe of heroic fantasy with a humorous approach, and what could be a better subject than the personification of death itself - the Grim Reaper? Such a great character gives an artist a lot of possibilities!
I questioned myself on what the personification of death should look like. I decided he should definitely be very old - possibly the oldest of all creatures. He should also be wise and have a certain mysterious feeling associated with him. I tried to transmit these ideas by giving him an extremely long white beard and the body structure of an older man with bony fingers, narrow shoulders, a large belly, skinny legs and a bent posture, using his loyal scythe as a support. A long smoking pipe also helped to reinforce his wise/wizard look.
For such a surreal character I needed a surreal set. So, the Land of the Dead seemed like a nice environment for the Reaper; a place where souls roam within a putrid atmosphere, filled with mysterious rock formations - and a pinch of humour here and there.
In order to reinforce the character's mystery, I chose to place the main light source of the image behind the Reaper, who should have a very strong and recognisable silhouette against a bright, gigantic moon.
The composition was laid out following the rule of thirds (dividing the image horizontally and vertically in three thirds). I also brought one main diagonal into play, marked by the scythe, and the circle of the moon (Fig.01).
Knowing that the main focal points should be placed at the intersection of the thirds' lines, I tried to place the character's head in the top right intersection; however, I was sacrificing too much of the character's posture and ended up placing his head in the intersection area between the thirds' line and the moon's circle.
I laid out a quick sketch and started painting each element with a flat shade of grey (Fig.02). This allowed me to study the depth between the scene elements, and also the distribution of values in the image.
One trick to verify whether an image has got good contrast is to remove its saturation by turning the image into greyscale. So, starting the process by studying the lighting situation before colour, guarantees that the final image will have a nice contrast.
As mentioned, one of my main goals was to achieve a strong silhouette by placing the character against a bright background, trying to make my character recognisable by looking only at its contour. Whilst studying the contour I decided to go for a humorous aesthetic, based on the concepts: elongated, curvy and pointy (Fig.03).