Lord Snow WIP - Honest Critiques needed

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  03 March 2013
Lord Snow WIP - Honest Critiques needed

Hello and welcome to my Lord Snow WIP thread.

I recently got this to a place that is worthy to show, but know there is much work to be done. My current workflow is starting in grayscale, then adding color later.

Jon and Ghost are the main focus, on a plane of snow. The background would be The Wall with the nightswatch army in front, diminishing to the left side.( perhaps a better idea will come later)
The light source is natural sunlight and is coming from the front, a cooler color because of the snowy location. Also a possible light source from the back, a warm color, from torches held by many men.

My notes-
folds in the pant/boot of his left leg lay at a wrong angle , causing the leg to look awkward.
left arm looks awkward as well, possibly a lighting issue.
sword straps will be included as well as a pouch and knife on his right side.
finer details will be added once this stage is done.

So with that in mind, is there anything that you feel could be modified to make this a stronger composition?

-I do not own these characters-
  03 March 2013
Hello Curtis.

The above is a good start, but there are many changes that you can do before going further. Below is a list of what I see.

- First and foremost, you wish to work on composition but your sketch hardly shows any: what we see is merely a pose study. If you want to be able to work on composition, then now is the right time to place hints of the background: rough patches of flat lights and darks that show where people will stand, where the Wall will be, where there might be a patch of trees, ... This will allow you to design your scene as a whole and clearly visualize how the strong lines and masses in the background will interact with the character and with each other. *Always* better than the hassle of making major changes on a scene you've been polishing for days.

- You mention snow, but your ground is very dark. With the possible exception of muddy or melted patches, your ground plane ought to be as light as the wolf, if not lighter.

- Lights could be better defined. With front sunlight as the lightsource I would expect clearly distinguished planes of light and shadow with a high value contrast. However, your light is blurry and kind of flat, with similar values everywhere. Try to consider the main planes that make up the silouhettes of your characters, and define simple values : highlight, half-tone, shadow - each depending on the material and its angle compared to the lightsource.

- The cape just doesn't work. The cloth part is sketchy with folds hard to make out, and the pelt lacks volume. You can try and find samples from the Game of Thrones series for good reference: most the Starks have amazing capes
  03 March 2013
Thanks TheArtySquid, nice name btw

Thanks for your post. You made some really good points.

Youre point about adding the background is the biggest thing I've come to realize. Honestly, 90% of my art is character designs. So this is a huge step for me since ive never messed with backgrounds before. Anyways you are absolutely correct and that is what im going to do next. Define my key light and a possible back light and well as establishing the scene. I should have done that in the first place but then again, I really had no idea about a work flow.

I understand that the lighting needs to be defined. I new that from early one. The reason why I didnt define it was because I wasnt 100% sure of the lighting situation.( which could have been worked out if i started the background much earlier)

Yea i agree about his cloak. I've tried a few other ideas and i think i will change it once rest of the scene is blocked out.

Thanks again for your thoughts, I really appreciate the time you took to help me out.
  04 April 2013
A couple more notes:

I know that the dire wolves in the books/show are based on wolves, but not wolves, you have some artistic license there, but your wolf is too "doggy". You also should use this as an exercise in drawing and rendering fur - there's a system to how fur works, now would be a good time to tudy wolves, their anatomy, and their pelts, and apply it here.

Second, your cloth needs a lot of work. First, you indicate many layers of cloth/fur that he's wearing, but it's taking up the equivalent volume of a sweater and pants. He should be very bulky, with that much on - watch the TV show, the characters are massive from the amounts of cloth, leather and fur they're wearing. The cloak, while a nice idea, would be useless as a cloak - cloaks are to keep the wearer warm, especially in this case. It should be massive, and bulky, with heavy duty fastenings or knots, and cover the shoulders. The belt is drawn fine, but the material above it should bunch up above it and below it.

Also, your rendering of the fabrics is wrong, you can't just draw random lines that indicate folds or stretched parts, it has to make sense, according to what it is, and where it is, and what kind of material it is.

It's a good place to start, so keep going. Remember, this is fantasy, so you can exaggerate a little, to make it look more menacing or whatever. Study things like heavy cotton, leather, and fur, to learn how to render it. Just toss some sheets in a pile and draw them, to learn how to render folds in clothes and drapery.
  04 April 2013
Thank you very much BillyWJ. Your comments and critiques are highly appreciated!

It all definitely needs a lot and at this point. Your points about the wolf I understand. I've never had a work flow when it comes to fur and thats been an interesting process. When you say he is too "doggy", do you mean in the sense that he physically looks more like a dog that that hes acting more like a dog?

Your points about his clothing, I will definitely keep it in mind. Personally, I'm not 100% with it anyway and know that its not close to finish it. I pretty much blocked most of it in knowing alot will be changed. First of all, I didn't know what my key light was going to be when i started. I had a general idea of where it was going to come from but other than that, i just wanted to get the character visualized. Now that i have a much better idea about the lighting situation, I can start to show that on the characters, therefore better establishing the clothing, and what materials they are made from.

Thanks again for your comment. Im a huge fan of honest critiques.
  04 April 2013
Here is my second revision.I ended up changing the background and decided to go with something simple. I lightened Jon's grayscale to fit with the lightness of the background, and, based on what BillyWj mentioned, added some volume to his clothing to give that "its cold" feel.
I still have alot of cleaning up to do, many edges to define, but I'm happy with where this is going.

  04 April 2013
Hmm... You've made progress and some things have improved, but there's still room for more.

- You did a good job of defining overal coherent light levels, but his left arm feels undefined - i.e the pattern of light and shadow fails to reveal the form of the underlying anatomy.
- Depending on the weather conditions, you might want to increase the contrast between the sky and snow-covered mountains.
- Speaking of which, the shape of the peak behind him feels too simple for a natural mountain top. I would expect such an even look from a man-made heap of dirt, or maybe a hill, but what you have here doesn't bring to mind the great mountain ranges of the far north.
- The reflected light on the lower edge of the swordsheath is too bright.
- Something went wront with the direwolf's legs : there's a huge difference in the gap between its front and rear paws. Which might admittedly happen at times, but in such cases it would be the result of an active posture.
- Shadows could afford to be more defined. Right now they're a bit vague, and as a consequence I'm still not sure where the lightsource is positionned. (some parts are shaded as if he's facing the lightsource, others look like the light is coming from above)
- Is that chainmail underneath his tunic? If so, I would expect larger rings to make it recognizeable, and it would add a lot of bulk to his arms.
- Speaking of bulk, I think you shouldn't hesitate to go even further with the added thickness to his clothes and wolf pelt. Have a look at these men and imagine they're not even clad for winter conditions...
  04 April 2013
I held off most of the week when it comes to updates, but am finally able to post the next one
So a few things have changed. I've been trying to establish a better composition and with that, I've come to realize, based on what elements I worked on the most, Jon is the focal point and I dont care for an elaborate background. I changed his pose as well to make him look less stiff and more interesting and added a little bit of wind as well. Im happy with this update and am beginning to become more confident in the piece as a whole.
feel free to comment, it would be greatly appreciated, thanks-

  04 April 2013
If this image is not supposed to be just a character concept art, but an illustration, then it best to treat this as more like a scene than a character and his wolf slapped onto a vague background, without consideration to the basic visual design of the composition.

Read up on basic composition guidelines like rule-of-thirds and golden ratio/divine proportions.

Don't treat the background as an afterthought. Backgrounds are just as important as the foreground in a scene. An environment can be a character onto itself, with its own personality and mood. Your characters' relationship with the environment becomes part of the narrative.

And don't use blurry backgrounds as if you're trying to mimic a large aperture setting of a telephoto camera lens. You are creating a painting, not a photograph. It has nothing to do with restricting the focal point on the characters. A good artist can paint defined background that complement the characters and form a cohesive scene without letting it steal the attention away, and in fact, will make the whole image feel more complete and fleshed out. You control your focal points with values, contrast, colors, selective detail, and so on, while blurring the background is generally considered a cop-out for people who are either too lazy or can't paint backgrounds well.

There are very, very few instances when you genuinely NEED to mimic the mechanical behavior of a telephoto lens set to large aperture, and in fact, I don't know a single highly respected artist in our circle who uses that gimmick. Go look at the best artists in our circle out there--Craig Mullins, Jaime Jones, Jason Chan, Todd Lockwood, Dan Santos, Donato Giancola--they never resort to that gimmick. They always control their composition, eye-leading, and focal points using the elements I mentioned.
  04 April 2013
Thanks Lunatique for your honest comments. much appreciated and i will try my best to clear the air.

I have to say, I posted this on cghub as well and had a very similar comment to what you posted.

First, I don't think i was very clear when i first posted this. I made it sound as if this was an illustration,meaning the entire image will tell a story, based on the consistent comments about the lack of a background.My true intention was for this is more of a character concept.

So with a typical illustration, you can drag a box over the entire image and everything contributes to a story, correct? With my project, i want it to be different. If you were to drag a box over the the entire image not everything will be contributing, for example the background. But if you where to trace the character, everything inside him would tell the story. ( his pose, what he's wearing, his height, age, so forth). Does that make sense?

You may be asking yourself 'why not just put a background in to add to his story?'. The reason why i dont is because of a couple reasons:1, my skill in background design is not on par with my skill in character design, as you've noticed.2, I'm fine tuning my character design(concept) skill and the ability to tell the viewer a story by showing them a character.

Someday I will begin to establish a good sense in backgrounds, but because i want this piece to be a mile stone in my career as a character artist, I dont want the background to hinder the character design.

hopefully that sheds some light on the matter.

"Don't treat the background as an afterthought. Backgrounds are just as important as the foreground in a scene. An environment can be a character onto itself, with its own personality and mood. Your characters' relationship with the environment becomes part of the narrative. "

-Yes, I've known this but rarely put it into practice because I mostly do character concept art, which often doesn't need the use of an elaborate background. So in that case, i would have to disagree with you, I dont think the background in this is nearly as important as the foreground and im working to flesh out every single detail in the foreground to compensate for the lack of a background.

"And don't use blurry backgrounds as if you're trying to mimic a large aperture setting of a telephoto camera lens. You are creating a painting, not a photograph. It has nothing to do with restricting the focal point on the characters. A good artist can paint defined background that complement the characters and form a cohesive scene without letting it steal the attention away, and in fact, will make the whole image feel more complete and fleshed out. You control your focal points with values, contrast, colors, selective detail, and so on, while blurring the background is generally considered a cop-out for people who are either too lazy or can't paint backgrounds well. "

-I totally understand what you're saying. I think the quality of it shows the lack of skill i have in backgrounds. Honestly, i threw it in to see if it works or not, and it clearly doesnt.

Thanks again for you honesty and your willingness to ask the important questions.




Last edited by SktchWlkr : 04 April 2013 at 03:14 PM.
  05 May 2013
Heres the latest revision. Still have some more detail work to flesh out then I think I will be ready for coloring.

  05 May 2013
There were some good afore mentioned comments there. I would like to join if I may.

My thoughts are the following:
- First of all, you have been getting lost in the details. I can't imagine how much time you have already spent with this, constantly modifying the character and his props. I think this occurs that you mainly thinking in lines not volumes of his preferences.
eg. the guys mentioned before the lack of bulkiness of his build-up. Of course this last one is the best at the moment comparing to the earlier ones. I think the hood is still too lightweight, so as the other part of his clothing. This character more likely reminds me the main character of The Assassin's Creed, than Jon Snow the nordic warrior... Nice details btw, however I don't really understand why his dress opens up below the belt - but this windy effect look unevenly weird.

- Secondly about Ghost. Nice progress on him, I'm somehow missing the back part of his body at this phase. Wolves have relatively long body structure. They look massive, especially because of the fur. Maybe his tail is right on the edge as Jon's cape cover it, but for me I felt at first that you just wanted not to show ghost's back part for "some reason"...
(I might go back with the wolf to look the same direction as Jon is grimly staring something. I guess this could emphasize the tension in concept or referring the direwolf's loyalty...)

- Toning, background and overall volumes. There is a noticeable progress with the contrast, but far from enough in my opinion. If you wink for the picture for like half-a-minute / a minute, you should notice all the problematic areas. For instance Jon's clothing has the same tones everywhere. His face also has that tone. And if would make an average of those tones you would be close to the background level. The only eye-catching spot is the dark areas of the cape, emphasizing not so interesting areas. I would push the whole character into darker tonal levels, and add some highlights from the direction of main light (key light), a minimal fill light (from opposite direction to help understand the shapes for the viewer) and not forget the bounced lights, since the snow is a highly light reflective material. (like Chris Anyma's character) So in that case you'd have a darked shaded character where you have the option to give brighter areas to make focal points (like his face). Then you could handle the background more lighter (go very bright with the snowy terrain) and medium/med-light gray for the sky. Use big rough brush strokes for the sky, just 2-3 strokes, that all. Let it be stylized. And I'd keep the wolf around the same brightness level as now, so his figure could evocatively pop-out from the background.

- And my last thought is the crop of the picture. It feels a bit crowded now, I think you should give little more space for the characters on the canvas.
Be more rough here and there with the brush, not the always smooth style. Play with the strokes and be relaxed! It's fun!

Keep it up!
- observe... it can only achieved by understanding -
  05 May 2013
Great post Zocsi! you make some great points.

I've totally gotten lost in the details, but it was intentional. I absolutely love detail and I've noticed that most digital painters don't find fine detail to be as important as the overall flow, but I try to make it just as important. Keep in mind, and i assume you know this, digital painting makes it a heck of a lot easier to go back and tweak things ( tones, brightness) so Im never worried when i starting adding the fine details, because i can tweak the large areas if i notice something wrong later on.

Bulkiness and the Assassin's Creed look:

From the first revision, I added some volume to his clothing, but i dont want to go any further. If i portrayed him to be north of the wall(antarctica) then every inch of him would be covered with fur. He would also be loosing his body shape and start to look rather bulky, which I don't want. Instead I portray him slightly south of the wall(decently warmer) so that i don't need to give him so much layers, therefore he has most of his body shape intact.
Also your point about assassin's creed makes alot of sense and I've actually done research on it. Most hooded characters (since AC) remind people of AC, which kind of sucks. If I were to remove the hood, you may think differently. So i think that is something I won't be able to overcome. I could try to mask the effect, but it would do very little.

You're point about his skirt opening up at the bottom, I totally agree with and will change. It doesn't make a lot sense. Good point


I drew Ghost on a separate layer, haha so there is no reason why i wouldn't draw his back side. Its just hidden. I did tweak that once, so that his tail is seen behind jon but it looked strange and kind of out of place.

"(I might go back with the wolf to look the same direction as Jon is grimly staring something. I guess this could emphasize the tension in concept or referring the direwolf's loyalty...)"

-As you know, he was originally looking in the same direction. I changed it because it gave too much emphasis on what they were looking at rather than them. They looked too focused rather than content I guess. Also I see Jon and Ghost as 2 parts of 1 being. Ghost is his second pair of eyes and they are constantly looking out for each other. Also because Ghost is looking forward, towards Jon, it brings the viewer back to Jon, if that makes sense.


I agree hands down 100%. I plan on going back and tweaking the tones, using adjustment layers. I understand that I should paint with those tones in mind but I had very little knowledge about that before hand. Same reason why I didn't start with color in the first place.


I can mess around with this, keeping in mind your reply.

Thank you so much for your post, I definitely appreciated every word and I hope you come back to see the progress.
  05 May 2013
The reason why I mentioned "getting lost in details", because this way of thinking originally could weaken the general concept. It's not about the possibilities of drawing in digital and fine tuning the results with different tools. It's more about the general approach as drawing/painting methods. Let me rephrase it. It is always better to think big shapes and forms at the beginning to find out the composition, pose, additional elements, background flow, etc. and go forward detailing them, rather then build up the whole image by bunches of small details, which could cause head-achy issues at the end with the composition, posture, or else. It a relatively common mistake to go ahead with the specifications and sell the picture with the eye-candy details, and leave the doors open for anatomical or other issues... Hope this make sense.
eg. A good way to practice this is drawing black silhouettes, where you can concertize the volume and pose of the character with a clear vision, and then you can go ahead with the details...
(I think the best indicator for walking on the right path with this, if you imagine that you don't have determined time for doing a concept, but you got the uncertainty that you'll have to end working on it at any time. The picture should be story teller after 30 mins, so as hours or days later. So this means you constantly working on the whole piece, rather than got lost in the details.)

About the AC look. I had this thought, because the body proportions of your character, and the thin / light clothing pieces. The hood is just one thing, but there are others. Like how the cape turning over his shoulder, the tight leather straps on his chest, the forearm protectors and the tiny triangle leather stuff below it, and the pirate boots, what were used mainly by cavaliers. And of course his face preferences, skinny, well trimmed stubble... On the other hand it is absolutely your job to decide where you're heading to with the character design, since this is the purpose of this piece. I just mentioned this...

I was sure about you handle Ghost on a separate layer, reviewing your previous versions. I believe that his back part is there, probably I just sense that the wolf body ends around the border of Jon's character, and this situation makes my a very little bit uncomfortable looking at the composition, thats all. So as the "tripod" legs situation...
The looking direction. Again, your choice. For a wolf the "look into the camera" pose works well in most of the cases... I saw that you had been experimenting with it, now you have different solutions, you just have to make the decision... (Speaking of Ghost's sentinel mode. Have you tried the wolf on the other side of the character, maybe looking backward or forward? Just an idea.)

About toning. This is the very cool part of digital painting, that you have several tools in your hand to achieve the same goal. Well, I rather recommend you not to afraid using the grayscale in full spectrum on-the-go. Don't be afraid that you don't have the knowledge or skills! Try new ways, experiment different method, et cetera. (This is true for the background, as well.)

Well, looking fwd for the next phase!
Until then, keep it up!
- observe... it can only achieved by understanding -
  05 May 2013
Another thing you might want to change is how the wolf's paw is almost lined up with the bottom of the cloak. When you have things lined up like that, they create the illusion they are sharing the same space in the z-depth, and that will flatten the sense of dimensionality in your image. Try moving the wolf a bit higher in the image (will need to make it a tiny bit smaller too, for accuracy of scale). You might also want to move the wolf towards the left a bit so we can see both paws too--it'll create a better sense of cohesion. The wolf also seems a bit short in the torso. We should be able to see its butt and tail if it is a normally proportioned wolf.

I agree with Zoltan that you need to give your composition more breathing room. This is a very common problem in composition, and it's so easily fixed. You don't ever push anything towards the edge/corner unless you have specific psychological effects you're trying to evoke with that kind of placement. If you're doing it without a purpose, then it's simply lack of forethought in the visual design of your composition.
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