Tomb Raider Painting From Start To Finish

I have decided to enter in the Tomb Raider Contest on the official Edios forum competition, I’ll do my best not to get all nerdy on you but I’m excited about this one. The requirement in this competition is the entry has to be made by hand. This means I’m breaking out the oil paint.

The winning piece will be displayed in the studio of Crystal Dynamics so I am putting my best foot forward with high hopes. I have already started and what I’d like to do is just keep adding to this journal with all the WIPs to share the process and maybe even answer some questions if one arises.

Canvas Size: 30″x40″x1 1/2″

Step 1
Before even starting a sketch I wanted to get a good idea in my head of what I’d like to paint so I started looking at the concept art and screenshots for Tomb Raider 9. I decided to base this painting on the cave scenes where people are hanging upside down from what looks like giant spider silk. (Haven’t read the details of game yet, if there are any) There’s also a lot of skulls and candles throughout the cave so I wanted to have those as well.  Sometimes if I’m having trouble visualizing I’ll hop in Photoshop and do a lot of photo manipulation to help with layout and composition.

I also started looking up Tomb Raider comics and cos players to help me get some ideas and came across XtremeJenn. This gal base jumps off of skyscrapers and rock climbs and then for fun dresses up as Lara Croft, not to mention she looks like the new character in the up and coming Tomb Raider Reborn. Jenn and Superhero Photography gave me permission to use one of her photos to help create the oil painting so I’m definitely excited!
Tomb Raider has always held a special place in my heart because it was the very first game Lori bought me as a surprise, this was at a time when games were just starting to get popular on the PC. It was pixelated, old generation graphics and I absolutely loved it. 🙂 I have always been a fan of the heroine character or David and Goliath scenario because I have seen greatness like this in my lovely wife, at a time when most fall apart she stands strong.

 On certain subject matters I’ll just grab a paintbrush and sketch on the canvas with paint and go from there, but since I’ll be painting a person I’d prefer to get the anatomy and proportions correct. I’ve started with a simple sketch, I really do hate showing stuff at this stage because in reality it isn’t even a good sketch, it’s more of a guide so just the important areas are showing. I used a copic marker to create the sketch and will be coating it with Krylon Crystal Clear to seal it. This will allow me to apply paint over the sketch without it trying to blend with the oils and smear.





I have started to block in some areas in black and white, not really focusing on the fine details yet just filling in areas and establishing basic values.   There are two ways you can approach an oil painting and it’s really up to you, in my opinion they both have pros and cons and one is no better than the other. The obvious way is to start with your colors  mixing/blending as you go and the other is to do the entire thing in black and white establishing all your values and detail, then using a glazing technique to apply color. I did the same glazing technique with the following painting , believe it or not that painting started out in black and white.  If you’re interested in learning more about this technique just simply google “Glazing with Liquin” or “Glazing with oils”, there’s a wealth of information on it. Some glaze with linseed oil but I try and stay away from it because it tends to yellow.

I personally like doing the black and white method because some paintings just look good that way, you also have the freedom to leave it or apply color later. Plus this allows you to focus on the key elements of any piece because let’s face it, you could have perfect colors and one whacked out looking Lara Croft. In some cases you could apply just a small amount of color which is what I might do with this piece.

Materials I’m using at this point:
Ivroy Black and Titanium White by Winsor & Newton

Snap! flat brushes by Princeton. Their brushes are usually under 5 dollars a piece, I think it’s a waste of money to spend 40 dollars on one paint brush. I realize you get what you paid for in a lot of things but come on, a paint brush? I use cheap brushes all the time and have tried these expensive brushes and I can’t tell the difference. Some brushes have rough bristles and others have the nice white smooth synthetic bristles, which is usually my first choice.

Liquin original by Winsor & Netwon. This stuff is great, it speeds up drying time when you need it, creates the perfect consistency for smooth lines and is also used for glazing.

So I’m still officially in “Step3” LOL. I figure once I’ve blocked in the entire canvas then I’ll move onto 4, there’s a lot of canvas on this one so it’s taking some time . Then I’ll really start to refine the detailing and values a bit more. From the screenshots and concept art I’ve looked at those silk sacks have quite a bit of detail in them so it’ll be fun adding all that stuff in, not to mention the details in the skulls too. 🙂

You know if you ever feel like you’ve plateaued with your digital art, pick up a paint brush and work with oils or acrylic. You’ll soon realize how spoiled we really are with a tablet. I literally have to hold my breath to steady my hand on some of the brush strokes like on the ice axe. It’s good exercise actually and quite rewarding to see the paint blend like you wish it would in Photoshop or Painter.
Another trick I’ve learned is take a long paintbrush in your other hand and press the handle against your wrist, it’ll steady your hand just like it would if you’re resting on the canvas. This works great for those used to having your hand resting on whatever you’re drawing on. There are also tools such as http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2011/04/studio-equipment-part-1.html you can purchase that will do a better job. Some of the newer easels even have them built in to steady your hand, if I plan on doing a lot more oil painting I’ll definitely pick one up.

I had  a friend ask me why I chose oils on this one piece and the best way I could answer that is in my experience Acrylic is perfect for shiny and metallic objects, even more so than oils and oils are perfect for anything organic. Acrylic has some nice mediums now for blending and the ability to slow the drying time but it still doesn’t compare to the “wet on wet” blending of oils.



Step 4
 Now that I’ve covered the majority of the canvas in paint  it’s time to start bringing out the details. I’m still not satisfied with the overall values but for now it’s a good start. That’s the great thing about glazing is you can allow some dry time and then start glazing in darker values to really make it pop.




At this point I’ll switch to a round brush and start dabbing details





then take a flat (dry) brush and blend.

I’ll continue to do this until I’m satisfied with the details.



Step 5
 I didn’t update a progress pic yesterday because sometimes I find it’s a good thing to step away from a piece to get a fresh look. After doing this I decided to make an adjustment on Lara’s bow. In the concept art the bow was larger like a longbow so I’d like to stay true to the concept. Making changes like this to an oil painting is a lot more forgiving than you might think. If you keep your layers thin and blend as you go without creating paint build up it’s very easy to make drastic adjustments and the fact that we’re in grey scale helps a great deal.
I am still using the same brushes and liquin, probably more so at this stage. You know how we’re familiar working in layers with Photoshop? It’s kind of the same thing at this stage. I use thin paint layers and keep building them on top of each other. The benefit of working on a large canvas is you can bounce around detailing different areas and by the time you’ve come full circle it’s usually dry enough to add another layer. (using liquin that is)

To be continued….