The Magic Skull [Artwork Deconstructed]
Skulls are dark, mysterious and imbued with magic properties – at least this is what the fantasy culture teaches us – so I had to try my hand at an artwork centered on a skull. In case you missed out on the How to Draw a Skull tutorial, make sure you check it out now! It might prove useful.
I start out with a randomly colored canvas. At this point, I still have no idea about what I want to draw, so I just scribble away until things are starting to take shape. For now, I am just focusing on a backdrop for the skull, something that will emphasize the mystery and magic properties of the skull, without stealing its thunder.
I am simply painting in large circular motions with a basic hard round brush and mixing up colors – blues and purples and oranges.
Then I add some details trying to define the circular shapes. I add a bright yellow layer set to Color Dodge in the center, to enhance the brilliance of the area and I darken the margins for a slight vignette effect.
And it’s time to add the actual skull. I quickly block in a very rough shape, just to see if it works.
I am not happy overall with the position and angle of the skull, but I push on to see if it starts working better when it’s fully rendered. I add some more details and color variation by mixing in purples, dark reds and some saturated green.
I want this skull to be made of shiny silver, or maybe even liquid mercury -I want it to be highly reflective, like a mirror, so I start polishing it. If the skull is mirror-like, it should reflect (and distort) everything in the environment. For now we don’t have much of a reflection because I haven’t decided upon what the skull should reflect. For now, I only know that the area above the skull (which should be reflected in the forehead) is a colder color (blue) than the rest of the environment.
Aaaand, this is where I realize that the skull isn’t working, I don’t like the angle, I want to see it from a top-down view to make more room for the reflection… so I start over.
With the new skull blocked in, I start adding details – things are a bit easier now, since the top of the skull acts pretty much like a convex mirror surface.
It looks okay, so I can move on and work on the reflections. Also, I add a saturated blue color to the top of the skull, to emphasize the fact that it is reflecting colder light from above- maybe the night sky.
To reinforce the idea of a silver, highly reflective, magical skull, I need to have it reflect something intelligible, and so far I have no human presence in the picture. So, what if I have a little boy reflected in the surface, about to pick the skull up? Problem is, I am not experienced with how the distortion works on a curved surface, so I go around the house looking for something to use as a glass ball, to take some reference pictures. All I can find is this:
It’s an Ikea candle holder. The lighting setup is nothing like the one in my artwork, but it’ll do. At least I can make out the distortion. Problem is, after a couple of failed attempts, I realize I cannot paint the image already distorted – but hey, this is all digital, so I can simply paint the kid straight on, and distort him afterward. So I start painting the kid in a new document.
I don’t have to be too careful, because the image will be smaller and distorted in the final artwork, so I don’t have to worry too much about all the little details. What I do need to have in mind is the lighting on the boy -his face should be illuminated from below by the glowing, bright orange surface the skull is on, while his left side needs to have a blue rim light.
Now, let’s see how it looks. I warp the smart object of the kid around the top of the skull, then I set the layer to soft light and multiply it to make the effect more obvious.
I’m slowly getting there. I add some more smoke effects and glowing particles (just set the layer to color dodge for the glowy effect), but it’s still missing something. I decide to also add the hand of the boy in the foreground, just to emphasize the reflection on the skull. I’m bad at drawing hands, so once again I need to take a reference picture:
Again, I block in the hand using the reference as a guide. I don’t follow it exactly, because the lighting is completely different, and considering how strong the light from below the skull is, I definitely need to have some subsurface scattering showing on the fingers for instance. You might notice how reddish and translucent your own skin appears if you hold you hand against a light bulb.
And we’re done. Just some final adjustments, some glowing embers, a quick reframing, a sharpening pass and here it is – the kid and the magic skull!