Starting February 2014 this blog will be out of action.

But DO NOT DESPAIR. We've just moved, and you can still find the same riveting and informative posts that you have come to expect on our new blog:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Forest Troll: Digital Trickery

I am working in Adobe Photoshop CS5 for the digital final for this painting. (You don't always need the latest and greatest in software, but CS5 is amazingly stable by comparison to CS4 or CS3, both of which would crash regularly based on alignment of certain stars and lunar cycles. And on Tuesdays. And really just any time that they felt like crashing.)
Up until the halfway point I work in only multiply layers.  I am using these layers very much like thin transparent watercolor or acrylic washes.  

Digital Work In Progress: Midway Point

After the midway point I will switch into other layer modes, like screen and color dodge for highlighting. And some normal layers for opaque details. 

Final Digital 

You will notice that I added a few elements to the image at this stage, like the extra foreground foliage. These were decisions made after letting the painting sit for a few days and then coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.  It can be a risky business to always be going back and correcting an image.  Sometimes it is better to just leave your first ideas alone and move on to work on new projects. (You hear me Lucas?)  I will only do it if I feel I absolutely have to.   In this case, I had lost some of the forest-ness of the scene, and wanted to recapture a bit of it.

Troll Detail

Dwarf Detail

Thank you everyone for all the support and really helpful feedback!  You guys are awesome.


  1. Thanks for the overview on technique. Will give it a go and see how I am able to work with it.

  2. Hi Justin!! in the beginning your painting looks funny, but now i feel little bit scary,maybe because of dark i guess..:)

  3. I was looking forward to this, you didn't dissappoint! It's awesome. Beautifully lit,nice textures and details everywhere and of course a great idea to begin with. Well done.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I have to say I am a little disappointed with the outcome of your painting. Your drawing is awesome, full of little nice details but your painting does not support that. It looks spotty, noisy and too contrasty in places.
    You have high contrast at:
    The crows
    The dwarfs
    The Chest
    The top of the dead tree
    The face of the troll
    The pigs and the Helmet
    The bushes front left.

    I just want to look everywhere at the same time and always get distracted. My eyes are always jumping and may never rest at one point. The top bark of the dead tree where the dwarfs are hiding is way too dark for my taste and it distracts me from everything else. Looks so unnatural dark.
    I liked the drawing alone more.

  6. I love it! Thanks for sharing this whole process with us.

    My only question is what is going on with the middle dwarf's head? I know he's missing his helmet, but it seems like his head, or hair, is growing into the tree stump? I'm sure it's intentional, but I'm just not sure at what is happening...maybe he is sticking his head in a hole in the stump? Can you explain?

    The above notwithstanding, I think the final is amazing and have loved watching the progress. Thanks so much for posting!

  7. Very impressing! To me, you're the best illustrator ever. Even though a picture is worth 1000 words, I'm sure it would take millions to express the subtelty of the story you tell by laying shapes and colors on paper/digital screen.
    Is there any chance we can see you doing your magic on video some day?
    I'm sure there's alaways someone with an iPhone in his pocket near you when you're creating. Please, don't be shy.

  8. Hi guys, thanks for the feedback!

    I always like my drawings more too.
    And I am sorry, I can't help myself from lighting everything. American Law requires my work to always be busy and distracting.

    In my defense, these are dwarves, sometimes dwarves are portrayed as being a little misshapen. In general I think you can get away with more exaggeration with them than you could with humans or elves. I didn't realize this would be so distracting for people though, otherwise I might have approached it differently.

    There may actually be some video in the future. Keep checking back in. Also, I will be giving a lot more demos and lectures this year, (Like the TLC Workshop) so there should be more opportunity to see it live if you can make it to any of them.
    But there might just be some videos in the near future as well...


  9. Thank you for sharing these fabulous process posts..and the result is fabulous!

    If you don't mind me asking, what watercolor stock and pencils do you use?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Shirley,
      I am working on Strathmore Bristol for the paper, and am using Caran D'Ache Pablo for the pencils.

    2. Thank you so much, Justin for replying!
      Again, exquisite detail work - I am a fan..will be back for more of your great posts.
      Gung Hay Fat Choy ~Shirley

  10. Hi Justin,

    thanx for answering.
    I'd love attending a masterclass of yours but I'm some 7000 kms away (Morocco).
    I'll just keep pressing F5 to see te videos.
    Merci et continue de nous enchanter.

  11. This was absolutely invaluable. (did I use that word correctly?) hope so... or my compliment may have just become an insult. I'm an illustration student at UVU and couldn't make it to your lecture. I have been kicking myself daily ever since.
    Great work.. thanks for sharing these.

  12. Great! Thanks for showing your process!

  13. You smashed that illustration Justin! Great job Great processsss, Thanks for sharing this.

  14. You make me sick! :)..... Really nice!

  15. yes, i approve of this very much so. question, why does the middle dwarf have a flat head?

  16. I'm coming into the fifth week of Drawing 2. I took Drawing 1 at a community college, and taking the second part at a university. Their level of intensity are vastly different, and I sort of feel like I'm in some sort of art bootcamp. Hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel soon! Your work is very inspiring to me, and helping to get through it. What are some of the techniques you learned while in school that you use now in your drawings. Blind contour? Intercross? Gesture? Just wondering because that is what I am having to learn right now, and it would be encouraging to know their going to help me in the future.

    1. I use gesture drawing a lot to get my ideas down. Mostly though, just spending time drawing, any kind of drawing is going to be helpful. You can never spend enough time doing it. Trying all the different forms out is important both so you can figure out what works best for you and so you can keep developing control and coordination. Keep at it!

    2. Your advice is so appreciated! I will keep at it and hopefully can one day be at the level of skill your work displays. Read a great quote by Beethoven on a youtube video by The Piano Guys, "Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the Divine." Sounds pretty cool to me!

  17. Awesome illustration Justin, I come by and check out your blog from time to time. I am always impressed with your work. Keep at it.

  18. I always love your work. I aspire to be you. Not like you...Actually you. Stalking now. :)

  19. Dang crows are giving away the hiding spot!