Today's post features my critique of a work in progress by Michael Maher, a talented, up-and-coming illustrator. We've been communicating via e-mail since 2008, but this is probably the most formal and specific of my replies. What follows is the unedited correspondence regarding his latest work. We may return to this as he decides which pieces of advice to heed. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out his web site. I've included my favorite cover of his at the end of the post.
Have a great weekend!
Hey, it's Mike. It's been a while sir. I have a question for the master about painting/physics/light and I would appreciate your help. I am currently working on a painting of Namor that I have attached unfinished.
My question is in regards to the shadow cast by the large, rocky peak which over takes the blue female beside it. I have struggled to find reference of cast shadows on water like this. I understand that water would reflect the sky quite a bit even in shadow, but is my value for the shadow too dark? Would the shadow be darker in shallow water?
I would love to hear you take on this, and anything else that sticks out if you have the time.
This looks pretty good overall, but there are some elements that you could push for greater effect. I would exaggerate the foamy froth in the foreground, making it as bright as possible, but with a warm hue, so not pure white. Then pump up the brightness of it in shadow as well for a nice transition effect. Whatever color you decide to go with, you ought to use the same on his ankle wings.
I might also add something in the immediate foreground, maybe a rock with algea, to push them back a bit and give us an even better sense of space.
You've got the shadow value just about right, but I might lighten it behind her back leg. You can stretch these things to do whatever you want, so go for contrast where you can. The light from the sky behind would be the light to shoot for... but that is still darker than the color of the foam in shadow.
Also, I know this may be in an early stage, but I'll go ahead and be nit-picky. I think her right arm could be better. Try taking a photo of yourself walking to get just the right gesture. Also, her head looks a little stiff, I might tilt the head in some manner to convey whatever emotion it is you're going for. She could just be looking up at him. If she had pupils, I might tilt her head down, in fact, but have her staring up, which could be read as confrontational and/or seductive.
I might brighten the sole of his right foot... maybe it's covered in sand? I don't know, but play with it.
To get that fish scale look on his trunks. I would brighten the highlights to near white, and surround it with a darker value than you've got. Light reflected from shiny objects isolates the hot points and dims everywhere else. The back plane of his butt should be reflecting sky, not sun. Does that make sense? You still want a glow around it, but it should be short and sweet. Also, you could have some of the light from the mountain behind him reflect off the left side of his trunks... just a subtle rim of light.
His ear should flare out a bit more, meaning we should see a bit more of its back than you've currently got. Also, his cast shadow is too dark. In water that shallow, the sand would be reflecting more of the sky.
If you really want to challenge yourself, see if you can use the sunlight reflected off the sand to under-light him. It's usually good to go for colder shadows, but in this case, it could work to have some extremely warm ones. See if you can find reference on-line... or make your own.
It might be nice to shift the hue of the ocean slightly greenward. This would be a nice contrast to her skin color, which looks about the same now.
And finally, I might change the shape of the rock shadow. It looks too sharp and spire-like to be a formation on this beach... although I do like that it crosses his right foot... just keep it from hitting the left of the painting. Imagine what shape you want the rock to be and paint the shadow accordingly. You could even add a second shadow behind the first, indicating that this formation juts out to sea. Maybe it crosses her, maybe it doesn't, but it could be another nice compositional element.