Before starting, the smart thing to do would have been to examine the actual game to become familiar with the feel of it, but instead I just jumped into exploring dramatic dragon poses and having fun with that. Being told from the onset that the image would depict a raging dragon emerging from a giant ocean maelstrom, I felt I had enough to go on.
My first few sketches, however, were off the mark. Blizzard had a fairly clear idea of how Deathwing was supposed to look, and it was plain I needed better descriptions of the scene and character. After Jeremy supplied me with a few Deathwing conceptual sketches done by Blizzard artists it became obvious to me that while the creature was something of a work in progress, they had a clear idea of the power and destructiveness they sought to embody in the creature.
As time went on and more info was forthcoming I was able to get closer to the portrait they were looking for. Emails and pictures from Jeremy gave me a better idea of the physical proportions of the dragon and the peculiarities of his makeup, which are strange indeed.
After doing a few exploratory charcoal sketches of the dragon I painted figure studies of the most interesting poses, which I set aside.
Next, I sketched the maelstrom and steam clouds, working out the dynamics of the ‘set’ and searching for an ideal point of view. I scanned the most promising of the figure poses and backgrounds then digitally combined the most likely candidates. These were printed out and taken back into my studio for more refinement, painting on them in acrylics. In time I came up with a scene and a pose that we both liked and I was given a green light to go ahead on the painting itself.
Before I could start, though, I wanted a clear idea of where I was going with the color scheme. There were so many possible directions I could take! I found I couldn’t make a firm decision without seeing them, even if they only took the form of very small (typically 2 x 4″) rough sketches, painted over copies of the monochrome layout printed on scrap paper. In the end I chose a color arrangement that was close enough to the game scene to satisfy Blizzard without being too imitative of what I was given.
One thing remained before I could start: I wanted to create a detailed “model” of the head to guide me in the actual painting. I painted this in acrylics, and I kept it and the chosen color sketch with me as I began work on the final painting.
I had originally thought to use oil paints for the final painting, but I was concerned that the slow drying aspect of the medium would delay the completion of the assignment, and time was already slipping away at an alarming pace. Additionally, after 35 years of working in acrylics I have a comfort level with the medium that i have never quite achieved with oils, though I keep hoping that will change! In any case, I felt that this was too important an assignment to take unnecessary chances with, so I relied on my trusty acrylics.
About the author
Since 1980, Michael Whelan has been one of the world’s premier fantasy and science fiction artists. He is currently working full time on his fine art paintings, but in the past three decades he has created more than 350 book and album covers for authors and artists like Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, the Jacksons, Sepultura, and MeatLoaf. Read more on Michael's Biography page.