The general concept for this work was spelled out to me by my art director and contact at Blizzard, Jeremy Cranford. We had met the previous Fall at IlluxCon, and despite being in an annoying loud bar lounge we were able to outline the basic assignment and agree to move it forward.

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


Michael Whelan (Michael Whelan)

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.

  • dan

    hey, do you plan on making a print of this? as i would love to have a copy

  • Hi Dan,

    When Blizzard commissioned the painting, they purchased all rights. We’d love to offer a print,
    but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Audrey and I have discussed contacting Blizzard about producing a print. We’ll keep you updated if anything develops.


  • I absolutely love the head study, It captures the character extremely well. To me, it will remain the definitive image of Deathwing.

  • dan

    thanks for the reply, do you know i blizzard will be producing prints? amazing piece btw the colours and the detail achieved with acrylics is mindblowing

  • Michael Whelan

    Thanks for your compliments. It’s fun to share some of the process.
    In a commission of this sort, there little room for accident, and it’s all pretty well worked out ahead of time. In other instances, like the Lovecraft panels I did back in the early 80s, i just jumped into the paintings without much preliminary work, and let things happen real time, so to speak. It’s fun working either way; for me, variety has always been the sustaining force behind my approach to my work.

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  • The paining looks great! Love it.

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  • Thank you for sharing the process, Michael. But I have a question related to “Final Painting”: who is the tiny little figure that witness Deathwing’s arrival on top of that stone pillar?

    • justanswer

      Its Thrall

    • Michael

      Yeah, it’s Thrall all right. I wasn’t going to have him in there but the Blizzard wanted me to work him in

  • maleficium2002

    great painting, I love ot. The colors instantly reminded me of some of your work for Meat Loaf. The two Lovecraft Panels you just mentioned are two of my all-time favourite horror/fantasy paintings ever. I would love to have them painted on the walls of one of my rooms, 2,5 meters high, making one big picture in the round. my recording studio certainly would be a good place for some Whelan-painted lovecraftness πŸ™‚

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  • DragonKhanda

    Your work is amazing! I would love to get wall size murals of some of these πŸ™‚
    Its great to see some of the process you go through to get to the final piece, its certainly to be appreciated. I’m glad to see the rebirth of you site, it looks better than ever.

  • Kirk Howland

    Hello Mr. Whelan,
    I just subscribed to your new website using hotmail and facebook and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

  • great painting, still trying to get my work to this standard. your artistic talent is so good that you really are only limited by your imagination which is equally amazing

  • taheen74

    Now, you just need to convince King to write a story about the Forsaken ;).

  • Mark

    I have been a fan yours since I was a kid. My favorite is the “Sentinels”. I am a musician, songwriter and digital artist….and oh yeah a lawyer by day. You have a great gift and you a tremendous inspiration to me. Your work is fascinating and by far the best especially in your genre and I’ve seen most of the other artists work. No one quite has your imagination and skill.

  • richard schellenberger

    Hi Michael, amazing painting! once again a thrill to see a dragon so well executed.. thanks so much for the view! my favourite is still River tho. πŸ™‚

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