Gladiator Illustration Process

After Illuxcon I was fortunate enough to have an illustration commissioned by a game publishing company called Polymancer Studios. The job called for a gladiator doing battle in an arena. I asked if blood and gore were O.K., and I was told yes. (My favorite!)

So I got to work doing some sketches. I took everything I had learned from Dragon Con and Illuxcon into account. I spent some time in front of my wife’s large vanity mirror, posing and swinging a plastic toy sword at the air. I’ve come to discover that it is very helpful to get in the mindset of whatever I was drawing. So I imagined myself, a great warrior hacking through foes, and in doing so my face contorted to anger. I let the anger build just a bit and then feverishly started sketching.

After getting the gesture of the figure down I started gathering references of roman armor and weapons. Using the references as guidance I sketched in the details of my slashing gladiator. After getting the basic sketch down I called in my wife, who is often my toughest critic. She looked it over and commented that the slashing gladiator needed an opponent to be slashing at.

So I went back to the drawing and added in a body being slung back as his head was chopped off and sent flying. After finishing it up I called my wife in again. This time she said she really liked it. (Yes, my wife is that cool, to say she likes a picture full of gore!)

Here is the initial sketch:


Gladiator Sketch

Gladiator Sketch



I posted the sketch to my Facebook account, and immediately got a lot of feedback. The main point I took away was that people did not like the angle and expression of the severed head. I worked up a different head, showing off more of the bloody stump and then did a full drawing to plan out the tones of the piece. I sent the drawing off to my art director and a few days later had approval to finish the painting.

Here is the drawing:


Gladiator Drawing

Gladiator Drawing



After that I went back to the same methods I used in the Zombie Gaming painting. I scanned in the drawing and set the layer to multiply in Photoshop. I then brought the file over to Painter 9 and worked up an under painting underneath the drawing layer, focusing on broad color and tone. My first goal is to get color on the enter piece. My second goal is to tweak the color until I develop a digital color pallet. I then save the digital pallet as a separate file so I can use it like a real pallet constantly “dipping” my brush to get the right color.

Here is the under painting:



Gladiator Under Painting

Gladiator Under Painting




Once I get the pallet set and the basic colors worked in I bring the file back into Photoshop and start working on the details over the drawing layer. I start with bigger brushes building up the broad areas of color. Once the whole canvas has been worked up, I then start zooming in and painting details with a small brush. I try to start with the focus of the piece, in this case the gladiators face. Once I get an area finished I move on to another small area. In this way little by little, I finish the detail work of the enter painting.

Here is the detail painting:


Gladiator Detail Painting

Gladiator Detail Painting



Once I have the detail worked out I then ad textures, adjust the contrast of the painting, and use other Photoshop editing tools to get the painting just right. For this painting I worked up the dust the figures are kicking up. I added texture to the arena walls, and the sandy arena floor. I increased the saturation of the painting. I then highlighted the gladiators face and increased his saturation even more in order to make sure it was the brightest area of the painting.

All said in done I spent almost 30 hours working on this piece, and I am very pleased with the results. I took the things I learned from Illuxcon and Dragon Con and put them to good use, as well as expanding upon the success I had with the Zombie Gaming piece. I sent the work off to my client and it was approved with no changes!

Here is the final painting as well as a few detail shots:


Gladiator by Sam Flegal

Gladiator by Sam Flegal



Gladiator Face Detail

Gladiator Face Detail


Gladiator Gore Detail

Gladiator Gore Detail





5 thoughts on “Gladiator Illustration Process

  1. hi Sam,

    I’ve added a link to your blog at mine –
    I hope you don’t mind. I only ink my artwork and don’t color them. I’m really bad at coloring. I’m learning photoshop and illustrator and hopefully can improve in time.
    Your blog has helped me gain more exposure and improve my techniques. I did not even know there was an Illuxicon around. Anyway, any comments are greatly appreciated.

    Thank you and regards,

  2. If you want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for four from five. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed pieces. Thanks, anyway!

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