Painting a Fantasy

Painting a Fantasy

Ciel Pierlot tells us how she created her D&D inspired half-orc with guidance from Melanie Delon in Digital Portrait Painting.


Hi, I’m Ciel Pierlot. I first put pencil to sketchbook in middle school because two of my friends were artists and it seemed like the thing to do. Fast forward three years and I end up attending a serious magnet school for the arts. But it was only a few years ago that I decided to pursue art full-time as a career.

My family recommended CGMA to me and once I had a good look at the CGMA website, I knew the classes wouldn’t be a waste. The number of respected industry professionals teaching courses drew me in and when I saw the examples of Melanie Delon’s work. I signed up for her class right away. I had a lot of experience in lineart and comic-style work, but I had always wanted to improve my painting skills. Melanie’s portraits were not only beautiful and fantastical, they also showed the expert technical skill that I dearly wanted to emulate.


I’m a writer. The curse of being both a writer and an artist is that either you spend too much time drawing your characters and not enough time writing them or vise versa. This painting was the former. I had an idea for a half-orc character, but I didn’t quite know what she looked like in my head.

I pulled a lot of skin tone references from Dungeons and Dragons art books and experimented a bit with what orcish features I wanted to include. I didn’t want to use too many inhuman features because I knew that that wasn’t what Melanie’s class was about and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to learn from her by focusing too much on big tusks or anything like that. For the clothing, I took inspiration from a different fantasy source―  the leather coats that encompass most of the armor in the video game Dragon Age: Inquisition.


Since I was painting a character with very straight hair, I didn’t want a line that cut horizontally across the painting, as I thought that would be too flat and wouldn’t provide any points of interest. I switched it so that both the hairline and the character’s gaze would be following a diagonal line instead and then bisected that with the vertical tattoo going through her eye so that the eye would draw the most attention in the painting.

Dramatic Lighting

I don’t have as much practice working with dramatic lighting as I’d like, so when I began this piece I wanted to make certain that I’d be using a strong source of light. I tried to lay out the face so that the eyes were looking up at the light from the shadows to create a sense of despondency and isolation.

I struggled between warm lighting and cool lightning. That struggle is probably still visible in the red-toned backlighting and the almost bluish toned high light source. In the end, I decided that I liked the contrast and didn’t try to adjust things so that one would overwhelm the other.

Perfecting Everything

I loved working on one piece for the entire class. I have a bad habit of wanting to see the finished piece so bad that I forget to actually properly finish it. Because of the drawn-out nature of the course, I was able to better notice imperfections and missing details, and I felt as though I had plenty of time to address them.

Since the class finished, I’ve had even more time to perfect additional tiny little details that I never would have noticed without Melanie’s help. I was able to draw out the orange tones in the skin to better convey the natural luminescence of skin, even fantasy-green skin. There were also a number of tweaks I made to the eyes and mouth, just to up the contrast and get everything more defined.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been studying traditional fine art since I was 13, and my past experience in anatomy, particularly facial anatomy, helped immensely. There are certain parts of the face that are so much easier to get right if you’ve spent months drawing the same boring skull in a classroom over and over again.

In terms of skills that I improved upon, I was able to really learn a lot more about skin undertones – Pink in the cheeks, oranges where the skin is thin, blues around the eyes. I also got a lot more experience working with different types of photoshop brushes. In the past, I’d mostly been lazy and stuck to the same two brushes, but during this course, I was regularly using about five.

To my fellow artists interested in taking this course: Do it. Melanie is fantastic about breaking down different areas of the face and giving each one the attention it deserves. In her feedback, she not only addresses issues, but she also gives creative ideas for improvement and her constructive criticism gets right to the heart of whatever problem you’re having. I know I certainly didn’t regret it, and neither will you.