Out of the Comfort Zone

Out of the Comfort Zone
INTERVIEW WITH Julia Lerchbaumer

Artist Julia Lerchbaumer shows us how she challenged herself in rendering not one but three portraits in the 8-week course Digital Portrait Painting.


Hi, my name is Julia, I am from Austria. I’m working as a professional 2D Graphic artist at IGT Austria for nearly 7 years now. I am responsible for in-game graphics of the casino slot games we create in-house. Which include logo design, creating video content, symbol design, layout design, and so on. The company made it possible for me to participate in the amazing CGMA course “Digital Portrait Painting” taught by Mélanie Delon. I attended this specific course because I wanted to develop my skills when it comes to human portraits, as this is one of my main focuses at work. I am amazed at how Mélanie managed to push my limits and to encourage me to try new stuff. She taught me so much and I really want to thank her for that.



Aurum is Latin and means gold. A main focus in the games I work on is creating pretty female characters, which need to attract gamers and represent the mood and theme of the game. I wanted to sharpen my skills when it comes to female face features. Our game characters have to be pleasant to a wide range of customers. So, I needed to learn how to push the most feminine facial features, like lips and eyes, to look pleasant to a wide range of people and meet the general beauty standard― Full lips and detailed, big eyes. I wanted to use purple/pink and gold to create a perfect complementary contrast and an overall warm mood. Painting the liquid gold was a challenge. It was difficult for me to make it look realistic and let it follow the face structure of my character, without ruining it.


In absolute contrast to my Aurum portrait, this one here should represent melancholy, silence, bleakness, and darkness. It should be visible and perceptible that he feels all alone.  I got my inspiration from watching my boyfriend playing God of War. I must admit, I am not a gamer at all, but I really liked the character development Kratos went through in the first God of War games to now. His design is amazing and the whole game has such a great mood. So, I did this first sketch. My goal was to make a sort of melancholic and cold, sad portrait of him. As the game was implemented in a realistic style, I also wanted to achieve a very realistic portrait look at the end. Because of that, I needed to start working with dull and dark colors, to contrast the kind of color palette I usually use at work (bright and saturated colors).

The center of attraction should be focused straight through the middle of the picture, where the light rays come from above. I wanted to point out his sad expression, then lead the eye further down to his hand holding the axe against his chest and to the snow/ashes in his other hand. This has something to do with the story of the game itself. There was a really moving scene in the game that made me cry and I wanted to capture this essence in my portrait: A brutal fighter, a good father to his son, and a loving, caring husband.


She has no name yet but I fell in love with her design and want to make her an OC. My first intention behind this was to make it look like one of these old black and white portraits. My first inspiration for the centaur portrait came from this image and others like it. Later on, this design turned out way more futuristic, with really strong and artificial light. I chose the bright background light to create a nice contrast against her black skin and “mane”. The black skin came to my mind when I searched for some inspiration for this portrait. I stumbled across pictures of black horses. The different light reflections on their fur made them look so magnificent. I wanted to reflect this in my portrait. I thought, “Why not?”, she is a fantasy creature. I was able to use this certain feature along with the long neck, the pig, pointy ears, and the flat nose and forehead line.

Fleshing Out the Faces

This week was about cleaning up the mess. Defining facial features, review skin colors, and adjust the lighting. Kratos got a little bit left behind at this point because I concentrated more on the other two portraits, as they needed way more correction than he did. At this stage of the two portraits, I merged everything together and started painting over the whole thing. There was no use in collecting layers at this stage because I already knew that they were not in any way final. I worked on the light of Aurum a bit more and had a lot of trouble with her face. Especially with the gold that gets poured over it. I was not sure if I should make it massive or subtle, just like a hint. In the first picture, it looked like lemonade and in the second attempt, it was way too overwhelming and ruined the whole structure of her face. Her eyes still looked off. They were too far apart from each other and looked like they got pushed inside her head. Her nose gave me headaches as well, as I never managed to get it right. Thanks to Mélanie’s precise instructions, I managed to get everything in shape and correct my skin tones and bone structure later on.

Same with the centaur lady. The first sketch looked dull, everything looked flat and the lighting was lame. The light was nothing special and the character’s features looked boring. I was told to push everything way more and use some intense color as a second light source, to make everything pop out. Even if the light source is not realistic. I needed to be more confident and try it, as it will help me make my portrait way more interesting to look at. As I mentioned before, I wanted to reflect the same effect a pure black horse coat has, but I was too shy at first to use this on a humanoid creature. Mélanie told me to be more confident with what I am doing and want to do. She grabbed my sketch and slapped it in a very dark brown all over the character and it already had a huge impact on the whole look of it. Then she started to shape her face and body structure just by adding light. I was amazed and motivated by that, as you may see in the huge step I made between the two graphics.

Facial Details

This was a big step and the hardest part of this artwork was getting his face to feel right and recognizable. He is such an iconic guy and I wanted to do him justice. I worked this stage over and over again and still wasn’t really satisfied. But I really love his beard.

I merged the last week’s steps and worked all over it. Also here, Mélanie had to tell me that I don’t have to be shy when it comes to adding colors to human skin. It is just about the right amount of it. I added way more different hints of color in his face now, to make him look more alive and made of flesh and blood. In the steps before, he looked dead. Because I just used a blue and grey color palette. I reworked his eye shape and position as well as the shape of his nose and mouth. It was a bit difficult for me to shape his lower lip, as the upper part of the lips is covered by his beard, which makes it harder to get his expression right. I also started working on tiny details, such as the light that shines through his ear from behind and the tiny veins in it. The scar across his eye, every single hair of his beard, added stroke by stroke, same as the fur of his armor. This part was full of adding more and more details to the whole character.

For Aurum, this step was a killer. It was so hard for me to make her face as symmetrical as possible, without flipping her every minute or copying parts to the other side. I wanted to make her face symmetrical because I was taught that this is the best way to make a character look appealing and beautiful. But I soon realized that this is not the case. Maybe it is in the model industry, but not in real life and not in this course. For me, noses are my kryptonite. I hate drawing them and I really struggled with the look of it. But Mélanie managed to make me understand how to get things straight and look nice. She erased the whole nose I had done before and showed me again, how to construct it from scratch. How it gets affected by the light from above and how I achieve a soft transition to the face. And she also helped me to get rid of that alien look of her, in the next steps. I don’t know exactly why I had so much trouble with the nose. Maybe it was because of the many different shapes which come together in one single body part. The nose is also the part that gets affected by so many light sources at a time. I also made the nose stick out way too much. It was more prominent than the eyes or the mouth which I actually wanted to be the main focus here.

Dark centaur lady looks pretty good already. I tried to tweak the realistic, human aspects a bit here. Making the spot between nose and forehead just as a slight curve. Giving her a very long, bowed neck, long, pinned ears, and an almost black skin, like the fur of a black horse. The idea to give her this intense lighting was a very good choice. Dull pink, sort of orange, light from the back, and then this crazy blue accent, from the top right corner. I love it. Playing with the light, and giving her more and more contour through that, was so much fun. I also had no problems with getting her facial features to look good because she does not have to look like a human. A humanoid fantasy creature does not have to follow all the rules a human face has to.

Perfecting Everything

In the end, I love how every single one of my final portraits turned out. Kratos needs some extra work, as I could not manage to finish him during the 8-week course. I never imagined that I would be capable of creating such great artwork. Why? Maybe because I felt so secure in my comfort zone of simple characters and animal paintings. I absolutely want to continue with the paintings if my time schedule allows it. Aurum is pretty much done. I like how she is and don’t really want to change her. The centaur, well, she needs a haircut. As she is the only one of the three characters with hair, this part of her needs way more attention from my perspective. I rushed her hairstyle and sadly made it look like a fuzzy mess, especially the part at her neck. I want to make it look way better by defining the curls more and giving them in shape.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this course, human characters were not my strength at all.  I already struggled with positioning the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) right. Then I had to overcome my fear of using many different skin tones. But I learned to add details like a slight red or orange blush at the cheeks of your character, to make them look more alive or adding blue inside of the eyeball and much more.

I’ve grown a lot from this course. I’m now able to use my newly gained skills to improve the quality of our company’s and my personal art. I gained a lot of self-esteem from this course and improved everything in my digital portrait art skills. The feedback was amazing. Melanie managed to do it with so much joy in her voice and encouraged me to give my best and follow her precise instructions. In all my years as an artist, I never had such a great teacher like Mélanie. She always had constructive critiques. Helping you see the flaws in your work and understand the way of improving it. It was not just slapping colors here and there and voila, done. She told you why you have to put this color there and what it has an impact on. She told you right away what looks good in your artwork, not why it is bad.  I did my best to follow her instructions as precisely as I could. She always thanked me, for my submissions, before she even started giving feedback on them. She really appreciated everything that her students did in this course and she showed it. That is what makes her a good teacher and I definitely recommend her course to all my friends, colleagues and other artists.

You can see Julia’s other here: https://www.deviantart.com/wildemaehne