Friday, December 2, 2011

Conan Commission

For many years I wanted to do a Conan painting, but never got the chance to realize this dream. As a young adult I passionately read the Conan comics, especially those that were done by John Buscema, a master draftsman. I was also very much impressed by Frazetta’s Conan, but I also regarded a few of the Conan paintings by Boris Vallejo as one of the best.
A few months ago a private collector asked me whether I would be willing to do a Conan painting for his collection. I said YES, of course, and soon after that I did a little rough sketch of the scene that had to depict a moment from the story of “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”. Well, as you probably already know, “to depict” a scene from a story, means in my case “to interpret it”, in one or another way.
I decided to present you with a series of posts about the development of this commission. I intend to lead you through all the stages of the process, as the work on the painting progresses. But, I have to ask you to be a little patient because this project might take some time, for I have to do three different projects at the same time.

So, let’s get started.

This is the rough sketch of the composition. After I became sure about the general positioning of the characters, I went in search of the reference material. The appropriate reference photos and props will play a very important role in this commission, for one of my main objectives this time will be the “naturalism”. This task of using the naturalistic approach within a painting that deals with fantastic, is a tricky thing. Although not the only way of depicting the world of Fantasy and Mythology, the appropriate stylization of form and atmosphere seems to be the most often chosen path by the artists. Anyway, in the coming weeks (if not months), we shall see how far this painting will let me go in my pursuit of this aim of naturalism. But I have to say that, although an important aspect, the naturalism is not the final station of my Conan journey. The right atmosphere of the painting as a whole, is (should be) the ultimate goal.

The study of the Snow Giants done after I made a several photos of the Vikings from Germany, during a Viking Festival that was held in Archeon, a fascinating theme park here in the Netherlands.

The final preliminary study of the scene, or better said the characters, because the background has not yet been defined. In order to collect the appropriate reference material for the background, I will have to travel to the North Pole…(just joking, a library around the corner would be a perfect solution).
The Conan figure was done more or less from memory, because I had no reference photos. Unfortunately I have some problems with finding a nicely shaped male model for my Conan. Any volunteers…? I pay 20 Euro per hour if you are an amateur model, and I pay nothing if you are a friend, except for the unforgettable cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of Serbian Sljivovitsa, or a bottle of good Belgian beer (we do this after the photo session), and a delicious diner.

The same preliminary study with the Conan's leg slightly shifted to the right to achieve a better balance of the negative space.

A detail from the final preliminary drawing.

The final tracing of the drawing. This is going to be transferred onto the wooden board. The next step is underpainting.

End of part 1


  1. Petar

    I would like to see this picture with the giants you normally draw.

  2. I'll preface this by saying I love your work and own Steel Bashaw which I think is brilliant. These are very nice drawings as well. I just have to voice one of my pet peeves - which is showing the backside of any heroic character rather than some some sort of profile or front view. If this were part of a series or for a graphic novel, I'd say go for it since there would be ample opportunity to focus some attention on the hero elsewhere. But to me this feels like a portrait of two snow giants who just happen to be fighting someone who might be Conan, but I can't really tell, since his back is toward me. I mean no offense, so please take none, but I think it would be more exciting if there was some opportunity to interact with the hero by showing a face and the corresponding grimace of effort. I pound this idea into my students all the time until they hate hearing it. Just my two cents.

  3. Petar, thank you for sharing this, I am so looking forward to seeing more pictures of your process. I actually believed you were going to the north pole for a second while reading -.-.

  4. Larry – Diversity is a healthy and refreshing thing, don’t you think so? By the way, I was expecting to SEE YOU in Altoona, and was disappointed when I discovered that you were not there. What happened…?

    Greg – That is a good point, generally speaking, but don’t be too hasty; I am not finished yet. There is a reason for choosing to show Conan from behind, and I hope the final results will make it clear and justify this choice.

    Jad – I am a serious artist, but not that serious…

    Jeff, Jeroen – thank you, guys.

  5. Petar - I totally agree, diversity is healthy and refreshing ! Good luck with this one. I can't wait to see the next update. :)

  6. Always interesting to see a piece evolve.

    Nice to also see you give a salute to Buscema. A very over looked artist outside the comic community.
    I really recommend his sketchbooks, both of them for sale at Amazon. Buscema rarely got to ink his own work, which is a real pity, because the work he actually did ink himself looks so much better.
    I recommend the graphic novel "Conan - The Rouge" to see an example of pure Buscema work. Some trippy old school colors there, but the drawings are gritty and awesome.

    Anyway, looking forward to see the finished piece.


  7. ups, I ment to write "Conan - The Rogue".


  8. Thanks for the additional information about Buscema’s work, Ben!

  9. Petar, I will hold off judgement until the final and given your track record, I expect to be blown away. I am excited to see how you solve this one. I see far too many student works where the backs of heads/figures issue comes into play, so I had to comment. You are very obviously not a student, so I'm glad to hear that your choice is well calculated. Looking forward to seeing the progress!

  10. I like the positioning of his leg better in the first layout, love the different horns on the one giant's helmet, and am not bothered by the hero's back to the's an iconic and even archetypal conan story and well known- it's for a private collector also and there's enough there to keep it obvious that it's conan. definitely recognizable to any fan. I wouldn't mind seeing Atali in there...also love the expressive brush strokes being used to express the sweeping action in the underpainting I saw of this, and hope you keep it.

    we've had a quick discussion about it on the forum, would love to see you join us.


  11. Hi monk – A few days ago I came accros the forum and saw the discussion you are referring to. Very interesting.
    Unfortunately, I must decline your kind invitation to join the forum. I am simply too busy and therefore have no time… Thank you anyway!

  12. Hello petar i love you sketches and drawings. i was wondering if you put a time constraint on these drawings.

  13. the only reason i ask is i copy your pencil drawings in order to get a grasp on how you do it.

    1. Hi Josh,

      Most of the time there is no time constraint when I do my drawings, especially when I work on my own projects. It usually takes some time until I get it right, but the trick is, you don’t stop until it’s done and until you are pleased with it, in one or another way. After all, the amount of time you spend on a drawing or painting is not relevant. It is the final result that counts.