I chose this piece is from Sean Andrew Murray's Gateway Kickstarter book because I'm a huge fan of his work. Below I've broken it down into its major components.
I tried breaking this piece down into a palette of the range of colors he uses for the illustration. Starting with the dark blue of the sky, the teal of his sword/armor, the light blue in the foreground, the teal in the backdrop, the orange-brown of the creature and his bioilluminiscent glowing thing, and finally the skulls in the forefront.
What I noticed was first off how hard it is to sample from an illustration where there is so much color variation. Picking a local color for each of these colors was really difficult and it looks like I got close with the first few but lost my place afterwards. The biggest error being the glowing orb extending from the head of the monster.
The Value of Color
Here is the same color palette broken down into values for each of the same colors and if I look at this just in terms of value it easier for me to see in what ways I am off when putting the palette together. Some of these are close but others are way off. From what I undestand from looking at this piece is he is building a harmonious palette by first picking the color in the environment that will affect everything else he paints.
In this muddy colors article they mention that:
"The color of the light in your scene limits the colors in the spectrum available for you to paint with."
In order for him to have choosen this specific color scheme he must have first thought of what the light source will be, what color that light source is and then allowed that to limit his palette. At first this piece confused me because it does not seem to me that the light source of the figure in the foreground is the same as what is in the background so I would almost argue that this could possibly be a form of contrast. However on second glance I noticed that all of the lights coming out from behind the buildings or inside of them are all the same pale yellow that we see in the lightsource he has pinched between his claw hand that illuminates him.
We see a pale yellow light illuminating him this light source is warm and contrasts nicely with the cool colors he uses for the night sky. An interesting observation is he didn't put stars in the sky, possibly because it would have made the scene feel too busy or maybe because they would have conflicted with the light source that creates the focal point of the Knight.
So the yellow color used here is then reflected in the color choices he makes in the armor, we can see in the front side of the armor that there are a lot of warm yellow-greens and in the shadows they have a reddish warm tint of color within them as well and from what I can tell he keeps the shadows closest to the lighting source warm where as the others not close to the light source cooler in temperature.
We can see he uses this same soft pale yellow light source at several points in the illustration. He uses them on the planes of skulls that face the light source on the bottom right. In the eye of his pet monster and the piece of bio luminescent hanging off his head.
One of the other things mentioned in that Muddy Colors article that got my attention was the following paragraph:
" Color contrast, specifically color temperature contrast is powerful stuff. Having cool blue light illuminate a magic object in a room lit by warm candles, or a figure glow with warm light in a cool winter scene instantly tells the viewer that something other worldly or unnatural is taking place."
This is interesting because I definitely feel like this is what he was aiming for with this piece. The temperature of the background gives the feeling of a cool night air possibly illuminated by the cities lights itself but also the moon in the sky that creates the deep blue colors and this contrasts with the yellow light.
Our focal points are the orb in his hand and the knights face. He uses plenty of elements throughout the environment to reinforce this idea from the armor on the shield to the light emiting from the orb.
The composition in this piece is organized with foreground elements on the left and background elements on the right. He uses the tree in the foreground, the ground and the background behind him to all surround and point our interest up to the figure, whose silhouette is not interupted by the background elements. the most interesting shapes around our focal point which is the Valdus Knight alongside his companion. The background and foreground feel balanced since they stand very close to one another in terms of height in the image.
But what would the image look like if you got rid of the foliage?
We can see the tree helps keep our eye going back to our focal point and not allowing it to trail off. There is a few interesting things to note about the tree branch and foliage. For one, he doesn't have to show you the whole tree but the main branch from the tree intersects with his head making this an area of interest and all of the foliage behind him points up at him. The branches on this main branch also sprout from his head, and spreads out over the top of the page. We also notice that some of the ornaments that decorate the tree hang down right over the orb, (our other focal point) he is holding in his claw hand almost pointing down to it.
Pattern, Variety, and Shape
You can see the love he has for the lines in the armor and the way he decorates each portion of it with designs and using the design to define the form. He creates with irregular rectangular shapes in the plates of the armor and balancing these irregular shapes with the fine line work and the oval shapes of the shield on his arm.
Ambient occlusion is where two forms overlap but do not touch and there is a shadow created in between the space of the two objects. Sean uses this to great effect in this piece so I decided to do a
paint over study of just the ambient occlusion elements that are taking place on the armor and give basic value breakdowns of the values as well.
He uses the ambient occlusion to create a lot of dynamic shapes in the armor specifically in the shield on his arm that creates a pattern of visual interest but also acts as a point of contrast to the rest of the armor and points upward to the face. You can also tell that he is using this as a way to draw our attention upward to the face because the pieces of armor get smaller and there is more overlap here in the top portion of the shield than in the bottom. If you would like to see an example of this kind of study in video form, I would point you to the following video by Dorian Iten: