Process - Dracula

Here's a first look at my process, from start to finish.

I'm currently reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, a book that I had previous strong notions of disliking. I think years of exposure to really lame Halloween decorations made me averse to the notion that there might actually be a great story behind Dracula. First of all I wondered if the pictures of slick haired and clean shaven Dracula were even true to the book? I began reading.

The story is told in journal format from the perspective of a few characters, the first being Jonathan Harker, a London based solicitor(attorney) acting in the role of real estate agent for one Count Dracula of Transylvania. In his journey to the Count's castle he is warned again and again by various townspeople not to visit the Dracula, he is given rosary beads and garlic in abundance. However, being a man governed by responsibility and duty he therefore continues on into the dark heart of the country.

Dracula is first seen and described by Harker as, "a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere." Later Harker describes him in more detail saying, "His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bush hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks were firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor."

Illustrators love getting to passages like that, real, concrete descriptions, with enough space for creativity. It was gratifying to read that Dracula, as written by Stoker, was very different from the pop culture version, that he is in fact old in appearance, with white hair. The sketch above was my initial vision for the character study.

I then began to research the novel's background and Bram Stoker's life. It was very clear early on in the research that Stoker was envisioning Sir Henry Irving, an english stage actor and personal friend of Stoker, as Dracula's visage. This changed a few things for me, I could either stick with my original interpretation or develop it into a realization of Stoker's original vision for the character. This side profile of Irving sold me on the latter.

Sketches quickly developed into a 4.5 x 6in painting. Working small allows me to execute the physical painting faster and also lets some paper texture show through more than a large painting would.

The painting is scanned in at 600 dpi, the color is fixed, and I begin to paint in the mask for each section.

These pure color masks allow me to paint only in the selected areas, the foreground profile character, the midground tree line, and the background sky. I move the masks behind my image, and each color is on a different layer. I then can select an entire layer to work on that section only.

I primarily use the stamp tool to paint, instead of the brush. By using the stamp tool I'm able to still use what's already been painted physically, giving a reality to what is essentially a digital painting. I use the brush primarily for shadow "washes", layers of darker color, and multiply.

Example of a selected element/area. Using this selection method I also cut out the figure and made it larger to fill the frame better.

Example of underlaying section masks with painting opacity turned to half.

Finished painting.