Joel DuQue and the Process behind Golem Arcana’s Paintings (Spoiler Alert!)

Hi everyone,

Today I want to introduce you to Joel DuQue. Joel handles the key illustration duties on Golem Arcana, including the map tiles and many of the Knight and Ancient One portraits.

When it came time for Joel to create a piece to accompany our new story, I asked him if he would be willing to share some thoughts about his process and he graciously agreed!  So here is Joel’s breakdown of his process in creating the illustration for  “Forsaken” in his own words. (click on an image for a larger slideshow)



JD: For this illustration, I was given a rough sketch from Chris for the basic idea we wanted to convey. The key directions were rough around the edges warrior, an ethereal older spirit that is fused into him, and a swirling motion with his two blades. Generally, before I even begin sketching I get some good reference images. Even if they turn out to be unrelated in the final piece it always helps me to have something to jump off from. I was also given a short story that introduces the characters and that helped quite a bit in getting a feel for who they are.


JD: Designs for what an Urugal Knight looks like had already been established so while working within those constraints I sketched him out in various outfits and poses.



JD: The initial sketch is all about posing and general composition. The sketch is really loose and helps give it as much life as possible.



JD: Now I refine the sketch a bit and play with the Spectre’s posing. I worked in the details for Kitra to make sure I knew how his armor and gear would play into the movement of the piece. However, I don’t worry too much about small details at this point in the process since things will likely change moving forward.



JD: After the sketch is at a good place, I begin toning the image in grayscale. It’s sort of like an underpainting which is a traditional painting process that provides a good base to build up from. I use grayscale to keep myself focusing on Tone. Once I have that correct the rest falls into place relatively easily. 



JD: More toning, enriching the image with a variance of soft and rough brushstrokes.



JD: This is when I begin adding color. Frank Frazetta’s images were my initial inspiration so it was fun to try and emulate his vibrant colors. In Photoshop, there are various layer styles that yield different results based on how they’re used.  I used a layer style called Overlay and another called Gradient Maps to infuse the tones with a color of my choosing. It’s a lot of push and pull but I feel it’s a really exciting way to work, and it can have some happy accidents. 



JD: After reading more into the character’s story, I decided that the red hues weren’t going to cut it so I went for a cool color scheme of greens and blues.



JD: More color adjustments and painting details of the characters. I also added more lighting.



JD: Looking at the image it was decided that the Spectre’s pose wasn’t working for our story so I scrapped it and went with something new. They looked too much like they were fighting each other so I also changed where Kitra was looking so it makes more sense contextually. With these changes, the composition began to feel pretty contained so I opened up the top half of the image to add in some architecture. 


JD: Finally, I finished rendering out the image and put the final touches on it. I decided to add a lot of smokey effects to really show how powerful the Spectre is as she emerges out of Vhal. 

Golem Arcana is a really exciting project for me. The world is so rich and diverse! Everytime I hear about a new character I want to read their story and find out how they connect to the others. This is an evolving world and it’s going to be really fun to see it grow. 

Thanks Joel!

Click here for a larger version of the final painting, and click here to read more about the enigmatic Vhal Kitra.