Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Haunted Forest: Flying Monkeys Still Scare Me

Second only to the gorilla soldiers in Planet Of The Apes, the Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz are some of the most terrifying primates from my childhood. So when I decided to do a Haunted Forest illustration to accompany my Yellow Brick Road piece, I wanted to make sure the flying monkeys were scary enough. Hope I hit the mark. I laid out the process below if you'd like to follow along.  

Chaos in the Haunted Forest. This was the initial rough sketch I did while working out the composition.  I knew I wanted a lot of yelling and a lot of monkeys. In the end, four monkeys seemed sufficient to best our traveling band of heroes, so I stopped there. If I do another Oz piece, maybe I'll draw a whole army of monkeys. If my nerves can take it. 

Here's a more polished sketch, based on the rough. I wanted to indicate some depth of field so I scattered the heroes back through space, leaving Dorothy up front as the focal point. I also figured, at this point in the Haunted Forest, the foliage would be getting a little more unpleasant. We've not yet reached the place where angry-faced trees will actually reach out  grab you, but the sharp brambles seemed appropriate.

So I scanned in my sketch and began layering in some grey tones. I wanted the setting to be mysterious and foreboding, so I started with the darkest recesses of the woods, making them shadowy and full of potential danger. I worked a little larger than I needed -- intending to crop the image when I was done -- so you can see a lot of leftover "junk" at the edges of the image. Feel free to ignore that stuff. 

Working from back to front, the next step after the deep shadow was the trees along the path. I was tempted to make them even more twisted and gnarled, but I didn't want to take too much attention away from the wacky characters. The composition is busy enough as is without a bunch of crazy, twisted tree limbs confusing matters. So I left the trees at this particular stage of creepiness.

Ah, the yellow-bricked road. Don't let anyone ever tell you that drawing a hundred or so individual bricks that wind and curve back into the distance isn't fun -- because it isn't. But it does give you a nice feeling when you're done. And since I had my pencil sketch to use as a guide, I didn't have to draw every single brick. That's why there's a Dorothy-shaped hole in the road up front there.

Here I've gone over my pencil line in Photoshop to neaten up the figures, and I've started to put down tone (again, working back to front). I'd like to say there's a method to this part, but I really just kept experimenting with different brushes, some soft-edged, some hard, with varying degrees of opacity. The trick, I think, is to take your time and build up your forms in layers, just like with traditional painting. But seriously, what do I know? I still think flying monkeys are real.

At this stage, I'm almost finished. I filled in the details on all the characters, brushed in highlights, shadows and texture, and continued to add more mood to the background. This is a good stage to "fix" things that need tweaking. For instance, I notice that Dorothy's gingham dress gets a little lost in the brick background. I'll have to increase the contrast so she stands out better. I also note an empty area behind the front monkey's wings. I could've painted a whole new tree and some brambles, but for such a small area I figured I could just copy/paste some foliage from the other side of the image. After I fixed these things, I decided a little sepia-toning would add some warmth. The finished piece is at the top of the post. And yeah, it is a little warmer. The monkeys are still scary, but now they offer a little warmth with their terror. -v


  1. I remember being afraid of two things when I was little: the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz and the abominable snowman on Rudolph. I'd always go hide in the kitchen until that part was over on TV.

    1. Ah...The Bumble! Very scary. The dramatic music that accompanied his appearance really ramped up the tension too. But no matter how scary he was, I always felt bad that he had all of his teeth pulled. That's just cruel.

    2. He wasn't scary after that part, and it was kind of sad. At least he reformed in the end.

    3. Perhaps there's a lesson in there for all of us, Beth: If someone seems scary to you, just have all of their teeth removed and you may just find yourself a new friend.

      And that's one to grow on!

    4. With dental appointments coming up, I don't think I want to comment on that.


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