Phil McDarby Blog

The Green Man Awakens - a Walkthrough

Hey everyone,

This is not so much a tutorial as a Work in Progress, just showing the evolution of an image from initial idea to final scene. This image took about 6 weeks, all told, so there are many, many hours of work between all these steps. The image ended up being around 10000px wide, and was around a Gig per save, so I had to save over a lot of increments to conserve space. These are the key steps.

I found this tree about a year ago, basking in the blazing sunshine of June, at the height of summer. I loved the almost crown-like form of the branches. I saw this ancient creature, leaning over, almost bowing, and an idea began to take shape.

As you can see, the photo isn’t the best, all blurred and washed-out, so I set out to find the tree again in Glencree Valley last month and shoot it again.

As you can imagine, it looks a lot different in March! Much more muted and autumnal. Anyway, it was a good starting point, and I went to work.

I started building up his face in profile - a golden eye, his slightly hooked nose, and I started working on his beard, going for as knotted and gnarled a look as I could - referencing various root/ivy shots and building it up strand by strand. A faint smile appeared, but it was far too subtle and needed to be drawn out.

At this point, I started to play with anatomy, a suggestion of shoulders, and arms behind his back. I changed his eye to be looking slightly outward. I also masked out everything I didn’t want, freeing up his form and allowing me to get a sense of his full shape.

I extended his ‘crown’ out, augmenting the sense of ‘leaning’, but at this point, I was starting to wonder about the ground plane - he looked too squat, I wanted him to have a more impressive scale.

Here I started adding the suggestion of arms, and did away with the ground plane, planning on creating a gnarled promontory for him to perch on.

The network of roots grew gradually, lending a sense of scale and height, and it was at this point I decided to weave the bedrock into his promontory. I was trying to create a sense of the ages - this old soul is a part of the roots of the earth, existing for millenia as the seasons turn.

The bedrock rose up around the roots, and I drew his left hand out - I was trying to capture a sense of him clinging to his stone base. I added the suggestion of a right arm to balance his body, and removed some of his humped back. Even at this stage, I wasn’t entirely happy with this rocky outcrop - it looked too precarious, and I knew there would another character for him to interact with to a create a sense of narrative.

At this point, I worked up a few test shots, just to try and get a sense of his place in the scene, but it all felt too lifeless, too russet and wintry. It was here that the whole ‘awakening’ idea came to life.

A few colour adjustments and some ‘pruning’, and I had The Green Man sitting against a much more verdant background. As often happens with these evolving images, I knew, or at least felt, that this was the right direction to be going in, so I started work on this forest background in earnest. The vague shape of Herne started to appear in the back of my mind - one old soul calling another to wakefulness - Spring is here, Winter is over.

I knew I wanted water in the foreground - I wanted Herne to rise up from the bronze waters as though he were a part of them. At this stage, the backgound, a mixture of my own shots and a ton of painting - felt too ‘open’, too airy. The light is neutral - a diffuse sky dome, and I always enjoy picking out little windows of bloom in scenes like this. The Green Man felt a little static, rigid - I needed to work more on his anatomy.

I had the idea that the river (or two streams) might sweep around his mossy ‘island’ but it was creating too much ‘busy-ness’ - this scene needed to be quite serene, and the water was getting to be too distracting.

A very rough Herne appeared here, created as a seperate image and painted up layer by layer, weaving elements of roots, leaves and water into his cloak. His horns are referenced from various antlers, and later I carved some Ogham runes into them (not that you can see them!) I also created the Green Man’s right hand, resting against his chest as though he were bowing. I added more and more gnarled detail to the base, and I ‘shortened’ his crown - it gave his aspect a bit more balance.

After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and many, many attempts at capturing the right feeling, I settled on a background composition behind Herne, although the distance and contrast needed more work.

I added the waterfalls in the background, and painted in a lot more foliage, sheltering the glade from too much daylight, hopefully creating a sense of privacy. I started adding ancient cobwebs to the base, hopefully adding to the sense of ‘hibernation’.

At this point, I made the most drastic change yet - after staring at this image for weeks, I needed a fresh pair of eyes and my friend and fellow artist Jay Coleman suggested The Green Man should be turning toward the camera, and his left arm should be much more evident, complimenting the right in ‘bowing’ to Herne. He was spot on - it was such a great insight, especially considering I was ready to call the image done. An objective eye is always hugely beneficial, and I had been staring at this image for way too long!

Here I added The Green Man’s ‘feet’ or at least the suggestion of them, anchored and solid. I also needed to look at the right hand - it was too chunky compared to the left now.

Another big change - as well as sorting out the right hand, I added the Heart - an opening in the Green Man’s chest that reveals his heart to Herne - this is awakening to Herne’s magic. I also changed the distant background again, opening up the glade, and beginning to add atomspherics.

I added a mist playing across the water, worked more on Herne’s cloak, and the tendrils of his magic, and cleaned up the leaves all over the image. I liked the landscape composition, but I feel it’s a bit stronger in portrait. I was ready to call the image done!

Thanks a million for reading, all my best,


Posted by Phil on 20/04 at 09:52 PM in