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Linnorm Monk

Character Illustration for RPGs

In this tutorial I’ll share with you a glimpse into my character illustration process for tabletop games by taking you through an actual illustration I painted for the Pathfinder RPG. This particular painting can be found in “The Pathfinder Player Companion: Legacy of Dragons”. I’ll be walking you through the design brief, thumb-nailing, drawing, the under-painting, and the painting stages.

Tools used in this tutorial: Adobe Photoshop & Wacom Intuos 3 tablet


As I am working on my thumbnails I also start to think about costume design for this character and so start to gather reference for this illustration. Paizo also sometimes provides key reference for specific parts of an illustration. For this illustration they provided a photo of the general type of martial arts pose they wanted and an image of an example female monk in Pathfinder. When creating character artwork for a particular game it is crucial that you look up reference from that game to make sure that the character you are designing fits in that game’s world.

Grounding the Character

At this point in the illustration I think the character looks odd floating in white, especially since the design brief calls for “both her feet to be firmly planted on the ground”. So, I decide to add in ground to base the character and to give her something to be “firmly planted” to. Again to fit the Linnorm theme I make it a snow covered grassland and use the white of the snow to merge the illustration with the white of the page so that it is not jarring.

Final Details & Making it Pop!

The illustration still needs more pop. So, I create another new layer set to Overlay and punch up the highlights. I also warm up highlights in the focal areas, add a little more cool to the shadows as well as create more contrast in key areas. This really helps to make the illustration feel more solid; give it more depth by pushing back the lower areas, and bring a little more attention to her face & upper shoulder area which is the focal point.

Now to bring it all together. I create a ‘Normal’ layer on top of all the other layers and now paint fully opaque doing a pass over the entire illustration tightening it and bring it to a higher level of finish; focusing especially on the focal point her face and upper arm. This pass is the second longest part of the process and where the illustration really comes to life and attains a nice finished look.