I felt like talking about something that I find to be a crucial step in painting believable fantasy art. It's something that I know a lot of people (including myself) are guilty of skipping over.
It may seem silly to have to research for a fantasy painting. But keep in mind that even if the subject isn't real, it still has a whole lot of grounding in reality. You'd be amazed at all of the little details and nuances that can be over looked when working strictly from your imagination. Not only realistic lighting and believable anatomy, but details that make up the character itself. Especially when dealing with subject matter from folklore and mythologies. There is usually a lot of history to characters from stories. These histories are what give characters their personality and make up who they are. And these things that should be hinted at in the art representing them. I'll use my sketch of Melusine as an example of the method of research I prefer to go with:
- Then, I sketch out my idea. The mermaid picture to the left was my first sketch after reading up on the story of Melsuine. I knew she was a mermaid in disguise who liked her privacy in the bath, but until I had gone back a re-read the story I had forgotten that she gave birth to mutant children. That ended up adding to the composition of the piece, with the portrait of her family.
- After having the general idea of what I want to paint, including everything I felt was important about this character, I go back to the research and do life drawings and sketches based on the features of the character or creature. I looked up what types of snakes were local to the country the story belonged to as reference for her tails. I even got in the bathtub and took a reference photo in the pose of the sketch in order to understand the proper anatomy and how lighting would play off the character. (The painting was never finished, but the research is all still there if I ever find the time to go back to it.)
Fantasy art is one of those subjects that gives us artists a lot of creative freedom. But keep in mind that the more realistic you can make your imaginary world, the easier it is for your viewers to find themselves able to believe it. :)