Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

In recent weeks, io9 has been the home of exclusive 'making of' posts for my George R. R. Martin / A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar artworks, including Eddard Stark, Bran Stark, and Sansa Stark and the Hound. This week, I'm sharing some of the process that led to my Jon Snow and Ghost artwork.

From the moment I was first commissioned to illustrate this calendar, I knew I wanted to create a Jon Snow and Ghost artwork amongst my twelve selections. I submitted several rough sketches . Here are three of them:

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

My depiction of Jon is too bulky here, but I thought the composition might have possibilities.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

This much cruder sketch had a more animalistic, crouching stance for Jon, and while I think the composition needed work, I liked the attitude of this one.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

This sketch was George's favorite. More dynamism than the other two, even though I knew my quick scrawl of Ghost was really poor. George figured I'd get Ghost right as the process moved along, and this one was approved as the selection.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

Next, I asked a friend to model for me. We improvised a quick costume and used one of the official limited-edition Longclaw swords, acquired from the Valyrian Steel company. I shot a series of photographs of him, based on my approved sketch.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

When I drew Jon Snow on my final Strathmore 500 board, anatomy was stretched and altered to fit the concept. At the rough sketch stage, I was still unsure how to compose Ghost, but by the final drawing, I figured out how to handle him. Here's the pencil drawing in progress, using Winsor & Newton Liquin as a wash of sorts for some of the foreground and background elements.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

Values and elements define themselves by the time the full greyscale is done. Oil paints are combined with pencils to enhance certain areas.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

After scanning the greyscale underpainting into Photoshop, I start building my colour layers on top. In this case, they're pretty minimal because of the wintery landscape. This is designed to be a more monochromatic counterpoint to some of the more bombastic colours of my other ASoIaF Calendar pieces. I spatter some white acrylic on a black piece of Canson, and import that into my composition, knocking out the black to create a drift of snow flakes across the composition.

Jon Snow knows nothing, but his portrait took a lot of careful study

At this point, George made a key suggestion. Because I was trying to do a more full-figure view of Jon, it was a tough trick to also sell the height of the Wall in the distance. So George suggested that I add some tiny scale figures and rigs at the top of it. It was a smart call on his part, and I think it helped the piece to do that.

In the end, as much as Jon Snow is one of my favorite ASoIaF characters, I think I enjoyed figuring out Ghost even more than drawing Jon. I appreciated Ghost as a character even more after I drew him, which is a strange thing, but the best art journeys always surprise you.


John Picacio is a 2012 Hugo Award finalist for Best Professional Artist. Check out his work at www.johnpicacio.com and follow him on Twitter at @JohnPicacio.