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'Unaware and Lurking' Process

General / 12 December 2019

In this blog post I will discuss the process I went through to create 'Unaware and Lurking'; a piece that features a large African Bullfrog preying on a small Water Lily Reed frog. 

My original inspiration for this piece came from the large collection of frog ornaments my nan used to collect when I was young, plus the ones my dad currently collects!

Originally these frogs inspired me to concept a frog village, but as I aim to become better at storytelling in my art I instead decided on a smaller, more focused challenge of creating a strong and narrative illustration. A big inspiration for this project was the artwork of Laurica Andrian, particularly her work on 'Tiny Flower' 

To begin with, I did a study of an image in order to understand how to render frog skin more clearly. My main focus was on the frogs, so unfortunately I did not finish the study entirely, but I am still very happy with the result. Here is a link to the reference image I used: 

While gathering reference and formulating concepts I watched many documentaries that discussed frogs in order to further my understanding of these amphibians so that it could inform my illustration. Additionally, for this project, I wanted to ensure I gathered accurate references for the frogs I was drawing, and I luckily found; a wonderful website where you can search for information on both animal species and plants. Being able to discover observations from all around the world helped immensely when trying to decide which kinds of frogs I would be depicting and where they would be located.

After gathering various reference images I had a more developed idea that I would depict a very small frog (Water Lily Reed frog) being preyed on by a large frog (African Bullfrog). I chose this as I wanted to communicate the feeling of fear and unease to the viewer, and the dramatic size difference and danger this represents lent itself well to this concept. Through research, I discovered that both these species of frogs habited Botswana, and I was then also able to research the vegetation of this area and collect reference for the environment I would depict. 

Here is some of the reference I gathered:

Now that I had the characters of my illustration decided upon, I then started working on various thumbnails of the composition. This was a lengthy process of lots of critique and iteration, however, I do believe it was worthwhile as it strengthened my understanding of composition a lot. 

These are some of the very first iterations of the composition that I wanted to take further, alongside some brainstorming which can be seen on the page. These developed into some thumbnails using Photoshop:  

After asking for and receiving critique I then iterated further and came up with my second batch of thumbnails. These had a lot of influence from compositional methods such as the golden ratio and rule of thirds, as shown below.

Additionally, I also experimented with how I could further exaggerate just how big the African Bullfrog is in comparison to the Water Lily Reed frog by having him extend off the designated canvas space, alike how a comic book sometimes has characters breaking out of the comic panel borders. At this stage, I was also interested in how lighting could draw more attention to the smaller frog, who I realised was getting lost in the composition. 

This is a more refined version of the above compositions.


As my main aim of this piece was to dramatically tell a story, I found that a lot of these compositions were not too impactful, so I moved on to experimenting with dramatic perspective. I wanted to portray the larger frog in the distance, looming over the smaller frog, perhaps on a large tower of rocks. The challenge of trying to achieve an almost skyscraper-like perspective meant that I had to take some very humourous reference images. 

Although funny, these were informative and aided me in developing the composition further. Below is the result of this: 

At this stage, I sought a lot of critique on the composition and came to the conclusion that this particular composition might have been a bit too humourous and therefore it did not sell the original narrative that I was striving towards, which was more of an unsettling and fear-inducing piece. 

In order to move forward from this point, I asked my peers which of the previous compositions they believed was most successful in making them feel intimidated and which communicated the difference in size the most effectively. The thumbnail below was the one which was chosen.

From this point I switched from Photoshop to Procreate to really start blocking in and rendering the illustration. The Speedpaint video that was created while I used Procreate shows this process, but I will also explain some more details. 

During the rendering process the key elements I focused on were 'Values', 'Lighting', 'Leading Lines' and 'Storytelling and Atmosphere.' To help with many of these elements I watched a few advice videos by Atey Ghailan, namely 'Speed Up Your Process', 'Tips for Storytelling in Your Art', and 'Painting a Lazy Cat: Focal Point and Blur'. Additionally, as recommended by a lecturer, I also looked at Scott Robinson's book 'How to Render'. 

I also created a rough Arnold render of my composition and lit it in a similar manner so that I would better understand the areas of the frogs the light would hit.  

These resources helped me turn my painting into something stylised, with no clear direction, to a piece that was more based on strong art principals and reality. This change in approach to rendering can clearly be seen in the speedpaint video. 

This was my illustration before watching the videos. 

One main change I made to the piece was to add a frog leg coming from out of the larger frog's mouth. I did this based on research on the eating habits of African Bullfrogs, as I discovered they are not only carnivores who will eat birds, insects, and smaller amphibians, but that they are cannibalistic too. In my opinion, the addition of the frog leg also pushed the narrative further as it makes the intention of the larger frog clearer and puts the smaller frog in immediate danger as the African Bullfrog has already eaten one of their kind! 

Above is the final Procreate piece, and the one which is shown at the end of the speedpaint. However, this is not the final piece I uploaded. One of the main issues of working on an IPad comes from the colour of your illustration being displayed differently on the computer. This meant I returned to Photoshop to make some final adjustments to push my piece further. This involved editing the colour balance, layers and also adding some tilt-shift blurring so that the additional perspective was added to the larger frog. 

This is the final result of the illustration after watching the videos and doing some final edits in Photoshop to polish the piece. 

Thank you very much for reading!