Here is a step by step walkthrough of my painting process of my portrait of Ronnie James Dio. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below.
Every time I put on Dios masterpiece "Dream Evil" from 1987 it takes me right back to the moment I discovered it. The rattling of the needle on the vinyl at my friend Simons place where we as kids went through Simons big brothers record collection. It spoke to me then and it speaks to me now, in many more ways than just nostalgia.
Classic fantasy-driven heavy metal was the first form of music I really loved, and though I've learned to love a lot of other genres since then (from old school jazz to contemporary pop) there is something that always draws me back to bands like Helloween, Blind Guardian, Magnum, Accept, even Rhapsody... And last but not least, Dio.
I am grateful that I never lost the connection to this kind music in an effort to appear cool or intellectual as a teenager or young adult, even though this is music people love to mock. And now I cherish it more than ever as a direct connection to that unspoiled feeling of epicness, play and power. In many cases there is depth beyond plain fantasy within the lyrics that may very well withstand an intellectual debate. But doesn't need to, and that's the whole point. It is enough as it is, without context.
The thundering but crisp guitars on the opening track "Night People" on "Dream Evil" sets the mood. And then; that voice. The tenor that lends itself beautifully to the old school ballads of Elf, but holds a spellbinding force on the hard and fast songs of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio.
"Do you like the dark? Do you like the way it moves?" Yes, Ronnie - I love it!
The painting process
A black and white portrait of Ronnie James Dio made as a digital painting in Procreate on an iPad pro using an Apple Pencil and the standard "Flat Brush" in Procreates "Painting"-brush set. Painted in one sitting - time from start to finish approximately 5 hours.
Step One - looking at reference and blocking in the big shapes.
Step Two: Blocking in smaller shapes and (very) rough values. Step One and Two are the most difficult in the whole process and require the most concentration by far. I made a mistake with the right eye here which costed me maybe an extra half hour later in the painting process.
Step Three: Values and refined shapes. I continue to look at shapes and values throughout the painting process, but this is the step where the foundation is laid. Confused with the left eye I corrected it a bit but not enough.
Step Four: Refining values and starting to think about soft and hard edges. Where should there be a hard line, and where a soft gradient? Here are some artistic decisions to be made that may deviate from the reference. I decided to make a big contrast on the right side of the face, almost black against the lightest light in order to make his face pop. I also knew at this point that there should not be much detail in the hair - the hair should mainly function as a frame for the face.
Step five: Refining. Here the problem with the left eye (and the cheekbone) became evident. No matter how well I would render it it would still look bad, so it is very important to correct these mistakes as soon as they appear. It hurts, but there is no way around it. Since this is a digital painting I used a liquify-tool to make some of the work and did not have to repaint it from scratch.
Step six: Rendering, rendering. This is the easiest part of the painting. If the foundation is solid it is smooth sailing from here. The main decisions at this point is about focal points. What part of the painting should be rendered to what level of detail. To make everything super rendered would actually make it look unnatural. Usually the highest level of detail should be in the eyes and the mouth, while other parts could be left quite loose.
This could have been the final version, but I decided to make some small adjustments still...
The final portrait. Some small value adjustments in Photoshop to compress the darkest darks a little bit. For some reason the picture looks a bit different on my computer after I've exported it from Procreate. Whan looks like unified black on the iPad may need some small compression on the big screen. But nothing major - just small things. I also added some gaussian blur to the neck and hair to shift focus to the face and add depth.