Last week, io9 featured a post about the making of my Eddard Stark artwork for George R.R. Martin's 2012 A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar. This week, let's have a look at the process behind my Bran Stark artwork.

Here's how I met the challenge of illustrating Ned Stark's nimble, tower-climbing son, one of the most beloved characters in the books.


When deciding what images to illustrate, I wanted to create pictures that would strike a chord with existing ASoIaF fans, but not spoil discoveries for new fans who hadn't yet read the books. While I was busy with my work, HBO's Game of Thrones show was in production for the first season, and when I created my Bran Stark artwork, I don't even think they had begun casting yet. At any rate, the last thing I wanted was to see what HBO was doing, as I wanted my vision to be independent of theirs. So I never saw their casting or design choices until long after my final art was turned in. Bran Stark was the first artwork I completed, and was one of the images most embedded in my imagination from the get-go.

One of my favorite illustrators is N.C. Wyeth, and I love his work for his choices of content as much as his choices of craft. When Wyeth illustrated books like Treasure Island, he wouldn't illustrate a specific passage just as described, but would choose the beat right before or after a written moment. His pictures were complementary to the storytelling, and often enhanced it. That always seemed like a more respectful relationship between artist and audience, rather than just spoon-feeding literal visual translations and redundancies between word and picture.

When I started doing my thumbnail sketches for Bran, that notion was an inspiration. Something fateful happens to Bran early in A Game of Thrones, and George goes into great detail describing his love of climbing in the early chapters. I wanted to show Bran at his best, before the whole story headed to a darker place.

After George, editor Anne Groell, art director Dave Stevenson and I agreed on the initial thumbnail sketch, I did a more detailed comp sketch (pencil on bond, 8.5" x 11").

My neighborhood comic book shop was owned by a friend who loved George's Song of Ice and Fire books, and when he heard I was doing the calendar, it didn't take long before I realized his son might be a perfect reference model for Bran. Here's the first test shot of his son, and even as rough as this photo is, this and several other similar photos were a huge help.

From those photos, I began working out my final drawing (pencil on Strathmore 500 illustration board). Once I had my pencils finished, I brushed in some Winsor & Newton Liquin, which is an oil paint medium. It acted as a wash medium of sorts with the clouds in the background. That helped soften my pencils back there.

After photographing and importing my drawing into Photoshop, I hand-drew a few drawing revisions and improvements on separate boards and scanned those in, digitally imported those as well. I then composited those on top of my base drawing, building a sandwich of drawings that improved detail and contrast.

Once my greyscale work was completed, I set that work aside. I started painting several abstract color paintings on illustration board. Here are two examples. These have nothing to do with form, but are more about color and texture. I then scan these and import them into Photoshop.

From there I overlay the hand-painted abstract paintings on top of my greyscale sandwich making a new color sandwich. I carve away areas where the colors shouldn't be and move colors to the areas where they should. I like working in this hybrid way that combines traditional and digital because of the surprises that happen when I juxtapose abstracts of color on top of my greyscales. It keeps the work fresh. And here's the final artwork, sans the cropping that was required to fit the calendar's square proportion.

I think we all look at January 1st with a note of hopeful optimism, especially when we flip open a new calendar. It's a fresh beginning for all of us. I wanted that first image of the calendar to reflect that New Year optimism we all try to have. When I chose my twelve images for the calendar, I didn't know which month would correspond with each picture choice, but I knew for certain that January was Bran's month.


I'm not sure which artwork I'll feature next here on io9. I'm thinking Sansa Stark and the Hound. What do you folks think?

John Picacio is a 2012 Hugo Award finalist for Best Professional Artist. Check out his work at and follow him on Twitter at @JohnPicacio. He's appearing in mid-June at DeepSouthCon 50 in Huntsville, AL, and will have some cool surprise art goodies for George R. R. Martin / A Song of Ice and Fire fans in attendance.