A Dark Tower Redo, One Year Comparison
At the start of 2018, I finished what has become one of my favorite fiction novel series; The Dark Tower by Stephen King. If you’re not familiar, the story follows Roland the Gunslinger on his quest to fix a ruined world. He gains some great companions along the way, and has to make difficult choices that will affect his world and all the others connected to it. It’s truly an epic tale, and in my opinion The Dark Tower compares very favorably to other lengthy fantasy classics like Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire.
The subject matter is a bit different than I was used to reading from King, but he handles it masterfully. As a great bonus, The Dark Tower series ties in a great many of his other books’ worlds in a fascinating way. I was a bit skeptical about the crossover prior to reading it, but it works. The Dark Tower loops in characters, worlds, and stories from other books like The Stand, It, Salem’s Lot, Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis, Eyes of the Dragon, and even The Shining. I still think about the characters and story line occasionally, which shows me how much impact it had.
I was so inspired by the books, I actually did several sketches based on the characters. One was a campfire scene featuring the main protagonists, then I did a series of villain sketches, some reflections on the ending, and another scene with the characters Susannah Dean, Jake Chambers, and Oy the Billybumbler (spoilers in all those links). It was really enjoyable because I I got to piece together visuals for these characters from King’s descriptions and how I imagined them while reading.
While it was fun, I have sort of lamented that my Dark Tower introduction came so early in my re-acquaintance with art. This flurry of Dark Tower sketches happened just over a year ago, right around my transition from black and white to color. I think it was some of my most creative work, yet is held back by my old lightly-applied coloring methods. This came up again recently when I started writing a book (sort of a big thing to say I think!). I actually received permission to include these Dark Tower sketches in the book, but it instantly reminded me of how I wished at least one was colored in the current “pencil painting” style.
Then I realized…well, why don’t I just redo one of them? Pick one, try to replicate it, while applying whatever new techniques I’ve learned over the past year. I decided to re-draw the Susannah, Jake, and Oy sketch. I liked the original, and it’s one I ruined when I tried to add more color months after finishing (I learned never to try that again; when something is done, I don’t go back to it). I’ve included several images below, with the first being a side-by-side comparison:
Putting these images next to each other, I am a little surprised at how much has changed. The first thing that jumps out at me is how much more paint-like the heavy layers of pencil blending look. The colors are also significantly brighter, and the image looks much clearer both on the computer screen and in real life. I expected that to be a key difference, and it’s probably even more significant than I predicted.
I really wasn’t expecting such a major difference in terms of small details, though. I think the lines and basic shapes are much more natural looking, particularly around their faces. It seems that I’ve learned a bit from drawing all of those head-and-shoulder portraits! Jake looks less like a frog-boy in the new sketch, and Susannah looks more like an actual person too.
Above, I’ve included a larger view of this newer drawing. Here you can get a better feel for the finer details. I think a lot went well on this one. Susannah’s and Jake’s expressions are pretty solid, which I wasn’t sure about at first. I also really like the way Oy looks; he can be tough to draw because billybumblers are completely made up (cross between a dog, raccoon, and woodchuck). The colors seem appropriate to how I originally thought they should be.
Although it mostly turned out to my satisfaction, there are a couple things that could have been better. One is what’s in their hands. Even in the original from last year, the basic idea was supposed to be that they’re eating “gunslinger burritos” and Oy is trying to take Jake’s. But in the original, I completely forgot to add the burritos (sort of a big oversight). This time, I seriously almost forgot them again! I remembered at the end, but didn’t do much other than fill in a vague corn tortilla-like wrap. It’s sort of a weak effort. But the drawing was pretty much finished, and I didn’t want to go for a bold move.
Also, I ended up layering the pencil so thickly on most of the drawing, I literally can’t change anything on their faces anymore. I’m glad it looks okay, because it is a very thick coat of pencil. I’m also not completely satisfied with the shirt under Jake’s hoodie, Jake’s pants, and Susannah’s wheelchair. They aren’t terrible, but could have been better I think.
I didn’t take too many photos, but I did take enough for a progression .gif. Here’s how it came together:
I’ve got another item on tap; the contest winner from the January giveaway requested a portrait of her very happy looking dog. I started the outline already, and that will be my next drawing. Outside of that, I may slow down significantly on artwork and posts over the next couple of months. I’m probably 15-20% finished (based on my outline) with the book I mentioned earlier. I’m not going to say the title, since it may change, but the book is basically about my experience relearning to draw after being away from it for like 15 years.
My goal is to make the stories and descriptions in the book accessible to possibly help another amateur artist on a similar quest to learn. I’m covering some basic techniques that I’ve found useful, such as measuring grids for proportion and pencil painting (as I’ve talked about here). Beyond simply practicing, I’ve found the next best learning tool is reading about the experiences of other artists. I don’t think I could have made the improvement I have over the last year without interacting with other WordPress artists and reading about their shared experiences. That’s the central purpose of this book. I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that it might provide a small spark for someone else.
Anyway, that’s basically what it’s going to be about. I’ve never written a book before, so I’m not sure what other roadblocks I will encounter. So far, it’s been a pretty good experience though, and the tools available on Amazon’s publishing platform have been very useful. My goal is to release it by the summer. Hopefully that’s actually realistic!
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Nice job! Great books.
Thank you! They really are; I almost want to read the entire series again even though it wasn’t more than two years ago that I read the books
You will discover even more the 2nd time around.
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That difference is quite remarkable Jon.
I’ve recently revisited some of my older pen sketches to add colour as I only started with paint last year. The difference there made for a decent ‘upgrade’ but not as much as what you’ve achieved here. As you say, that portrait practice must’ve skilled you up, keep it up and good luck with the book – that sounds challenging in itself.
Thank you Steve – and I have to say, I like what I see on your “revisited old sketches” post. I have always had bad luck trying to add color to the old originals. It seems like I pretty much have to start fresh (like the Dark Tower piece from this post). But what you’ve done with the cathedral sketch and the girl by the tree actually works very well. The color adds quite a bit to the original. I wonder if pen lends itself to later additions better than pencil?
Thank you Jon.
I’m not sure, I’ll pick one of the pencil sketches to paint over and see how it turns out. I’ll post it up even if it goes wrong 😊
Nice drawings – great that you can draw so well from imagination – something I have never been able to do. Good luck with the book! I like the Dark Tower series too – but never got past the first few books as I wasn’t able to buy the next one along! One day I plan to buy the whole lot and start again.
Thank you! I should say though, I didn’t just pop the images out of my head and onto paper. I also struggle mightily with drawing from imagination. Like with the billybumbler Oy, I had to look at tons of images of raccoons to try to get the right look. I also looked at some smaller dogs like dachshunds. And I browsed through quite a few images of actors I thought might fit my imagined look for Jake and Susannah. So I definitely needed some crutches to make it happen.
Well, obviously I am a fan, so I’d say it’s worth checking out again. Unfortunately, it seems like Stephen King’s books are rarely on sale on Amazon, so that makes it tough to get a good deal on the entire series. Do you have any larger used book stores where you live? Half Priced Books in Texas comes to mind as a place you might be able to round up all of the Dark Tower books at a good price.
Unfortunately the used book stores here are pretty hopeless – I live in the Philippines and though I’ve hunted around I’ve never been able to find any of the Dark Tower series
Oh dang, that’s too bad. I guess a lot of the books in the series are getting up there in age too – the finale was in the early 2000s I think. That probably makes getting a used paperback even harder