Massacre at Sanctuary 101, with video!

Hey guys!

My newest painting, Massacre at Sanctuary 101, is now complete! This piece was incredibly fun to paint and, in my opinion, is one of my best paintings.

In total, this painting took about 11 hours to paint, not bad considering the Alpharius Omegon painting took 10.5 hours and the Black Templar painting took 23.

Below are links to the videos which accompany this piece; one is a "speed paint" and the other is a tutorial.

Speed Paint Video

Tutorial Video

This painting posed a lot of challenges from the beginning. First of all, I never spent much time drawing Necrons. Believe it or not, the majority of my 40k art was done in high school (college, for my foreign readers) in the margins of my notebooks. While I did spend considerable amounts of time sketching Chaos marines and Tau (my two armies at the time), Necrons weren't high on my priorities (that was left to my friend Dave who played Necrons, at the time).

Secondly, I am still practicing my female figures, since most of my efforts over the past years have been directed at dudes in armor and overly-muscled barbarians. This painting offered a great challenge in conveying a strong female character without over-sexualizing her.

Thirdly, I have been trying very hard to incorporate dynamism into my paintings, focusing on movement and strong composition over the minutia I normally get lost in. With this in mind, I attacked the project with shapes and tones, not line and complex figures.

With these issues in mind, I began with a strong, loose, dynamic composition which helped me focus on the action and story-telling in the painting. I wanted to depict a sister of battle in a desperate struggle, utterly out-matched. Regardless of her rapidly approaching doom, the sister would be in an ardent rage, screaming litanies of hate against the foul xenos monster before her.

Here is my initial sketch:

As you can see, I've only thrown in the basic forms of the characters. I'm aiming to convey a composition, not the details within that scene.

My next sketch helped to define the characters a bit better, changing the poses of both figures slightly. I also started knocking in a quick background to establish location.

Here you can see some even larger changes.  While the background remains loose, both figures have been tightened up a bit and some details have been added. Also, you'll notice the tail of the wraith now encircles the sister. Similarly, its left hand now reaches downwards onto the sister as he prepares to tear her apart.

The changes here are a bit obvious. At this stage I began detailing the sister and, more plainly, rendered out the background quite a bit. While I sadly didn't have access to the original White Dwarf magazine which featured this battle report, I imagined that the sister was defending a shrine world (a fairly common activity for sisters of battle). Furthermore, the architecture and baroque style of the background ties closely to the sister's own armor design, reinforcing the Necron's role as an 'invader.'

Lastly, I tweaked the arm position of the sister. Previously, her outstretched left hand had been lost against the wraith's tail.

On to coloring and rendering!  Here is my first render pass, using minimal 'special effects.' The color was achieved by flattening the monochomatic sketch into a single 'overlay' type layer and then coloring with normal layers beneath. Also, I duplicated the overlay layer and applied a 'Gradient Map' in order to give highlights a yellow coloration and shadows a more ruddy one.

Who doesn't love special effects? Here I added some glows using color dodge layers and even added some hot gas to her muzzle flash. Also, you'll noticed the addition of a faint golden halo.

At this stage, a minor change took place. I found that the whole piece had become too saturated, too bright, and too contrasted. Everything seemed 'blown out,' so I used several adjustment layers to wrangle everything back together.

As a consequence of these adjustment layers, I had to rework some of the highlights in the piece, lest they be lost in a monotone. Also, I started reworking the sister's face, giving her a more harsh, enraged expression. You will also notice a slight tonal difference has been encouraged between the sister and the Necron wraith's claws and tail. This was achieved using 'lighten' layers and helped to differentiate the two figures in space.

Next, I added scraps of torn parchment from her armor as well as little bits of floating debris.

Finally, I added some doves to the upper right portion of the painting (the composition has been flipped since). These helped fill in some of the vacant space above the sister. Also, I added several lesser halos around the sister, helping to enforce her holiness and fervor. In a way, they almost appear like the sound waves emitted from her battle cry. Lastly, I retouched her face to lighten her nasolabial flaps (those dark creases around her nose and mouth). Furthermore, I softened her features slightly, just to make her appear less like a corpse.

I hope you have enjoyed this post! Please feel free to ask questions if you have any.



  1. Amazing new desktop wallpaper

  2. Has Games Workshop roped you in yet? :D

    1. Not yet :( I'm working for Fantasy Flight Games, though. :)

    2. All I can say is, "See GW studio peeps, that's what Necron Wraiths are supposed to look like." That's truly capturing the menace that once was the Wraiths.

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  4. Congratulations, awesome work!

  5. Wow, great stuff there. Not doing much with Photoshop myself it was very interesting to see how approached the piece (especially when you started adding the hue to your tone). Very cool stuff and definitely an awesome piece.

  6. your job is amazing man!! congratulations! i am looking forward on seeing m0ar!!! :D

  7. Thanks for the video, Nicholas. I'm an old paint and brush dinosaur who is trying to learn to paint digitally, these kind of things are always helpful. Beautiful work, great subject matter, dramatic and well executed.

    1. Thanks! Please feel free to ask any questions you might have about transitioning from traditional to digital media.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. That is really really good. I love it.