So, I got this email from my Secret Santa recipient (anonymously of course): "For christmas I want a squad of mercenaries to hunt down the grim reaper for me. (optional) the grim reaper likes to ride a zombie unicorn."
Of course that gave me lots of ideas and creative brain juice. I started by sketching out some character ideas; since I love drawing horses and animal skulls, I thought it would be cool to do a sort of 'Grim Reaper of the Desert'/'Wildebeast Grim Reaper'.
Then I began sketching thumbnails for the scene. I knew I wanted it to be dramatic, moody, and heavily reliant on lighting, but I struggled quite a bit with whether to do a more serene vista or an action-oriented scene. I liked both ideas I had, so I decided to do both. Go big or go home - and these were the most complicated pieces I'd ever attempted in ballpoint. Finally I settled on two and blew them up, then created a Photoshop montage with my reference photos pasted over the sketch.
I created a maquette for lighting reference with paper towel and a little plastic horse I had. It stands about 1.5 inches tall, and it was a huge help. I never realized before how pain-free drawing could be when you had adequate reference. I regret not making one for the second image, but I just couldn't find any horse figurines in motion!
Finally, I pulled everything together and drew for about a week straight! Here are the final illustrations. I hope I did the brief justice, and something tells me I might revisit these characters sometime...