Poster in process: Voodoo Night Horror film poster

Influences behind the poster

Before I start sketching a new painting or graphic work, I always try to narrow down my influences to a few illustrations or pictures as possible. With Voodoo Night Horror poster, I had two key influences: a real Voodoo fetish market which is located in Lomé, capital of Togo, a country located in West Africa (see the Wikipedia article about the Akodessawa Fetish Market here).

The other key influence were a couple of low budget horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions in the 1960s: Plague of the Zombies (1966), Stranglers of Bombay (1959) and a Hammer House of Horror TV series episode “Charlie Boy” made in 1980. Plague of the Zombies and TV episode “Charlie Boy” have a clear, voodoo influenced plot and Stranglers of Bombay is a film about evil Thuggee cult worshipping goddess Kali and strangling people during the 1830s in colonial India.

Animal skulls and other voodoo fetishes on sale at
Akodessawa Fetish Market
A still from The Plague of the Zombies, starring John Carson
A still from “Charlie Boy” episode (Hammer House of Horror TV Series) featuring murderous, wooden voodoo fetish statue
Poster for The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

Transferring the finished line sketch to a gessoed board

After I had finished gessoing the hard cardboard illustration board, I divided the surface carefully into equally sized sections. Then I started to draw skulls with graphite pencil from the biggest skulls on the corners proceeding to smaller ones in the center. This line drawing phase took about one week to complete. Then I erased the straight lines before applying first layers of paint.

Before I started to apply first layers of paint, I masked certain areas with two different tapes (KleenEdge and M3 Removable Magic Tape) to avoid paint blocking details in the drawing. I used Quinacridone Gold paint (part of Windsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic range) to block white areas away. Then I mixed black with Quinacridone Gold to achieve the proper black level I wanted. The skulls and the witch doctor are lit by a bonfire thus making these areas to appear in more light than the surroundings which are meant to be pitch black.

The line sketch with a grid
Tonal plan for the painting
The line sketch transferred to a gessoed 90 x 64,5 cm (36 x 25,8″) sized board
I used two different masking tapes to prevent paint from smearing details in the skulls
Masking tapes have been removed and the painting took already quantum leap forward!

Modeling skulls

The cloud of skulls needed more structure and definition before I started to paint them in more detail and correct lighting. I added more black in the eye sockets and on top of the skulls as well. Then I added more contrast to the flock of birds right underneath the cloud of skulls.

Added more contrast to the skull cloud and tried to give them more three dimensional appearance
I then added even more contrast/cast shadow to the skulls
and darkened eye sockets as well

Painting the three big skulls

I started to paint the biggest skull located in the middle. I used big tone approached to paint the skull: from darkest cast shadows to highlights. Then I added all the details including the cracked lines and “the glowing” in the eye sockets. When I finished the skull it served as an reference (the direction of light, casting of the shadows, details, colour scheme etc…) to other skulls that followed. I had some trouble to understand the plane changes on the baboon skull (located on the left upper corner). I just couldn’t find any good baboon skull pictures on the net for reference.

At this point the skull lacks almost all the fine details
The gorilla skull was painted with big tone approach
The baboon skull had difficult plane changes

Painting smaller skulls

The horse like skulls in the far left and far right belonged to a pair of Red deers. These two skulls differed remarkably from others skulls in the painting. They were more difficult to paint because of the unusual elongated shape and structure. With some of the ape skulls, I wanted variation and added some hair to make them standout even more from the mass. And to be honest, make them appear more freaky and disjointed. I used swift, fast and sharp brush strokes to achieve “loose” hair effect.

Monkey’s hair
Red deer skull

The Flock of Birds

I didn’t want to paint the birds with much detail. They had to be a secondary mass when compared with the skulls above. This decision was based on the hierarchy of details which is essential when trying to make a successful painting or a drawing. Before I started to paint this poster, I did a tonal plan (a sketch with lighting coming from below) to see in advance how to paint the different objects in it. Only the middle section is properly lit and everything else stays in the shadows.

Flock of birds with thin layers of paint
Birds are starting to take more defined shape

The Bonfire and the witch doctor

These two were the last objects I painted for the project. The bonfire’s first version was way too stiff to be a believable fire. I left a couple of “mistakes” to be seen on the left side of the bonfire to add some transparency to the flames. Witch doctor was pretty straightforward object to paint. First I blocked the shape with darkened Naples Yellow. I wanted the witch doctor’s face to remain in shadows and to add more mystery to his character. I didn’t want to add any significant details to the witch doctor character because he only serves as a balancing object on the right side of the bonfire.

Close-up of the bonfire
The witch doctor

The finished painting

The finished painting with a painted frame. If you want to know more about the process or share your thoughts, just leave a comment below.

Fire of Unknown Origin

Film poster project continues with a poster that draws title from a Blue Öyster Cult song titled “Fire of Unknown Origin” off their 1981 LP of the same name.  This time my visual influence led me to use late great Hammer Horror star Peter Cushing and make a tribute poster for him and acknowledge his crucial input to classic horror.FoUO_collection3_AleksiHaaristo3

In the first sketch of the poster there were to be three faces: Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. The poster was also meant have a scene depicting masked secret society circled around a massive fire. However,  I soon found out that these actors had, in fact, made a film together entitled “House of the Long Shadows” released in 1983. At this point I decided to strip the elements in the poster to minimum; only Cushing and his hand in flame. Use of black and white paint underline the simplicity of composition.


As the painting advanced nicely I found my sketch lacked proper volume and chiaroscuro (=light and dark). The sketch is fine in it’s own right but was no help for me at later stage of painting process. I took several shots of my face in dark and luckily one was exactly right for the painting. The photo reference helped me to finish the painting more quickly than without a reference.FoUO_collection3_AleksiHaaristo2 copy

Back in the day when poster artist didn’t receive reference photos in time they had to do some modeling on their own. For example: Tom Chantrell used his likeness when he was painting “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” standing in for Christopher Lee in the late 1960s.* Drew Struzan was his own body model in quilted jacket when he was working on “The Thing” poster in the early 1980s.**


*Sim Branaghan: British Film posters, BFI Publishing, 2006

** Drew Struzan, David J. Schow: The Art of Drew Struzan, Titan Books, 2010


About the film poster project

I am currently doing series of vintage looking film posters and I’d like to share some insight to the creative process behind them. This also marks my very first blog post on the subject.

Inspiration for “Iron Man” poster came from a Black Sabbath song. Lyrics of the song were basis for the elements you see in the painting. After all, the song is a true Hammer Horror tale of an vengeful astronaut trapped inside space suit.

Here you can see development stages of “Iron Man” character. I did not want to have that traditional hi-tech NASA or Transformers look but rather very clumsy, barrel chested, kind of a like deep sea diver from the 1940s. Lack of any facial features on the mask was intentional to achieve inhuman, sort of a ghost like presence.

This collage shows main influences for the poster. From left: Astronaut suit with painted hockey gloves from “Alien” (1979), promotional picture from “The Reptile” (1966) and “Nosferatu” (1922).

The defining look for the Iron Man’s helmet is shown in the middle sketch. Sketch on the far left is a bit too much reptilian and not enough bulky.

On the left is the final sketch for the poster. It has just the right mood for a horror picture. The woman was clumsily left out of the sketch and I was just concerned to get Iron Man right.