Orcs on the Brain

Orcs have been on my mind recently, invading my creative process. I can blame the dozen or more times that I have watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or I can blame the memories of my childhood, reading D&D manuals and trying to imitate the fantasy drawings I loved so much. But now there is this thing called Twitter. And my Twitter stream, as it washes over my brain, has contributed to my recent reinvigorated appreciation for orcs.

I guess it started a year and a half ago. I happened upon a link to a Kickstarter campaign by Christine Larsen, a Philadelphia illustrator. She was funding a second printing of her book entirely filled with orc illustrations. Pretty awesome, right? I feel like this kind of project is what makes Kickstarter so appealing. Publishers are just as likely to turn down well-constructed illustrated stories, let alone entire books filled with illustrations of orcs. It’s pretty great that these projects can be offered and funded outside of the normal publishing channels. I love the fact, too, that this was Larsen’s 2nd printing of this book! Maybe you can support her third printing.

Orcs by Christine Larsen

More recently, I can’t help but think that I am focused more on orcs because of the artwork of Trystan Mitchell, an extremely talented illustrator and sequential artist from Cornwall, UK.  I have been watching him post images from the game known as Orctions.

I love the consistency of Trystan’s orcs.  They look like well-produced cartoon illustrations. And I love the attention to detail to the armor they wear and the weapons they use. And if you like Trystan’s orcs, check out the ongoing series The Call of Cthrnwall. It’s the usual scenes in the life of a bucolic fishing village, with some Elder Gods shenanigans thrown in. Good times!

The Call of Cthrnwall

And last, but certainly not least, I have been following Justin Hubbell on Twitter. Justin’s Orcs vs. Feminism is a bizarre, funny and heart-warming attempt to recount a personal history of one person’s relationship with orcs, stereotypes, gender, and feminism, both in philosophy and practice.



Start from the very beginning and you won’t regret it, and Justin is finishing up the final pages now, so stay tuned for more.

As for me, I think drawing orcs gave me a chance to draw more gritty, semi-realistic (as realistic as fictitious semi-human characters can get) figures as a departure from the very cartoony The Devil & Mr. Gandhi.  I think for me, drawing orcs is an opportunity to cheat. Since orcs are humanoid but not human, I feel like I have a lot more wiggle room when it comes to drawing anatomy accurately.  They’re orcs, not human, so they can be exaggerated and no worries, right? That’s the way I felt about it. I got to relive some nostalgic D&D adventures through my art and I don’t have to feel like I am trying to draw humans. I started out getting back to my roots, drawing sinewy muscled, cross-hatched orcs using a nib pen and ink.


Below is my attempt to do a more cartoon defined version of of an orc. Using a kind of tri-tone of highlight and shadow on a flat mid-tone color. Rounded corners, looking more like Devil and Gandhi than the cross-hatched, scratchy drawings above.


Another colored, slightly cartoony orc.


Not sure which I enjoy drawing more. I think orcs should be rougher-edged, scratchy, sinewy, so I will lean towards pen and ink, shaky-handed nib pen drawings. I plan on doing some pencil only drawings of orcs, too, before moving on to dwarves, elves, and plenty of weapons.  If and when I draw more orcs, check back here as I will add them to this post.


3 thoughts on “Orcs on the Brain”

  1. I tripped and googled myself and came upon this writeup. Lo, the Orc art book has long come and gone in terms of printing, and it’s really too expensive of a book for me to muster the wherewithall to do a third printing, but I am doing an orc comic now! I, too, have orcs on the brain. They just wont leave me alone.

    And, hey, remember you don’t only have to reference only the green type of orc. Remember, as far as Tolkien was concerned, orcs and goblins were the same thing. That should give you a nice, big wheelhouse to reference.

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