Character Dive: Ithenrael

In this short series, I'm going to be looking at not only how my art has changed and improved over the course of each featured character's (or group of characters) existence, but also how their personalities and my conceptions of them have changed and grown.

Character Dive: Ithenrael
My most recent drawing of Ithenrael

In this short series, I'm going to be looking at not only how my art has changed and improved over the course of each featured character's (or group of characters) existence, but also how their personalities and my conceptions of them have changed and grown.

I'm getting this off to a start with Ithenrael, who is one of my longest-running characters, although there's a big jump in time between his origin when I first played Baldur's Gate in 2002 and the first artwork I have of him, which is from somewhere in the mid-2000s.

The first drawing of Ithenrael that I scanned

I don't actually know how old that drawing is, because it was doodled on a page somewhere, and I didn't sign it. It was scanned several computers ago. My best guess is 2002-2007, but I can't narrow it down farther than that.

This one is, I believe, from 2009 (the date is difficult to read)

I'm reasonably sure that I referenced the first drawing when I was working on the one above, although I'd made some progress with drawing light hair in between the two. The above drawing is also notable because it's the first time I can remember seriously trying to draw a background. I didn't do a great job – the alcove Ithenrael and Retgar (one of his party members, here seen swearing allegiance) are in isn't geometrically sound and I didn't successfully alter the direction of the bricks of the wall – but it is a background.

This also shows a problem I had a lot before I buckled down and started using reference (there's going to be quite a bit of art to get through before then, because I only figured out that wasn't cheating in college), which is that the person facing the camera in a fairly easy pose – Ithenrael – worked out much better than the person facing away in a complicated pose – Retgar. But, despite its problems, I'm still fond of this drawing for what it represents: substantial progress.

Jarina, another of Ithenrael's party members, probably from 2009?

So, who is Ithenrael, anyway? Who are his party members?

Ithenrael is an elven mage, starting out life as the first character I played through the Baldur's Gate trilogy. (I'm currently replaying it with him in a sort of alternate timeline where he traveled with the NPCs rather than his party.) I didn't like taking the game-provided NPCs as my party, so I used the not-quite-hack of starting a multiplayer game and creating and assigning all the characters to myself to have my full party. Ithenrael was the main character, the Bhaalspawn, who decided to ascend to Bhaal's Throne of Blood at the end – but the other party members were important to me also. The ones I'm focusing on are the ones who went through the whole trilogy with him (Retgar Nyatar, half-elf fighter; Jarina Demonslayer, human ranger; Gadragk Zarn, human berserker) and the two who joined later but ended the game with him (Moreniel Nightsong, elven cleric; Xerelas Shadowknife, elven swashbuckler). All of these people also ended up in my family's long-running epic D&D game, and a fair bit of the art comes from that, so sometimes I'll make a distinction between BG-Ithenrael and IA-Ithenrael, the second being the D&D game.

Xerelas, Moreniel, Jarina, and Gadragk, probably 2009

I've consistently drawn Ithenrael more often than the rest of the party, but I'll be sprinkling in some drawings of other party members (and some that feature them all).

Left to right: Xerelas, Moreniel, Jarina, Retgar, Ithenrael, and Gadragk, 2009

Another early attempt at a full background, this drawing shows the entire group sitting in a room in Retgar's hereditary castle. This is the IA timeline, so the symbol of Bhaal on the rug is just an acknowledgment of Ithenrael's heritage; another Bhaalspawn took the role of Lord of Murder in that timeline, so Ithenrael is simply a very powerful sorcerer with some divine blood.

The whole party lived in Retgar's castle. Gadragk was always something of an advisor/mentor figure to the rest, having been originally a hired man of Retgar's father, Lord Nyatar; Ithenrael, Retgar, and Jarina more or less grew up together (more or less being that Ithenrael, as an elf, was a good deal older than the other two in fact), and Moreniel and Xerelas joined much later and were often a bit apart from the others.

Jarina Demonslayer, 2009

While waiting a long time in a train station once I did a series of all my current D&D characters in their homes, surrounded by objects that were important to them, and so all of Ithenrael's group were in various areas of Retgar's castle. Above is Jarina, with her swords Blackrazor and Angurvidal, and several trophies.

Retgar Nyatar, 2009

Retgar was in a castle hall for that series, with some really poor perspective, and his greatsword (I believe still Gram, the Sword of Grief, at this point). There was one of each of the party, but I'll skip over most of them here, because the others didn't turn out well even for the time.

Gadragk Zarn, 2009

Gadragk's had slightly better perspective, at least. I believe he was wearing the demonflesh armor he had for a time in this one, thus all the stitching.

Ithenrael, 2010

I've occasionally attempted to depict moments from the games as well, and the above drawing was my first attempt at a 'shadow of the Slayer' kind of image, with Ithenrael staring at the blood on his hands after the first Slayer transformation escaping Spellhold. This attempt was a bit muddied, but I feel the expression worked out well enough.

Ithenrael and Retgar, probably 2010?

I spent some time working up the relationships between party members and how those had developed in the ten years between the end of BG time and the start of IA time, after they'd all been living in Retgar's castle and adventuring for some time. Moreniel and Xerelas were married to each other and remained slightly aloof from the others who had been together the whole time, so they often didn't feature in the drawings I did to explore that aspect, needing less explanation. Neither did Gadragk to begin with, although I'd pick him up later. This is Ithenrael and Retgar discussing something, with another (slightly better) attempt at an alcove background.

Retgar and Ithenrael, 2010

An outside-looking-in view of a window worked slightly better in the above, although that's a very strange room or hallway. This was while I was working out that Ithenrael and Retgar loved each other, just not exactly the same way; in retrospect, I probably spent so much time thinking about this because it was around this time that I was realizing I was aromantic and asexual (which, in the end, also applies to Ithenrael). Turning characters around in one's mind can be helpful for such things, in addition to being interesting.

Gadragk, Retgar, Ithenrael, and Jarina (2011)

BG-Ithenrael and party making camp shortly after Gorion's death (Ithenrael is still holding Gorion's letter in his hand). Jarina's hair ended up too dark in this one (it's brown, not black), and aside from Retgar, they all have fairly awkward poses. The other two party members that the time, One-Eye the Quick (a human thief) and an elven cleric I remember almost nothing about are not featured.

Ithenrael, 2011

IA-Ithenrael here, during the brief time he was wearing armor that he could still cast through. This was a more abstract background which didn't quite work out how I'd wanted it to, but his face turned out, and that's always important.

Ithenrael reading, 2011

From a slightly later series of characters at their hobbies, this one is of Ithenrael reading in a chair somewher ein Retgar's castle. The background is a little better, although the chair doesn't quite work, and this is during the time I couldn't figure out how to draw not-straight light colored hair, so his hair isn't quite right either.

Ithenrael, 2012

Since Ithenrael was a favorite, well-established character, it's not surprising that many of my earlier attempts at doing an illustration feature him. This one is identifying an amulet, from 2012. Still all pencil (all mechanical pencil, specifically; I never quite got the hang of non-mechanical pencils).

Ithenrael in the pocket plane, 2012

Another illustration attempt, and going back to an in-game scene: Ithenrael speaking to the conjured shade of his mother in the pocket plane. I was starting to realize that mechanical pencil and nothing else just wasn't going to work for the kind of full scenes I was trying to do, but I gave it a try here, although I also obviously gave up in the distant features.

Gadragk, Retgar, and Ithenrael, 2012

After emerging from a plot-critical super-dungeon, a rather huge number of D&D characters were whittled down to a mere several dozen, and Jarina, Moreniel, and Xerelas were among those who perished in the dungeon. This shows the remaining party members comforting each other.

Retgar, now in ink (2016)

Jumping ahead several years, I switched to ink for most illustrations shortly before I began working on Corner the Maze. This spot of Retgar is the first one that featured any of Ithenrael's party, although it was done more or less at the same time as the next two.

Ithenrael, in ink (2016)

Ithenrael got the full half-page experiment. I was looking towards game manual illustrations at this point, although in retrospect my art wasn't good enough yet and I was stuck to a style that had been substantially more in favor when I was a kid than when I was trying to get commissions for it.

Gadragk in ink (2016)

Gadragk also got a spot. These all have the same problems that early Corner the Maze pages also did: I was still more used to working in pencil, so I was more or less treating the ink pens like pencils, and not making use of area blacks or anything like that.

Ithenrael, back to pencil for a bit (2017)

I got really into the toned paper with pencil and charcoal style for a while, and tried a more abstract 'shadow of the Slayer' idea here with Ithenrael. This is BG-Ithenrael, with less fancy robes and such. This is also the first drawing of Ithenrael that I recall using reference for, although I wasn't great at choosing it yet.

Ithenrael casting a spell (2017)

I started working in watercolor a fair amount in 2017 and 2018, and Ithenrael was (as usual) one of the first characters I did a portrait of. This is definitely IA-Ithenrael, with the Robes of Fax and the specific ioun stone he has. Unfortunately I seem to have lost the scan of the final watercolor (I was in the habit of scanning the inks first in case I messed up the painting), but I know I finished it.

Ithenrael, "Child of Murder" (2018)

In 2018 I did a series of my favorite characters I'd played through the Baldur's Gate series at that time, starting of course with Ithenrael. Originally I was going to stop there also, so I had just titled that one "Child of Murder" before I got to the other two, but it still feels more appropriate where Ithenrael is concerned. Not that gender is a topic he's given much thought to; he spends most of his spare time researching new spells.

Taneth, "Daughter of Murder" (2018)

Taneth, a human paladin of the Order of the Radiant Heart, was the second one I completed. Her party started as my attempt at a no-reload playthrough, but I slipped up partway through Shadows of Amn and decided I was going to finish the game anyway. This series of three has all in the D&D game equipment and so forth.

Feldryn, "Son of Murder" (2018)

Feldryn, an elven swashbuckler and Shadowthief of Amn, whose group was the first one I played in the full Enhanced Editions with Siege of Dragonspear installed. His equipment doesn't differ much from the others, but he's also in D&D game gear. While Ithenrael has been big on trying to find family connections with other Bhaalspawn, neither Taneth or Feldryn are, so that's a bit awkward between the three of them.

Ithenrael, "Blood Sea" (2019)

In 2019 I started to get back into digital art, for two main reasons: I was getting a bit frustrated at the amount I was spending on comic-related supplies, and also I wasn't making as much progress with painting and color as I wanted, and remembered I'd done better at that back when I did a lot of pixel art/dolling in my teens (incidentally, I did do some pixel art of Ithenrael, but I don't seem to have it any more). Initially when getting back to it I used Photoshop and tried to do an inking type style. This was my first attempt at illustrating one of the dreams the main character gets in Baldur's Gate, with the sea of blood. It wasn't very effective. BG-Ithenrael in terms of equipment and all here.

Retgar, IAT-V Champion (2019)

I was also still doing watercolor in 2019, and this is from a series I did of tournament champions (I had enough D&D characters to run them through tournaments for several years, and Retgar emerged as the champion one year). So this is very much IA-Retgar, but he did have the Cloak of the Sewers there from Baldur's Gate...

Ithenrael, pencil portrait (2019)

I was kind of all over the place in 2019, trying to figure out what style I wanted to use, so I also went back to the old mechanical pencil and did this portrait of Ithenrael (IA-Ithenrael). Mostly it reminded me why I stopped doing that so much. I was finally getting the hair a bit less straight, though.

Taneth, "Against the Blood" (2020)

I tried a lot of experiments in 2020, but I also switched to Corel Painter for digital art, and that for me helped a lot. I had originally intended to do a full series of portraits in this style with Taneth, Ithenrael, and Feldryn (and maybe one or two others if I felt like it), but I ended up only doing the first two. Taneth's was based on an earlier ink drawing, and I was trying for a lot of contrast between her and Ithenrael in the two.

Ithenrael (2020)

Ithenrael's portrait with the symbol of Bhaal in the background. I think I went both a little overboard on the bloody background and not far enough. This is IA-Ithenrael, with his new at the time ruby staff and such (and the reddish light in his eyes comes from an epic protection spell he runs). Hair's closer.

I eventually added another portrait to this series, which I'll include here for the contrast:

Vethryn, the Dark Urge (2023)

Vethryn (drow paladin, technically originally elf fighter) is a character I had originally started in the original Baldur's Gate in 2021 but became the only character I'd ever actually simply abandoned the playthrough of due to everything that happened that year, so I told myself then that I'd use that character when Baldur's Gate 3 came out. I promptly forgot about that (or was distracted by the ability to play a nonbinary githyanki, one or the other) when BG3 did come out, but he ended up my second character. Because I had originally started playing him in the first Baldur's Gate, for him, I go with the theory that all that "carved from Bhaal's dead flesh" stuff is a story told to the Dark Urge rather than truth, and I also decided to add this portrait onto the series years later. By this point in 2023 I'd switched to lighter more pencil-type inks and improved the painting a good deal. (Vethryn got the Symbol of Bhaal as seen in BG3; the others got the older version).

Ithenrael, Tears of Bhaal (2021)

IA-Ithenrael, done after Retgar and Gadragk were killed on a mission. I'd gone more towards the pencil-style inks here and was really trying to work on the painting. Featured in the Tears of Bhaal surrounding him are (largest to smallest, in reverse order of death): Retgar, Gadragk, Jarina, Moreniel, Xerelas, and One-Eye the Quick. His only party members not featured are the original cleric whose name I forgot and Darrak Ghoulsword, a thief who Ithenrael intentionally tricked into getting imprisoned by a demilich right before Xerelas was hired. This is something he regrets now.

Ithenrael, "Blood Wave" (2023)

Last year's attempt at the blood sea dream, which at least for now I'm satisfied with. It also finally managed to look like Ithenrael as well, which is always a good thing (I finally got his hair right). I almost finished this without the extra waves in the background marching off into the distance and without the transparency around Ithenrael's robe, but I figured out what was wrong right before calling it quits, and I think it looks a lot better with those additions.

I'm working on another portrait of Ithenrael more or less to go with the current playthrough, which was sparked by a persistent question that came up in my mind while I was playing Baldur's Gate 3 (particularly in Vethryn's playthrough): if Ithenrael had travelled with NPCs such as Jaheira and Khalid and Minsc instead of his own rather evil-inclined party, how differently would he have ended up? Would he have still wanted to become the new Lord of Murder, or would he have realized that wasn't what he wanted (because either way, it wasn't – he wanted the power of being a god and felt it was his right, he consistently disliked most of the actual murders and Bhaal-worshippers he met)?

Next time, I'll get into a set of characters that might be even slightly older: Snakeheart and the Price of a Bargain gang, some of whom might be familiar from Corner the Maze as well.