My journey continues this month with Lady of June! Lady of November represented a milestone of high quality and attention to detail in this series that was hard to beat! How could I make the rest of the Ladies as good as November? That was the difficult challenge I set for myself as I moved on to this month and ventured into the first of the Ladies of summertime!
After the dark whimsy of Lady of November, we’ve returned to the Ladies of Summer! Admittedly, this Lady has been a challenge thus far. While November had a lot of amazing imagery to play with, June is more of a subtle time of year. Its celebration of youthfulness and young brides reminds of May’s themes, with one of the only unique events being the Summer Solstice. I’ve been struggling to find Lady of June’s unique visual story to make her different enough from the other Ladies, but that’s what research is all about!
One of the most prominent themes I found while researching the Summer Solstice via Pinterest image gathering was the celebration of Litha and the Sun Wheel. The Solstice celebrates the reigning power of the Sun. The Sun Wheel was an old tradition where a representation of the sun was set aflame and rolled down a hill to symbolize its shifting phases. As soon as I saw the Wheel, I knew it’d be the perfect inspiration for the mandala window!
Research for the Ladies always begins with the origin of the month’s name. In this case, June was named for Juno, the goddess of marriage and well-being of women. She was also wife to Jupiter/Zeus. I look across different cultures and see what about this time of year strikes a chord with humanity. June in the northern hemisphere is a high point of Summer, a time of divination, and a powerful phase of feminine power.
Writing notes helps me to search out the imagery and symbolism I want to include in this Lady’s painting. I think of flowers, plants, and brides. The symbol of the well as a tool of divination also struck a chord with me, which is why it shows up so much in my thumbnail sketches.
Many of these thumbnails explore using water in a well or pond as a divination tool. 2 and 4 feel a little close to Lady of March, with 4 feeling a bit more like a representation of Vanity. 3 captures a more traditional bridal theme, while 1, 5, 6, and 7 seem to capture that theme of a bride searching for her love in the reflection for a more unified theme. In the end, my favorites are 1, 5, and 6, with 5 and 6 having the clearest shapes and classical feel.
I’m excited to share this character portrait of Tsu-Yin Aasha Hou Kapoor, She Who Knows Ten Thousand Things. Daughter of high-born sorceresses and chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Tsu-Yin left a life of comfort to pursue epic adventures and a grand destiny as a Solar of the Twilight Caste!
She’s from the same tabletop roleplaying game as my character, Kalara, if you all recall meeting my gunslinging businesslady earlier this year. Exalted is such a fun game full of amazing Eastern-inspired imagery and epic level action!
For Tsu-Yin, my brainstorming began with the many beautiful references of Indian clothing and character drawing references provided by Tsu-Yin’s creator, Minis-sketchbook.
Tsu-Yin was described as excitable and energetic. She comes from a life of comfort and is finally able to see the world for herself. She’s also a martial artist with a snake-inspired style as well as a sorceress. I knew from her concept I wanted a friendly and optimistic pose, something more energetic than whimsical.
Brainstorming began with a sheet of gesture sketches to help me discover Tsu-Yin’s personality through pose. Finding a good compromise between energetic and aesthetically pleasing was pretty challenging! None of my initial poses really fit her perfectly.
My journey continues with Lady of November! I’ve been looking forward to this Lady for quite some time, being a November birthday, myself! She’s a very special Lady who challenged me more than any of the others had before with the ambitious ideas I wanted to implement.
November, November! I’ve been looking forward to this month for a while, not only because it is my own birth month, but because it represents my favorite time of year – Autumn and a time of spooks and spirits! I decided to skip ahead in this series so that I might be able to finish some of the later Ladies by the time I reached the end of this year. But never fear, the other Ladies of the summertime will be explored come next year!
Here we are finally at the merry month of May with the Ladies of the Months series! So many of my closest friends and loved ones are May babies, I knew that this month needed to be extra special!
Lady of May’s Mood Board
Inspiration & Research
As ever, brainstorming begins with research. I start by looking into the meaning and namesake of the month of May. May is purportedly named for the Greek goddess Maia, meaning ‘the midwife’, with the month also the time the Romans venerated Bona Dea,”The Good Goddess”. I focused my research on cultures of the northern hemisphere, as they tend to celebrate similar seasons. For this series, I’ve focused much on the themes of the shifting beauty of nature, which reflects itself in countless ways in the way that people celebrate holidays around the year.
May Day, Beltane, and the May Queen traditions (among others) all informed the thematic image for Lady of May that was growing in my mind. The month of May conveys the start of Summer, blooming flowers, the celebration of youth, and the height of our abundant life before the harvest and the cold of winter begin to creep in.
In the end, I envisioned the Lady of May as a dancing, joyful young woman crowned with flowers, the May Queen who celebrates the height of summer.
So far, this particular Lady has gone even smoother than any of the past Ladies! The ideas have come together rather quickly and I’m excited to move forward. With my theme of a dancer chosen, I began by exploring different kinds of dancers in my reference hunt on Pinterest.
For Lady of May, the imagery from the season that resonated with me from my research was the May queen’s crown of flowers and her connection with dancing, youth, and joy. My reference hunt led me to beautiful recreations of Slavic flower crowns and the dancers of the Bharatanatyam tradition. The wardrobe of the dancers and the idea that a dancer becomes an instrument for the expression of spirit resonated with my concept for Lady of May, who is in and of herself, an embodiment of the spirit of the month. The fresh flowers crowning the hair of Indian brides also made it onto my mood board as another lovely example of the tradition of crowning women with flowers for symbolic and sacred purposes.
While Lady of May is inspired by all of these themes, I still wanted her to represent a wholly unique interpretation that doesn’t tie specifically to any particular culture, as all of the Ladies in the series are meant to represent their own unique embodiments of spirit. As such, Lady of May’s fashion sketches combined inspiration from both Indian and Japanese dancers.
With each Lady, I try to tie their birth flower into their wardrobe. Notice the Lily of the Valley imprint on her belts and the Hawthorn in her ponytail and sash. The design on the trim of the dress on the right is indicative of the red berries that both Lily of the Valley and Hawthorn have. Fun Flower Fact: The Lily of the Valley’s berries are quite poisonous while the Hawthorn flower’s berries can actually be used to treat a number of ailments!
Window Design Elements
Next, it was time to design the window! I went a little overboard with detail on this design because I wanted to emulate the intricate designs of Indian mandalas, while bringing an Art Nouveau flair with the Hawthorn and Lily of the Valley motifs.
The first sketch I made for the design was too simplistic while the next one was too detailed because of the layers of borders. In the end, the final design was a balance between the two.
References, Composition, & Color Test
With the window design and fashion of Lady of May figured out, it was time to bring it all together into a single drawing! I created a collage of reference photos to help give me a more grounded guideline to use for the line art. This collage includes things like bits of scarves, flowers, hair, jewelry, all cobbled together to make something vaguely similar to the final look I’m going for. From this collage, I create a line art base that I carefully tweak to match my own imaginary elements.
As for the composition, The Lady’s wardrobe elements, window, and foreground flowers are so complex that I decided to go with a very simple background that implies the trailing ribbons of the Maypole tradition. These ribbons also help reinforce the flow of her pose. There are some tangents I still need to fix in the line art (the way her left foot and left side of her skirt touch the background flowers), but I can fix those when I transfer the lines to paper. For now, the next step is a color test!
Making the choice for what colors to use for these paintings has been one of the most challenging tasks for creating this series. If the colors are off, she might not represent her birthstone well. Lady of May needs to represent Emerald, but also too much green in this composition will make it flat and uninteresting, while not providing good focus and flow for a viewer. I did quick color flats in Photoshop to test out different options before I put paint to paper. It’d be far too easy to mess this up by skipping this step!
Well, this didn’t help me out much because I love all of these choices! 2 and 4 are my favorite options because I like the clear silhouette of each one. The contrast between the dress and the sari in 2 is lovely, but is there enough green in this to represent Emerald? The contrast between the sari and dress in 4 is also nice, but is there too much green now? Ah choices!
The Final Painting
In the end, I chose the 2nd color scheme, but with a cool grey background to make the warm colors pop with contrast.
My journey continues this month with Lady of April! Lady of March broke through creative boundaries with her unique imagery and presentation. That once again made the pressure high for Lady of April! I had to work through art block with this piece, but in the end, powering my way through equaled something grand!
My research began initially with some overlap with Easter, since Easter is a movable feast that can take place in March or April. I initially thought I’d make March and April inverted twins of sorts, but I moved away from this idea by the end, though you’ll notice both Ladies still stand in water, representing renewal.
Over the course of my research, I discovered the festival of Demeter which is a famous April celebration. Women dressed in white take torches into the dark of night, representing Demeter searching for her daughter, Persephone, the goddess of Spring.
I also noticed many cultures in the northern hemisphere take this time of year to honor trees with arbor festivals. In the end, the imagery of fire, light, and the growth of trees that came up during research helped April to emerge in her final form.
You’ll notice in some of the thumbnails pictured below, I represented Easter by including rabbits, symbols of fertility and light bringers, though I eventually moved away from this imagery in favor of focusing on the Lady holding a tree, evoking her as a giver of life and promoter of growth. In the end, I preferred this unique imagery over repeating Easter’s themes.
A mood board helps organize my muse’s random visions into something I can translate into my painting.
I’ve been working on a lot of tedious Art Nouveau of late and, while I love it, I decided to indulge in this little project after hours to help me unwind from the seriousness of that particular style. I’ve been doing a lot of tabletop gaming lately, thanks to a friend who sucked me into a game of White Wolf’s Exalted setting.
This fun side project began as an urge to draw the character from our Exalted game as well as to create cover art for a short story about her that I wrote. In our game, I play Kalara Vadras, a gunslinging Eclipse Caste, the diplomat of our Circle of players, and a no-nonsense businesswoman with a sordid past of betrayal and revenge. Here’s one of her early character sheets.
I’ve been gathering references for our game for over a year. I love it when digital image hoarding pays off! Kalara’s particular visual influences include Indian guns, Chinese fashion, and a generally non-Western collection of fantasy elements.
Like this board? You can view and Follow it on Pinterest here!
I also drew a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite comics currently being published right now – Monstress. The art by Sana Takeda and story by Marjorie Liu are simply exquisite!
The Asian Art Deco steampunk aesthetic fit so well with what my mind’s eye conjures while we play Exalted. Check out the cover to the comic, you’ll see what I mean!
Early on during the image’s sketch phases, I decided to push the image away from a detailed comic book style and more towards this anime-esque stylization thanks very much in part to Monstress’ influence.
Next, I did a lot of posing in front of the webcam, as opposed to thumbnail sketches. This was meant to be a fast and fun image, so I decided to keep it simple and skip the planning step.
While posing, I kept in mind that I wanted her very symbolic crucifixion scar to be very noticeable to the image, which meant focusing a lot on expressive hand motions. The 3rd pose on the far right ended up being my winner because of the diagonals that lead the viewer’s eye around. That pose also feels the most natural and emotive.
Finally, here’s an animated GIF of my image’s evolution.
You can can watch a more in-depth video about this piece’s creation at my YouTube channel.
Final Cover Image:
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Inspiration:Every year I do a painting to spread the cheer of the winter holidays to my fans, friends, and family. Keeping in that tradition, I created this piece entitled “Winter Offering” for 2015.
I wanted to capture the quiet warmth of candles, which are one of my favorite decorative elements of the season, and pay homage to some of the Celtic traditions that define the holidays with the presence of evergreen holly and pine. I also wanted a celestial theme for the window to represent the dark, cold winter nights which the light guides us through.
Tools and Techniques
For this painting, I used Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX.
A selection from my references.
Step 1 – Thumbnail sketching with ink and white color pencil on toned paper to find the right idea. At first, I wanted to do a candy theme, but the candles struck me with their simplicity and elegance. The Krampus one was also a fun contender, but I decided to save him for another time.
Step 2 – Reference gathering! I looked at many Tiffany glass windows, wreaths, and white candles for inspiration. I keep a secret reference board for my yearly holiday images on Pinterest.
Step 3 – I did a rough sketch in Photoshop keeping loose and quick. The sketch was then printed out and refined with pencil sketching on top of the lightly printed line work.
Step 4 – This refined sketch was then scanned in and the lines turned blue so they could be easily transferred. I also used the same refined sketch to do a digital color test so I had an idea of my colors before I put paint on paper.
Step 5 – The refined sketch with blue line work was then printed and transferred with graphite dust applied to the back of the printout.
Step 6 – The transferred line work on the illustration board were inked with various colors of mechanical pens for visual contrast and interest.
Step 7 – The ink drawing was finished with watercolor paints.
You can also watch the 5 minute time lapse video of how I created this painting here!
For more in-depth instruction on how I created this image, including the brands of materials I used, tips on creating a stained glass style in watercolor, etc., pledge to any $10 and up level on my Patreon to gain access to the narrated video tutorial!
You can also buy the individual tutorial separately at my Gumroad shop, but you won’t receive the other extras you would by purchasing via Patreon.