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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Last time, I talked about designing the narrative elements. Now, I’m excited to start pulling everything together into a cohesive piece! Working in Photoshop CC and using a Cintiq 21UX, I use a composite created from my reference photos as a basis for a rough line drawing. Sometimes, it’s impossible to find the perfect pose and that’s where Photoshop can be really handy.
I’ve used the body from the photos I took, the head from another photo whose facial angle I really liked, and other reference photos (not pictured) to help me change the look and features of the model. One of my intents for this series is that it should encompass all forms of beauty, including diverse women from different ethnicities. I don’t want every Lady to look like me, since I’m primarily the model (a fact I hope to change once I can afford more models).
I also wanted to share this screenshot of the reference I used to draw the skeletal reflection from Proko’s Skelly app for Apple and Android. It’s fairly easy to use and arrange with poses you can save. I’ll definitely be using it more for study!
With my line art figured out, I can finally move on to testing out a basic color palette for Lady of March. I know I want a theme indicative of Easter, so I’m mainly drawn to gold, yellow, and blue. The first thing I do with any of the paintings in this series is to make sure the birthstone is represented also through the color palette as well. Luckily, the greenish blue hue of Aquamarine suits my concept for this piece rather well! This color takes up the majority of the background and influences the rest as well. The only other element I’m sure about at this point is that I want the eggs to be the bright blue of robin’s eggs, which always make me think of Spring.
I use the Hue/Saturation slider in Photoshop on each element to see what color choices might surprise me. I explore different options, including a dark dress or a light veil. The 1st image is perhaps too monochromatic in the clothing so that the corset stands out too much. The contrast between the dress and veil in 2 works well while the bodice also brings out the beige of the trees from the background so there’s more color circulation throughout the piece. The 3rd and 4th images both have a nice clear silhouette that’s intriguing, but starts to get away from my liking of stronger blues and yellows in this piece. I should also note that I try to keep the yellows subdued throughout this piece, except for the flowers, which are the strongest focal elements.
Finally, I arrived at a color palette I consider to be the best of all worlds! The dark veil allows a strong silhouette for the figure while the pale corset and pale blue dress work well together, leaving the eggs and flowers as the most saturated symbolic elements in the piece.
This has been your final sneak peek before I unveil the final painting! You can see the unveiled piece here.
Watch a time lapse of the painting:
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I had a general idea of the symbolism while I was sketching thumbnails in the last Sketch Diary. Now, I get to tie it all together into something more tangible than scribbles! My fear with this piece is that I wanted to cram too in with the nest, eggs, branches, veiled woman, reflection in the water, etc. The key and main focus of this composition, however, needed to be first the Lady. I was onto something with the poses I previously compiled, but they weren’t where I wanted them to be yet for this image, so I took the time out to do a photo shoot to capture the subtle pose that I wanted.
Specifically, I didn’t like the flatness of the hands in my mockup. They weren’t as expressive as they could be in the original pose (and you’ll probably see me say this a lot while searching for the right pose for a Nouveau piece). The hands needed to be more gestural and graceful, which meant much of the photo shoot was spent trying out different hand motions and head tilts. The body is the most important narrative element in Art Nouveau pieces, since a stiff figure can make an image feel posed and disconnected rather than flowing and lively.
Plus an outtake for fun taken during hand gesture practice.
In the end, my final decision was a mix of the head tilt of the original pose plus the open hands of one of the poses I took. The head tilt evokes a sense of meditation and harkens back to portraits of saints in contemplation, which very much suits this Lady and her spiritual themes of rejuvenation, resurrection, and baptism. The upturned hands also speak of a deep breath, meditation, and more of a connection with the water and energy around her.
I also worked on the window design at this point, since I had a general idea of how much of it would be covered. A lot of the window was going to be revealed this time, which meant I could work on a design that covered more of the area of the window rather than focusing on accents in the outer boundaries that would need to peek out from behind the figure. I used a template of a circle I made for the previous Ladies and divided it up into sections to help make plotting out symmetrical elements easier. Once I had a small section of the design done, I copy and flip it to create the rest.
Notice my designs start out with really rough shapes first to give me an idea of how the space is used rather than jumping right into the detail of the flowers. Since I’m going with an Easter-inspired theme for Lady of March, I was inspired by faberge and decorative eggs for the window designs.
Next, I whipped out my trusty fashion croquis sketchbook and doodled a couple of quick designs to see how I wanted to handle March’s corset, which is the other key area for symbolism and decoration in this series.
As ever, Pinterest is always my first step when brainstorming for fashion (or anything else)!
Colored and inked with my warm and cool grey markers set.
I like to use greys so I can establish the values without being tied down to any particular color scheme just yet.I ended up favoring the design on the right for the visual interest a more complex design brought to the stomach, which is located in an open and central area in the overall composition.
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My journey continues this month with Lady of March! I was very pleased with the outcome for Lady of February, which always makes the pressure high for the next piece in any series.
As ever, my journey with Lady March begins with research and writing! Wikipedia has excellently sourced articles for mythology of the months of the year that have been my go-to for this project thus far. March is a time of resurrection, renewal, and the bursting forth of new life. It is the time of the Spring Equinox. March also presented a unique challenge because this year’s March happens to include one of the most influential holidays of the Spring season – Easter.
Did you know that in some traditions, Easter eggs represent the empty tomb of Jesus and were painted red to symbolize the blood of Christ? Or that Easter was actually named for a lesser known goddess of Dawn, Ēostre? One of the aspects of creating this series that I’ve really enjoyed has been learning so many things about cultural traditions that I never knew before! For me, Easter has always been about chocolate bunnies and egg hunts from a childhood that didn’t focus much on the religious aspects. My fondest memories are decorating a forsythia ‘easter tree’ with little eggs with my mother.
Easter also provides an interesting challenge because it is a ‘movable feast’, which means that it happens based on a time of year that can change (the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March). I decided that with so much imagery to play with, I would extend the Easter symbolism across both Lady of March and April, which both have the potential to host the Easter celebration.
A mood board helps organize my muse’s random visions into something I can translate into my painting.
A peek at a small section of Lady of March’s secret board on Pinterest.
Thumbnailing: Moving on to thumbnailing, I used a light table to trace a printed grid onto my toned paper, which saved me a bit of time (only took me 3 Ladies in to figure this out ha). As I sketched, I referred to poses I had previously found plus poses from my imagination. I also made the decision of which symbols from Easter that I wanted Lady of March to have, mainly easter eggs and the theme of resurrection and baptism/renewal, which the water evokes. However, I didn’t want my eggs to be too stereotypically easter, so I’ve kept them subdued as decorative elements that are naturally placed in the nests. In the final image, I already know I want the eggs to be the striking blue of robin eggs (though I may find a place to add blood red eggs, depending, we’ll see!).
Out of these poses, I was drawn to 4, 5, and 7 because she seems to be more engaged with the water, which is meant to be a symbolic source of renewal and resurrection in this piece. Pose 3, for example, seems more sensual and posed rather than emotive. The other poses also lack dynamism. This can be a highly intuitive process since I’m making decisions about what symbols to include at the same time. Lady of March, however, went far easier than Lady of February did at this phase!
Thumbnails created in pen, grey markers, and white color pencil on toned paper.
Next, I drop some of my favorite poses using stock art as stand ins on a frame template I had previously made in Photoshop. At this point, I play around with different layouts and arrangements to test how the Lady will look in a more finalized form. In the end, poses 1 and 3 are my favorites because they have clear and interesting silhouettes and she feels more connected to the water.
In the last Sketch Diary, I made decisions about the narrative elements and wardrobe. I still haven’t left Photoshop while I gather reference and photo bash them in where needed. This helps me get a more realistic grounded base for elements like the hair, candles, etc. I use anything that’s useful. For instance, the hair comes from bits of someone’s bangs and at least four different photos of hair. The main pose comes from a set of stock photos I shot myself, which are available for other artists to use here.
These photos are just a guideline and are changed later to suit my needs. I also made a last minute change to her right hand (on our left). The original hand wasn’t elegant enough, so I took a quick photo with my webcam to replace the hand with fingers that are more interesting. The ankles and waist have also been thinned.
Next up, I do a digital color test! That’s right, I still haven’t left the prep phase.
After exploring different options, I find that I like 3 the best. The Lady’s silhouette is the clearest since the warm colors push her forward from the cool background and I like the way the purple and yellow play off of one another in a complementary scheme.
This is the last peek at Lady of February before I move on to putting paint on paper!
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