Category: Work-In-Progress

SKETCH DIARY: Lady of June

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!

MOOD BOARD

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 NOTES

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.


 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.

Character Posing

Read more

SKETCH DIARY: Lady of April

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!

Brainstorming:

lady-of-april---notes
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.

 

Reference Gathering:
A mood board helps organize my muse’s random visions into something I can translate into my painting.

lady-of-april---mood-board-lowres
A peek at a small section of Lady of April’s secret board on Pinterest. Read more

Sketch Diary: Lady of March Part 2

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.

Lady-of-March-poses-lowres
Plus an outtake for fun taken during hand gesture practice.
lady-of-march-pose-outtake-lowres

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.

Lady-of-March-window-design-wip-lowres

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)!

lady-of-march-fashion-ref-sheet-lowres
Lady-of-March-Fashion-Plates-lowres 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.


Want to see these Sketch Diaries before everyone else?  Consider pledging at my Patreon!
You’ll get early sneak peeks plus other exclusive Rewards!

Part 1 – Conceptualization
Part 2 – Narrative Elements
Part 3 – Preliminary Drawing

Sketch Diary: Lady of March Part 1

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.

Brainstorming:

lady-of-march---research
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.

Reference Gathering:
A mood board helps organize my muse’s random visions into something I can translate into my painting.


lady-of-march-ref-sheet-lowres
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!
lady-of-march-thumbnail-sheet
Thumbnails created in pen, grey markers, and white color pencil on toned paper.

Composition Mockups:
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.

lady-of-march-comp-mockups-lowresStock Credits:Lockstock, Kuoma-stock (for poses 2 and 4), and Senju-HiMe-Stock.

After all that, pose 3 is still my winner!  Now, with my final pose chosen, I know how much of the window is showing and can finally start on the design for it!


Want to see these Sketch Diaries before everyone else?  Consider pledging at my Patreon!
You’ll get early sneak peeks plus other exclusive Rewards!

Part 1 – Conceptualization
Part 2 – Narrative Elements
Part 3 – Preliminary Drawing

Sketch Diary – Winter Offering

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.

References

ref-winter-offering

A selection from my references. 

Art Process

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.

wip-candles-thumbnails 

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.

christmas-2015

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.

winter-offering-color-test

Step 5 – The refined sketch with blue line work was then printed and transferred with graphite dust applied to the back of the printout.

transfer-process

Step 6 – The transferred line work on the illustration board were inked with various colors of mechanical pens for visual contrast and interest.

colored-ink

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.

Sketch Diary – Satyr

 

Inspiration

Today I’ll be talking about how I created Satyr for the 30 Day Monster Girl Challenge.  For my version of Satyr, I went with my own fantasy twist of a well-known figure from Greek and Roman mythology.

The Satyr of myth is usually a mischievous male with the lower body of a goat who is known to lecherously pursue nymphs and dryads.  The Satyr were also drinking buddies with Dionysus, the god of wine and merriment.

For more about the Satyr, check out one of my favorite Greek mythology resources, http://www.theoi.com.

 

 

Tools and Techniques

For this painting, I used Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX.

Concept Inspiration

For my Satyr girl, I wanted to go with the theme of grapes to honor Dionysus and his wine, so she ended up with a purple complexion crowned with grapevine adornments.  Like many Satyrs, she is also a player of instruments, in this case a flute.

 

References

A selection from my references for Satyr.

monster-girls-satyr-refs


Art Process

Step 1. Quick digital gesture drawing done to capture the movement and energy of the pose. This isn’t very precise and is more about energy than accuracy.wip-satyr-01


Step 2:  A cleaner line art is drawn on a layer atop the gesture. I used Lazy Nezumi Pro set to ‘subtle’ to help stabilize my lines in Photoshop and make them smoother.

wip-satyr-02


Step 3:  Added a base layer of color so no background color will accidentally show through.wip-satyr-03


Step 4:  Added the flat colors after much deliberation on what her skin color should be.wip-satyr-04


Step 5:  Colorized the lines to make the grapes, grapevine, and flute stand out.wip-satyr-05


Step 6:  Added a shadow layer using warm grey above everything clipped to the Group and set to Multiply.wip-satyr-06

 


Step 7:  Added a highlight layer painting in white set to Overlay. Also clipped to the Group.wip-satyr-07


Step 8:  Final touches of pure white in key places such as the leaves, grapes, and hair to help lead the strengthen the focus, flow, and dimensionality of the piece.

wip-satyr-08


 

 

For more in-depth instruction on how I created this image, Pledge to any $10 and up level at 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.

You can watch a video preview of the tutorial for Satyr without narration here:

 

Sketch Diary – Monster Girl Spider

Inspiration

Jorogumo Illustration by Matthew Meyer
Jorōgumo Illustration by Matthew Meyer

Today I’ll be talking about how I created Spider for the 30 Day Monster Girl Challenge.  For my version of spider, I went with a Japanese inspired Jorōgumo.

The Jorōgumo is a mythological creature from Japanese folklore which was known for luring virile young men to their lairs, charming them with food and music, then binding them up in their webbing so they could devour them.

Jorōgumo means “binding bride” or “whore spider”, but is also a word which refers to a particular species of golden orb weaver spiders in Japan.  For more info on this fascinating folklore, check out www.yokai.com

Tools and Techniques

For this painting, I used Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX.

Concept Inspiration

I took a lot of visual inspiration from the golden orb weaver (nephila clavata) of Japan.  My Spider has many of the same markings as decorative designs on her kimono and her color palette echoes the spider’s.  Her kimono is also inspired by a bride’s as a nod to the “binding bride” namesake.

References

A selection from my references. I had many more of the spider from multiple angles, but I’ll save you the nightmare fodder!

References for Spider
References for Spider

 


Process

Phase 1 – I doodled a rough sketch in turquoise to make it easier to see when I inked on top.Phase 1 Spider


Phase 2 – Line art created with a hard round brush.

Phase 2 Spider


Phase 3 – I laid in flat colors using the selection magic wand to select areas and Edit>Fill.

Phase 3 Spider


Phase 4 – A shadow layer set to Multiply was created that was clipped as a mask to the entire Group of colors.

Phase 4 Spider

 


Phase 5 – A final touch of highlights was added with white. The highlight layer set to Overlay.

Phase 5 Spider


Animated process GIF.
You can also watch a sped up time lapse video of the process here.

Animated Process GIF - Spider

For more in-depth instruction on how I created this image plus a downloadable PSD of the image, Pledge $10 and up 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 extra art goodies you would by purchasing via Patreon.

You can watch a preview of the narrated tutorial here:

 

Sketch Diary – Nariko of Heavenly Sword – Part 2

Now that Nariko’s design is figured out, it’s on to coloring!  I decided to try a new coloring technique called the Ambient Occlusion method.  This technique is a way to bring a structural quality to your images relatively quickly.  I used Alex Negrea’s tutorial and also this helpful process post from David Lojaya.

Here’s a breakdown of the main layers in my painting.

  1. Sketch – I produced a clean line art using the hard brush. This Sketch layer hovers above all of the other layers for the figure.  Notice I didn’t sketch in pure black, but a very dark brown so as to keep my image from looking too stark. I wanted subtle warmth and for the line art to look natural. The same goes for the AO layer, which is not pure black, but a dark brown. You can tweak this coloration later to suit the mood of your piece.
  2. Sketch+Ambient Occlusion – The Ambient Occlusion layer sits below the Sketch and Flat Color layers and above the Shadow layer and represents places that are hard for light to enter, the deepest, darkest shadows where light is ‘occluded’.  It is set to the blending option Multiply.
  3. Sketch+AO+Flat Colors – The Flat Colors are actually a group of layers, as I kept each color on its own layer just in case I wanted to change them later.  The entire group is set to the blending option Multiply so they show the AO layer beneath them.
  4. Sketch+AO+Flat Colors+Shadow – The Shadow layer was clipped to a standalone layer that masked out the entire figure to keep my shadows from going outside of the lines.  The Shadow layer is located below the Flat Colors group and above the AO layer.
  5. Final – In the final image notice I’ve actually masked out some of the Sketch layer so that the hard lines don’t look so unnatural (particularly in the area of the neck where lines are too harsh for the soft transitions there).  Lighting effects have also been applied here.

 

NOTE: My Patreon Patrons at the $5+ reward tier have exclusive access to my .psd file, so be sure to pitch in there if you’d like to peruse my layer structure!

 

Tools Used:

Deharme’s Brush set for Photoshop CC

Finally, here’s an animated GIF of my process (roughly 8 mb).

If you’d like to download wallpapers of the final image, I’ve provided the 1920×1080 size for free.

Also be sure to check out the article this image is featured in, What Women Want…In Women Characters for an interesting discussion of female character designs and representation.

The 1920×1080 wallpaper of this image. Download here.

Other sizes plus the .psd are available exclusively for my Patreon Patrons.

PRINTS AND PRODUCTS – Contact me privately if interested.

Back to Part 1

 

Sketch Diary – Nariko of Heavenly Sword – Part 1

I was challenged by an online art group I’m in to redesign a female character. This idea really appealed to me as a gamer and comic book fan, considering the amount of times as a female fan I’ve seen a character and found myself highly disappointed by the bland or over-sexualized design that detracted from the amazing female character at the core.  Some of my candidates were my heroines growing up, from She-Ra to Psylocke!

Eventually, I decided on Nariko of Heavenly Sword.  Here was a tough, driven woman who chose to sacrifice herself to an ancient sword in order to defend her people, the same people who had viewed her as a cursed outcast.

But that outfit!  I could barely take her seriously doing all of the amazing brutal fighting she does in such impractical gear, even given this was a fantasy setting.

Nariko of Heavenly Sword

And so my redesign began first with studying the designs of the other characters in the game.  A fusion of European and Asian aesthetic pervades the armor designs of Heavenly Sword.   I kept a massive private Pinterest board for this purpose.

A screenshot of part of my mood board for this painting.

 

I used a pre-printed fashion croquis sketchbook to knock out some quick costumes in ink and Copic marker for Nariko’s re-design.  My thought process was to simply dress Nariko more closely in the fashion of her father, who was dressed in a kimono style top and pants covered with armor in key places.  This look seemed appropriate considering the fact it was snowing and everyone else but Nariko was dressed appropriately for the climate and for the ensuing large scale battle.

I also found it baffling that while Nariko was trained to fight that she wasn’t at least wearing basic armor, even if she were not to be on the front lines or was intended to be more of a Gladiator type of fighter.

Nariko Redesign Fashion Plates
Fashion plates for Nariko’s re-design.

 

I chose the design on the right because I liked the way that it was both protective, channels the Gladiator-esque look of her original design with the tooled leather, and maintains the archetypal colors and shapes we’re used to for Nariko.  The one on the left had too much crimson in it, which was too closely associated with her father and also doesn’t allow her hair to be the most red and striking part of her design, as I feel it was meant to be.

Next, I did quick gesture sketches in an attempt to capture a pose that felt heroic, but would also show off this new armor design. It was a tough decision, but I eventually settled on pose 3.

Nariko gesture sketches.
Nariko gesture sketches.

And yet, still 3 was not enough!  I needed to push the heroic nature of the pose.  She was still too straight on and seemingly staring off into the distance without much interest.  Moving the camera level downwards so that we’re looking up at Nariko gives her so much more presence!  The pose also feels more dynamic.

Nariko Gesture Sketches

I have my hero.  She has her armor.  Now, it’s time to paint!

On to Part 2

Sketch Diary: Christmas Angel Part 2

Before I get sucked into character details, I have to first design the frame, which I quickly do by drawing shapes in Photoshop.  I set the layer with the grey shapes that form the frame to the Blending Option, Stroke, which creates an outline around the shapes that I don’t have to manually draw myself.

I used similar partitions for the division of the frame to Mucha’s piece (why change a working formula?).  The corner knotwork, holly border, and candles were all designs I created once, then replicated multiple times and repeated across the piece.  Working digitally makes this preliminary work a lot faster

frame

A quick sketch helps me establish how I want the figure to flow through the frame and also aids with refining the rather wonky anatomy of the original thumbnail sketch:

sketchFurther reference gathering helps me collect images of candles, velvet dresses, wings, and poses that will help me make this pose look less fudged.  I lean on Pinterest very heavily for this purpose and am constantly gathering inspiration on a daily basis for my projects.

christmasangelrefboard

This is a VERY important step!  There’s nothing that can ruin a painting faster than a completely fudged pose that just looks ‘off’, unless you are very, very experienced and have done so many studies you can draw things from memory.  This is rare even for the best of artists, mind!

Gathering reference can also help you save time revising later because you didn’t get that hand quite right or didn’t get the drapery quite right.  The trick is uniting your references and reinterpreting them in such a way that you still have something unique and you don’t lose the energy of your rough sketches.

I eventually arrived at something like this for the base sketch.  At this point, everything is still on its own layer in Photoshop to allow me to re-position any element I please:

base-sketch

 

Now, designing the window!  The window knotwork begins with a freehand sketch that fills up 1/4th of the circle.  This 4th is then copied, pasted, and flipped horizonatally so the design is symmetrical.  I use the layer’s Blending Option set to Stroke again to create an outline automatically while I draw.

Admittedly, I’m not very structured with my circular knotwork. I sketch until it looks right, rather than drawing guidelines and graphs.

window-knots-sketch

I wanted the design to emulate a snowflake with the radial spires, so I made sure the main junctures had points in the most important places (the center lines of the shape).  I also wanted a thicker strands in this design to help fill up the space, since a design with too many thin strands would start to make the background window too busy and distract from the main character.  I used two total strands for this design, a thin strand and a thick strand.

Next, I lock the transparency on the layer and draw all the intersections of the knots.  The locked transparency keeps me from drawing outside of the shape.  The reason I draw the knots as if they were invisible is to help me clean up the angles of the strands and intersections, which were a bit sloppy before.  You can see towards the bottom of the circle where the knots are still sloppy.

window-knots-sketch2

Next, I meticulously defined the underlap/overlap pattern of the knots.  Traditionally, knotwork always has a pattern of any one strand going over and under.  I broke this pattern somewhat so the radial spires stand out, bringing emphasis to the snowflake shape.

window-knots-sketch3

 

Phew!  That was a lot of tedious detail (and I loved every second of it!).  A few cups of coffee later, here’s the finished line art!  I’ve changed the line work to blue so as to make it easier to tell which areas I’ve transferred when I’m transferring this to illustration board.  This line art is still a little rough as well, since I’ll be cleaning those lines up once she’s been transferred to the board.

christmas-angel-wip12

Next up: The finished painting!

Back to Part 1