Category: angels

Sketch Diary: Angel of January Part 4

Continuing from the last sketch diary entry detailing the battle of wills against horrible color schemes.  I wasn’t quite sure how to compose this next entry, as I couldn’t quite figure out how to record my many hours of tweaking in Photoshop nor do I want to confuse you with the cluttered mess that is my digital coloring method.

I am relatively new to digital painting so I haven’t quite figured out the most efficient way to paint yet.  How about a list of things I learned during this painting that made me fear digital coloring less instead?

Learn the use of Layer Masks and Adjustment Layers!
Being able to tweak the contrast, color, etc. of an image without destroying the integrity of your original image will save you many headaches in the end.  Layer Masks are especially helpful if you want to integrate textures into your image with a more natural feel while Adjustment layers let you tweak elements such as Levels, Contrast, etc. while still keeping your original image untouched.  For example, I used a Gradient via a Fill Adjustment Layer to get the subtle green glow in the texture of the marble behind my angel in this painting.

(Peter Morhbacher has some great tuts on using masks and integrating texture, “How to Apply Texture Without Looking Like a Douche” and “Masking Tutorial” ).

Creating convincing light beams is totally easier in digital.
Wish I could say it was my brilliant idea that resulted in the light beams coming from the top left on my painting, but it was from this jewel of a tutorial.  I used the thicker beams they mentioned in another tut by the same person.  A gal could get used to not having to mask off with tape or masking fluid or painting around the light shafts like I would in watercolor. Hoorah for saving time!
Blending takes time…even in digital.
90% of my time on this image was spent blending and blending and BLENDING some more, especially in the area of her skin.  I used default brushes set to Pen Pressure and an Intuos3 Wacom tablet to color this image. In my experience so far, if you want your image to maintain that painterly feel, it’s better to blend with brush strokes than rely on gradients or fills. It’s far too easy for things to look sleek and plastic in digital so watch yourself! 

Another trick I used to maintain a subtle texture in this painting was to insert texture from free texture sites in layers set to Overlay and attached to the various elements of my image with Clipping Masks.

For things like the skin and hair, I used roughly three default Brushes set to varying Opacity and Scatter settings. I’m sure there’s a whole world of custom brushes to discover, but these are the ones I used, in addition to the default Chalk brush, which I used to simulate the color pencil lines when I needed to touch up my color pencil layer I had scanned in from my original drawing.

A little texture goes a long way!
Critique is priceless, no matter the medium!
As much as I’d like to say this image popped out of my head sparkling and awesome, it looked like crud during a midpoint when the angel’s skin was purple, the window was floating and overwhelming, and I was frustrated with it.  That’s when turning to more experienced digital artists really saved the day! 
Sam Hogg and Stephanie Reeves gave me wonderful advice, paint overs, and encouragement and that is just what we need when learning a new medium, so don’t be afraid to check out places like CGsociety and (or your own arty friends) for critique!

I did a time lapse video of all of my progress shots. Next time, I’ll try a screen recording program (any reccomendations from you guys?)

And finally, the finished image!
“Angel of January”, 11×17 in.
Digital painting over color pencil outline.
Download a wallpaper of this image.

Sketch Diary: Angel of January Part 3

The ideas have broiled, the sketches have been kneaded to perfection, and now we reach the most difficult phase of this image for me – coloration. Normally, this is the phase that’s the most fun, but this image fought with me tooth and nail to defy my whims!

Problem #1 – Being a monthly series, I have a limited palette of pre-defined colors to work with which are restricted by the main elements, the flowers and birthstones for each month. In this case, my choices for January are garnet, carnations, and snow drops.

Add on top of that I want to have a ‘stepping into sunlight’ theme with sunbeams streaming in and the challenge becomes even more tricky! Lucky for me at least that carnations come in many colors and snowdrops are a neutral white. I’m not sure how lucky I’ll be with the rest of these angels that have flowers available in one color only!

The first idea I had was to have the realm of Spring beyond the ‘doorway’ in the image, so that bright area of contrast was fighting with me as well. I did quite a few color tests in digital and watercolor, the disasters of which I’m almost embarrassed to share:

After doing these, the idea of a glowing halo around her body
was dropped in favor of not going insane from dueling colors
and light sources.
The talented Sam Hogg took a stab at it with her digital awesome powers:

While I like the simplicity and contrast of Sam’s color scheme,
the window felt too dark for my tastes.

Springboarding from Sam’s theme, I lightened it up with
sunbeams and a sunrise themed ‘spring’ realm behind her.

Before the end of this color testing phase, I decided I wanted to try this image digitally instead of in watercolor to help me brush up on my cg skills (and also because the color richness demanded something more bold than watercolors).  To keep that subtle texture of my line art, I scanned in the color pencil outline version to use as a base to color on:

Outlined in Prismacolor Color Pencils. The color of the lines gives a deeper
optical richness to the final piece than simply using black outlines.

Eventually, I arrived at this final complimentary color scheme with orange
accents. The idea shifted to sunbeams penetrating a subterranean underworld
which pushed everything green! (Thanks to Hayley‘s critique)

 It’s at this step that I’ve added textures from free texture sites and my own references to help add texture and interest to my digital shading.  The color pencil outline layer sits above all of my other color layers and is set to Multiply so that all the color layers beneath it will be visible while maintaining their color value and the color tint of the outline layer.

The color layers each have texture layers above them set to Overlay so that the texture will be very subtle and show the colors beneath it. In the next entry, I’ll go more into depth about my digital color process. It’s all very experimental at the moment. Maybe a video will be more helpful here?

Sunbeams, glimmering dust motes, and jewels glittering in the dark await! I’m excited to get started shading this painting digitally. Got to keep my digitalart-fu strong!

Sketch Diary: Angel of January Part 2

You all might remember my last sketch diary entry for this image? If not, go check it out for idea development and thumbnail sketches. Wow, has it really been nearly a YEAR since I’ve come back to this piece? Guess that burnout wave hit me harder than I thought! (More on that later, as it’s been on my mind a lot lately)

My favorite thumbnail sketch.

Next up, developing the final draft! With my favorite thumbnail sketch out of the many in mind, I shot some stock reference for myself with the idea of a veiled or draped figure stepping into sunlight to echo the themes of the emergence of Persephone (which is associated with the gemstone for January with its pomegranate seed-like clusters of garnets).

January is also named for Janus, the god of doorways and transitions, signaling the coming of the new season and new year.

This particular stock pose caught my eye most with the inquisitive angle of the head, the assymetrical sweep of the arms, and the idea of ‘stepping into the sunlight’ echoed in the pose.:

More poses at my stock gallery.
The first base sketch. The wings cover too much of the
stained glass window.

With that stock pose in mind, I did several rough sketches in Photoshop and finally arrived at a base figure, with all of my background elements on separate layers so I could tweak them individually.  This phase also involved doing a rough sketch of the stained glass window pane with its Snow Drop and Carnations motif with no attention paid to exact symmetry just yet, but rather scribbles filling out the main idea of the design and how it might integrate with the figure first.

However, I kept running into a problem with the wings.  They seemed either covered up too much of the lovely window, were too flat, or too cramped into the space I had in mind.

Too cramped and thin…
Much better flow that leads the viewer’s
eye through the figure!

With the main figure taken care of, I refined the window by copying, pasting, and flipping parts of the window as needed to create a more symmetrical shape.  I then transferred the sketch to illustration board, refining the details as I went along until I arrived at this:

Very light pencil sketch…
…which morphed into color pencil outline!

Angelic Visions Calendar

It’s an exciting time here at Angelic Shades!  It’s only a few months now till my debut book, Angelic Visions: Create Fantasy Art Angels With Watercolor, Ink and Colored Pencil, releases in January of this coming year.  As a debut author, it’s my first time planning the promotion of my work on such a large scale!  I’m currently planning so many fun things for the next few months, but it’s too early to spill the beans on them just yet!

For now, I’d like to introduce you to the first in what I hope to be an exciting series of promotions for my book – the Angelic Visions Calendar!  This spiral bound booklet collects 12 months worth of heavenly figures, many which have been heretofore unpublished.  I painted each image using a variety of methods which I explore in the upcoming book.

Be the first to get a sneak peek at new work in glorious detail!  When closed, the calendar is 8.5×11 inches and opens up to 11×17 inches when hung on the wall.  It is available for purchase at the following places:

And just to sweeten the pot, here are some glimpses at a few of the calendar’s interior pages.

So much more to come soon!  Spread the word! 🙂

Sketch Diary: Angel of January Part 1

Faerie Escape Atlanta has definitely monopolized my time of late and drawn me deep into a frenzy of leather carving, rather than my usual 2D fair. Normally, I’d lament not drawing or painting anything for months, but this is a much needed break after being hard at work for nearly a year and a half making all new work for Angelic Visions.

That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my other projects, however! I know many of you like to see the creative process, so here’s a little peek into my next big series, the Angels of the Months.

I started this series a couple of years ago with the Angel of December, but was never quite satisfied with the amount of empty space left behind the figure and the window so never got past December.  This was a design problem that needed solving.

So with a glint in my eye and a pen in my hand, redesign began!

I like to draw thumbnails almost exclusively in BIC ballpoint pen because it is a very ‘loose’ medium. Ballpoint pen responds very well to pressure, meaning you can get very light pencil-like marks by pressing lightly or pressing harder for darker lines. It’s the controllability of the pencil without the fuss of erasing.  Not being able to erase is also a good thing for me. Since these are just thumbnails, I didn’t want to spend ages on them, which I very well might if given the option to erase!  I banged these thumbnails out in an hour or so.

The first thumbnail took the idea of the original Angel of December and translated her into a wholly new composition. The full figure was cropped to allow more detail to be poured into the face, costume, and wings.  The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th thumbnails deal with the Angel of January, whose themes include stepping into sunlight and the inclusion of a pomegranate as an allusion to Persephone.  I played with the pose trying to figure out the design problem of the wings.  Did I want them attached to the figure? As decorative carvings in the stone to the sides? Folded? Spread?  Nothing seemed to fit the composition the way I wanted.  Everything was too static with no flow!
Finally, the 5th thumbnail represents my ‘Eureka’ moment.  Turning the composition to a landscape format allowed me to fit more of the gorgeous wing flow while also allowing more space for a full-fledged stained glass window, an element I thoroughly enjoyed drawing in the original Angel of December.  This landscape format also works better for inclusion in a calendar format, which is a future plan I have for this series.
Next came the sketch phase where I doodled a more detailed concept of the figures.  Again, playing with both the December and January angels.  I continued the theme of January having a very Greek vibe.  Still pondering how to include the pomegranate and if it will clash with the Carnations and Snowdrops which are going to be included in her portrait.  I also photographed my own artistic references to help get my creative juices flowing.
And that’s where I’ve left off for now!  The concept continues to percolate in the noggin while I prep for my next rush of shows.  I’ve never had so many in one year so it’s been a learning experience for me to find the time to work AND to prep products for sale.
Once I get further along, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated!

Fashion Hasn’t Changed in Heaven: A Review of Legion

So from the first moment I saw the promotional images of Paul Bettany sporting cryptic tattoos, a pair of gorgeously rendered dark wings, a gun and a superfluous knife, my interest was piqued. “A new representation of angels in the movies? Interesting…” I thought to myself.

My fears grew as the first trailers showed a possessed old woman climbing, spider-like, across the ceiling and careening across the diner where the main action of this movie takes place. A horribly predictable plot ensues with equally horrible plot holes. But wait, I didn’t see this movie for a plot, I saw it for the latest take on angels!

On that topic, for the five minutes we see Archangel Gabriel tearing up the scene, we’re treated to the spinning, flailing, slicing, dicing, and bulletproof wing-action which was the whole reason I went to see the movie in the first place. Outside of this interesting rendering of wings, I was left pretty unsatisfied. Even Paul Bettany could not save this movie with his role as the Archangel Michael, the angel most faithful in the goodness of man (and yet he spends most of the movie not giving a crap about any of the characters). He is cold, cryptic, and inconsistent, just as the rendition of the angels are.

I could not help but compare this movie to The Prophecy movies with Christopher Walken. No, there wasn’t much flailing wing action, but there was something about this movie’s nod to the mythology that inspired it which made it shine above others with grander budgets. For instance, in Legion, the old-lady turned demonic spider sports an aura of flies, eats raw meat, and curses like a sailor. The angelically possessed terminators even go so far as to crucify a victim upside-down in the process of killing a character.

Even for angels which have been ordered to exterminate mankind, why would they go through such lengths to be hateful and demonic, rather than reverently going about their duties with a sense of remorse or reluctance for the creatures they had once revered and loved? Why would God go against his own promise to never let a disaster like the Flood happen ever again? From a continuity point, this movie just does not work.

I understand it is a movie made for entertainment’s sake, but if you’re making a movie in the setting of the ‘real’ world with a heavily Christian backdrop, then there are certain plot devices which cannot be ignored in order to maintain the suspension of disbelief. Maybe in this world such promises were never made? Maybe in this world, God is just pissed off and therefore his angels are pissed off as well? But none of these pretenses are explained or justified fully in the movie, beyond a bedtime story guessing at God just being “sick of the bullshit” (a story they felt like repeating twice, just in case you didn’t get the message before) and a mention of an offhand order to exterminate mankind.

In contrast, The Prophecy tells the story of Archangel Gabriel, who has come to earth to collect the dark soul of a war criminal in order to fight a war in Heaven that has been going on since humans were lifted above angels in God’s eyes. The angels, once descended to earth, become mortals who have no eyes, a nod to the fact that angels do not have the ‘windows to the soul’, being soulless, unlike humans.

Instead of being vague and cryptic a la Bettany’s Michael, Walken portrays Gabriel as enigmatic and even naive. Being somewhat disconnected with mortal goings on, he cannot drive nor operate a computer. As an angel who does not believe in human worth, he calls them ‘talking monkeys’. The angels also sport dusty long coats and any clothing they could get their hands on, along with angelic script tattooed on their necks that represent their names. No Roman armor and suped medieval maces here!

There is even a point in The Prophecy in which Gabriel tells the main character about the indentation in his lip where he once laid his finger in order to tell a secret, a direct nod to a Jewish story concerning an angel’s role as a keeper of secrets who whispers to the unborn soul knowledge of heaven before it is born, and then hushes them with a finger on their lips so they will forget. Such a subtle nod to the lore, but oh such an effective scene, especially when Gabriel looks at the main character with his hollow illusionary eyes!

It is in this attention to detail, mythology, setting, and world-building that a movie based in supernatural pretenses can maintain suspension of disbelief and a level of uniqueness lacking in the fractured mess that was Legion. Go to see it if you want some nifty wing-fu and mindless action, but not recommended to anyone with more discerning tastes for the lore. I may check out the prequel graphic novel just to see if any of the plot holes are explained, but I don’t expect them to be.

Evolution of a Series – The Christmas Project

To point out a strange fact, I have always been a sort of ‘one shot’ scene artist. In the past, I was prone to drawing character portraits or specific scenes with no sequence, all art that could be digested at once with little baring on the other images I might draw of the same characters. Now, it seems, a natural evolution of my artistic development has been a tendency to start thinking in themes, or series.

From a business standpoint, series are more marketable with the appeal of being able to buy a ‘set’ or to identify with that part of a series that represents you (ie. people love a birthstone series because that means there’s something personal involved in the symbolism of a series that they can get for themselves or gift to a loved one). From an artist’s standpoint, I’m enjoying the challenge of presenting a set of art with consistent quality that utilizes strong symbols and the potential to develop art with evolving symbolism.

My earliest attempt at such an undertaking has been a project that started out with indistinct roots in 2006. I was short on cash for the holidays and aching at the thought that I would be unable to provide any of the gifts that my loved ones deserved. I did, however, have some metallic cardstock and color pencils to my name. And so, in a torrent of sleepless nights and sketching, the first of the ongoing Christmas Project began.

Christmas 2006 – Angel of Noel

I never have been one for the traditional images of Santa, reindeer, and nativities for Christmas. For me, these images feel so overused and have lost the impact that I think more primal symbols such as holly, poinsettia, and the deep rich greens and reds of winter festivals have. The first of this series came alive with the realization that poinsettia flowers come in a range of simple, but striking colors that make for an elegant backdrop for this angel, who I wanted to channel maternal beauty and nurturing with a non-denominational appeal. She wears the veil of a holy maiden and the holly garland of a celebrator, her eyes closed as she honors the quiet elegance of the flowers and candlelight. I was also inspired by the Mexican legend behind poinsettia which speaks of two children who did not have the money to honor baby Jesus at their church’s nativity. Being poor, they could only manage to pick weeds to decorate the manger. The other children chided them terribly, but the weeds burst into flames that turned into a beautiful red plant, creating the beautiful miracle of poinsettia, which are known as “the flame leaf” or “flower of the holy night”.

Christmas 2007 – Holiday Nouveau

The next in the series was my first concerted effort to pay homage to one of my favorite masters of illustration, Alphonse Mucha. My favored holly and poinsettia are present, but portrayed in the decorative style of the art nouveau movement, which gives everything the sleek decorative flare that only crisp lines and soft color can. Snow-laden evergreen branches have worked their way in as well, as I’ve always enjoyed the pristine tranquility of snow hinting at the green boughs underneath. So peaceful and reminiscent of my days in Colorado, where snow covered everything, a rare sight around these parts. Interestingly enough, I discovered the difference between my style of anatomy and Mucha’s shows itself in the fact that the shoulders of his ladies are less muscled and more sloping with rounded subtle chins. It seems I do so love my athletic swimmer’s build when working with the female figure!

Christmas 2008 – Advent Angel

Another angel took flight in 2008, where I found inspiration in the amalgamation of symbols from the lovely birdflowers and birthstone series by Brenda Lyons and Jessica Douglas, who both struck a chord with me in combining the flowers and birthstones for each month with an angelic figure. This is perhaps the most symbol-heavy of the Christmas series with its original purpose serving as the first of what was to be a birthstone angel series. The Blue Topaz and Turquoise stones of December took form in the angel’s dual-toned wings. In the window behind her, motifs combining the flowers of December, the Narcissus, holly, and poinsettia, spiral around the center with narcissus growing at her feet. She also wears the crown of Saint Lucia, a saint celebrated in Scandinavian nations (and others) by a feast day near the winter solstice where young girls dress with a candlelit crown and bring sweets in a procession. A running theme in this series hearkens back to the idea of Winter as a gray season where the pleasures of good company and a fire stave off the cold. I also can’t imagine a Christmas without the presence of white candles and lights, one of my favorite decorative motifs for its simple elegance. However, I’ve decided to scrap this approach as the background feels too open and empty. I am sensing massive stained glass panels in my future!

Christmas 2009 – December’s Window

I loved the window behind the angel in “Advent Angel” too much to let it slip into obscurity, so I decided to feature it prominently in this year’s card, which seems like a paring down of all the things which have come before. I wanted to channel the sense of stillness in winter with the light of celebration, good company, and reverence for the life that lay dormant in the snow. There are no figures but for the cardinal, who thrives even in the gray winters. The window stands as a guide and a portal for all those who might appreciate the meditative feeling of decoration that light and shape can bring us. Again, the motifs of narcissus, poinsettia, and holly figure prominently.

What’s Next?

In keeping with more subtle, non-traditional symbols, I hope to work in more of the feeling of warmth in company or perhaps even more traditional, not widely known versions of Saint Nick. Christmas is a surprisingly varied and symbol-rich holiday and I hope to keep this series going for as long as I am able! It will be a challenge to see if I can continue to make each one unique as the years go on.

If you like these images and want to use them for your own celebrations, greeting cards and post cards are available at my Zazzle shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through the creative process and that you’ll join me for future looks into the creative thought behind other series in the works.

May your holiday seasons be filled with joy and light!

Your Wings Await

A fresh can of Dr. Pepper (or two), comfortable pants, a late night muffin, and a bottle of painkiller for the eyestrain — this was at one time my regimen for playing MMORPGS (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) back in college. Gone are those days where I could survive on 4 hours sleep and function on chocolate muffins and cheeseburgers alone. (For the curious, I was an Elvaan named Zhele with plans to become a master thief-ranger. I’ll let you figure out the MMO). Nowadays, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day nor the luxurious income (or excuse) to drop a monthly fee on a game.

And yet, it’s times like these where I miss that finger on the pulse of adventure and fantasy with friends in our own little personal epic. A new MMO called Aion recently released and I can’t help but feel that it was made for me. Extensive character customization, Assassins, crafting, warring angels & demons (of a sort), and your very own wings? I get brain twitches just looking at the beautiful videos and artwork for this game. I am totally sold (and have been since I saw the early concept art). Maybe, just maybe, I’ll work up the extra time and funds to play it? Can I brave being a n00b all over again?? We’ll see what happens once I finish my current huge project.

So why is it that we like MMO’s? Is it that feeling of being part of something larger than ourselves? I always got a warm and fuzzy feeling from saving lower level people from mobs that overwhelmed them or helping out a random stranger. Perhaps it’s the element of surprise? Nothing says ‘surprise’ better than stumbling upon a giant friendly looking sheep, only to learn that it’s actually a Tremor Ram that WILL kill you in one hit. Or how about hanging around and meeting great folks from around the world? I used to enjoy virtual boat rides where I could play virtual craps or telling jokes while we waited. I miss that spontaneity and bonding with others, a very tempting aspect of games, especially when considering the fact so many of us are work-at-home types who rarely get to see the outside world!

There’s always the fear I’ll get sucked in and never see the sunlight, but I’m not getting sunlight now so that might not be too incredibly detrimental as long as I learn to venture out from my hidey hole every now and again. Remembering how to socialize properly with others in real life is key!

So what are your memories of MMO’s? Do you play? What’s your favorite one? Why is it that we love them so much?

Image Source: Aion Aiva Wallpaper

Terrible Dawn + Announcements

“Terrible Dawn”
5×7 Inches, Watercolor & Color Pencil on Illustration Board

A brilliant blade flashes in the deepest dark. All who fear the light know her, for she is the Terrible Dawn, the slaughterer of demons and the blinding brilliance of Heaven.

She was really only meant to be a ‘minor’ illustration, but she just stole my focus and demanded more attention than a mere day. Could it be her resemblance to my muse, Aurora? She’s almost what I imagine Aurora to look like if she were transmogrified into an angel. Either way, this was much fun and an excellent test run of the Series 500 Wet Media Board from Strathmore.

All in all, it seems this board is an excellent upgrade from earlier series. It takes abuse well with wet-in-wet techniques, absorbs hue quicker and more effectively, and seems a general improvement all around over the regular cold press illustration board I’ve been using. Color pencil took to the surface just as well as it had with previous cold press board. I had some minor issues near the figure’s cheek bone where the line became ragged because the surface of the paper began to peel up and create tiny hairs, but I think this issue can be avoided if one waits more thoroughly for paper to dry between layers (I’m an impatient cuss). I like this new board, but will have to experiment more with future pieces to test its full capabilities.

In other news, after much toil and effort and caffeinated nights, I’m proud to release the new Amazon webstore of Angelic Shades! I’ll slowly be migrating the current offerings on my website over to this new webstore over the next few months. Since Amazon doesn’t allow bewbies, any mature rated items will be moving over to my Etsy shop.

Want to keep abreast of new items and offerings? Sign up for my mailing list or keep an eye on the News section of my forum.

All plugging aside, I expect to write a review of my experiences with the Amazon webstore interface once I have gotten a better feel for its expansive features. My first impression is that this shop setup is not for beginners. There’s a bit of a learning curve with all it’s features, not to mention a great deal of setting up you have to have as a business to even be eligible to use the Amazon format.

Till next time, Bat fans!

A Halo and an Attitude WIP

Continuing my pattern of more art sharing, here’s the progress on the sketch I showed you last entry. Ms. Tude is coming along nicely and despite her small size at 5×7 inches, she’s holding her own.

For this image I’m testing out the new illustration board from Strathmore called the 500 Series Wet Media Board, which has been sized specifically to suit the needs of wet media. I’ve always had a problem with the paint drying too fast or the surface not absorbing enough hue to make such effects like salt blooms work consistently on regular cold press illustration board. I’ve also had issues with the vibrancy of colors being somewhat less brilliant than watercolor paper. I’m happy to report this new board seems more absorbent-friendly. I’ve been abusing it with wet-in-wet techniques and salt crystals without much sign of buckling or problems with color vibrancy.

The layering continues and I’ll be back next entry with the completed painting and the final verdict on the wet media board.