Category: creative process

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.



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.


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.

Sketch Diary – Satyr



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,



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.



A selection from my references for Satyr.


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.


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.




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:


Homework: Concept Art Starter Kit – Design Basics

I’ve recently started up CtrlPaint’s Concept Art Starter Kit with artist, Matt Kohr, as a way to brush up my own character design skills.  While I’m not quite going into Concept Art as a profession (yet?), I still think the basic skills will improve my artist’s eye, overall.  Plus, it’s just tons of fun designing characters for my own personal projects!

Since I’m coming mainly from an illustrator’s background, I felt like I needed to start at level 0.  I’ve read a lot of tutorials on concept design, but almost all of them assumed prior knowledge of industry jargon and familiarity.  It’s been refreshing to see something that starts off very simple with tons of visual examples.  The videos thus far are more lecture with examples than they are technique, but that’s just what I wanted and needed at this point. (Expect a review of the course kit over at The Muse’s Library once I’ve completed it!)

Shape Design covers the fundamentals of interpreting shape language and image recognition.  I tried out the suggested exercise of taking reference photos and not merely copying what I see, but trying to get a better idea about how the subject works via closer study and contouring.  The cat on the bottom right corner was drawn from memory after my studies were complete.

Exercise - Reference Studies

While this method does take longer, I think Kohr’s on to something with this more scientific approach, as I seemed to retain more info this way.  Admittedly, I’m used to copying and pasting references to get my final art done quicker.  Creating more in-depth studies is a good habit I need to get back into!

Next, I tried another suggested exercise where I took what I learned from doing my studies and drew a ‘good’ version and an ‘evil’ version of the same animal from memory using no reference.  Can you tell which one is which?

Exercise - Good vs Bad

If you guessed evil for the cat on the left and good for the cat on the right, I have succeeded!

For the evil cat, I went with the ‘modern’ body style of Siamese cat, which is sleeker and more pointed than the rounded ‘classical’ body style I used for the cat on the right.  I also made intentional choices to give the evil cat claws, pointed ears, pointed eyes, and to be showing his teeth while good cat is softer with rounded eyes and an overlarge head.  Both were drawn from memory based on what I’ve retained from my studies.

I’m looking forward to the next lesson!  Delving into the psychology of shape is utterly fascinating to me.  I think most of us understand this language instinctively, but learning how to purposefully implement it in our art can bring it to a whole other level.

Next Lesson: Design Basics 2

Sketch Diary – Monster Girl Spider


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

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.


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



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:


TUTORIAL – Rapunzel Comic in Woodcut Style

I’ve created a tutorial video for how I made a comic strip in a digital woodcut style for my Rapunzel comic!  I walk you through how I designed the panel layouts to the finished product giving helpful tips along the way.  A .PSD file of my comic strip is also included for your perusal!

To see this video, you’ll need to pledge to me on Patreon at the $10+ level!  Alternatively, you can also buy this tutorial individually via my Gumroad shop, but you won’t get any of the extra perks that Patreon gives you (ie. wallpapers, sneak peeks, etc.).

You can watch a 4 minute preview of this video at my YouTube channel.

I did not use any special brushes for this creation. Only the default round hard brush set to Pen Pressure!  I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my process for this month’s creation. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in comments!

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: Lady of January

This series began as my annual Christmas card back in 2012 and as a homage to Mucha’s stunning series “The Precious Stones”!  I’m a long time fan of Alphonse Mucha ever since I discovered his work years ago in college and fell in love with his graceful, intricate compositions.  I thought it’d be fun to challenge myself to an entire series in this detailed and decorative mode of work.  The Lady of December sat alone as the only entry into this series until I recently decided to pick it up again!

The Four Gemstones by AngelaSasser

“The Precious Stones” Female figures embodying the gemstones Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, and Topaz.

Lady of December by AngelaSasser
“Lady of December,” Digital Painting, 2012.

I had tried to do a monthly series before in the form of a series of angels, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the layout of the composition of the first entry in this series.  The window and the figure felt disconnected, while the background seemed too empty with too much wasted potential.

Angel of January by AngelaSasser
“Lady of January,” Digital Painting, 2011.


Read more

Sketch Diary – Winter Light – Christmas Card 2013 – Part 2

After gathering references, taking photos for anatomy reference, and composing the pencil draft, I took the scanned image into Photoshop where I arranged the image digitally and composed background elements.  
I wanted to be sure that she was a part of her background and not merely a pretty lady pasted on top of it, so I purposefully arranged some of the branches to overlap her in space.  This was also important for maintaining the theme of ‘protection of the light’ from winter’s darkness, as the branches encircling the figure from the foreground and the background give it that sense of an encroaching forest trapped in winter with their physical arrangement.
In the past, I have always inked with black ink, but it occurred to me I could push the theme of cold vs. warm in this by doing the same with the inks.  I used Micron indigo color ink for the background and sepia color for the figure to help the warmth of her figure move forward while the cool background hues and lines recede.
The effect of using color inks popped the figure, as I hoped it would!  Black inks have a way of flattening the image and decreasing the illusion of value in certain shapes.  Note to self: use this technique more!
Other tips and tricks.  I admit to using white gel pen to pop the whites in the tips of her icy branch necklace and circlet, the highlights on her face, and the candle’s flame.  I did use masking fluid to preserve my paper white in specific areas, but sometimes the shapes are not clean after peeling the masking fluid off and that is where white gel pen can save the day!
You may also notice a vast difference between the color test and the final image.  Why is that?  
Sometimes when you’re painting, you make snap decisions to change course which can lead to good or ill.  In this case, it occurred to me that the yellow in the color test just wasn’t popping enough against the cool green.  The image felt too muted.  By the time I had finished applying the first layers of the Indigo background, I decided to give it a more purple sunset, which gave the image a complementary palette of Purple/Yellow, which helps pop the flame and warmth in the figure moreso than the color test.

I would have liked to achieve the greater value shifts shown in the color test, but my board was saturated with color and would not allow me to add more layers.  You can see where this happened particularly in the shadows of the dress where the colors start to look as if they’re unevenly separated instead of uniformly painted.  The board just would not accept more pigment!

Perhaps there is a shift to watercolor paper in my future?  I’ve had better luck with tons and tons of layers on Arches paper.

Finally, here’s an animated GIF of this painting’s progress!
If you can’t see the GIF, you can watch the video here:

Sketch Diary: Winter Light – Christmas Card 2013 – Part 1

It’s that time of year again!  Harvest time has passed, a chill is in the air, and I’m rushing to get my annual Christmas card finished in time for the holidays!  (For more about my past Christmas images, read on here)

As it stands, I am one of those people who adores harvest and pumpkins and Halloween.  It wounds me to ignore my favorite season (Autumn) by starting to think about the encroaching winter. Admittedly,  hearing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving just feels wrong to me!  Sadly, if I ever want to get a card ready by the time people are looking for them, I really need to start my annual card earlier.

One day it’ll happen. One day…

But for now, enjoy this look at the process of this year’s card which I’m just slightly earlier in creating than past years!  It all began with a sketch sheet with ballpoint pen and white color pencil on toned paper, my current go-to formula for getting across small comps with a hint of value very quickly:

I’m trying to get into the practice of writing a blurb about the concept of the piece before I draw so that I can figure out the story of my image before I start going off in too many directions and muddling my message (The About, for you Oatley Academy folks that might be reading).

My chicken scratch reads as follows:

She guards the flame of warmth and hope against the silence and dark of Winter.  Her smoky hair echoes the candle, symbolizing her connection to this light of hope.  The crown of flowers shows her kinship to Springtime that survives amidst Winter snows and the coming of new life.

The thumbnails on the left that aren’t detailed show rejected concepts where I played about with making this regal Winter Lady an angel.  However, I decided to leave the wings out because they would have covered the background of snowy woods which encroach on the light of the candle, symbolizing the light of hope that burns in the darkest winters.  Without that contrast between the desolate background and the candle, the theme wouldn’t be as visibly present in the piece.

So I resisted adding wings.  Hard to believe, I know!

Each of these thumbnails had something I liked about them, which made it very hard for me to choose!  In the end, I found the first one to be too static and too solemn.  She seems more as if she is mourning than protecting.  The third thumbnail almost won out because of the strong composition, but she also seems far more cold and intimidating than I wanted her to be.  There’s also no visual tension between the warm flame and the cold of the winter forest behind her as there is in the middle thumbnail, which was my winner.

Next came snapping several reference images with a white candle to make sure I get the light and shadow on the figure just right.  After narrowing down from about 20 photos, my favorite pose was this one:

Using my references as a guide, I came up with this rough sketch in pencil on 60lb paper:
Check out the WiPNation thread for the step-by-step process.
I went through several changes of her crown and collar, shifting from gaudy icicle-like diamonds to a more naturalistic gathering of twigs and berries.  The berry crown just seemed to fit her look of being an elegant wintry nature goddess moreso than an ice cold glam goddess.  She’s meant to be warm, hopeful, and inviting, despite her unearthly presence.
Next up, I’ll be scanning this image to refine the sketch digitally and fitting it to its decorative borders.  Eventually, this sketch will be transferred onto illustration board where I’ll be finishing it off with watercolors and color pencil.