Category: Fantasy Art

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


Portfolio Review: Laurie Thomas

The year draws to a close and I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season!  To celebrate the end of yet another year here at this journal, I thought it only fitting to end with a beginning!

I’m happy to introduce the first portfolio review in what I hope to be an ongoing series.  This review is for Laurie Thomas, who sent in the following samples of her work:

See more at Laurie’s DeviantART Gallery!

Overall Impression: Laurie mentioned that she was interested in getting into games, licensing graphics for apparel, and possibly designing for movies.  From what I can tell, you’re well on your way to having a stunning portfolio, Laurie! Your colors are bold and your designs rich and detailed.  What it seems you need to do now is come up with a strategy for focusing your subject matter and presenting your portfolios in such a way as to appeal to the industries you’re hoping to enter.  I say ‘portfolios’ plural because each industry is going to expect something different!

When licensing to the apparel industry, you’ll need a large body of consistent work that will also fit well on t-shirts, bags, etc. (at least 24 pieces for presentation, so I’ve read).  Licensing companies like series of images with consistent high quality, so if you can tie together your characters into some appealing ideas (ie. birthstones, zodiac signs, gemstones, elements, etc.), you’ll have some great basic pieces to start yourself out with!  A great way to see if your art will fit on items is to upload them to Zazzle, which pre-renders your art on the item of your choice. It’s a simple way to create licensed art mock ups, which are essential for creating presentations.

You also need to be aware of the trends that sell (ie. fairies, lolita, gothic, cute things, etc.) and that means doing some research! Keep up with other artists in the industry (Anne StokesAmy BrownJasmine Becket-Griffith, etc.).  Start paying attention to the clothing brands that sell items with art similar to yours and make a note of who those companies are.  I highly stress reading Licensing 101 before you go down the licensing path. Be aware of the dangers and the options for selling your work, as there are many!  Above all, register your copyrights before licensing anything!  The US copyright office allows registration of sets of images, so that may be a cost effective way for you to go.

As for the game industry, I can see your work fitting in very well with many of the social media/networking games tailored for younger audiences with anime inclinations (ie. GaiaOnline, Facebook games, MMOs, etc).  There are also opportunities in interactive novels and manga!  I highly recommend subscribing to magazines like ImagineFX to keep up with the game art industry and scout out jobs. It’s also an excellent place to learn about presentation skills from pros, as well as techniques and shortcuts!  This advice also counts double for movies, which requires a similar skillset to concept/game artists and are also addressed in IFX.  In general, work on presenting characters, accessories, equipment, and environments. and CGhub‘s weekly challenges are great places to start building a game design portfolio. They’re also great places to learn from more experienced artists!

Strengths and Weaknesses: You already possess very highly developed technical skills, but I would watch out for making your images too detailed.  Koi for example has a lovely color palette and character, but the intricate designs, patterns, flower bursts, and clothing folds really overwhelm the eye and lead the compositional flow every which way.  A way to balance this might be to downplay the flowers, while simplifying her kimono and other details.

Speaking of those flowers, they seem a bit unfinished in comparison to the rest, which is something you’ll need to consider for your final products. If a final product is meant to be printed larger, areas that aren’t as tightly developed will appear sloppy. However, if your final product is going to be smaller (ie. Card art, small items), there’s no need to put all that detail in, because the smaller resolution will allow it to appear smoother.

Another thing to be aware of is that limiting your style to anime may shove you into a niche box.  If it’s a box you’re comfortable in, than be the best you can be in that niche and you’re bound to get attention!  However, you must also be aware that anime style in general (at least in the States), is stereotyped as being for juveniles.  It may be more difficult to get editorial illustration work with an anime style portfolio, but that is where presenting varied multiple portfolios to varying clients might serve you well.  Also, you may not even want to do any other work, and that is okay too!  It’s just that the more varied an artist you are, the higher chances you’ll be able to round up that next job to feed yourself.

By the same token, you only want to put out work you want to be hired for, else you’ll get stuck doing work you loathe.  It becomes a balancing act between getting good at the niche or adapting to something different and that’s a call every commercial artist has to make.

I hope this portfolio review has given you some food for thought, Laurie.  Best of luck from me to you and I hope to see your name in the headlines soon!  If any of my dear readers here have additional advice for Laurie, please share in comments! I am not the end all, be all and welcome anything useful others might have to add.

Interested in a Portfolio Review of your own?
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Top 10 Movies that Make Me Want to Draw

With so much going on lately, I’ve had little energy to write expansive blogs. My apologies for this! After I finish the last chapter of my book, I hope to come back to it with more informative blogging sessions getting back to some of the artists and technology topics discussed previously. I am also open for topic suggestions, if you have anything you’d like me to ponder about in the meantime.

For now, I leave you with a list of movies that make me want to draw. I’ve never been one to work in complete silence so there are always movies or music playing in the background. These particular movies give me a twinge of creativity, a tiny ache to draw something boundless.

1. What Dreams May Come
Much like Dante of the Divine Comedy, Robin William’s character embarks on a quest through the underworld to redeem the soul of his wife. I’ve been leaning a lot on this movie of late with its glimpses of shimmering heavenly cities, libraries floating amidst underworld rivers, and thought provoking philosophy. Every time I watch this movie, I find something new in the rich canvas of its imagery that I never saw before. Tear jerker warning for this one!

2. The Cell
The director of this movie admitted it really was like one big psychedelic music video. Using state-of-the-art technology, a child therapist ventures into the mind of a killer in order to find the location of a victim who may yet be alive! Though disturbing, there’s something about the mix of dark, gritty, and deeply symbolic imagery in this one that awes and fascinates me. The soundtrack to this one is also amazing with slight eastern undertones

3. Legend
I feel this movie is a prerequisite for many contemporary fantasy artists! With its classical tale of a beauty being taken to the Underworld, ethereal unicorns, and goblins who speak in couplets, what more could a fantasy fan want for imagery? The UK release of this film sports a completely different soundtrack and ending, but I still prefer the US version with its surreal soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. Oh yeah, and Tim Curry as the Devil! C’mon! (Wow and check out that epic trailer narration!)

4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Francis Ford Coppola version. My favorite version of the classic vampire’s tale (and possibly my favorite Vampire movie of all time). With the wardrobe of Eiko Ishioka and heavy influence from the Symbolist movement of art, this movie is just mind-blowing sensory overload. Even more impressive is the fact they used classic film splicing and layering effects with no cg. Add to that Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins and you have a combination for win in my book!

5. Brotherhood of the Wolf
Gaudy sensuality, over the top action sequences, a Native American dude who inexplicably knows oriental martial arts. I can forgive this movie its flaws for its gorgeous wardrobe, interesting plot twists, and wonderfully surreal soundtrack. I love Monica Belluci’s wardrobe especially. Dark lace, razor sharp fans, corsets, and tarot cards. Mmm.

6. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
From Ninja Scroll to X, I’ve always had a liking for the work of character designer and animation director Yutaka Minowa. Never are his designs more stunning and gothic than they are in Bloodlust. From D’s adornments to Leila’s combat jumpsuit, this movie is a character designers feast! Where else can you get a werewolf with a face in his stomach, a man who attacks with shadows, and a vampire hunting gang all in one movie? If you don’t watch it for the plot, watch it for the visuals.

7. Willow
I’m perhaps dating myself with this movie on the list. I love it for the same reason I love Legend, it’s fantastical visuals that aren’t quite sugary sweet fantasy. A group of unlikely heroes must protect a baby from an evil queen. Roguish heroes, wry humor, monsters, sorcery and more! It’s a fun and inspiring ride. Probably still my favorite thing that George Lucas has ever done, even over Star Wars.

8. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers
This movie needs no introduction. I list Two Towers here because it is my favorite of the trilogy. The biggest treat for me in this one, visually, is the distinctive sets of armor we see in the Elves, Goblins & Uruk Hai, and the Men of Rohan. There’s also a more down to earth plot here in the epic fight of Helm’s Deep. It was far more epic with its human tale of fear than the epic fallout of Return of the King. I toss this movie on whenever I’m in the mood for martial inspiration.

9. Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro at his best. A little girl named Ofelia entertains flights of fantasy in the old labyrinth near her home, where she and her mother are prisoners to the whims of her mother’s lover, a violent military Captain. I love this movie for the way it walks a fine line between reality and fantasy. The creatures are never unbelievable, even if we are left questioning Ofelia’s hold on reality as she ventures deeper into forbidden places. The ‘Pale Man’ gives me the chills every time! There’s a fairy tale magic blended with the harsh realities of real life. It’s that blend that makes it the most compelling to my art muses.

10. Labyrinth
Another movie that needs no introduction. I grew up with its songs at the height of Jim Henson’s creativity. The Masquerade dream sequence,especially, gets my artistic gears going!

Wow, this entry didn’t turn out short at all did it? It’s amazing after compiling this how many of my inspiring movies deal with descending into otherworlds, underworlds, or dreams, though I am far from surprised by this revelation!

So what are your favorite inspiring movies? What gets your creative juices flowing?

Why I Wanted to be a Warrior Princess

A virile man with glistening muscles and an impeccable tan wields a gleaming sword over his head that rightly should weigh more than he does. But he can lift it because he’s the hero. At his feet, an equally athletic woman scantily clad in chainmail and still shrugging off the bindings of her rescue appears surprised with one hand lifted to her mouth in a gesture of delicate fear.

This is your classic fantasy. Conan the Barbarian, Heavy Metal, what we might call high fantasy, sword and sorcery, or fantastic realism…and it’s an image that’s become one eternally linked to what makes fantasy Fantasy.

I grew up watching Schwarzenegger’s “Conan the Barbarian” over and over till my parents were sick of it. And yes, I even watched “Red Sonja” and “Super Girl”, all the sparkly spinoffs of the boy fantasy stuff made for girls that was just plain 80’s horrible. But it wasn’t till shows like She-Ra and Xena: Warrior Princess came along that I decided in my pubescent wisdom that I wanted to be a warrior princess.

Why settle myself to pink ruffles (or a chainmail bikini) and waiting to be saved when I could be like Xena and fix my own dislocated shoulder with a quick shove into a nearby wall? Here was a fantasy figure I could latch onto. She was smart, independent, as good a fighter as any Conan, but sensual and caring when she needed to be without ever losing her edge.

There was just something missing from the chainmail bikini-clad women of popular fantasy. They were a plot device, an archetype designed to make the hero whole. But why be a device when you could be the hero? It appealed to that independent streak in me that admired the ability to take action for one’s self. Xena still saw her share of sexy outfits, but through it all, she defined herself as a well-rounded character who took command of a central plot for countless seasons of storytelling. But many people like to watch her only for the outfits and her sexy looks, since we all know sex sells, that’s why many adult sites are really popular now a days, and some people even go to sites as to find the type of adult material they like.

Nowadays, I wonder what we think of when we think of fantasy and the figures we wish we could be. What art comes to mind? Vallejo, Bell, and Frazetta are some of the big few who formed our classic foundations, but who will form the archetypes of our future? What images will strike us and inspire future generations to leap about the living room in raucous games of Pretend? Will we just keep building on these archetypes or will they ever be replaced entirely?

Will it be sparkling vampires? Half-demon antiheroes? Quick-witted thieves with hidden streaks of morality and guilds at their backs?

(While dragons, it seems, are impervious to the passage of time, as far as popularity goes).

Only time will tell, I suppose. Meanwhile, I will enjoy my Xena reruns and sharpen my knives. X-actos will have to do till the time comes that I fulfill my childhood aspirations of being a warrior princess.

How about yourselves? What figures comes to mind for you when people say ‘Fantasy’? What fantastical figure did you want to be like growing up? Those of you with children, who do your kids pretend to be like?

Image by Earl Norem

Only In Our Dreams: The Denigration of Fantasy

I remember a time in college when I found myself so incredibly frustrated by my homework and completely lost as to what to do with myself. I wanted to draw angels and elves, not splatter paint on a canvas and call it art. I didn’t want to tear up little bits of my journal entries, stick them in jars, and talk about how this was a wonderfully artistic bearing of my soul. This sort of expression just wasn’t me. My personal issues were for friends and family only. Why should I put them in jars for other people to puzzle over? Why should I abandon my long beloved symbols that I was impassioned for? Why, all the sudden, did fantasy become invalid as a form of expression in a School of Fine Art?

I understand the answer now that I have completed school and had a great deal of time to ponder my frustration. If I didn’t experiment outside of my comfort zones, I never would have discovered the joy of experimentation and how this has enriched my ability to express myself. Sticking to a single genre and never exploring has a way of stagnating your work, your art, and your inspiration. Still, I never forgot the eyeroll that came with admitting to some that I was an avid lover of fantasy. This extended not only to the art community, but to the writing community as well. My love of exaggerated descriptions and epic tales did not go over so well in my Creative Writing classes either.

So why is it that Fantasy, as a genre, is no longer seen as ‘High Art’ by the intellectual majority? Somewhere over the years we seemed to have lost our appreciation of the paintings of dryads, Naiads, and all manner of mythological folk. The Knight and the Dragon, the Damsel in the Tower, the Unlikely Hero Versus the Orc/Goblin/Dark Wizard, it’s all been liquified, told, and retold again till it has no meaning, no impact anymore. The magic of the myths has faded to a passing fancy, a colorful tale to be told and pondered and thrown away. Perhaps because people no longer believe in faeries or the wrath of the gods? Perhaps because these roles (or rather the execution of them), as Joseph Campbell prescribes, are no longer relevant to our modern society who crave something updated? Perhaps because we no longer need illustrated stories to teach us about the mysteries of the universe?

We are no longer the illiterate adult majority who used art to experience the emotion and morals of stories. There are few of us who remember the meaning of flowers or the very specific numerology of medieval imagery. Even for those of us who do study these symbols, the spiritual influence is not as fervent as those in the past who relied heavily on the act of venerating art in order to understand the passion and morals passed on by the stories these illustrative paintings were inspired by.

These days, we can pick up books ourselves without having to rely on the teachings of provocative images. We are told by art historians what pieces deserve our respect. Is that why there is a division between ‘low brow’ Fantasy and ‘high brow’ Romantic art? Because we are told there is? Or maybe there’s just too much out there so we’ve truly lost touch with the uniqueness of these original pieces? I always found it amusing that a modern artist could paint a dryad, but it would only be seen as Fantasy, while older paintings of the same subject are classified as “Romantic” and somehow more classical and valid. Like Duchamp, who first set a commode on a pedestal and called it art, no one can ever do such a thing again without being compared to the first person who had the great idea to do something different.

Perhaps Fantasy is merely escapism? A way for us to experience idealistic morals, beautiful figures, and perfectly rounded narratives? I, personally, find this definition an oversimplification of a genre capable of so much more. True, there is an element of escapism, but to say that’s all there is to it seems an understatement. Fantasy presents a way for us to tap into various parts of ourselves, a fear of the unknown, an indulgence of what we can and cannot do, as well as a way for us to reveal stories that tap into that long dormant sense of wonder and primal fear we remember only in our dreams.

In this modern (or is it post-modern?) era, we’ve given up the purity of genre and married things like Fantasy to Drama, Comedy with Horror, and have truly pushed the definitions that have kept things like ‘Fantasy’ from becoming respected art forms. I can only hope that strolling down the street, I’ll see more museum exhibitions like this one and more stories of a fantastical nature working their way into academia.

Just a bundle of questions for you guys to ponder. Whatever the reason for the denigration of Fantasy, I am content knowing I am not alone in its appreciation, that there are others who, for whatever reason, arrive at the conclusion there is more to its richness than bulging heroes, pretty ladies, repetitive epics, and hard to pronounce names.

Image: “The Lady of Shalott” by John Waterhouse.