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Sketch Diary: Dreaming Butterfly v2

Concept and Inspiration

A detail of Dreaming Butterfly.

I’m currently working on a painting I hope to include in my portfolio which is a redo of one of my most popular (and personal favorite) pieces entitled Dreaming Butterfly.  The character in this piece is Aurora, my old Shadowrun character who was the first character I really got attached to during my dice-rolling days.

She is like my own Pepper, for those of you who know Artgerm over at DA.  I’m always using Aury to experiment with new art styles, random fashions, and whatever comes to mind.  While she may disappear from my gallery at times, I always come crawling back to her when my muse is in search of inspiration.  Ironically, she almost always comes out looking peaceful and surrounded by symbolic butterflies when she’s actually an ill-temper, foul-mouthed, speed ganger Yakuza Elf, but I digress.

I admit to having ulterior motives for composing this piece, namely so I have something new to submit to DeviantART’s Draw it Again contest due on the 30th of this month and for The Rising Stars competition IFX and Corel are running (due next month). Yup, that’s right! I double-dip my chips!


I came up with just four thumbnails for this because I felt I had nailed my concept in the very first one, which was the closest to the original piece. I still like the 2nd one a lot, which may become another painting in the future.  I’m trying a new method of thumbnailing on kraft paper so that the brown of the paper acts as a midtone, with ink and white color pencil acting as my shadow and highlights.  That way, I am not using white paper to start off with, which sometimes confuses my sense of value and tone.

Gathering Reference

I’ve taken Dan Dos Santos and Justin Gerard‘s advice from Dragon*Con to heart when it comes to shooting my own reference photos.  The theory is that if you merely use a publicly available stock photo, you’re inviting the chance that another artist will have used the same stock photo to compose a very similar image.  It’s true that I can almost instantly recognize mjranum-stock‘s photos as soon as I see them.

So in the interest of being unique, I lit and photographed my own reference photos, totaling at around 100 I had to sift through for the perfect shot.  This involved folding 47 red origami butterflies as well as roping a family member into helping out or using the self-timer while I got up and down and up and down to line up the camera and then rush back to lay on the ground before the timer went off.  The results speak for themselves:

(I plan to post the ‘rejects’ from this photo shoot for public use up at my stock art account, so keep an eye on that gallery!)

Preparatory Painting

I ended up using the top right pose, rotating it 90 degrees then tweaking the neck so there was more of a flowing S-curve through the body and composition.  I also replicated the butterflies in the background to make it seem as if she’s laying in a bed of red butterflies (no relation to that scene from American Beauty!)

Now, I’m hopeful I can just blast through the painting phase without having to alter my composition and anatomy on the fly so much, which I’ve been prone to do in the past.  I’ve figured out these complicated aspects in the planning phase first, which is a new habit for me.  I suspect my biggest challenges from here on out will be making this look less like a photomanip and more like my own painting, as I am doing this digitally.
If I can get a screen capture app working, I may be hopping on my Livestream channel while I paint, we’ll see!  If so, I’ll be making such announcements on my DeviantART, Facebook, and Twitter streams.

Finally, keep up at this painting’s WIPnation thread to see a step-by-step comparison of each phase of this image and give redlines and crits.  I highly recommend participating at this website, as it’s a great resource for critique, as well as a good archive of your own workflow for your own educational purposes.

Sketch Diary: The Lotus Dancer

In the last entry I talked about how I’m working on a portfolio to target playing card and RPG book art industries. Much to my joy, I’ve found that my own set of original characters and stories lend themselves quite well to this kind of subject matter.  I have been longing for ages to get back to writing about my own characters, but writing has always taken a back seat to improving my art.

Now, it seems I can finally combine these passions by exploring these characters visually for character-driven art for my portfolio, starting with card art.  What is card art?  The best examples I can think of are the lovely works created for Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft playing card games.  Many of these card games include the kinds of things I love to draw and are a great entry level field for me to start in.  Competition is high, but there are plenty of game companies out there and we all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Card art entails working on images with character and narrative driven compositions.  Studying the World Of Warcraft: The Art Of The Trading Card Game Vol. 1 provided me with fantastic insight into the quality of art I can expect to match and the usual mode of presentation for characters and settings within the card format.  Most cards involve a single character with compositions that emphasize easily identifiable shapes and movement, since a card is meant to be printed at a smaller size.  I was pleasantly surprised as well at the amount of traditional art included in this collection.  Most would have you believe trad art is dead, as far as illustration goes, but this gave me a glimmer of hope (despite the fact I still intend to work more digitally now for my own benefit).

To get started with my first mock art card, I began by writing myself a brief of the character concept so I have more specific direction.  A lot of my own original characters and worlds are still not quite fleshed out, so this forces me to solidify a few concepts so that they more easily translate into a visual mode.

CARD BRIEF – The Lotus Dancer

 “A desert oasis kingdom setting. Lotus Dancers specialize in ‘captive’ audiences  high on the smoke of lotus, their costumes reflecting this connection to the flower.  They use the altered states of their onlookers to create a dreamlike atomsphere with twisting smoke, twirling scarves, and flowing hair.  They move as if they were casting a spell on their onlookers.  The bells on their costume create accompanying music as they dance.  

If one has the money, they might even be able to afford a ‘private’ audience.  Their nack for getting close to incapacitated political figures at gatherings has proven a perfect cover for assassins in the past.”

The Doodle Sheet

I always start with one of these as a ‘getting to know you‘ exercise.  Typically done without reference so that I can channel the mental image without any visual biases. Also done in pen so I won’t obsess too much about making the doodle too detailed.  This is where I rough out basic ideas for compositions.

The last few thumbnails towards the bottom of the sheet show how I’ve tilted the perspective for a more interesting skew, as if we were one of the entranced onlookers.  It also made it easier to fit in more of the dancer’s body in motion, which just wasn’t fitting in the card format otherwise.

 The Reference Sheet

I also gather references from my own stock art poses and all over the net, baring in mind that lotuses have been translated into many visual forms, from more naturalistic to the abstract lotuses we see in Egyptian art.  A big challenge will be to make her setting read as a fantasy setting and not too heavily inspired by one culture or another.  These references will all play a big part of the detail in her costume and decor of the background hall she’s dancing in.

The last thumbnail on the bottom right of the doodle sheet won out for the delightful curve of the dancer’s body through the composition.  I took the scan of the thumb into Photoshop, which leads us to…

The Tonal Study

I’m trying something different and working in grayscale to establish tones first.  This should, in theory, help me to more efficiently come up with a composition with strong tonal focus that will be effective for the card art size.  I ended up tweaking the arm from the thumbnail so that it leads the eye through the page more without closing off the figure, where I would like to show more costume detail.

I’m also trying to overcome my propensity for work with low contrast and minimal settings as well as my habit to work in far too many layers digitally so that I take far too long tweaking every detail. I’m making a concerted effort to be fearless and paint all on one (or two) layers!  One for figure, one for background.  Possibly anther for tattoos and costume.  Having too many layers has resulted in huge files that slow down my computer so I must find a way to solve this workflow problem.

Next: The Gritty Details
See this image’s thread over at for step-by-step process shots

Introducing a New Co-op Blog for Artist Improvement!

Hey, everyone! I’ve been a busy bee over here prepping for the summer con season and really trying to get serious about pursuing my career goals.  Blogging has been really helpful for me in this respect.  Running my own journal helps me remember how far I’ve come and encourages me to keep creating new work to share with everyone.  I adore reading other art blogs like Muddy Colors and The ArtOrder, where so many talents meet and share their knowledge in blog posts.  I always wanted to be a part of a co-op blog like these, but I had no idea how to get involved in one, so I started my own!

I don’t have a lot of time to post at another blog, as I know other artists don’t either, and that is why this blog is pretty stress free!  The idea came to me when I noticed so many friends of mine posting art ‘to do’ lists online sharing the art exercises and themes they wanted to do to improve their work.

So I thought to myself, why not run a blog where we do these progressive exercises together?  Here is the intro to my new co-op blog entitled Artist Ambition.

My name is Angela and I am a fantasy Artist and founder of this blog.  I already have an art blog of my own, but this one is different.  I want Artist Ambition to be a joint effort for multiple artists to continuously improve their art, to share the progression of their skills, and to nurture that passion to push themselves as artists. 

The journey of the artist can be a long and lonely one while we are striving to improve.  It’s easy to get demotivated and talk about improving your skills, but to never do what needs to be done. Now, with other artists watching, we are accountable for our own actions, we can encourage each other, and we can succeed!

To find out more about how you can participate, read on at the blog’s FAQ.

I can have up to 100 participating artists,  so right now, we are pretty open to new people!  There is no time requirement, other than that you should try to participate at least once a month by posting an exercise for others to do OR trying out an exercise yourself.  Once I reach 100 artists, I’ll start culling people who are inactive, but that will probably take us awhile.

Now, here’s to our success!

Movie Spotlight: Re-cycle

I was going to write an entry on Inception, what with all the buzz it’s been causing lately.  But by saying that I didn’t really enjoy it all that much, I probably would be going against the grain of popular opinion.  No I didn’t necessarily enjoy Inception, though I did find it at least halfway intelligent and thought-provoking unlike the majority of movies that came out over the summer season.  

I went in expecting wild dreamscapes and an emotional thriller and I came out with the same kind of unsatisfied “eh” as I did after Shutter Island.  It was good, but it could have been better. It could have been pushed more.  More characterization, more world-building, just…more.  It fell flat in a few places for me (I’ll probably go into this in a later entry after I’ve had a chance to re-watch it and sort out my feelings in regards to this movie).

The main reason I didn’t enjoy Inception lies in my own expectations for a dream world.  I wanted a taste of the wild side!  For a movie that explored the depths of subconscious wastelands, it was particularly drab and mundane.  However, a dreamer can come to accept many strange things in a dream without necessarily finding it absurd.  The excuse in Inception was that absurdities would make a dream unstable so that a dreamer knew they were dreaming.  

Sure, there’s a city street that bends in half in the movie, but this wasn’t weird enough for me. After all, I’ve dreamed of zombie brides and melting houses and completely accepted those scenarios as ‘real’ at the time I was dreaming them.  Obviously, my tastes are a little more on the surreal side!

With those surreal tastes in mind, I’d like to put the spotlight on the little gem of an Asian film called Re-cycle (which inspired said dream of undead brides and melting houses) from the renowned Pang Brothers.  For those who crave the dreamlands of the strange and unusual, I invite you to consider the story of Ting-yin, a young novelist struggling to come up with a followup to her best-selling trilogy of romance novels. After erasing her failed draft, she begins to see strange, unexplainable things

The untold novel begins to seep into her world, where she finds herself haunted by her own character, who is horribly malformed because she was never given shape by her creator.  Pulled into an unstable dreamland built on the bones of forgotten things, Ting-yin must confront one strange vision after another to find her way out.

From heaps of lost toys to caves of fetuses, this movie only gets stranger by the moment.  By the time you get to the forest of forgotten suicides, you’ll feel like you’re in Dante’s Inferno, surmounting circles of sinners to find a way through Hell.

I’m not generally squeamish or affected by movies of this sort, but something in the layered concoction of surreal happenings in this film really stuck with me. So much so that I had the doozie of a dream that inspired my old painting, Risen. (more description about that dream at the link).  Re-cycle may make no sense when you describe the plot, but it’s the journey through a world rife with pure imagery that really makes it fascinating to me.

So if you have a hankering for the strange and unusual dreamscapes, give Re-cycle a look!  It’s available for instant play via Netflix and has been released on DVD.  While Inception has its place as a smart psychological thriller with surreal influences, Re-cycle and The Cell will always be the ultimate surreal dreamscape movies for me.

Guest Post – World-Building: Animal Lore

My series of guest posts continues at Eventide Unmasked. Join my latest discussion on animal lore. What is it? How can you implement it into your stories effectively? Tips, tricks, and examples at the link!

World-Building – Animal Lore

Hello all! Angela here again for a Wacky Wednesday guest post. Hayley’s been talking a lot lately about world-building so I thought I’d chime in with a particular niche in the world-building skillset – animal lore.

What is animal lore?

Animal lore differs from generic mythology for the fact that it specifically involves creatures which are a part of the natural or supernatural order of things in any given story’s setting. Some real world examples include Hayley’s infamous black dog, bringer of ill portent, the European and Asian dragons, unicorns, and all manner of beasts we can conjure up with a quick jaunt through our childhood memories.

Animals often convey the mythical beginnings of our universe, shedding light on mysteries that inform a culture’s mystical practices and even methods of dress. The raven who created the world, the spider whose web brings life, or the coyote who stole the secret of fire. A culture rich in animal lore also suggests a culture close to nature, magic, and the mysteries of the world. Most cultures with deep ties to Animalism are less inclined towards industrialization and generally less reliant on science and technology (a situation ripe for tension and change, if you’re looking for inspiration prompts!).

(Read on at the full blog post)

The Ex-RPG Character

Guest posting continues at Hayley’s blog, Eventide Unmasked! Today’s topic: How do you transplant a character from an RPG setting to a novel setting? What to watch out for, advice, and discussion. Come share your ex-RPG characters with us!

The Ex-RPG Character

Ah, those were the days.

Giggling friends gathered around a table, your very life dependent on the next roll of the dice, the sly smile on your game master’s face as he plots your downfall! Creating a character was as easy as picking a class and race and your standard fantasy character back story (ie. family killed by evil bad guys, leaving home to find your fortune, etc.)

Sometimes, though, there are just those characters that adhere themselves to us, become more than just pre-rolled stats, character sheets, or vicarious reflections of our inner selves. A character begs to be something more than what they are and we find ourselves attempting to pluck that character out of their pre-existing world and put them into one of our own making.

Sounds fun until you realize your character just screams “I come right out of a Dungeons and Dragons game!” when you’re trying to rewrite them!

(Read on at the full blog post)

Limited Mini-Calendar + Sketch Sale!

If you missed this on my DeviantART journal, here it is again!

If you’ve had your eye on my calendar of classic work, then this is a chance you can’t miss!

I’ve gotten my hands on four miniature 2010 calendars with a shiny metallic gold wire spine. These are roughly 5×7 in. when closed and open up to a full size for display on your wall at 7×11 in. They’re the perfect size to fit in any corner of your room, dorm, or otherwise!

In addition, I’ll be sending these with an original 5×7 in. ink sketch of a subject of your choice! (generic suggestions and no fanart only, please. Sketches will have a minimalistic background) Calendars will also be autographed on each page by the artist. When you’re done with it at the end of the year, tear out the pages for framing. A calendar should never go to waste!

Example Ink Sketch:

Dance of Parted Flame by =ladydove7 on deviantART

How much is this fine thing, you ask? For an autographed mini-calendar AND original sketch, the price is $25 with FREE shipping within the US. For international shipping, we’ll sort things out via note.

I only have 4 total. Get em while they’re hot! Note me on DA or comment here to secure your calendar and sketch.

1. n/a
2. n/a
3. n/a
4. (Reserved for Sonettie. Awaiting payment)

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.

Painting the Music

In the thrall of a mournful voice braided with the heartbeat of Persian instruments and the thrum of strings, the Prince took form in a swirl of desert sands and whirling spirits. Ramah moved in my mind despite his inanimate representation taking shape in watercolor. Painting Song of Exile is a perfect example of how strongly music can act as an inspiration for my work. Something in the beat, the mood, and the haunting voice conjured an image so strong that I just had to put it on paper after hearing Feraghi Song of Exile by Niyaz.

I’ve recently discovered the ability to create playlists on YouTube which has prompted me to share a little bit of the music I listen to while I paint. Upon building this list, I realized my inspirational music seems to lean towards a strange mix of techno, baritone voices, chant, and strings these days. I am not quite sure why this is other than my muse seems most pleased when the music has a narrative quality about it, either in vocals or in the ability of a key note or rhythm that weaves its own path throughout a song.

One of my favorite exercises in art class was when our teacher would put on classical music, make us close our eyes, and then draw what it was we saw while we were listening. I was always tickled by the surprising images my subconscious would conjure up from something as ‘simple’ as sound.

These days I seem to have a playlist for everything, including individual characters who cry out for their own musical inspirations outside of my generic art list. I hope to share some of these lists later now that I know how to create them.

Without further ado, here is my playlist of inspirational painting music. Enjoy my odd mix of influences. I’ve left off most of my Disney favorites just to keep some of my badassness intact.

Angela’s Art & Inspiration Music

So you other musically inspired artists, what do you listen to when you’re in the mood to create?

The Jumping Off Point

So here I am…doing that thing that I swore I’d never do.   You know…that horrible, trendy thing they call ‘blogging’.  It never occurred to me till recently that perhaps blogging isn’t just a trend, but a viable way to reach someone who I may never have reached if I just sat at home trying to communicate with you all via magical mind rays (which are easily blocked by foil caps). So, I’m writing this, sitting on my couch, in the living room, using my brand new amazon weighted blanket that I just ordered a few days ago hoping it will help me with me anxiety and my insomnia. I was surprised to read that those blankets have helped children and adults sleep better, deeper and longer.

This blog is what I hope will become a record of a journey to success (or at least to self-satisfaction).  You can find it at if you want to check it out. For those who don’t know me, I am an emerging artist with aspirations of writing, illustrating, and publishing my own books alongside meager plans to start my own art studio.  In my younger days, I was one of those morbid children writing creepy little stories about dead prom queens accompanied by creepy little illustrations.  I gobbled up the sordid tales of the Brothers Grimm before I reached the age of 10.   And yet despite my love for the darker side of things, you’ll find a Disney song or two on my playlist.  I am a lover of contrasts and twisted archetypes, of raw tension and otherworldly delights.   Of hamburgers with just ketchup.
These days, I’m coming off of graduation from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a Masters degree in Arts Administration, a lint ball in my pocket, and a glint in my eye to start weaving the grand design of my fate.  I’ve had my fill of doing dime character portraits and tattoo designs and have finally decided to start treating myself like a professional.  This is my declaration of indepence from the stereotype of the tin cup artist.
So here I am.  I will try to spare you my rambling on existence (which you can find at my forum or on my livejournal instead) and stick to the good stuff.  IE. Previews of new artwork & writings, advice for other artists, convention stories, and whatever else you’d like to know!  I will try to post weekly, or at the very least when I have something interesting to say or new to share.  Stay tuned for the video blogs that will link from these posts as well once I figure out the finer points of video editing.
Let the madness begin!  I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.