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

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