I’ve come to find that people are generally interested in seeing how the sausage is made with creative works—myself included. Typically, I document the process of each piece pretty obsessively. If you were to look at just how many in-progress images I hoard, one might be tempted to say it’s a compulsion. But ultimately, seeing how a painting is progressing step-by-step is very motivating because after slaving away at my Cintiq for hours on end, feeling as though I’m just inching along (and worsening my posture), I can look back and have proof of how much work I put in that session. So, let’s get into this!
Here we have the original sketch drawn up on my handy dandy iPad Pro / Apple Pencil. Sketching in Procreate has been liberating for the speed of my process since I can directly export digitally into Photoshop and cut down on all the scanner nonsense. No offense to those who prefer that method, but just to keep it real, I can be damn lazy when it comes to prepping paper images for digital work. So what’s going on here is an attempt at some sort of wood or earth inspired creature. You can see my chicken scratch notes pondering whether these strange protrusions on his head would be geodes of some sort, but I wasn’t sure if that would end up being too ham-fisted.
I don’t know about most people, but my brain works best when starting the painting from grayscale values. In my art-baby days I would often dive straight into color palettes, filling in skin tones, etc. But, exciting as though that may be for the first hour, it quickly would devolve into me agonizing over color harmonizing while neglecting the important question of “hey, is this piece even working at all to begin with?” Trust me, it’s no fun to invest 20 hours into a meticulously rendered eye and suddenly realize that the entire composition has gone to hell in a handbasket. This simplified beginning lets me focus on getting a strong foundation for the later work that’s to come. And saves me a trip to BevMo to drown my art tears into a bottle of cheap wine.
My biggest rule of thumb: if a piece doesn’t work in black and white, then it doesn’t work at all.
After deciding that the values were more or less where I wanted them to be, I started playing around with various color combos. I originally was going to go with a neutral brown/blue scheme, but it felt way too dreary so decided to punch it up a bit. The joys of digital mean that it’s very easy for me to test out lots of colors without the fear of ruining the underlying painting. And if I decide to change my mind and go in a radically different direction (which often happens, more than it probably should), new options are only a slider away. Also, the hand positioning wasn’t doing anything for me and felt strange compositionally, so he now gets to be a sort of Edward Scissorhands of the forest.
Quite a lot of changes in this stage as well as the beginning of the rendering process in Painter. The back arm was in dire need of re-positioning so it got a total overhaul and at this point I had started to wonder what sort of details I could add to give this guy some personality. The original sketch had ribbons tangled in his horns but I ultimately though it might be more interesting to have a tree-like creature that could grow into itself. My work sometimes takes on a sinister or macabre edge and to counterbalance that I added a little flower sprouting from his left hand.
At this point I’m mostly done with making huge changes and am about to traverse the (very) long road of rendering. Because the area with the horns felt sparse, I painted some Spanish moss to help fill in the gaps (word to my New Orleans peeps). I thought it would be cute for him to be sniffing a tiny flower (well, as cute as a gnarled tree spirit with horns erupting from his eye sockets can be), so I added another. The crystals on his back were ditched. They felt like an unnecessary eyesore that were committing the unforgivable sin of blocking the viewer’s eye from moving around the image.
Getting oh so close to the finish line. I started subtly working with the background to communicate that he (and/or the flowers) are giving off an odor. I wonder if it’s pleasant? Just because you’ve got a bit of branch growing out your neck doesn’t mean you don’t care about personal hygiene, so they say. I also discovered an interesting brush in Painter that allows for a translucent streaked paint effect, which I abused without abandon. This image was captured after I’d reeled myself back in a bit with it, but overall I like how it added a texture that echoed the moss hanging about. There were still some undeveloped areas hanging about that I wanted to take care of, so I spent several hours from this point cleaning them up. However, the danger of overworking a piece always looms, especially in digital painting, so I still made an effort to keep some of the mark making loose.
STEP 7 (FINAL)
And here we are! To finish things off, I took care of the strange dark marks that were coming down his face because it looked visually confusing, almost as if the character was crying, and thus did not fit with the whimsical mood of the piece. The flowers were loosely re-painted as a variety of honeysuckle, which I always loved smelling (and subsequently trying to eat) as a kid. I’ve since learned honeysuckle can be confused with yellow jasmine, which is toxic (also the South Carolina state flower, hmm…), and has led to several children being poisoned, so let’s chalk up my continued existence as a win. Although the red-colored variety is not what I grew up with, using yellow/white would have blended in too much with the background and I wasn’t willing to compromise on clarity. Overall, I liked how this one turned out and it’s been really motivating me to continue conceptualizing other creatures for this series.
If I'm feeling particularly energetic, I'll make a gif of all the process shots so the entirety of it can be seen (who doesn't love gifs?!)
But as I'm currently stress-packing to get on an early flight tomorrow, that might happen later rather than sooner. I'll be attending the One Fantastic Workshop over the next few days and then posting about my surely amazing experiences there.