The first thing I did was pull up some of my in class drawings from a model we had recently, I knew I wanted to take the ideas a bit further. I also surrounded myself with other reference images: a beautiful art nouveau wooden sculpture and an image from the recreation of some wonderful Klimt paintings turned into photographs. You may be asking yourself at this point why I dont work with two monitors, well... I dont have two monitors. I've gotten pretty used to having my screen a bit cluttered and cramped. (I live in San Francisco after all, everythings cluttered and cramped here.)
Start with one sketch to get a feel for the mood I want.
Then another sketch on a new layer, just testing the rhythm and the movement I want in her gesture. I'm using these quick sketches and multiple layers as my thumbnail ideas.
I got to this sketch and really liked what was happening with the halo-
So I pulled up references of some lovely Mary paintings, looking for a serene expression, hand gestures and halo ideas. But I didnt want to lose my Solstice flair so I added the larger antlers. I browsed pinterest for some fancy flowery head dresses. I also took a look at huge fur jackets and vests, trying to find the right idea for her ruff around her shoulders.
A note about using reference- I think it is good practice to have reference in front of your face, always for visual cues and ideas, but I dont like drawing exactly what I see. I dont use reference to be a photocopier, I just want my reference to help me make something believable, which can prompt me into my next design decision.
At this point I really liked the last two sketches and though to combine them.
Then I wanted to push the idea of the Stag and really exaggerated the antlers. I pulled up some real antlers for reference, and also some fantasy ideas as well. The Stag from Disney Fantasia Music Evolved is a favorite of mine, as well as the delicate sculptures of Ellen Jewett.
At this point I turned down the opacity on my sketch layer and zoomed in on a new layer to start cleaning up my lines. I start with the face because typically in a character portrait the face/eyes are our focal point. In the following images you can see how many ideas I went through and just wasnt happy with. I couldnt find the right look yet.
Soon I just sort of moved on to filling out the flowers of her head piece, and eventually I came back to her face and found the right expression.
The flowers I used for reference are winter peonies, white roses, poinsettias, and snow drops.
Zooming out again I start to clean up the rest of the sketch. I always find that long lines are difficult for me, so her dress and sleeves became a challenge. Its at this point I have to admit frustration at my own feeble limitations, as I struggle with an injured/overworked wrist and the repetitive motions of using a wacom are very challenging for me. Thats not something I use as an excuse, just something that I know I need to work with and overcome. Its changed the way I "clean up" my lines digitally, and I no longer aim for perfection. I like a semi sketchy and loose feel anyway.
(I've recently been introduced to the concept of Trigger Points on the body, and working on my wrist and arm has helped me immensely!)
Trying to figure out how exactly I wanted the sleeves to fall and fold, you can see the reference I pulled up and just how different the final version is from the original sketch.
Before I finish cleaning up the lines in her dress I decided to move on and start coloring. I laid down a medium value of blue to start me off. I dont often paint straight on a white background anymore. From the screenshot above to the one below I gave myself an hour to work on the colors. I didnt use many layers, kept most of it on one layer for the moment. After the hour was up I walked away for the night and let her be. I find that taking a look at your drawing/painting with fresh eyes is always helpful, it lets you see any glaring mistakes you may have been blind to previously. Also gives you a chance to rehash the ideas in your head and come back with some good edits, or be certain of your design.
When I came back to her the next day I started filling in more of the details and working on lighting and reflected light. I knew I wanted the overall feel of the piece to be cold and wintery, so I made her highlights and reflected lights cool, with warmer shadows in her hair and skin.
Eventually I worked my way down her sleeves and dress,
And you can see now that I've finished the lines. You can also see how my layers are exploding at an alarming rate. At this point Im putting almost every new addition on a new layer. I really enjoy playing with locked pixels, and clipping masks. Color dodge layers are fun for glows and reflected light as well. The best part about layers is that you can always collapse them if they become overwhelming, and you can experiment with different effects all you like. Just try all the things!
I turned off my background layer to address the antlers. Its always interesting to see your colors and values against white, and you can see a huge contrast against the background. She looks pretty dark now in comparison to the darker blue background. Color is all about value and perception.
I dont know why exactly I scaled back on the final idea for the antlers, whether it was a time constraint or just a change of taste, but ultimately she ended up with a more modest pair.
I did experiment with the halo idea again, but I thought that at this point it didnt add what I wanted it to, so I left it out of the final design.
I touched up the background to be a little more icy and chilly. I really enjoy texture brushes and effects and wanted to give her frame a bit of a frosted look using a chalk brush.
The background was a little dull so I added a layer to saturate the colors a bit more. Zoomed in to work on the details of her antlers and her ornaments: three stars, the sun and the moon.
Then the final step is just to add those finishing touches. Little glows and sparkles here and there. Push the reflected light and make sure the values and saturations are where you want them. Voila!
The next painting happened in far fewer steps. It was intended as a speed painting, not a full on illustration. This will be my demo of painting without using lines to help separate the colors and values.
A confession: I'm still hopelessly addicted to Gaia Online. I think they have adorable avatars and the best little pixel art out there. I often find myself wanting to draw my cute little avy, so sometimes I do.
I grabbed the image of my avatar and threw her into photoshop as my reference. I started this time with a darker background to build up from.
Added a bit of texture to the background.
Typically I would turn the sketch layer to a multiply layer, and turn down the opacity. But because I used a light value I changed the layer to be a color dodge one, which lightens / saturates instead of darkens. I still adjusted the opacity so I could begin to paint beneath it.
First I painted in the big shapes using multiple layers so I could easily work on top of or behind objects.
I then began to add some detail in the shadows and highlights. Since I know Im not going to be using the lines in the end, Im focusing on really rendering everything out so that it has a clear form and plane change.
This is the only time I zoomed into the image- to paint her face.
I spent the most time on her face and the details there. I wanted her to have very striking, cold eyes.
Zoom back out now to keep pushing the values in the shadows and the highlights. I wanted to make sure that each object had a clear separation from everything else, including the background. Keep turning the line layer on and off so you can really see the difference.
I added some final details, all the pretty things like sparkles and glittery strands of hair. Then comes the moment of truth, when you turn the lines off for good and see how it reads.
Once you do you can see where you need to adjust anything that may not read clearly. I went through and did a final pass on shadows, saturation, highlights and reflected light.
For a little speed painting I was very pleased with my avatar portrait.
Below is a gif so you can see the process in motion.
I hope this has been informative for you! Maybe you've picked up a few tricks.
I'm happy to answer any questions on my process.
Happy arting! ^_^