I finished this painting about mid-December, but I wanted to share with you the steps I went through to create it.
I think a lot about how to build something form nothing. To me, it’s one of the coolest things you can possibly do. How do you take an idea in your mind, a vague notion and realize it with some technical ability and make it real? Everyone has a different way of going about it. There are many ways to the same end result, I’m learning more and more about it with each drawing I make, each program I write, and every story I’ve written (and shoved into a shoebox).
This blog post is about how this image got realized. It started pretty much as you might expect with an idea and a blank piece of paper — in this case digital paper. I wanted to draw something Christmas-y and decided I might draw the character from the comic/novel I wrote a while back called “This Mortal Coil.” I won’t go into the details there, but ultimately the main character is a girl god (Kamiko = “god child” in Japanese) who dresses in a classic Lolita fashion (or something close to that). There’s already a lot of ideas going on behind this: Christmastime, winter, Lolitia fashion, and my previous character design for Kamiko. In addition I wanted to paint her high contrast, black and white just like I did with the original comic I wrote.
I started with an oval. That black oval you see replicated eight times, stacked on top of one another, because of course she’s eight heads high. I also drew a front view because I thought I might make a character sheet, but that didn’t really happen. On a separate layer I drew the rough sketch of a figure and on another layer I drew the rough idea of the dress over that. But, hold on, the dress doesn’t exist. It’s not based off of anything I found on the internet or any actual Lolita gown I’ve seen. Instead the dress actually has elements I’ve used a lot of in previous drawings.
So let’s rewind a bit. I had to figure out the dress. Here were some rough sketches I did and alternate fashions:
As you can see I used version #2, the off-the-shoulder number. I’ve drawn plenty of 2D girls wearing that number, although much sexier (careful, the image is a bit ecchi/NSFW). Since she’s Lolitia, she would be dressed down a lot more, hence the blouse, stockings, gloves. For a headdress, I like the elegant look of a bow over a full out Lolita head-dress. The only skin showing is her face.
<rant>Just so you know, I’m not great shakes at designing clothing (or, dare I say, drawing), but I try, and I keep trying and everytime I manage to make something I learn something new and get better. This drawing is the accumulation of 11 years of work and progress. It would definitely help if I took some design courses and art classes, but I have a feeling that doing so would sap my motivation. I like the idea of self-studying and improvement by doing. That is something I can do right now with my mind, two hands, a computer, and my secret weapon. Honestly, if you can’t ask someone, you can ask it. I don’t need to fork over money to do what I can easily set my mind too. Google, youtube, deviantArt are great teachers. Folks post tutorials, speed painting videos, and imaginative and beautiful art for you to view and study. I might make slow progress, maybe pick up bad habits, but sooner or later they’ll all be overcome. It really begins with asking a question: what am I doing wrong? What can I do better? How do they do that? I watch a lot of anime, so I’d like to paint in an anime cel-shaded style. I took screen caps of shows I was watching. I studied how they did backdrops, line work, shading. I’m getting there picture by picture. If there ever comes a time when I think I need a class, then at least I’ll know why I’m in that class, but as long as I can think and create with my own hands, I should be able to come up with something.</rant>
So with the dress down, that’s what I drew on my character sheet and I ended up with this rough image:
Using another layer over this one, I drew the cleaner version of the drawing:
Looking back, it’s not totally perfect. I feel her arms are kinda stiff, but it originated from a three-quarter drawing of her. I was originally intending to do something more cinematic, but I wanted to show off the dress since I took a lot of effort to produce that. If I went with a mid-shot or a close-up, I wouldn’t need much detail. If I did a perspective angle, I wouldn’t get to show off the entire dress. I considered and cast all those options aside. I can do a perspective, cinematic angle type of shot later, which is something I still need to work on (i.e. foreshortening).
It’s a nice sketch. I really liked it ultimately despite the imperfections. I started on the high contrast version right away. The end result:
This is the original, final version. All of that detail I made. I experimented with different brushes to make the snow on the ground. I randomly made dots everywhere of all different sizes for snow — although it doesn’t look like it’s scattered everywhere. I painted those trees. I’ll admit, the trees are no more detailed than squibbles. I figured I could get away with it. Did I though? I’m not completely sure. When you have two colors, I feel like you can. I like the challenge and idea of creating depth and variation with just two colors. Without color, texture becomes important. I dotted the hem of her gown to make it look like it was fluffy, and looking at it now, I could make white wisps to further reinforce that idea. Peppermint stripes break up the monotony and give her stockings and blouse detail. Snowflake decals give her dress some added texture. Alternating white and black clumps create the illusion of piled up snow and also light and shadow where needed.
It seems like a lot of folks on deviantArt liked this one — I spammed submitted to a lot of groups to get my work out there. Yes, once you’re done making, you gotta “market” it (put it in front of people), which has been apart of my grand experiment with deviantArt: selling myself as an artist.
Even though I was done, I wasn’t completely satisfied with just leaving it the way things were. I wanted to ink and color her and actually cel-shade her. So one night I inked her and laid the flat colors down. The next night I went about shading her using my knowledge gained by studying actual anime screen captures. When I finished, I realized she needed a background. One Saturday morning, I decided to paint a snowy scene with some brush techniques I had learned a while back. And also…just fudging it until it looked decent enough.
Since I painted it with Kamiko in the painting, there’s a Kamiko-shaped area that I didn’t have to really paint nicely. As you can see, I’m not opposed to showing you everything going on behind-the-scenes. The trees, I have to admit, are a mess. I studied birch trees and did my best approximation of them. The pine trees behind use a fan-shape leaf brush I created. The snow sitting on them uses the same brush at a smaller size. As I put this backdrop together, I realized, I needed to use some composition — I’m not great shakes at this either, and this is one of the few times where I’ve gone into thinking about it at all. I had the tree trunks point from the edges of the image back down into her with the hope that your eye would just funneled back into her. I originally made her red (you saw that image above), but I did this alternate blue one:
I thought the red was too much red. Her blouse is pink and peppermint striped. and it was just too much of one colors. The blue I thought would break it up nicely, but turns out folks like the red one and definitely like the high contrast version. What can I say? Red it is!
There you have it, my thought process. From nothing to something. The time it took for the sketch was maybe a few hours. That’s cheap to design something and determine if you like it or not. The high contrast one took a few hours — one evening really. So that’s also relatively cheap to do. The painted one (red version) took around 20 hours. That’s with inking (1-2 hour), cel-shading (8 hours), and then later the background (8-10 hours). In total she probably took a good work week’s worth of work (40 hours) and then I went and pimped her on deviantArt to whoever would spare the 5 seconds to look — submitting to groups and acknowledging feedback. For me, the high-contrast image is now the most favorite’d image in my gallery. How much do favorites really mean at the end of the day? Who can say. I feel like progress has been made and I’m soldiering onwards.