PaperDemon New Years

In this post, I’ll share the main stages of a recent piece I finished, promotional art for the PaperDemon New Years Cross Over event.

Digital Art done in Photoshop.

This art has my original character, Jerle, flying on a Dracostryx named Flurry. This was my first time drawing a Dracostryx.

The jellyfish and stars are meant to be lanterns. Why jellyfish? Because that’s what I like to draw.

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Thumbnail sketches

I start as I usually do, doing a series of thumbnail sketches. My simple dracostryx looks pretty cute.

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Sketches

My process here is not out of the ordinary. I take my chosen thumbnail sketch, scale it to fit the canvas, drop the opacity, and draw on top on a new layer.

I then take that layer, drop opacity, and draw on top of that to do more and more refinement. You can see here the stars look perfect. That’s because I used the shape tool. The final line art is basically me tracing the stars with a pencil brush

Color Comp

Many of these look pretty similar. This is because I had an idea in my head of generally what colors I wanted but needed to experiment a little to narrow it down more. Typically when I do color comps, the options vary a lot more.

Finished piece and details

As you can see I ended up dropping the fireworks and added more layers of clouds. I felt the stars was already making the piece too busy and there were already too many different elements (the dracostryx, the star lanterns, the jellyfish lanterns).

A lot of the glow effects are achieved by using my brush on “screen” mode with a bright color. The rounded edge stars were done with a custom star brush.

Jerle flying on a dracostryx through a pink cloud filled sky with lanterns
Full finished piece
Detail

I really love the way that the subtle color changes turned out on the Dracostryx. That’s it for now. Bye bye o/

Family Camping

Here’s the first finished art piece of 2021. This piece is dedicated to Wilder.

This is a gift for my new nephew who was just born a few weeks ago. This will hang in his nursery. His parents love the outdoors and camping. They also love penguins and bears so I combined these loves together into a unique gift just for their family.

Medium: Winsor & Newton Pan Watercolors, Holbein Gouache, Winsor & Newton Gouache

Paper: 300 Series Strathmore Watercolor paper

I thought I’d detail behind the scenes how this art piece was created so you can see what my process is like. I’ll eventually create a time lapse video of the final painting.

It all started with a thumbnail sketch. This is only a couple inches tall. I start most illustrations doing thumbnail sketches to try different compositions and ideas. For most illustrations I’ll do several thumbnail sketches until I land on something I like. For this illustration, I had the basic composition in my head already and one thumbnail was enough.

I then went on to create a more refined sketch in my sketchbook to better work out the composition in more detail. The composition roughly follows the rule of thirds with the forest and sky taking up the upper two thirds of the paper.

The elements in the illustration are personalized to the family that this gift is for. They love the outdoors and camping. They had decided to paint the nursery green and go with an outdoors theme. Wilder’s dad loves bears and Wilder’s mom loves penguins so it only made sense for them to be there. They also love listening to music. At every family gathering they’re supplying the music.

I included elements on the lower left and right to help frame the composition. I intentionally chose for the trees to have a diagonal line down toward the right which helps lead the eye into the tent and music which leads your eye into the main focal point of the piece, our little critters.

I chose a fox because of the bright colors and contrast it would have against the greens.

As you note in the final piece, the trees in the distance look almost like they’re in fog which creates a lot of beauty in the piece. This is achieved by using wet on wet techniques for the trees in the distance and using wet on dry technique for the foreground trees.

Part of the technique for making this look so beautiful is letting the colors bleed into one another and is my absolute favorite aspect of watercolors. I’m big into color and nothing gets my jimmies going like seeing all those pretty colors bleeding into one another.

Detail of the final illustration showing the trees bleeding
Work in progress image showing the trees in the distance painted in

I watched this tutorial on how to paint pine trees with watercolor and found it incredibly helpful. I’d never painted anything like this before so I needed to get some practice with it before starting the final illustration. I made several attempts, some of which were failures but I wanted to share these so you can see that it’s normal and part of the process to have failures like this. This is why many professional illustrators will do practice studies like this so you can work on the new techniques in isolation without worrying about ruining the final piece.

I realized after these attempts that the cheaper watercolor paper I used for the practice may have contributed to the lackluster results. These were done with Winsor & Newton watercolors on Soho sketch series paper (it’s not very good paper for final pieces but is ok for practice).

For many illustrations that I do, I do a series of “color comps” or “color studies” to try out different combinations of colors to see what will work best together. Sometimes, I have a clear idea in my head of what the colors should be. I went ahead and did a quick color study to test out the colors. I only did one color comp this time because I was satisfied with the first one.

The colors didn’t bleed as nice here because I ended up using the wrong side of the paper by mistake. Oops! But regardless, I was happy with the overall color structure.

I also did some practices with painting the moon. In order to get a smooth sky, I would not be able to simply avoid painting over the moon. Painting the sky required straight smooth strokes wet on wet. So I’d either have to mask it or paint white on top or lift the paint to get the moon.

I experimented with a few options:

  • Using masking fluid – wasn’t happy with the edges after using this. The edges were not smooth. And it’s also annoying to work with.
  • Lifting the paint – this was ok but resulted in weird edges from the paint drying. It would have been too hard to control and disrupt the smooth sky I wanted
  • Painting the white on top of the sky with gouache and/or white ink. – I liked this result the best so went with this for the final.
Moon studies. Top left : white ink. Top right: lifting paint. Bottom: masking fluid.

Something I didn’t include here is I also did several practices of the sky by itself attempting to get a smooth gradient using wet on wet techniques. The moon studies also served as additional practice for this technique.

I also did a study practicing some foliage. I wasn’t totally happy with the foliage I ended up with in the final piece. I think I could have used some more practice here but I had already invested what I felt was enough time in learning new techniques that I was ready to just move on to the final.

When I was ready to work on the final, I redrew my sketch onto the watercolor paper. I didn’t want to do the initial sketch on watercolor paper because a lot of erasing can disturb the surface of the paper and influence the way the paints sit and bleed. So I had to redraw (in pencil) onto the watercolor paper.

The vast majority of the piece was painted with watercolors. But outlines for the characters and the yellow grasses were painted with gouache. I used gouache for the outlines because it gives me a consistent dark line, something that’s hard to achieve with watercolor. I also used it for the yellow grasses because gouache is opaque which allows you to paint light colors onto dark colors. That’s something you can’t achieve with watercolor because of it’s translucency.

The stars were achieved by using white gouache and splattering them onto the page.

Here are a few things I thought could be better with the piece

  • The foliage. I wanted to articulate ferns and larger leaves but struggled to indicate them and ended up lifting paint from some of my foliage attempts. I need more practice with this.
  • The sky wasn’t as smooth as I wanted. I ended up smearing the trees a little but I suspect no one noticed.
  • Making the fireflies greenish blue instead of orange and making them more prominent.
  • The shapes of the trees could be better. I need more practice with this.

And there you have it. The finished piece. This was definitely my most ambitious watercolor painting. Overall I’m happy with the results and I’m glad I attempted it. It definitely gives me more confidence in working with watercolor.

I hope you enjoyed this write up and learned something from it. Happy painting.

Reflecting on 2020

This has undoubtedly been an extremely tough year for many. While I did have my fair share of struggles, I am fortunate enough to have many things to be grateful for.

Let’s start with the challenges…

The challenging things

  • The stress and unknown of Covid19, obviously. Hard not to start there. The fears and strain of responsibility to protect those around me from getting the virus.
  • The physical aspects of my Anxiety got much worse. I had a period of weeks where my body was on high alert and couldn’t snap out of it and ended up in the emergency room with a panic attack. I tried new medication but it has come with downsides. I sleep nearly 12 hours every day as a result of it.
  • The anxiety was too bad for me to even go to the store and I had to rely on my husband to do the grocery shopping. I suspect many people with anxiety felt this way, too, due to the nature of the pandemic.
  • I’ve fallen out of my meditation practice.
  • I isolated too much and didn’t spend enough time seeing friends (in a safe way of course).
  • I dropped the ball on Dragon Mall Quest. There were many reasons for this. Mostly it had become too time consuming and I had to scale back my schedule. But even my scaled back schedule of one episode a month I haven’t stuck to. I also have some fears and mental resistance with it that I need to overcome. I’ll try to restart my efforts on this in 2021.
  • My business got audited by the IRS.
  • Crap tons of bug reports on PaperDemon.com. For whatever reason these stress me out. Perhaps because I know I don’t have enough time to fix all of them and I feel like I’m letting my users down.
  • I gained back all the weight I had lost from dieting in 2018. At the start of the pandemic I reached for comfort food, especially frozen pizzas and it left a mark on my waistline. I attempted to restart my diet in the summer but without success.
  • I barely livestreamed this year. In part because it fell low in the priority list and also due to anxiety.

The things I’m grateful for

  • This was a fantastic year for PaperDemon. We made great progress in terms of community activity, product direction, development, and growth.
  • Dracostryx joining PaperDemon. This was a HUGE validating moment for PaperDemon and demonstrates we are on the right path and serving user needs. They’ve provided a lot of input to help us with product direction.
  • Meeting Shyftlock at ShrunkenHeadMan Con and having her join the PaperDemon staff. Learning from her about the Art RPG world was a huge benefit and helped inspire our product direction for PaperDemon.
  • I felt really productive this year with PaperDemon which was a big improvement over 2019. I was crippled by anxiety after some serious shit went down. But I found my groove in 2020.
  • I created lots of personal art. This was probably one of my most prolific years for my personal art since early college.
  • In addition to being prolific, I narrowed in on a personal art style. I might discuss this more in a future video.
  • Despite some initial financial fears triggered by the pandemic, we ended up being just fine financially. Mike’s job remained stable thank goodness.
  • I had support from a peer organized anxiety support group
  • No one in my family suffered seriously from Covid19. While a few got sick, no one ended up in the hospital. The spouse of one of my friends had a serious case and he landed in the hospital but he recovered, thankfully.
  • My sister-in-law gave birth to her first child. What a blessing!

I’m looking forward to 2021. While 2020 was a terrible year, perhaps the worst year ever for many, I wouldn’t say that was the case for me. It helped that I already had a year head start on working from home.